Cannakitchen Witchery: DIY Oil Infusion
Hi friends! So last time we talked (which feels like ages ago!), we were waxing poetic about the benefits of fat, both in general and especially when combined with our favorite plant. So now we know why we should be using it in our medicine making, but the next question, naturally, is how do we do it?
The process is pretty simple, but there are a couple of choices to make along the way. The decisions you make will be based on your personal tastes, your desired potency, the equipment you have available, and the anticipated use for your end product. So without further ado, let’s get our metaphorical hands greasy and dive right in.
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Step #1: Pick your Lipid: Butter and other animal-based fats are awesome and super local, but if that’s not your thing coconut oil is my runner up. It’s great for both internal and topical use, tastes great, and is a healthy saturated fat. You can also choose olive oil, hemp seed oil, grapeseed oil, or whatever other oil suits your fancy.
Each oil has its own health benefits — hemp seed is rich in anti-inflammatory Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, olive oil has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, coconut oil can help boost your metabolism, etc. There are also differences energetically — coconut oil is cooling whereas sesame oil is warming, for example. So depending on what health issues your working on, and your particular constitution (are you always cold? Feel overheated easily?) you may choose your oil based on those criteria.
I get a lot of questions about what kind of fat is the best extractor for cannabis. Historically, ghee (clarified butter) was the traditional extractor in India, and regular old butter has long been used in the cannabis subculture (hence the “magical butter machine” – more on that later). With the recent explosion in coconut oil’s popularity, that fat has been giving butter a run for its money. We know they both work, but is one better than the other? According to some citizen science research; yes.
In one experiment, the exact same flower was extracted using the same methods using five different fats, and then tested. Although olive oil performed moderately better with a short infusion, the best results were seen with a 4-8 hour infusion in either clarified butter or coconut oil.
Interestingly with these longer infusion times, olive oil extracted only about 83-87% as much as the clarified butter, with avocado oil and bacon fat performing better (ummm, did someone say infused bacon fat? That is a product that is just begging to be made).
Moral of the story, saturated fats like butter and coconut oil (and did I mention BACON FAT) seem to do better, and as we know from the current research they are not the evil they are often made out to be. They are also much more heat stable, which means there’s not as much of a risk of the oil rancidifying (and becoming inflammatory) during our infusion process.
That being said, if you are opposed to these oils for any reason — taste, availability, or an intended use that requires your oil be liquid at room temp, etc. — unsaturated fats like olive, hempseed, or grapeseed oil will definitely extract a good amount of medicine.
Once you’ve picked your fat, there are a number of methods people use to actually get the goods into your oil, all of which have their advantages and drawbacks. So on to the next choice:
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Basically, all we need to do now is cover our cannabis with the oil of our choice, and apply heat and/or time to extract all the goodness out of our plant material. There’s a number of different methods we can choose, each with their own pros and cons.
This won’t work so well with saturated fats that are solid at room temperature, but can be used to extract into liquid oils. Simply combine your cannabis and oil in a mason jar, making sure your herb is completely covered, shake, and let sit for as long as you can wait (ideally at least 1-2 months. Shake it whenever you think of it, every day if you can.
The nice thing about this method is that it will do the best job at preserving all the terpenes, since many of these are lost once heat is applied. You can also taste test periodically until you are happy with the taste and potency, and then strain once you’ve reached the sweet spot. Great for folks with a lot of patience!
One tip here: make sure your bud is fully decarboxylated before adding the oil if you want that in the final product, since you’re getting little to no decarb during this process.
The ratio you choose will depend on how strong you want your infusion, but as a starting point you could add 14 grams cannabis (thats at least partially decarboxylated, since this process will not fully decarb your product) to 4 sticks of butter in a pot on the stovetop, and simmer on low, stirring constantly, for 3+ hours.
If you’re wondering why I picked that particular ratio of flower to oil, that’s a pretty average potency assuming your flower is around 15% THC (you’ll end up with about 70-80 mg per tablespoon of oil). If you have a stronger or weaker strain, or want a stronger or weaker oil, you can use my Potency Calculator to find out your ideal ratio.
Now, the hardest thing about this method is keeping it from burning, which is why a lot of folks will recommend adding a cup of water to the mix. They also claim an added bonus, which is that after you strain the butter and let it set in the fridge, the water will separate and you can pour it off along with some “undesirable” compounds like chlorophyll.
You can probably guess how I feel about throwing away part of your medicine, but in addition to that — if you don’t get all the water off you increase the risk of spoilage. So while this is the most low-tech and accessible method, its not actually my favorite way of doing things.
Okay, maybe this is the most low tech. Here, we’re putting our flower and oil (NOT butter with this one, trust me!) into a mason jar and sitting it out in the sun for as long as we can wait, agitating periodically to move the oil through the flower. Now depending on your location, this could take a few days or it could take several weeks. Therein lies its disadvantage – its unreliable and difficult to replicate with any accuracy.
Also, if it’s as hot as it was this past summer, you could easily overheat your oils. There’s a reason you’re supposed to store your olive oil in a cool dark place — excess heat can make your oils go rancid and become pro-inflammatory. But if you’re careful, solar infusion is a beautiful method that totally works and is great if you’re low on resources.
Now we’re cooking. Crockpots are a great way to maintain consistent heat over a long period of time without burning the butter or your house down. Using the same ratios as above, place all ingredients in a crock pot and set on low for at least 6-8 hours and as long as 24 hours. Stirring is helpful every so often, but be careful not to leave the lid off too long so you don’t lose too much heat. When the timer goes off, simply strain into another container and voila — you’ve got infused oil.
Welcome to the Machine
I’m not normally one to espouse the high-tech over the unsophisticated, but these doo-dads are pretty nifty. First we’ve got the Magical Butter.
Love-child of a crockpot and a blender, this machine agitates and heats your oil or butter all at the same time with the push of a button, and has a self-cleaning mode for when you’re done. It even flashes disco lights at you while it’s cooking.
A relative newcomer to the market is the sleek LEVO oil infuser, which resembles a coffee machine and is easier to clean than the magic butter.
The LEVO is also fully customizable with time and temp (Magical Butter has only a few presets to choose from) and is incredibly quiet. Its downside is that it has a much lower capacity — the max it can handle is about 3-5 grams of flower, but you can always do a second run to re-infuse the same oil.
To be honest, I’m not totally sold on the efficacy of the LEVO — the flower stays in a separate chamber during the infusion process while the oil flows through it, and intuitively this seems less effective than fully incorporating it. The oil is also tastes and looks much less infused in the end, as compared to Magical Butter infusions. MB has also been kind enough to give me a coupon code to pass on to you fine folks — feel free to use code CANNABOTANICALS when you check out to get 20% off!
Now, you probably still have a few questions. For those wanting a little more instruction, or just want to outsource this part, check out my two newest offerings — Private Medicine Making Lessons on the topic of your choosing or Custom Infusion services where I take your cannabis product and transform it into whatever goodie you desire.
Until next time, plant people. Next month, we’ll talk tincture.
Stephanie is a certified clinical herbalist, having graduated from the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism‘s three-year Clinical Herbalist Training Program. In addition to her traditional herbal training, she also holds a Professional Certificate in Cannabis Science and Medicine from the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine, and has over five years of experience in the cannabis industry, primarily as a medicine maker. Stephanie has long been fascinated by plants, particularly the cannabis plant, and how they bring together the realms of science, spirituality, healthcare, social justice and ecology. Her clinical practice CannaBotnanicals (cannabotanicals.net) offers herbal consults with an emphasis on holistic approaches to cannabis use, as well as custom infusions and a small product line.