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CBD Oil vs. Tincture: What’s the Difference?

If you’re researching cannabidiol (CBD) oil, you’ll likely come across information about CBD tinctures, too. You may wonder whether both terms describe the same product. Technically, they don’t, but it’s an easy mistake to make.

“A true ‘tincture’ is an herbal extract suspended in alcohol, as opposed to an oil,” says Jim Higdon, co-founder of Cornbread Hemp. “Nearly all CBD products are properly classified as CBD oils, even though many are called tinctures.”

He explains that the products are similar in that they both come in small glass bottles with dropper tops for sublingual administration.

While CBD oils and tinctures may be packaged in the same way, there are some important distinctions. Here’s what to understand about the differences between a CBD oil vs. tincture so you can decide what’s best for your needs.

What is CBD? CBD is one of the many active compounds found in the cannabis plant. But unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD has no intoxicating effects — meaning it won’t get you “high.” Research is limited, but CBD may offer some therapeutic benefits. These include relief from:

  • pain

  • anxiety

  • depression

  • some types of seizures

  • acne

Different CBD products, including oils and tinctures, offer various ways to access these potential benefits. What does CBD do? CBD may help these conditions because of the effects it has on the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the human body. This complex system regulates many functions and processes, including sleep, mood, memory, appetite, and more. Researchers aren’t exactly sure how CBD interacts with the ECS. Some believe CBD prevents the breakdown of molecules known as endocannabinoids, which are similar to cannabinoids but produced in the body. Even if you don’t use cannabis, naturally occurring endocannabinoids are active in your body. Other researchers suspect CBD binds to receptors known as 5HT and TRPV in the ECS.

CBD oil is most often a blend of CBD extract and an inert carrier oil, like medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) coconut oil. To make a CBD oil, CBD and sometimes other compounds like terpenes and flavonoids are extracted from the plant material and then mixed with a carrier oil. That’s the case with full-spectrum CBD oils.

Unlike CBD isolate, these products retain all the compounds of the hemp plant, including up to 0.3 percent THC, so consumers may benefit from the entourage effect.

The entourage effect is a theoryTrusted Source that all the compounds in the plant work synergistically for the greatest effect. After the desired compounds are extracted, they’re mixed with the carrier oil. After the desired compounds are extracted, they’re mixed with the carrier oil. Sometimes, natural and/or artificial flavors are added for taste.

CBD oils are easy to find, and they’re more common than CBD tinctures. Most products labeled “CBD oil tincture” and even some labeled “CBD tincture” are actually CBD oils.

Higdon says that’s because the current lingo of the CBD marketplace has been referring to CBD oils as “tinctures” for years. “For all practical purposes, consumers should understand that ‘CBD tinctures’ and ‘CBD oils’ are considered to be synonyms, despite the fact that it’s inaccurate,” Higdon says.

Pros of CBD oils
  • easy to dose

  • can be used topically

  • can be mixed with food and beverages

  • many options for potencies and flavors

  • usually contains minimal ingredients

Cons of CBD oils
  • price point may be higher than other forms of CBD

  • some CBD oils have a strong flavor

A CBD tincture is an alcohol-based extract. High proof alcohol is used as a solvent to extract the natural compounds of the cannabis plant, and it’s also used in the finished product.

This method of processing preserves the cannabinoids and protects against oxidation, but it does require a lot of refinement and filtration. It can also leave a bitter flavor.

To mask the bitterness, tinctures are often mixed with additives like sweeteners, flavoring, or vegetable glycerin. Some companies might also add vitamins, herbal extracts, or supplements like melatonin, depending on the goal of the product.

However, keep in mind that not much is known about how CBD interacts with supplements or vitamins. Additionally, the FDA has stated that CBD cannot be sold as a dietary supplement, so combining CBD with these ingredients may go against the FDA’s ruling.

CBD tinctures are not very common, partly because of the bitter taste. Many products labeled as tinctures are actually oils. “Any consumer looking for a proper CBD tincture should ask for an ‘alcohol-based tincture’ for clarity,” says Higdon.

Pros of CBD tinctures
  • easy to dose

  • can be mixed with food and beverages

  • rapid onset effects when taken sublingually

Cons of CBD tinctures
  • bitter flavor

  • not as readily available

  • not effective as a topical

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Both CBD oils and CBD tinctures can be effective. The biggest difference is the production process and the base ingredient. In deciding which one is best for your needs, it’s important to consider your preferences and goals.

“A CBD consumer may choose an alcohol-based tincture if they are allergic to the source of the oil in a CBD oil product, like coconut,” says Higdon. “Someone looking to avoid alcohol would choose an oil.”

