Cooking With Cannabis: Cannabutter and Edibles for Beginners
Are you looking to experiment with cooking with cannabis? As legalization and recreational cannabis use continue to spread, edibles remain among the top-favored cannabis categories - perhaps because they’re a long-lasting, smoke-free option, or perhaps because they’re a tasty way to medicate!
If you’ve found yourself curious about the process of making your own edibles, look no further! In this post we’ll go over the ins and outs of cooking with cannabis, and teach you how to make edibles for beginners, right down to calculating a dose that works for you.
How to Create Cannabutter
Cooking with cannabis can be an extremely rewarding experience, and it all starts with making a cannabis-infused oil or butter.
The psychoactive chemicals in cannabis require fatty substances to dissolve properly, such as those found in milk, butter, or cooking oils. Cannabinoids aren’t released in water — even hot water — so you can’t make cannabis tea as you would with other psychoactive substances.
Once you’re able to make a good cannabutter or cannaoil, you can basically make (or at least attempt) any edible imaginable. Simply swap out the oil in your favorite recipe for your special butter. Baked recipes, or recipes where the cannabutter is used as a spread, will be your best bet. Recipes that call for frying something in oil will inevitably result in wasted cannabutter or cannaoil left in your frying pan.
Here’s what you need to consider before fetching some flower from your local dispensary and making your first batch of cannabutter:
Know Your Stuff
Though chefs are always experimenting with cannabis recipes, and research into the topic of consuming cannabis orally is ongoing, there are some pretty widely accepted dos and don’ts. You can’t just sprinkle some buds on your protein shake and call it a day. It’s good to learn about the different psychoactive chemicals present in cannabis, how they react to heat and other substances, and how your body responds to them in specific amounts before you add them to your food.
What’s in Cannabis?
Cannabis, weed, marijuana — it has a hundred names, but they all refer to a complex combination of psychoactive and non-psychoactive chemicals present in the cannabis sativa plant. So, what are the important ones?
- THC. Tetrahydrocannabinol is a psychoactive compound that generates the “high” you get from smoking or consuming cannabis. It can have a profound effect on anxiety, mood, and pain.
- CBD. Cannabidiol, on the other hand, doesn’t get you high. CBD actually counteracts your high to some extent when you smoke or eat products made with high-THC potencies.
Like THC, CBD can also be used to treat anxiety and pain, though one of its biggest breakthroughs has been in its use as an effective treatment for epileptic seizures.
- THCa and CBDa. Your unprocessed cannabis flower actually contains very little THC or CBD. Until the plant matter has been decarboxylated by heat, these chemicals mostly exist in distinct forms called THCa and CBDa, and have shown to provide their own therapeutic benefits.
Calculating THC Content
The first step in calculating THC content is to know your dose. If this is your first time experimenting with cannabutter, always shoot for the lower end of your desired potency range. Eating overpowered edibles is not a pleasant experience for most users.
If you’re getting your flower from a dispensary, the packaging should list the tested amounts of the various psychoactive chemicals present. You can use these figures along with a series of simple equations to estimate the power of your batch.
- THCa x 0.877 + THC = Total THC per gram
Why 0.877? It’s related to the molecular structure of THC!
- Total THC per gram x Total Infused Weight = Total THC per batch
- Total THC per batch / # of edibles = dosage per edible
What’s My Dosage?
An inexperienced user with a low tolerance to THC might want to limit themselves to around 2 mg of THC for their first experiment. Long-time cannabis users, meanwhile, will sometimes consume 10 mg or more in a single dose.
The correct strength for your edibles all depends on your goals, previous cannabis experience, and preferences. Your size and body weight also play a factor, as it will take more THC to create the same high in a larger person.
You may also benefit from experimenting with different strains. Cannabis is more powerful when eaten than when smoked, so your go-to rolling strain might not always be your best choice for edibles.
First Things First: Decarboxylation
The first thing you need to do when cooking cannabis is decarboxylation. This important step comes before your cannabis ever touches any butter or oil.
In scientific terms, decarboxylation is the process of removing carboxyl groups, a type of weak acid, from a molecule. The process also releases carbon dioxide. Thankfully, we don’t have to understand exactly what that means to understand its role in the process of cooking with cannabis.
In layman’s terms, “decarbing” is a heating process that activates the medicinal compounds in your cannabis, like THC and CBD. The same basic process occurs when you apply flame to cannabis to smoke it. When you want to add your cannabis to a dish, however, you need to bake it gently rather than burn it with direct flame.
- Preheat a conventional oven to 230 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Grind your cannabis flower. It does not need to be finely ground for the decarboxylation process. Roughly broken up material is ideal, and it’s not a big deal if stems or even seeds are present (though some people prefer removing seeds because they contain almost no THC and may affect the flavor of the butter).
- Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. If you don’t have any paper, make sure your cookie sheet is clean and dry. Other oven-safe liner papers like wax paper should also be ok.
