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Cooked with Cannabis
Edibles are all the rage. Baking your own is fun.
THC edibles are all the rage these days and it is easy to understand why. Most importantly, many cannabis consumers are uneasy about inhaling smoke or vapor into their lungs on a regular basis. Why do that when you can get as much or more benefit from eating your weed? As an added plus, cooking with cannabis is fun and easy. You can add it to your already favorite recipes or begin creating your own. And, the best part is that homemade edibles do not contain all of the questionable ingredients contained in commercial products. You know what is in them, because you made them yourself. All you need is a little understanding of how cannabis works and then you can let your culinary creativity flow.
Back in our hippie days, many of us remember making bud butter to use in making brownies. But, back then, our weed was filled with seeds and was, in other ways, not the same as what we have available now. Not only has our cannabis changed, our understanding of it and the ways we can use it in cooking have evolved, too. We can now easily make butters, oils and tinctures that can be used to infuse foods. Or, if done right, we can just grind cannabis flower to add right into all kinds of our every day recipes. To understand how, you first need to understand a process called decarboxylation.
Though it sounds technical, you don’t have to think of it that way. The best way to understand it is to know that, technically, cannabis plants do not grow or produce THC, the compound that gets you high, makes you relaxed or sleepy. Plants grow THCA, which is like THC, but is an even larger and slightly more complex molecule than THC. Both chemicals are very similar and are also very large, so large, in fact, that THCA is just a bit too large to pass through the blood-brain barrier that protects our brains from intrusion by a whole host of possible threats. A wide range of things that can enter our bodies are protected from reaching the brain by the blood-brain barrier. THCA is just a bit too large to pass through this natural protection so it can never get to our brains.
If THCA could pass the blood brain barrier, you would experience the same psychotropic effects that you get from THC. It just can’t quite get to your brain in order to make that happen. As an interesting side-note, that means that if you are consuming cannabis for medical reasons that do not require brain exposure to THC, you can get those benefits from eating the raw, not-decarboxylated plant. The raw, natural plant, including leaves and flowers, has an earthy and natural flavor that can provide an interesting enhancement to all kinds of salads. They won’t get you high. But, you might experience the other health benefits many people report from cannabis consumption, including healthier-looking skin and hair.
At Our Urban Farm, we use fresh-trimmed leaves in salads and as a natural treat for our chickens. They love it, and they get all the healthy good stuff from cannabis, without getting high. They are not any more crazy when they get some raw weed than they are on any other day.
When cannabis is decarboxylated, the big, giant and complex THCA molecule gets just a little bit smaller and a little less complex. It drops a few extraneous atoms, that are pretty much just hanging there by a thread anyway, and that are not really necessary for any of the chemical processes we associate with health, wellness or recreation. When it does that the THCA becomes THC, which is just smaller enough that it can pass through the blood-brain barrier to make you high or otherwise effect your neurological function, like, maybe, stop a seizure, resolve your restless legs or easing your Parkinson’s symptoms.
The trick to decarboxylating cannabis is simple: heat it up. At a temperature of about 240 degrees f, THCA takes about 15 minutes to turn into THC. When you burn cannabis by smoking it, the THCA is converted to THC much faster and at a much higher temperature. It is the burning combustion that creates the heat. But, the heat is so much that it also destroys a lot of the THC and THCA in the process, while also creating potentially harmful by-products in the smoke you are inhaling into your lungs. When you cook with cannabis no combustion takes place, preserving all of the goodness in your herb. And, since most cooking takes place at more than 240 degrees and for longer than 15 minutes, it is all that is needed to convert the THCA into THC.
If you are cooking something that will get to a temperature of more than 240 degrees at the center for more than 15 minutes during the cooking, all you really need to do is evenly mix some well-ground cannabis into the dish, working hard to make sure there are no thick clumps in any one area and then cook it.
Some people like to “decarb” their herb before adding it to their dishes. To do this, they simply put the dry, ground herb on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and then bake at 250 degrees for 15 minutes.
Fats and Oils
Bud butter is one of the more well-known tools used for cooking with cannabis. But butter is just one of a variety of fats and oils that can be infused with cannabis that you can then add to your cooking. And, generally, the cannabis is decarboxylated during the infusion process.
Fats and oils are used because THC and other cannabinoids found in cannabis are fat soluble, meaning they dissolve into fat. So, when you put cannabis into warm oil the fats in the oil begin to absorb the cannabinoids out of the herb. This process happens more rapidly when the fats are hotter. However, you want to be careful not to get the fat or oil too hot, or you will begin to destroy the cannabinoids.
One the best ways to do this is to simply add your butter, fat or oil to a crock pot and then stir in some freshly ground cannabis herb. Use a food thermometer to ensure the temperature gets to at least 240 degrees. How long you need to keep it heated depends on whether or not you plan to strain the herb out of the oil before using it.
If you are planning to strain the herb out of the oil, you will want to leave the herb in the oil as long as possible. The longer you leave it, the more of the cannabinoids will be dissolved into the oil or fat. No matter how long you leave the herb in the oil, you will be throwing out some perfectly good THC if you choose to strain, so I prefer to not strain.
Any high-fat oil can work, and often work better than butter. Olive oil and coconut oil are two products that work great. Both are very high in fat and are great for cooking. Once you have infused the oil and “decarbed” the THCA you can use the oil in any dish to bring a little something extra to your old recipes.
Alcohols and Tinctures
As good as fat is at absorbing cannabinoids, like THCA, alcohol is even better. It is so good at absorbing them in fact, that alcohol can even be used to extract THCA and CBD from the heavy stems of plants that would otherwise be thrown away.
Because alcohol is extremely flammable, I recommend decarboxylating you cannabis before adding it to your alcohol. I also recommend using a high-proof vodka, anything 100 proof or higher works beautifully. If you are using herb flower, simply add the herb to a bottle of booze and leave it sit for a few days, occasionally tipping and turning the bottle to gently stir the herb.
I like to use whole buds for this, because it is easy to pour beverages from the bottle without pouring herb with them. Once the bottle is empty, you can remove and eat the buds. If you are using stems, you will want to leave them soaking in the alcohol for at least a couple of weeks in order to extract the cannabinoids.
A Note About Dosing
When ingesting cannabis by mouth it takes longer for you to feel the effects and the effects differ greatly from person to person. In general, it takes a bit more to get you high, but the high is more intense and lasts longer. That also means that if you take more than you wanted, it can take several hours for it to wear off. Therefore, I recommend going slow when beginning to cook with cannabis. Lower-dosed edibles are easier to manage and control. You can always eat more if you want more. Once you have over-done it, all you can do is ride it out, or maybe smoke a little CBD to take the edge off.
With some basic understanding of how cannabis becomes “activated” in our bodies, it is fun and easy to come up with all kinds of ways to use it in your cooking. So, if you have already read this far, you are likely interested, and I recommend you give it a try!