Beyond the Smoke: DIY Cannabis Infusions and Extractions
How Your Patients Can Infuse the Three Most Popular At-Home Preparations
The Oxford Online Dictionary defines “infusion” as “a drink, remedy, or extract prepared by soaking the leaves of a plant or herb in liquid.” While the use of infusions for culinary and medicinal purposes can be traced back to the earliest civilizations, their popularity is exploding in today’s do-it-yourself (DIY) environment. A Google search of “make your own herb infusion” yields millions of results. As cannabis flower becomes legally available in more states, it stands to reason that at least some of these home infusion tactics are being used to create custom cannabinoid tinctures, butters, and oils.
According to Chrissy Bellman, CEO and founder of LEVO, a brand of at-home herbal fusion appliances, and a home infusion expert, “By extracting the components of the whole plant, and using other ingredients specific to the person or condition, the full spectrum of nutritional, therapeutic, and medicinal benefits of infusions can be realized.” While it’s possible to make these cannabis preparations with common kitchen tools, the market for specialized pieces of home extraction and infusions is growing.
The popularity of extractions and infusions is also demonstrated by shelves upon shelves of commercially prepared tinctures and oils at natural and mainstream grocery stores. However, the ingredients in these retail products may not be acceptable to discerning consumers. For instance, even infused oils marketed as “all natural” may contain traces of the solvent used in the extraction process, additives to improve flavor/odor, or preservatives to improve shelf life. And for some, these additives may cause adverse effects. Thus, creating infusions at home provides the most control over ingredients and the final product.
There are two basic steps in making a home cannabis preparation—activation and infusion or extraction.
1. Activation: Depending on the desired effect of the cannabis preparation, it may be necessary to activate the cannabinoids in the dried flower. This process, called decarboxylation, converts the acid forms of CBD and THC to their active forms by removing the acid component of the molecule. Cannabis flowers can be decarbed by baking them in an oven at 240˚ F for 40 minutes. For some conditions, the acid form of the cannabinoids are more desirable, so decarbing isn’t necessary. However, the acid form of THC (THCA) has little or no intoxicating effect. Therefore, if intoxication is the intended effect, the preparation should start with dry, decarbed flower.
2. Infusion or extraction: Cannabinoids are fat soluble, meaning a solvent is needed to remove them from the plant material that surrounds them. For at-home cannabis preparations, solvents (also called carriers) can be another fat (eg, avocado oil, coconut oil, butter) or food-grade alcohol (such as Everclear). When using an oil or other fat, the process of separation of cannabinoids from plant material is called infusion, and the end product contains a diluted amount of cannabinoids in a large volume of carrier oil that can be used in culinary and topical creations. When using food-grade alcohol, the process is called extraction and can yield a more concentrated end product and, in some instances, leaves pure cannabinoid oil. According to Troy Ivan, CEO of ExtractCraft, a maker of home ethanol extraction products, when done correctly, home extractions produce cannabinoid oils with concentrations of more than 800 mg/mL and that can be used in myriad preparations.
Home infusions can be done easily using common kitchen equipment including an oven, a thermometer, Mason jars or other glass jars, a large stock pot or slow cooker, and a strainer such as a filter or cheesecloth.
Infusing the Most Popular At-Home Preparations
Following are general guidelines you and your patients can use for extracting or infusing the three most popular at home cannabis preparations: cannabis tincture, cannabis oil, and cannabis butter.
Ingredients and equipment: cannabis flower, high-proof grain alcohol such as Everclear, a Mason jar, and a strainer.
Process: This home extraction method yields a highly concentrated cannabis tincture that’s one of the more traditional medicinal preparations. It uses food-grade alcohol as the solvent for extracting the cannabinoids from the plant matter. The tincture can then be used as an alcohol cannabis infusion or the alcohol can be evaporated, leaving behind a full-extract cannabis oil.
Instructions: Add flower (decarbed for maximum cannabinoid activity) to a Mason jar and cover completely with the grain alcohol. Seal tightly and store in a dark, cool space such as a pantry or cupboard for at least 10 days, shaking gently once daily. After 10 days, strain the liquid through a strainer or cheesecloth to remove the plant matter. You can now use the tincture as-is or evaporate it. The safest and easiest way to evaporate the alcohol from the cannabis oil is to pour the alcohol solution into a flat-bottomed glass casserole dish in a thin layer and allowing it to evaporate into the air for one to two days with a small fan blowing gently over the area.
Ingredients and equipment: cannabis flower, a carrier oil, a Mason jar, a thermometer, a cooking device (slow cooker or stock pot), and a strainer.
