How To Make Your Own Cannabis-Infused Oil

There are many products with all sorts of ratios such as THC:CBD of 3:1, 1:20, 5:2 and so on. Yet, when people try these ratios out, they sometimes find that two products, even with the same ratios, can have widely different effects, and sometimes even no effect. There are a few reasons for this, including: mislabelling of products; different extraction methods will have an effect on the final product; and the interaction between CBD and THC and all the other cannabinoids and terpenes not necessarily listed on the label.

The positives of making your own cannabis oil

Various types of oil in different styles of container.
Picture by Cottonseed Oil. From https://www.flickr.com/photos/cottonseedoiltour/5052424228

This inconsistency has lead to more and more people making their own cannabinoid-based oils. There are both positives and negatives to doing this. Let’s start with the positives: more control over what you put into your oil; more control over the strength of your oil; the ability to utilize the oil for many different applications (e.g. cooking, topicals); you can get a full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenoids, and therefore all the medical benefits of the entourage effect; and the fact that your edibles need not be sugar-laden treats all the time.

The negatives of making your own cannabis oil

Now, for the negatives. Most people cannot easily get their own homemade oils tested for safety (e.g. molds, pesticides, heavy metals) and consistency. Getting a precise cannabinoid and terpene profile is also very difficult with homemade oils, especially as most people do not have access to the specialized equipment and techniques required to make such products.

We must also warn that decarboxylating your cannabis and eating it is usually far stronger and longer-lasting than smoking or vaporizing cannabis, so be careful and make sure you microdose.

Yet, for all the difficulties in making a cannabis oil with a precise cannabinoid-terpenoid profile, it is not so difficult to make a simple, good quality cannabis oil at home rather safely using well-grown flowers and a few simple cooking methods. Here’s a few suggestions on how to do so …

Decarboxylating your cannabis

“Decarboxylating” cannabis essentially refers to a chemical reaction where a carbon atom is removed from a carbon chain, resulting in the release of carbon dioxide (CO2). In order to change THCA to THC and CBDA and CBD, the raw cannabis flower must be decarboxylated first. Decarboxylating also makes certain cannabinoids, such as CBD, more bioavailable (i.e. your body can process it more easily).

Essential oil; tincture; infused oil in a tincture bottle; medicine bottle with pipette.
Tincture.

How to make healthy marijuana oil for baking edibles

To decarb your cannabis for making cannabis oil, all you need to do is the following:

  1. Break up any cannabis flowers or “buds” you have into smaller pieces. Not too small, though – you do not want to break up the trichomes too much.
  2. Layer the pieces onto a rimmed baking tray lined with baking paper/parchment.
  3. Place the baking tray into the center of a preheated oven. For a quick decarboxylation, a temperature of 240°F (115°C) to 248°F (120°C) for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, is enough.
  4. Once the cannabis is decarboxylated properly, it should appear darker in colour – usually a light brown/yellow colour, and not as green as cannabis is when fresh.
  5. Allow the decarboxylated cannabis time to cool.
  6. Once cooled, you can coarsely grind the cannabis and store it in an airtight container, to be used at your convenience.
  7. As cannabinoids are lipophilic, the decarboxylated cannabis is usually infused into a butter or oil (usually olive oil or coconut oil due to their high smoke points, bioavailability and ) to be used as an ingredient for whenever a medicated edible is wanted.
  8. Some people skip this process and put the cannabis in directly with their cooking. Assuming some sort of fat is used, this may provide some effect, but it will not mix into the food you are cooking. Decarboxylating first is best if you want better results.
  9. Decarboxylating the cannabis first means it can be used in a wider variety of applications – topicals as well as edibles. You can add decarbed cannabis to olive oil or coconut oil and leave it to infuse for a week or two, then straining it of plant matter to prevent mold and bacteria.You want to keep the temperature low to preserve the shelf life of your oil.
  10. You can also infuse raw cannabis directly in olive or coconut oil by double boiling it for around 1- 2 hours at a temperature of between 158°F (70°C) and 203°F (95°C). Double boiling ensures that the oil does not go above 212°F (100°C), and means you can decarb the cannabis at a lower temperature over a few hours.
  11. If double boiling already decarbed cannabis, a temperature between 100°F and 120°F (38°C – 49°C) in a double boiler for 2-5 hours is ideal. Use a cheesecloth to hold the raw or decarbed cannabis as you double boil it to avoid having to strain the oil afterwards. Although raw cannabis can be added directly to oil, it is still best to decarb the cannabis first in order to ensure CBDA and THCA are properly converted to CBD and THC and to keep the shelf life of your oil.

