Cooking with Cannabis, Part One: Decarboxylation

When I tell my mother I'm cooking with cannabis, she imagines some misshapen square of store bought brownie mix, the seeds and stems baked right in, and the dosage anyone's guess--an all around "hope-for-the-best" sort of situation. When I explain the process, the steps, the science, she's a bit blown away.

Anything that uses oil or butter is something that can be infused with cannabis, and over the past few years connoisseurs have tried to put it in everything. In the hands of someone who knows what they're doing, the possibilities are endless. And with proven benefits to back up the medicine, cannabis themed dinners and articles have become mainstream.

Generally, the effects of cannabis edibles come on gradually, but then last much longer than smoking or vaporizing--making it easy for a single dose to last all day. This can make edibles an extremely cost effect way to medicate but it also is why you need to be careful. When it comes to edibles, it's best to remember: You can always have more, but you can't have less.

When you ingest cannabis, THC is metabolized by the liver, meaning it's broken down to be used as energy (and that I googled "what does the liver do?"). When broken down, the THC is converted into something called 11-hydroxy-THC, and this, the active form of THC, is very effective at crossing the blood-brain barrier, the filtering system that blocks certain substances from getting to the brain. Benefits include extreme pain relief, nausea relief and much more, however the side effects can be a stronger body high, and in excessive doses, effects can be almost psychedelic.

Because of the way edibles are processed through the stomach and into the liver, it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours for the effects to be felt. However, the effects can last for several hours. This is one likely reason why many patients report having negative experiences with edible cannabis. They don’t wait the correct duration, eat more, and then, when the effects do arrive, they are overwhelming.

Again: You can always have more, but you can't have less.

This needs to be kept in mind when purchasing edibles, or making them yourself: Dosage can be very tricky, so always do the math and calculate mg dosage or go by the recommend dosage on the package. In Colorado, 10 mg is considered a "standard" dose with mild effects.

Here's a quick note on how to roughly calculate the amount of cannabis in the finished product. If you put a gram of cannabis into your butter/oil that is 20% THC, then your oil will roughly have 200 mg of THC. 

Anyway, the first thing that has to happen is decarboxylation, a chemical reaction that removes acids from the chemical allowing it to be absorbed by the body--converting the THCA in cannabis into THC. This occurs when cannabis is smoked or vaporized however, we need to complete this reaction before the cannabis can be effectively used in edibles. 

But how much cannabis do you use? The short answer is, as much as you want. You have to keep in mind the amount of oil or butter called for in a recipe, and how much each person is going to consume. Think about how big your batch of edibles is going to be and how many pieces you want the user to eat before they feel the effects.

Below you'll find two recipes. The first for decarboxylation, which is easier than it sounds;  and second, for making Cannabis butter.


      Preheat oven to 240*

      Break up cannabis with a grinder and spread as a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.

      Bake for 20-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to make sure it toasts evenly, a light to medium brown color.

      If saving to use later, remove the baking sheet and allow cannabis to cool. Store in an airtight container until needed.

*When heating cannabis at a lower temperature it loses fewer terpenes during the decarboxylation process. Terpenes are the oils in cannabis that give each strain its unique smell and flavor--berry, mint, citrus, pine--as well as, provide a number of medical benefits, such as relieving pain or increasing focus.

Once decarboxylated, the cannabis can be used to infuse oil or butter for baking desserts, sautéing veggies, frying up your morning eggs, or spreading on toast. 

The type of oil to use depends on what you'll be making.

Olive Oil -- sautéing/salad dressing

Coconut oil -- desserts/baking

Butter -- baking/frying


Cannabis Butter 


      4 grams Decarboxylated Cannabis

      3/4 cup Butter


      1/2 cup Cannabis Butter


Melt the butter on low heat in a small saucepan. Add the Decarboxylated Cannabis, and simmer on low heat for 45 minutes, stirring frequently. Strain the butter through a piece of cheesecloth into a dish, one with a tight-fitting lid if you're storing the butter to use later. With the back of a spoon, smash plant matter to squeeze out every drop. When you're done, discard the plant matter. Use the butter right away, or you can refrigerate or freeze it until needed.

Be sure that you remove all the plant matter before storing, otherwise it can get moldy after a while in the refrigerator.

You can easily scale this recipe up for larger batches. One pound of butter (4 sticks) can absorb a half ounce of cannabis, but it should simmer for 60 minutes. Keep in mind too though that you will loose some of the butter in the cooking process.