By Jennifer Blakney
I remember a scene from my high school common room, where a group of “popular” girls commandeered the only couch, and proceeded to crumble some cannabis over their cafeteria ice cream. They seemed pretty proud of themselves for sneaking a mid-day high, but were very disappointed when the only effect was the inconvenience of chewing through large pieces of cannabis.
If only it were as simple as applying cannabis as a garnish!
When making your own cannabis infusions the majority of instructions available online, while not incorrect, fail to address that overexposing your cannabis to heat in attempts to “squeeze out” every last drop of goodness is not only ineffective, but more importantly burns away all the elements you were attempting to extract in the first place.
More is not more. The act of decarboxylation, fat infusion, and baking are all heat processes that can chip away at THC’s beneficial compounds before you get a chance to enjoy them.
My first experience with making cannabis butter didn’t involve any proper decarboxylation (often referred to as “decarbing”), I didn’t even know what that was. I dumped all of my trim into a large pot with the specified pounds of butter and water. For 5-6 hours I avidly watched over this simmering concoction. I did panic when the colour darkened from olive green to almost black. But, the internet convinced me the darker, the better, as if it were some upper echelon bone broth I was infusing with every inch of cannabis goodness. Turns out, they were wrong.
Now, before we jump into the correct way to make delicious and effectively infused edibles, it’s important to note that my hypothesis and instructions have been assembled through personal research and anecdotal evidence.
In their raw forms, dried flower, trim/excess sugar leaves, and kief (extracted trichomes) won’t get you high. They contain the chemical compound THC-A, also known as THC’s dormant state. Decarboxylating your cannabis buds removes the carbon molecule in THC-A and converts it into the active compound that we all know and love, THC.
Decarboxylation is the process of activating THC using heat, most often an oven. Cannabis’ boiling point is between 315F-392F, and through other’s thorough experimentation and data collection, it’s been surmised that the sweet spot to decarbing cannabis is between 220F-240F.
Pro-tip: Never fully trust your oven at its designated temperature and be sure to purchase an oven thermometer.
The timing is where things get finicky. Like cooking on fast, high heat, results can be successful, but are more difficult to control and increase the potential of burning. Same concept applies to cannabis. Decarbing can occur quickly in a hot oven, but you’re almost guaranteeing loss of cannabinoids and terpenes, accelerating its degradation.
Knowing the type and quality of your starting product is important. Cannabis with a high THC content can withstand heat better than lower THC trim, or more volatile (yet still high in THC) kief.
For easy reference, remember the following temperatures for each cannabis derivative:
In Canada, Licensed Producers provide lab tested THC and CBD strengths for each strain, making it easier to determine the appropriate decarbing temperature and time. For example, if you’re using full bud, but it tested low THC at 10% or less, it would be more practical to set the oven to 220F, rather than 245F.
Keep in mind THC’s boiling point when you’re planning your final cannabis infusion. If you intend to bake a batch of cookies at 350F for 10-15 minutes, depending on how long you decarboxylated your cannabis prior to infusing it into your butter, this final baking step could be enough to degrade your THC into CBN. While not what you originally wanted, reaching this stage is not a completely undesirable outcome, as CBN provides mild psychoactivity, and possesses sedative effects and antibacterial qualities.
Pro-tip: Calculate the time required for infusing and baking and subtract it from your decarb time.
Decarboxylated cannabis can be eaten directly, but obviously it’s granular texture and toasty, bitter taste is neither appealing, or very palatable. Instead, its most commonly infused into a fat source for further baking and cooking.
As I learned from my first cannabis butter experiment, skipping the decarb step and opting instead for a slow cooked infusion yields inconsistent THC activation and potency, but also increases the risk of degrading your carrier fat or alcohol.
The compounds in cannabis are fat soluble, meaning that the higher the fat content of an oil, the more the cannabinoids and terpenes will be able to latch on and absorb into your body. In this case, fat is good!
There is however a quality hierarchy for fats, as well as best uses for each:
The debate about whether or not to include sunflower (or egg yolk) lecithin is ongoing. Data is inconclusive on its efficacy of increasing THC’s potency, but what it is useful for is emulsifying into water-based foods, such as batters and sauces. Accurate blending ensures accurate dosing.
Finally, using indirect heat with a double boiler will further secure your cannabinoids and terpenes. While a low simmer can be safe for direct heat, this method could still be too intense for the fragile compounds.
If you haven’t picked up on it yet, timing at each step is incredibly important, and knowing what you ultimately want to make will help determine both your decarb and infusion times.
Common instructions outline the following:
With THC degradation increasing the closer you get to 392F, it would be prudent to not exceed 375F when either baking or cooking. So, in order to compensate for future heat applications, you must reduce the decarb and infusion times.
Here is an example of what a potential recipe would look like with these considerations in mind, if were baking cookies at 350F for 10-15 minutes:
I’ve heard all sorts of unnecessary steps suggested by articles online, including blanching and spraying with high percentage Ethanol (such as Everclear), in my personal experience any differences would be negligible, and therefore can be omitted.
While I don’t recommend using cannabis-infused butter, there is one exception where the two meet – kief. Kief seamlessly blends into any recipe, and does not need to be infused into butter prior to use. Simply decarb it and add it to your favourite recipe. This gives you more flexibility in cooking time and temperature.
You could also consider using a batch of potently infused coconut oil in lieu of a portion of the butter content called for in a recipe. I recommend substituting no more than ¼ of the butter if you don’t want to alter the taste and structure too much.
Regarding dosing, recipes that specify ratios of fat to cannabis are a good jumping off point, but are actually arbitrary guidelines. Depending on preferred potency, you can adjust your ratios to make either a potent or diluted product. Using these calculators will help you achieve a correctly dosed edible.
In the end, any cooking or baking endeavor should be an enjoyable experience. Invite a friend over, and play around with different recipes until you find the ones that work best for you. All of this requires a little bit of experimenting so don’t be afraid to tweak the dosing until you obtain the perfect ratios for your needs.
If you have a favourite infused recipe or a process that differs from what we’ve outlined here, drop us a line. We’re always excited to learn from the experiments of other cannasseurs.
Jennifer Blakney is a Cordon Bleu trained pastry chef and published writer, researching and discussing current cannabis issues and culture. Connect with her on social media @blakeknees