- Spread your cannabis on the cookie sheet evenly.
- Bake the cannabis for 60 to 90 minutes. Check it periodically. If it’s visibly browning or smoking, lower the temperature by five degrees at a time and keep a close watch on it. The goal here is to slowly heat your flower in preparation for further cooking — not broil it to a crisp.
Some experts believe a 60-minute decarb will yield higher THC levels, while 90 minutes in the oven activates more CBD.
While the decarbing process does bring out the beneficial compounds found in cannabis, it also removes a lot of the flavor and aroma of your strain. Once you do start cooking, introducing a few additional sprinkles of freshly ground product can restore the “weed flavor” … if that’s the sort of thing you’re into.
Do I Really Need to Decarb?
Some experienced cannabis chefs might advise you against decarbing. As with most things in the marijuana community, there is not unanimous agreement about how things should be done. Most people who make high-end edibles do consider decarboxylation a necessary step for getting a high-quality product, but there are some interesting arguments to the contrary:
- Therapeutic chemicals. Decarbing is the process by which the THCa and CBDa present in unprocessed cannabis flowers are transformed into therapeutic CBD and psychoactive THC. Some users and researchers, however, have observed the potential for therapeutic effects in THCa and CBDa themselves.
- Advanced cooking. Another reason to skip the decarb process might be advanced recipes that call for a more acidic product. Remember, carboxyl groups in cannabis material take the form of a weak acid, so removing them from your flower will change the properties of your end product.
- Redundancy. Some people don’t see the point in heating your cannabis in the oven before heating it again in a pot of butter. There is some logic to this but doing decarboxylation and oil infusion as a two-step process with controlled timing and temperature at each stage will get you a more potent product in the end.
- Tolerance. Beginners with a low tolerance to THC might actually prefer a weaker end product, and that’s okay! In this instance, however, simply using less cannabis and preparing it correctly will get you more consistent results than skipping the decarb and hoping it weakens the final product.
In general, you will benefit from taking the time to decarboxylate your flower before making cannabutter.
Making Your Cannabutter (or Cannaoil)
Once you’ve found a strain and dosage you’re comfortable with, broken it down, and decarbed it in the oven, it’s time to make your cannabutter.
One of the most basic recipes you can do is “cannabutter.”
Cannabutter is versatile enough that you can incorporate it into almost any baked goods like cakes or cookies.
- Melt 1 cup of butter (or coconut oil) in a saucepan or small pot.
- Add 1 cup of water.
- Add your ground and decarboxylated cannabis. Depending on how strong you want it, you should end up using around seven to ten grams of plant material in a recipe with 1 cup each of butter and water, but you can add as much cannabis as you want so long as it all gets saturated by the liquid and oil. If you are using a concentrate or extract rather than raw flower for your recipe, the amount will be much smaller.
- Simmer on low heat for two to three hours. Anything beyond a gentle simmer is too hot. Your mixture should never be boiling or smoking, though it will steam gently as the water is cooked out.
- Strain into a vessel of your choosing. You can strain it through cheesecloth while still hot for a more refined product or use a regular kitchen colander if you’re not picky. Any plant matter that ends up in your final product should be safe to eat, but may affect the flavor of your edibles. (See our “Straining Successfully” tips below for detailed information on how to strain cannabutter.)
- Cool your cannabutter. If any water is still present it will separate from the solidified product during the cooling process and can be discarded.
Butter or Oil?
Whether you use butter or coconut oil (or another type of cooking oil) is largely a matter of personal preference. Some types of fats are best for certain types of recipes, and that’s still true after those fats have been infused with weed.
Cannabutter and cannabis-infused coconut oil are both great all-purpose substitutes for baking. Cannaoil baking recipes and cannabutter baking recipes are largely interchangeable.
Infusing with Distillate or RSO
Seeking more precise dosing with your marijuana edibles? Infusing butter or oil with distillate or RSO is a great option. The cannabinoids are already activated, so no decarboxylation is necessary, nor is filtering! Too, measuring doses are easy - if you use 300 mg THC of a distillate syringe to craft 24 brownies, you can rest assured that there are approximately 12.5 mg THC per brownie.
To infuse butter or oil with cannabis distillate or RSO, start by grabbing a double boiler. Add water to the bottom unit, and bring to a boil. Add butter and desired distillate or RSO dose to the top unit, stirring gently. Once the butter and distillate or RSO appear homogeneous, set aside to cool, then store until use.
If you don’t have a double boiler, instead, grab a saucepan and a glass measuring cup. Bring water to a boil, then lower the temperature. Set the glass measuring cup in the water, making sure no water gets into the cup. Add your butter and desired distillate or RSO dose. While they melt together, stir gently to make sure the concentrate is thoroughly incorporated. Set aside to cool and enjoy!
Cooking With Cannabutter
You’ve made it to the fun part! Now it’s a simple matter of swapping the butter or oil in your favorite recipe. Baking with cannabutter is not really different from baking with regular butter.