Here are a few things to consider when making a cannabis-infused oil …

  • One way of ‘testing for strength” is to take several bottles of coconut or olive oil and add different amounts of cannabis to each of them. For example, if you have three bottles of 500ml olive oil, you can use 1.5 grams of decarbed cannabis for one bottle, 3 grams for another, and 6 grams for the third. Similarly, you can make butters in batches with different amounts of cannabis in them.
  • It is worth remembering that the ovens found in our kitchens tend to fluctuate in temperature and have different temperatures in different parts of the oven.
  • Many cannabis oil and butter recipes online tend to use high amounts of cannabis (usually 10 grams or more). Having a potent oil or butter has its uses, as only small amounts need to be used for the desired effect, but it is also easy to over use. Using less cannabis makes less potent oils, giving you more control over your dosage.

Be warned, though: decarboxylating your cannabis in this manner will certainly give your home a distinct aroma for a certain amount of time. If you are worried about your house smelling of cannabis, it is perhaps best to do this when you have some time to yourself and make your edibles in a well ventilated environment.

Decarboxylation of Gallic Acid, yielding pyrogallol.
Decarboxylation of Gallic Acid, yielding pyrogallol.

What about cannabis that isn’t decarboxylated? Does it have health benefits?

Yes, raw cannabis and the acidic cannabinoids it contains possess health benefits. CBDA, for example, is a COX1 and COX2 enzyme inhibitor, making it a compound with very useful anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties. THCA, meanwhile, may have antispasmodic properties. It is therefore likely to be ideal to have a mixture of decarboxylated and non-decarboxylated cannabinoids for a full spectrum of health benefits, depending upon the condition. For pain specifically, though, it does seem that a mixture of cannabinoids is best. Focusing on just CBD and/or THC alone will likely decrease the pain relieving potential of cannabinoids.

Similarly, focusing on non-decarboxylated cannabinoids alone is not enough. Yes, for some conditions, decarboxylated cannabinoids may not always be necessary, but decarboxylated cannabinoids of all sorts can work in conjunction with non-decarboxylated ones and become a more effective medication overall.

One potential way of getting more acidic cannabinoids into an oil is to infuse non-decarboxylated flowers into olive or coconut oil alongside decarbed ones, but remember that cooking with it may still change THCA to THC. Raw cannabis is also likely to contain moisture in it, so is more prone to mold. Care also must be taken to ensure that any raw cannabis flower is as clean and pesticide- and pathogen- free as possible.

Perhaps the best way to retain acidic cannabinoids is to keep an eye on what temperature you are cooking your oil in. Different cannabinoids decarboxylate at different rates, so even if you decarboxylate at 240°F (115°C), you will likely still have some acidic cannabinoids left. Alternatively, you can decarboxylate your cannabis at a lower temperature of around 194°F (90°C) to 212°F (100°C) for around 60 minutes (1 hour) in order to retain the terpenoids and prevent decarboxylation of all the cannabinoids, then slowly double boiling it as instructed under point 11 above.

Molecular structure of cannabidiolic acid (CBDA); chemical structure of CBDA, precursor to CBD.
Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA). From https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cannabidiolic_acid.png

How potent is cannabis-infused oil?

If you are ingesting it, then it can be quite potent. Another problem with homemade edibles and is that knowing precisely how much of each cannabinoid is present in each portion or spoonful is extremely difficult. For this reason, it is ideal to use different amounts of decarboxylated cannabis in each different batch of oil, and use no more than 1 teaspoon at a time, or even less if you have made a particularly strong batch of oil.

To give an example, if you have infused 3.5 g of decarboxylated cannabis in 500 ml of extra virgin olive oil, you may want to ingest no more than half a teaspoon full (around 2.5 ml). Then wait an hour to see if you feel OK, and repeat if you still feel you need more to beat any pain you may have. Remember: you can always take more, but you can never take less.

Of course, much of what is written above is written with the assumption that cannabis flowers with a high amount of THC are used. Using cannabis flowers where with a CBD:THC of 1:1 or higher (e.g. 2:1, 3:1 etc.) will dampen or even negate any psychoactive effects. The strain you use will affect which cannabinoids and terpenoids end up in the oil. Basically, if you want to avoid having too much THC in your oil, use a strain with low amounts of THC in it.

