Cannabis extracts are made exclusively using solvents that separate the active ingredients in cannabis (including cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids) from the rest of the plant (such as the buds, leaves and stems). Alcohol, butane, carbon dioxide and ethanol are commonly used extraction solvents.
Cannabis extracts are used to make products for ingestion (such as capsules) and for oral absorption (including sprays and sublingual strips).
When extracts are mixed into foods, we call them edibles; when they’re mixed into drinks, we call them infused beverages. Although they use extracts, there are so many varieties of these types of products that they belong to their own categories. Learn more about edibles.
How do cannabis extracts work?
There are two ways to orally consume cannabis extracts: by way of the digestive system (ingestion) or the soft tissues in the mouth (sublingual or buccal absorption).
- Ingestion: Ingestion is the process of swallowing and digesting. Products intended for ingestion include bottled oils, hard capsules and softgels. They enter the bloodstream after being metabolized by the liver.
The onset of effects of ingested cannabis extracts is similar to that of cannabis edibles. During ingestion, the liver converts THC into the stronger chemical 11-hydroxy-THC4 after being metabolized.5 It can take 30 minutes or more to start feeling the effects of ingested cannabis, and the effects can build gradually over time and last 12 hours or more.6 7 The effects of ingestion can be strong, and it’s always recommended to start low and go slow.
Regardless of the consumption method, the onset and duration of effects will vary from person to person. Individual factors such as sex, mental and physical health, age, personality, genetics, personal tolerance and even the amount of food ingested prior to consumption all play a part.
When deciding whether ingestion or sublingual consumption is right for you, it really comes down to personal preference. Remember that ingested cannabis may have delayed onset and a longer duration of effects. Sublingual extracts have a similarly long duration of effects but a more rapid onset, especially in the case of nanoemulsified extract products. You can learn more about those types of extracts below.
What are the different types of extracts?
Along with edibles and beverages, you’ll find these types of oral extracts available through OCS.ca and Authorized Cannabis Stores.
Bottled oils and oral sprays
Bottled oils are extracts that have been blended with oil, often medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are derived from coconut and palm trees, olive or sunflower oil. Occasionally oils are packaged with a press-and-spray applicator top for easy sublingual or buccal absorption. Products packaged in this way are called oral sprays.
- Consumption method: Ingestion — sublingual or buccal absorption
- Characteristics: Versatile cannabis product with customizable dosage that can be taken in multiple ways
- How to consume: Measure your dose, then add the oil to food or beverages to ingest, or place or spray it directly under the tongue or on the cheeks and hold in your mouth until absorbed.
Softgels and capsules
Softgels are small, precisely dosed soft capsules filled with cannabis extract, usually oil. Hard capsules are similarly small and precisely dosed, but — as the name suggests — they are hard. Both types of capsules are designed to be swallowed with water and ingested like a pill.
- Consumption method: Ingestion
- Characteristics: Discreet, compact and ingestible cannabis product
- How to consume: Choose your dose and swallow the capsule or capsules with water.
Sublingual strips are quick-dissolving strips infused with cannabis extracts that are absorbed into the soft tissues of the mouth, either sublingually, buccally or both.
- Consumption method: Sublingual or buccal absorption
- Characteristics: Quick, easy and discreet sublingual product that’s less messy than oils, with a little added flavour
- How to consume: Place the strip directly under your tongue or on your cheek and let it dissolve slowly so it can be absorbed.
What about fast-acting extracts?
The onset of effects for most sublingual cannabis extracts is quicker than for ingestible cannabis products. This is especially the case with cannabis extracts that are labelled as “fast acting” or “quick onset” or ones that contain cannabis extract made with nanoemulsion. These extracts have had their cannabinoids broken down into smaller molecules suspended in oil, increasing their bioavailability. Products like these are intended to have a faster onset than ingested or orally absorbed extracts.
Why choose cannabis extracts?
Oral cannabis extracts are precisely dosed and easily measured, making them a particularly good choice for those interested in a lower dose — under 1 mg of THC/CBD. Some consumers may also appreciate that they’re discreet and compact.
They represent a unique product category. Like other concentrates, extracts are created by separating the active ingredients from the rest of the plant material — the main difference is that extracts are a subcategory of concentrates created using solvents. As with any other cannabis product, it’s best to consider your preferred consumption method, potency, onset and duration of effects before purchasing.
Curious about ingestible oils?
Here’s a step-by-step look at how these versatile extracts are produced.