Process: A cannabis oil infusion uses a carrier oil—typically coconut oil, olive oil, or avocado oil—to bind to the cannabinoids and extract them from the plant matter. The oil can then be used in a wide variety of culinary and self-care products for both edibles and topical applications.
Instructions: While there are many different methods, it’s recommended to use a water bath to infuse oil to maintain a constant temperature. For this process, set up a water bath either in a slow cooker or a stock pot on a stovetop and aim to reach a temperature of 185˚ F. In a Mason jar, combine the cannabis flowers and carrier oil and seal tightly. Place the jar into the water bath and allow the infusion to cook for four hours if the cannabis is decarbed and eight hours if it isn’t decarbed. Once the time is up, remove the jars and allow to cool to the touch. Strain the contents with a strainer or cheesecloth, separating the plant matter from the oil infusion. Store the oil infusion in a cool, dark place between uses. These oils can be used in just about any culinary creation or used to create topical and personal care products.
Pro tip: Cooked plant matter can be added to other recipes including pesto, garlic bread, and more.
Cannabis butter is one of the most popular staple DIY cannabis recipes because of its ease of use and versatility in both sweet and savory recipes.
Ingredients and equipment: cannabis flower, unsalted butter, a cooking device (slow cooker or stock pot), a thermometer, and a strainer.
Process: The cooking process for butter is almost identical to that of cooking oil, except the butter process requires an extra step of draining and removing the milk solids after filtering.
Instructions: After following the same steps for making cannabis oil, refrigerate the butter, which will cause it to solidify and separate from the leftover water and milk solids. Remove the solid block of infused butter and store it an airtight container in the refrigerator and discard the excess water and milk solids. Because butter contains water and milk solids, you will typically lose 20% of your total volume during the cooking process.
For those who want an easy, clean, and less time-consuming way to create home cannabis preparations, there are a number of different pieces of equipment on the market. These home infusion and extraction machines vary in price as well as in the methods they employ to separate cannabinoids from plant matter. The following are some aspects to consider before purchasing a home infusion or extraction machine:
1. Drying: While not entirely necessary because most cannabis flower purchased at a dispensary is already dried, a “dry” setting is helpful to dry other fresh herbs quickly and efficiently. Dried herbs contain less moisture than do fresh herbs, which can extend the shelf life of infused products.
2. Grinding or blending: Machines with a built-in grinder or blender may yield a product that is grassy and bitter since the blender function chops up the plant material and releases chlorophyll into the final product.
3. Agitation: Some herbalists insist that herbs must be agitated in the carrier oil for maximum extraction. However, agitation may lead to aeration (adding air to the mix), which may decrease shelf life of the product.
4. Time and temperature settings: In order to transfer flavor, scent, color, nutrients, and other active plant components to the carrier, heat and time are required. Machines that allow for different combinations of time and temperature can help create the best end product. These machines can be used for more than cannabis; they can be used to make other herbal infusions such as cinnamon butter or rosemary oil.
5. Dishwasher-safe components: If the reason for purchasing new equipment is ease and cleanliness, this is a must. Heating butters and oils can make a mess, and small parts can be hard to clean by hand.
6. Potency: THC potency checkers on the market can be expensive, but other lab testing isn’t available for home-prepared products. Cannabis practitioners recommend using the same strain of flower, with the same carrier oil, on various time and temperature settings and keeping a detailed journal of doses and effects to create a truly customized product. There are also calculators available online.
Regardless of method, making cannabis tinctures, oils, and butters allows for customization and personalization. Having full control over the ingredients in a preparation is desirable for those medical cannabis patients who have allergies, aversions, or intolerances to ingredients in commercial preparations. Because potency may or may not be known, it’s critical for patients to keep detailed diaries of preparation method, flower strain, time, temperature, physical and mental effects, time of onset, and duration of effects in order to find a personalized therapeutic dose.
— Bonnie Johnson, MS, RDN, HCP, is a registered dietitian nutritionist, food industry consultant, speaker, and certified cannabis consultant. She spends much of her volunteer time educating a variety of audiences about the benefits and potential risks of using cannabis to treat chronic pain, anxiety, insomnia, and other ailments. As a consultant, she works with the food and cannabis industries to bring science-based education to health care professionals and category-changing products to market.
— Emily Kyle, MS, RDN, CDN, CLT, HCP, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified holistic cannabis practitioner. As a three-time published cookbook author, she combines the medicinal, nutritional, and culinary aspects of cannabis use through the creation of detailed cannabis-infused recipes. She advocates for responsible adult-recreational cannabis use and shares her published resources at EmilyKyleNutrition.com and on Instagram at @EmilyKyleNutrition.