Now You’re Cooking With Gas: Cannabis oil infusion made easy

If you’re curious about making your own cannabis products in your kitchen, this guide will help you understand the basics of cannabis oil infusion, and how you can mix up the medicine to create your own custom concoctions at home. 

Cannabinoids (the powerful plant compounds found in cannabis, like THC and CBD) are fat-soluble, so infusing oils with cannabis is a great way to capture the beneficial compounds into a more usable form. Oil infused with cannabis can be used in place of butter or regular cooking oil in any recipe, or you can create your own topical remedy or cannabis tincture. Ingesting cannabis in food or tincture form can be important for those who are unable to smoke or vaporize marijuana, and the effects typically last longer at smaller doses.

Start with high quality source material: Although most people think of edibles as another way of accessing the psychoactive effects of cannabis, THC is not the only compound worthy of extracting from the cannabis plant. It is now easier than ever to find and purchase high-quality CBD flower to use in your kitchen. You can also purchase THC dominant flower or a hybrid strain at a compassion center or recreational dispensary, or you can use a cannabis extract, like RSO (Rick Simpson Oil), as your starting material. Whatever raw material you choose, be sure that it is trusted, tested, and organically produced if possible. If you are able to access the test results for your starting material, that will make calculating your dosage much easier, but you can also estimate based on the strain information. If you know a grower, infusing their leftover trimmings can make good use of otherwise wasted material, but it will likely create products of a lower dosage, due to the relative lack of beneficial compounds as compared to flower. On the contrary, using a more concentrated material like shake, kief, or other extracts can result in a stronger final product.

Choose your carrier oil: A “carrier oil” is the base oil into which plant material can be infused. For decades, butter seemed to be the carrier oil of choice for making edibles, but as we learn more about cannabis chemistry and other oil options become more readily available, it becomes important to choose your carrier oil based on your needs and preferences. Besides butter, popular carrier oils include olive oil, hemp seed oil, avocado oil, or grapeseed oil – although some have much lower smoke points than others (AKA easy to burn while infusing), and not all are suitable for ingestion. You can use any oil you like, but be sure to consider factors like flavor, melting point, and smoke point when choosing a carrier oil. In my opinion, the very best carrier oil to infuse with cannabis has got to be coconut oil. 

Why coconut oil?: Increasingly popular in recent years due to its plant-based nature, health benefits, and yummy flavor, coconut oil is also a prime candidate for cannabis infusion on a molecular level. This is because it is one of the oils with the highest saturated fat content (about 60-80%, compared with about 20% in olive oil), which means there are plenty of binding sites for those fat-soluble compounds I mentioned earlier. Since cannabinoids are lipophilic (fat-loving) in nature, coconut oil is able to retain more of the beneficial plant compounds per serving, which increases the absorption rate upon consumption. Like butter, coconut oil stores well and remains solid at room temperature (although not at this time of year!), and it performs similarly to butter in extraction and in recipes. For a version of coconut oil that remains liquid at all temperatures, MCT oil (fractionated coconut oil) is a great choice. MCT, or medium chain triglycerides, are a type of saturated fat extracted from coconuts that are rapidly digested and absorbed by the body, and enjoyed by many as a health supplement on it’s own. With MCT oil, you get all the benefits of using coconut oil as a carrier but in a convenient liquid form with little to no flavor, making it an ideal carrier oil for many applications.

Decarboxylation — what it is and how to do it: Although the word may look intimidating, “decarbing” is the simple and necessary process of activating the cannabinoids present in the material, so that it can be processed by the body and provide the desired effects. In the context of smoking or vaporizing THC or CBD flower, the heat from the flame or vape oven causes decarboxylation to occur prior to inhalation, but in creating edibles or topicals, we usually need to decarb the plant material in order to infuse it properly (except if using a concentrate like RSO as your starting material, as most extracts are already activated and can be infused directly into oil).