A CBD oil will often contain fewer ingredients than a tincture. If you’re sensitive to alcohol, an oil may be a better choice.

Higdon also makes a good point about the accessibility of CBD oils over tinctures. “The vast majority of sublingual CBD products on the market are oils, not tinctures,” he says. Even if it’s labeled as a tincture, it’s best to ask the retailer or look at the ingredient list for clarity.

CBD oils can be dropped into the mouth and swallowed. Note that it can take 1 to 2 hours for an oil to take effect when you ingest it this way because it has to work its way through the digestive system.

You can also add CBD oils and tinctures to foods and drinks for oral ingestion.

CBD oils and tinctures are taken sublingually, or under the tongue. It absorbs through mucous membranes straight into the bloodstream and bypasses the digestive process.

For tinctures, this may provide faster and more efficient absorption, but more research is needed to substantiate claims that oil-based CBD can also absorb quickly under the tongue. Depending on the carrier oil, some CBD oils can even be used topically, or applied directly to the skin. However, CBD products designed specifically for topical use tend to be better used for on-the-spot relief rather than full-body effects.

Applying a CBD tincture topically won’t have any benefit, so don’t waste your product by rubbing it on your skin.

Just because you can buy CBD oils and tinctures at mall kiosks and drugstores doesn’t mean every product is safe. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate CBD in the same way as it does drugs and supplements, which makes it crucial to shop wisely.

No matter what kind of CBD product you’re considering, it’s important to find a reputable CBD manufacturer that provides current and comprehensive certificates of analysis (COA) for all of their products.

COAs should list:

  • Potency. The amount of CBD (and THC, if applicable) listed on the COA should match the amount that’s listed on the label. Batches can vary, so it may not be an exact match. But if it’s off by more than 10 to 20 percent, it may be best to choose a different product.

  • Cannabinoid profile. Full-spectrum products will contain a small amount of THC (typically less than 0.3 percent). Broad-spectrum products shouldn’t contain THC, but they may contain other cannabinoids, like cannabigerol (CBG) or cannabinol (CBN) and terpenes. CBD isolate products should contain only CBD.

  • Contaminants. These will vary, but at a minimum, check that the product has been tested for heavy metals, pesticides, and molds.

  • The date. Look for a recent COA — no more than 1 year old. Some brands will even provide COAs for each batch of product they sell.

In addition to selecting a brand that provides COAs, it’s important to look for a company that’s completely transparent about the sources of its hemp (organic, U.S.-grown hemp is best) and their manufacturing practices. Look into the brand’s reputation, including whether they’ve received any FDA warning lettersTrusted Source.

If a CBD oil or tincture doesn’t appeal to you, there are other ways you can try CBD:

  • Edibles. Edibles are a discreet way to consume CBD. They come in a variety of options, including gummies, mints, and truffles. However, eating CBD means it must pass through the digestive system, slowing down the onset of effects. It can take 2 to 3 hours to feel effects. Absorption rates are between 20 and 30 percentTrusted Source.

  • Topicals. These products are designed to be applied directly to your skin. CBD-infused lotions, salves, creams, balms, and transdermal patches can be a good choice if you’re targeting specific skin conditions or localized pain.

Safety and side effects At this time, CBD is generally considered safeTrusted Source. However, some people experience some side effects, such as:

  • fatigue

  • diarrhea

  • changes in weight or appetite

Before trying CBD, it’s a good idea to speak with a doctor, especially if you’re already taking any medications or supplements. CBD can interact with some of these. Also, a 2020 studyTrusted Source found that taking CBD by mouth alongside high fat meals can dramatically increase CBD blood concentrations, which means a greater chance of side effects. Finally, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, avoid taking CBD.

Legal considerations of CBD While hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3 percent THC are federally legal in the United States, they’re still illegal under some state laws. It’s important to check the law in your state and anywhere you may be traveling.

While the terms are often used interchangeably, CBD oils and CBD tinctures are two different products. CBD oils are generally made with just two ingredients: CBD and carrier oil.

CBD tinctures are alcohol-based extracts that use high proof alcohol to steep the plant material. This is strained, and the entire solution is bottled, along with additional ingredients for flavor or specific benefits.

The right product for you will depend on your preferences, but make a point of shopping wisely. Be sure to talk with a doctor or other healthcare professional before trying CBD, especially if you are taking supplements or medications to manage a health condition.

Is CBD legal? The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the legal definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. This made some hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3% THC legal at the federal level. However, CBD products containing more than 0.3% THC still fall under the legal definition of marijuana, making them illegal at the federal level. Some states have legalized CBD, so be sure to check state laws, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the FDA has not approved nonprescription CBD products, and some products may be inaccurately labeled.


This article was first published on by Jessica Timmons.


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