Is there a difference between balms and ointments, tinctures and extracts, or tablets and capsules, for that matter?
The answer is yes, there is a difference. Mostly it has to do with the optimal way to deliver the active ingredients. Here’s what you need to know about the delivery methods different manufacturers use for the cannabinoid products.
Balms versus ointments
The big takeaway here is that balms are usually meant to sit on top of the skin (think of a protective lip balm or deodorant), while salves are generally meant to be absorbed into the skin (think of a lotion). You can tell the difference between a balm and a salve because salves tend to be softer and are meant to be applied with your fingertip.
Balms and salves can be made to deliver a wide amount of essential oils, including phytocannabinoids. The strength of the product is determined by the oil used to manufacture it. Because salves are softer and meant to be absorbed by the skin, they’re mainly meant to support healing by delivering essential oils. Balms are more often used to prevent damage and usually have an applicator tube.
Tinctures and extracts
It’s important to know up front that products you use, which come in either tinctures or extracts, will not be made from essential oils. Tinctures are concentrated herbal extracts that use alcohol as the solvent. If any other type of menstruum (solvent) is used, it becomes a tincture. The most common alternatives to alcohol are water, glycerin, and vinegar.
Usually, extracts have equal amounts of herb and alcohol. Tinctures may contain higher amounts of solvents. These solvents remove the chemical constituents of the herb from the plant fiber. The essential elements of the herb are then contained in the extract or tincture.
Tinctures and extracts are used to apply the entire spectrum of a plant’s properties. This would not be a wise choice if you are interested in the potential healing properties of phytocannabinoids but do not want to ingest delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol unless you specifically find a manufacturer that offers a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol product.
Capsules and tablets
Things can be confusing here. We have tablets and capsules. But there are also chewables, caplets, softgels, and lozenges. In many cases, this comes down to preference. Advances in manufacturing have done away with differences in absorption rates.
Tablets are the most cost-effective for consumers and manufacturers because they tend to be less expensive to make. Tablets tend to be more shelf stable than capsules – especially if the capsules are liquid-filled.
They can also come in different sizes – this can be an obstacle for some people because large tablets are harder to swallow. On the other hand, tablets can be cut into smaller sizes, so it’s easier to regulate dosage.
Capsules are those familiar two-piece gelatin formulations. Their two main advantages are that they are often much easier to swallow than tablets, and they tend to break down quicker in the stomach because the gelatin capsule is fast to dissolve.
This can be a benefit or a hindrance, depending on whether the substance contained in the capsule works better in the intestines rather than the stomach. Their shelf life is shorter than tablets, and they’re not well-suited to liquid or oil-based contents unless an additional and even more expensive step is taken to encapsulate it.
Phytocannabinoid oil products
It’s possible to find phytocannabinoids as an oil, a liquid, a tincture, in capsules, or in lotions and salves. As an oil or tincture, it can be taken sublingually, or under the tongue.
The most common form of phytocannabinoid oil is found either in capsules or containers with medicine droppers for easy measurement. Both ways allow you to ingest it orally, where it enters your digestive system and is metabolized by the liver.
It can also be applied topically as a salve or lotion, where the active ingredients tend to mostly interact with the local area where it’s applied, rather than entering the bloodstream.
Ultimately, which phytocannabinoid product you choose depends on the result you wish to achieve. Regardless of what product you use, you’ll want to make sure you’re buying from a reputable manufacturer that understands how to extract the essential compounds safely and effectively.