To decarboxylate at home, grind or break up the flower into roughly equal pieces (use a food processor or coffee grinder if you like, but it may get sticky). Spread evenly on a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil, and cover with more foil to keep the more volatile plant compounds, like terpenes, from evaporating during the process. Bake at 240ºF for 40 or 90 minutes (for THC-dominant and CBD flower, respectively), and leave covered to cool after removing from the oven – the material should look golden brown in color and have a fragrant aroma when complete. Now, you are ready to infuse!

How to infuse: I should mention – and anyone who has ever stunk up their parents’ kitchen attempting to make “special brownies” will already know this – that the process of decarboxylation and infusino can be aromatic, to say the least. For convenience, there are tools you can use to fully decarb and make infusions, all within a discreet and easy-to-use countertop machine – the Nova by Ardent Cannabis (which I own and recommend, although the volume capacity is somewhat small) or the Levo are great options for those who need to be tactful about their infusion, or expect to be making frequent batches. Additionally, if you can’t decarb at all, don’t worry – you can always just infuse the oil for longer to activate the compounds during the infusion process, but be extra careful not to overcook your oil if you do this and be aware that a longer infusion time will typically result in a stronger cannabis flavor to your oil.

There are several methods for infusing oil at home. Listed below are the basic parameters for each, but you can also find detailed instructions online for each method:

  • Water Bath – Heat water in stock pot or slow cooker on high until it reaches 185ºF, then lower heat. Combine decarbed material and carrier oil in mason jars, and place jars in water bath, ensuring that water covers the top of jars. Infuse for 4 hours, then strain oil and pour into clean jars to cool.
  • Slow-Cooker – Combine decarbed material and carrier oil in slow-cooker and infuse on low for 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally. Strain oil and let cool. This method is probably the easiest, although it is less gentle than the water bath in terms of temperature control.
  • Double Boiler – Combine decarbed material and carrier oil in large glass bowl and heat 6-8 hours over slow-cooker or stock pot set to lowest heat, stirring occasionally. Strain infused oil and let cool.
  • Stove Top – Combine decarbed material and carrier oil in sauce pot and heat on lowest setting 2-3 hours, stirring frequently. This method is the fastest but also most likely to burn the oil or fry the flower material, which can decrease the overall potency/effectiveness of the final product.

Whichever method you choose, it’s a good idea to have a digital thermometer on hand to ensure that the oil never reaches 200ºF – 245°F (anything between 130 – 190ºF is ideal to maximize infusion without degrading the product). With any of the above methods, you can add a small amount of water to the mixture to help avoid burning. 

Once the infusion is complete, you will want to strain the infused oil using cheese cloth over a mesh strainer, but avoid squeezing every last bit of the oil out of the material if you don’t want your oil to take on a greenish hue, due to the presence of chlorophyll. You can also use a french press or a paper coffee filter and funnel to strain the oil, and the pulp can be saved to use in future recipes – smoothies, sauces, or salad dressings should all work well with cannabis pulp. Once your infused oil is complete, store it in a cool, dark, dry place, or stick it in the fridge or freezer for longer term storage.

Dosing: Accurately dosing your homemade cannabis products can be the trickiest part of the process. Luckily, there are some great edible dosage calculators online, but you will want to know the approximate potency of your strength material (% THC or % CBD), and the amount of material / carrier oil you will be using in your recipe (ex. 7g flower @ 15% THC in 2 cups of coconut oil). Using this example, you could calculate that your infused oil would have a total of 7,000mg THC x 0.15 =  1,050mg THC. Since the infusion process won’t result in 100% yield, you can make an assumption of around 75% yield, which would equal 787.5mg THC in the total volume of oil. If the infusion yields 1 cup of oil, that would result in a dosage of around 50mg THC / oz, or 25mg THC / tbsp.

Basic Cannabis Salve Recipe

Try making your own topicals with this easy salve formula – great for reducing inflammation, alleviating pain, and soothing painful or itchy skin conditions! 

  • 1 part beeswax
  • 4-5 parts oil
  • Optional – essential oils for scent/effect (ex. Lavender, peppermint)
  • Make it your own by adding other ingredients to increase efficacy (ex. arnica, aloe, menthol)