Intro to Cooking with Cannabis
If you have the luxury of being able to obtain your medicine from a legal dispensary near you, you may have noticed the large selection of edibles that are beginning to overflow the shelves. These pre-made, pre-packaged cannabis infused treats are more accessible to patients nowadays than ever before, but unfortunately many edibles still come packed with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and other unhealthy ingredients. While these processed food delights can be an easy way to get medicated on the go, many medical marijuana patients prefer making their own medicated snacks and infused meals — and for good reason. Join us as we explore all of the popular cannabis cooking techniques and become a master chef in no time!
Using cannabis as a medicine begins with understanding the basic science of decarboxylation, and why it is a crucial process in making edibles, tinctures and topical treatments. To get the full medicinal value out of your cannabis, it needs to be heated to a temperature that is just not possible to obtain in the human digestive system. The major downside of decarboxylating is that some of the more volatile terpenes (and other aromatics) that give the plant its signature aroma and flavor are lost during the process. Adding an equal amount of raw material to the decarboxylated materials may improve the taste and/or smell of your creations, but learning how to properly decarboxylate cannabis from the get-go will save you a lot of time, energy, money and product when cooking with cannabis.
The Decarboxylation Process
The predominant compounds found in cannabis are THCA and CBDA. THCA is the major cannabinoid in Cannabis, while CBDA predominates in fiber-type hemps. THCA and CBDA accumulate in the secretory cavity of the glandular trichomes, which largely occur in female flowers and in most aerial parts of the plants. The concentration of these compounds depends on the variety of cannabis and its growth, harvesting and storage conditions. When locked in their acidic forms, THCA and CBDA are not bioavailable to the body’s cannabinoid receptors. Occurring either naturally within the plant, or upon “decarboxylation” (heating the plant material), these acids are non-enzymatically decarboxylated into their corresponding neutral forms (THC and CBD).
THCA is non-psychoactive (meaning it does not produce mind and body altering effects). If you want to achieve the full psychoactive effects of your butters, fats, oils, sugars or alcohols, decarboxylating the plant material to convert the THCA to THC prior to infusion is essential.
Control of heating temperatures and times is critical when cooking with cannabis. Heating cannabis also converts THC to CBN. At about 70% decarboxylation, THC is converted to CBN at a faster rate than the THCA is converted to THC. Higher CBN levels will produce more sedative effects.
Studies show cannabidiol (CBD) has tremendous medical potential, especially in the treatment of seizure disorders and pediatric patients. Indications also suggest CBD lowers blood sugar, which makes it desirable for treating diabetes. Its sedative properties make it useful in the treatment of stress-related and sleep disorders. CBDA and CBD are non-psychoactive. Unlike THCA and THC, converting CBDA to CBD will not make a psychoactive product. CBD has a calming effect. This makes it ideal for treating children, the aged or patients that prefer less psychoactive effects. THC vaporizes quicker than CBD, so decarboxylating higher CBD varieties may produce higher CBD-enriched material. However, if you are not using a high CBD strain, extending the heating process may accomplish no more than burning off the THC.
There is much debate and opinion on this process and very little scientific evidence to establish the best method. The only real way to prove the safety, consistency and potency of your cannabis products is to have them lab tested.
How to Decarboxylate Cannabis
Forewarning: There will be a very strong odor of cannabis during this process.
- Preheat oven to 225° F / 110° C.
- Line an oven-safe dish (or a rimmed baking sheet) with parchment paper.
- Breaking up cannabis buds into smaller pieces by hand, place the material in the dish close together but not stacked on one another (the less unused space the better).
- When oven is pre-heated, bake for about 20 minutes to remove the moisture (depending on the freshness of the material). Watch for the plant color to get darker (a light to medium brown shade). When it is time to remove from the oven, the material should be crumbly looking.
- Set plant material aside and wait until it is cool enough to handle. Turn oven up to 240° F / 115° C and wait for it to preheat again.
- When the cannabis is cooled, lightly crumble by hand and distribute evenly over the bottom of the dish.
- Cover dish with aluminum foil, crimping the edges tight to seal and return to the oven. Continue baking for another 45-60 minutes for higher THC and 60-90 minutes for higher CBD.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool fully before removing the foil. Depending on the material you use, it may be fine enough and require no further processing. If not, you can place the material in a food processor or blender, pulsing the cannabis until it is coarsely ground. Be careful not to over grind the material, as you do not want a super fine powder.
- Place in an airtight container (glass preferred) and store in a cool, dry place.
How To Make Bud Butter
This is a quick and easy way to infuse cannabis into butter on the stovetop. Be sure to use salted butter since it has a higher smoke point, and don’t leave your saucepan unattended!
- 1 stick salted butter
- ¼ ounce of cannabis buds, finely ground
Melt the butter on low heat in a saucepan. Add the ground buds and simmer on low heat for 45 minutes, stirring frequently. Strain the butter into a glass dish. Use a dish that has a tight-fitting lid so you can seal it later. Use the back of a spoon to smash the plant matter against a strainer to squeeze out every drop of butter. Be sure to remove all strained plant matter, which can lead to mold if stored in the refrigerator, and discard it. You can use your cannabudder right away or or refrigerate or freeze it for later use. This recipe can be scaled up for larger batches. One pound of butter (4 sticks) can absorb a whole ounce of cannabis, but you may need to simmer the larger batch for up to 60 minutes. Cannabudder can be used in any recipe.