Start with basic recipes and work your way up to more complex cannabis-infused dishes. Foolproof classics include brownies, snickerdoodle cookies, chocolate chip cookies, fudge, and banana bread, but you’re truly only limited by your imagination. Just be sure your goodies don’t reach over 300°F in temperature, as that can waste the beneficial cannabinoids!
For something extremely fast and simple, your cannabutter can be mixed with a bit of peanut butter and used as a spread on toasts, breads, or graham crackers.
Cook With Care
When experimenting with your new cannabutter, start with a small amount like half a tablespoon mixed together with the same amount of regular butter. Bake a small batch of something, or simply spread it on toast to try it out.
If you find that it’s too weak, use more cannabutter and decrease the amount of regular butter and repeat the experiment (ideally after several hours have passed, as even “weak” edibles can have a way of sneaking up on you).
It’s essential to add in small increments, like a tablespoon at a time to first test things out. You don’t want to end up dosing yourself with too much THC or you’ll have wasted all your hard work and cannabis on an unpleasant experience.
Once you’ve found a ratio of cannabutter to regular butter that works for you, remember it, and use it as a starting point for other recipes.
Cooking with marijuana is a new and exciting activity for a lot of people. It’s important to be aware, though, that it doesn’t necessarily have standard practices yet. There is a lot of experimenting and guesswork going on when cooking with cannabis, but that’s part of the fun.
Experiment as much as you can and find a dose that you’re comfortable with. With more and more governments embracing recreational cannabis use, perhaps it won’t be long before you can start your own weed-themed restaurant or bakery.
Beyond the Stove
Some high-end cannabis chefs advise against using your regular stovetop for cooking down cannabutter, as it can be difficult to regulate the temperature and keep that slow, steady heat we’re looking for. A slow cooker and a double boiler are two popular alternatives for the simpler pot-on-the-stove method. One benefit to the low, consistent heat offered by such devices is that you don’t need to add a bunch of water (and then potentially separate it later) to guard against overcooking.
Slow cooker cannabutter directions:
- Set your slow cooker on low, keeping the temperature around 160°F.
- Add 1 cup of butter or high fat oil, your ground cannabis, and 1 tablespoon sunflower lecithin (optional).
- Cook for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally.
- Turn off the slow cooker and allow the butter or oil to cool to a safe temperature.
- Strain while still warm.
Double boiler cannabutter directions:
- Put 1 cup of high fat oil into a double boiler. Simmer on low and let the butter melt.
- As oil heats, add in your cannabis product and 1 tablespoon sunflower lecithin (optional).
- Maintain low heat (above 160°F but never exceeding 200°F)
- Simmer for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. Never let the mixture come to a full boil.
Straining is key to a quality end product, and it’s also an opportunity for something to go very, very wrong. Knowing how to strain cannabutter is nearly as important as knowing how to cook it in the first place. Filtration is a simple enough concept — you just get the chunky bits out of a liquid. But when issues do occur in the straining process, it’s usually in the form of a messy spill that wastes your precious cannabis and destroys your hard work.
Try this method for a foolproof filtration job that will leave you with a high-quality infusion:
- Set a funnel inside the top of a large jar and line it with a cheesecloth.
- Allow the oil to cool down slightly before handling, but make sure it’s still warm and fully liquid so that it can flow through the cheesecloth freely.
- Pour it over the cheesecloth funnel and allow it to strain. Wait and do it in stages if the butter fills up the funnel. Shaking the setup or otherwise trying to force the butter through the cheesecloth faster is inviting disaster.
- Place the oil in the refrigerator to cool.
- If water remains in the cooled product, discard it.
Helpful Tips for Making Cannabutter
- Consider using clarified butter — this removes the milk solids and water from the butter, resulting in a better infusion and overall edible experience.
- If your infused oil becomes solid after infusion (butter and coconut-based oils both will) melt it and stir it before adding it into your dish. This will counteract the effects of any settling that occurred during the cooling process.
- Keep the internal temperature of whatever you are making with your infused oil below 300°F to prevent the THC from burning off.
This is really just the beginning of what you can do with Cannabutter. The recipes are endless, and you get all the benefits of cannabis with fun new treats you can make for yourself at home. Be sure to visit our blog for future cannabutter recipes from our test kitchens!
*Editor's Note: This article was originally published Apr 2, 2019 and has been updated Jan 7, 2022.
Digital Content Manager for MÜV Florida and Zen Leaf Dispensaries. A cannabis connoisseur with a passion for explaining the miraculous possibility of the plant, Swan began her journey with cannabis as a recreational user and quickly realized its positive impact on her depression and severe anxiety. She joined the cannabis industry as Receptionist and MedTender and witnessed first-hand the immense potential of the plant for a wide variety of ailments, deepening her passion for alternative medicine. Swan is dedicated to self-education on the plant and sharing its potential with all. She holds a Journalism degree from the University of Iowa.
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