Decarboxylating CBD

The process described above decarboxylates both THCA and CBDA into THC and CBD. However, as stated already, different cannabinoids decarboxylate at different rates. The general rule of thumb seems to be that decarboxylation of cannabis flower is best at a temperature of between 194°F and 248°F (90°C and 120°C) for 30 to 60 minutes (1 hour), with some loss of cannabinoid concentration. The “sweet spot” for various kinds of cannabinoids seems to be around 230°F (110°C) for around 30 minutes. Go above 293°F (145°C), and it becomes very difficult to know precisely how cannabinoids behave, and it is likely you will start to lose them as well as the terpenoids as heat increases. Decarboxylation is a necessary process if you want to get the therapeutic effects of CBD and efficiently convert CBDA to CBD. THC, meanwhile, will likely start to convert into cannabinol (CBN) if the temperature goes above 266°F (130°C).

What’s the shelf life of cannabis-infused oil?

Cannabinoids do not last forever, and over time and exposure to air and heat, will decrease in potency. Acidic cannabinoids in particular are very unstable, and do not tend to last for very long when outside and exposed to the air. Kept in a cool, dark place, cannabis-infused oil should retain its potency for about 12 – 18 months (1-1.5 years).

Any impurities in the cannabis-infused oil will also affect how long a cannabis-infused oil will last for. This is one reason why properly straining any plant material from the oil is important, as you do not want to have mold and bacteria growing in your oil. However, as it is difficult to get rid of all plant material, added to the fact that the oil will have been exposed to heat and air, the shelf life will again be around 12 to 18 months.

Some may heat their cannabis-infused oil at a low temperature of around 140°F (60°C) for around 10-15 minutes on occasion to kill off some of the impurities left behind during the infusion process. Coconut oil is also a favorite base for cannabis-oil infusions due to it having antibacterial and antimicrobial properties.

The cannabis has been infused into the oil. Do I have to cook this oil at a specific temperature?

As cannabinoids are decarboxylated at high temperatures, if you want to retain any acidic cannabinoids, you will need to cook at lower temperatures or use the infused oil without cooking it. Once the oil or butter has been infused, you can heat it to a maximum of 350°F (approx 176°C) to keep all the cannabinoids from burning off.

Limonene; chemical structure of limonene; limonene molecular structure; limonene struttura.

Is there any other way to retain terpenes?

Sadly, cooking your cannabis-infused oil at high temperatures can sometimes burn off the terpenes. One way of overcoming this is by infusing your cannabis oil with fresh and dried herbs and spices such as rosemary and peppercorns, or even lavender flowers (linalool) and lemon & orange rinds (limonene).

Will my infused oil taste of cannabis?

Much of the flavor and effect of cannabis comes from its terpenes. Infusing decarboxylated cannabis into oil will certainly impart the flavor of the cannabis into the oil. Whilst the terpenes may be pleasant when smelled, the taste of cannabis when eaten is not usually as pleasant. Many people try and overcome the taste with sugar, hence the huge variety of medicated sweet treats available on the market. However, refined sugar is not really medicine in most cases, so this is not always the best way to ingest cannabinoids when it comes to living healthily.

Whilst straining away the plant material from the oil will get reduce the unpleasant taste, it will not get rid of it entirely. Matching the flavor profile of the cannabis-infused oil to the dish is possible, but not easy considering the amount of terpenes and terpenoids at play. Other ingredients can certainly mask the flavor, as can infusing the oil with other herbs and spices. Infusing a low weight of cannabis into the oil reduces potency as well as the cannabis taste, but this is not always ideal.

How do I use cannabis-infused oil?

You can use cannabis-infused oil as a tincture by placing a few drops under your tongue, or use a small amount in your cooking in replacement or addition (if a recipe calls for 15 ml of oil, you do not necessarily want all 15 ml to be cannabis-infused oil, for example) to your normal cooking oil or fat . You can also use such oils as a topical for inflamed joints and skin, or indeed even as a conditioner for your hair!

Coconut oil; wooden spoon; jar of coconut oil; coconut oil on wooden spoon.
Coconut oil – fantastic for skin and hair. Picture by DanaTentis. From https://pixabay.com/en/coconut-oil-on-wooden-spoon-2090580/

If you want to learn more about cooking with cannabis, check out our interview with the Herbal Chef, Chris Sayegh.

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