Slow Simmered Cannabudder
This popular method of water extraction is an easy way to make large batches of budder. Since THC only binds to fat, combining butter, cannabis and water will not dilute its potency. You can also use plant material that has not been finely ground, such as whole leaves and stems. After the extraction has occurred, simply skim the butter off the top. For this method, you will need two large stockpots, a glass bowl and a metal strainer.
- 1 ounce of cannabis, dried, or 2 ounces of trimmed leaf
- 1 lb. unsalted butter
Bring a large pot of water and your cannabis to a boil then reduce heat. Add the butter and return heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Simmer for another hour. Cover the pot, remove from heat and allow to cool. To increase potency, repeat this process twice more, simmering for an hour (each time?) and then cooling again. After completing the third simmering session, prepare for straining while the mixture is still hot. Position a wire mesh strainer over the second stockpot and carefully pour the water, butter and cannabis mixture through the strainer to catch all the plant matter. This is best done over the sink. Use the back of a large spoon to press the cannabis against the mesh and squeeze out the butter. Compost or discard the used plant material.
Next comes the chilling process, which will separate the cannabudder from the water. Use a large glass bowl or pot that will fit in your refrigerator and pour the cannabudder in to it. Refrigerate for 24 hours. The cannabudder will separate and solidify on top of the water. After 24 hours, extract the cannabudder by cutting a chunk out of the top layer and removing it from the water. Repeat until you have all the budder extracted from the mixture. Discard the water and put the budder on paper towels to dry. Remove any budder that seems too mushy and save it for a recipe where excess water is not a problem, such as gooey brownies. Put the chunks of budder in a large sauté pan on LOW heat. Once the budder is viscous, pour it into storage containers such as reusable glass jars. Try portioning one cup of cannabudder into each jar for a consistent, easy-to-use supply.
Methods of THC Extraction
There are a variety of ways to extract cannabinoids and terpenes for use in home cooking. Using a dry sift kief allows for maximum preservation of terpenes and cannabinoids. You will need special equipment for this process, however it is easy to acquire or make yourself. One effective method of extraction is high proof grain alcohol tinctures. Steeping cannabis in alcohol will extract all essential oils, but it also strips chlorophyll. Dried plant material is preferred for this method.
Another effective method is cold water hash or ice hash. This involves bags with screens, filtered water and ice cubes. Fresh frozen material and reverse osmosis water is best. The quality of any cannabis extraction is only as good as the base material used. Sugary stems and leaf material will always produce a better quality extract than water damaged, sun damaged, heat damaged, reused, or old material.
Fat extractions are also possible, but tend to be less predictable than other methods for calculating dosage. One preference is to create a hash that can be lab tested for potency and then suspend or infuse it in a fat. The more viscous a fat is, the faster and more effective the extraction process will be.
A Word about Tinctures
Tinctures are an effective way to utilize all sub-par material. Saving trim leaves and stems for tincture brewing is popular, and there are three main methods used to create a tincture.
First, hash can be suspended in a variety of mediums such as alcohol, vinegar, honey or agave syrup.
Second, you can cold steep your plant material in alcohol or vinegar to extract the terpenes and cannabinoids. This process is slow and involves storage and tending to the tincture, but it yields a tincture high in beneficial acidic cannabinoids without the psychoactive effect.
The third method involves a warm steeping of material in honey, agave, vinegar or alcohol. This method is done at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes and partially decarboxylates the material to provide the health benefits from THC. Remember the quality of your starting material will only be magnified during the tincture brewing process, so quality control is essential.
How Much Cannabis Do I Use?
Every individual has a different tolerance level. Symptoms of illness can also manifest differently at various times based on any number of factors, therefore the correct amount of cannabis to use is subjective. Nevertheless, there are some guidelines to follow. In edibles, a standard dose is defined as 15-25 milligrams of cannabinoids such as THC. However, a moderate or experienced cannabis patient may consume 50-60 milligrams of cannabinoids as a single dose. A person who routinely needs a high dosage of medicine may consume 100-150 milligrams of cannabinoids as a single dose.
Each strain of cannabis has a unique set of terpenoids or essential oils that define its smell and flavor. The unique combination of the terpenoids and cannabinoids are what make each strain valuable for their specific health benefits. Considering the synergy of terpenoids and cannabinoids will increase the effectiveness of any therapeutic application of cannabis.
What Are The Effects?
The effects of cannabis vary greatly based on several factors. First and foremost, hydration is very important when consuming cannabis, so be sure to stay well hydrated with water.
Different types of medicine will have varied effects. Flowers, hash and tinctures all have different effects based on rate of absorption, concentration of cannabinoids and terpenoids, and quality of the medicine used.
It is important to remember that an individual’s general state of mind and physical health can influence the effects of cannabis. It is recommended that the minimum dosage is used until the most effective dosage and application is determined.