There are a hundred and one ways to make cannabutter scattered throughout the internet, but which one is the best? Through a lot of research, experience, and scouring the internet, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide to making cannabutter which includes all the various methods and optional steps you may want to consider. Before we get into the different options, it’s important to understand the chemical nature of the active ingredients of cannabis, primarily THC, but also other cannabinoids. THC is not water soluble, but it is fat soluble. This is because compounds can only dissolve in liquids with a similar polarity.
THC has a non-polar molecular structure, which matches the non-polar nature of butter and other fats. Since water has a very polar molecular structure, we know water won’t dissolve THC or other cannabinoids. This is why we can use water in these recipes without worrying about it absorbing the THC. On that same note, if you’re looking for a healthy alternative to butter, you can substitute coconut oil, as well as many other fats, for butter in any of these recipes and methods. Even though it’s called coconut ‘oil’, it’s actually a solid at room temperature, and is spreadable similar to butter.
- Butter – at least 8oz / 2 sticks recommended, but there’s no real upper or lower limit. Most people, ourselves included, recommend unsalted butter, but it doesn’t actually make a big difference. The main reason unsalted butter is usually recommended is because you can simply add the salt later if you want.
- Cannabis / Kief / Concentrates – The amount is up to preference, but per 8 oz / 2 sticks of butter, we recommend about 14g trimmings, 14g vaped weed, 7g bud, 3.5g kief, or 2.5g concentrates for moderate strength edibles. We usually double that for more potent edibles.
- Saucepan or crock-pot – we prefer using a crock-pot (like this one) for making the cannabutter due to how easy and efficient it is, although a saucepan can be used both for cannabutter and making clarified butter.
- Reusable Nylon Milk Bag, Cheesecloth, Fine Mesh Strainer, or Bubble Hash Bags – We highly recommend Milk Bags (like these), as they’re cheap and reusable. If you have Bubble Hash bags, you can use a ~200 micron bag to accomplish basically the same thing, although you may want to clean it afterwards. You can buy 9 sq ft of cheesecloth for $4, but you can only use that for maybe two batches of butter whereas milk bags are reusable. You can also use a fine mesh strainer if you don’t have anything else, but since it’s difficult to squeeze the butter out of the cannabis with a flat strainer, we recommend you stick with bags or cheesecloth if possible.
- Optional, but highly recommended: Lecithin – Any kind of lecithin will work, but sunflower lecithin is popular. We recommend powdered lecithin (like these lecithin granules) for more precise measurements, but liquid lecithin is fine too, just make sure you use the same weight of liquid lecithin, and NOT the same volume, as liquid lecithin weighs more. You’ll add this the same time you add the cannabis to the butter to substantially increase bioavailability and absorption rate.
- Optional: Everclear Alcohol. Either a small amount to spray onto the cannabis before letting it dry and adding it to the butter, or to use in place or in addition to the water in the final process.
Optional Preparation – Clarify the butter
If you’ve read any of the many, many guides on cannabutter available online, you’ve undoubtedly seen methods which start with clarified butter rather than plain butter. In fact, most methods seem to start with clarified butter these days. So what is so important about using clarified butter? Well in terms of the medical or recreational value of the end product, there’s not much of a reason. When you clarify butter, you’re removing the milk solids and water. The reason milk solids are added to butter in the first place is to make it so that butter can be distributed in sticks at room temperature, rather than liquid.
The main reason to clarify butter is that it allows you to use recipes that call for temperatures over 325 F or 163 C, which is the temperature at which the milk solids in non-clarified butter start to burn. You probably don’t want to be cooking that hot anyways because the THC and other cannabinoids start to vaporize at similar temperatures. Another reason to clarify butter is to remove the water. Depending on what you plan on making with your cannabutter, you may not want that extra moisture, but if you’re making something like brownies, then that extra water from the butter isn’t going to be noticed, or can be accounted for somewhat. The final reason to clarify butter is its texture. For example, certain sauces call for clarified butter because it results in a more creamy sauce, whereas normal butter will result in a more frothy texture. Often higher quality butter will have less milk solids, so you may want to make your decision in part based on the butter you buy. You can usually identify higher quality butter by its higher fat content. Finally, if you decide to use water when you cook your cannabutter, the water in the butter, as well as a lot of the milk solids, will separate from the butter after you let it cool, even if you don’t clarify it beforehand.
So you’ve decided that you want to clarify your butter, here’s how to do it:
- Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat.
- Once the butter starts to bubble and come close to finishing melting, remove it from the heat and let it finish melting.
- Wait about 15 minutes for it to cool. As it cools, the butter will separate into 3 layers by density, as seen in the image to the right.
- Scoop the thin layer of milk foam off the top of the butter. We recommend using a flat spatula so that you don’t take any butter out with the foam, as the solids will stick to the spatula and the butter will just fall off. Wipe off the spatula each time to remove the milk foam.
- If you’re having trouble getting every last bit of foam, dump the butter from the saucepan into a taller, thinner glass that will hold it. This will give the foam less surface area to spread out on, making it easier to collect.
- If you have a reusable milk bag like we recommended, you can just dump the remaining butter through one of these bags. This will leave you with just butter and water. If you don’t have a milk bag, you can just pour off the butter and leave the water and milk solids at the bottom behind. Unfortunately this is a difficult thing to do perfectly, so just do your best to get all the butter without including any water or milk solids. If you miss some, it’s not too big of a deal.
- Optional: pour the butter into an airtight container, seal it, then put it in the fridge for about 30 minutes to let it solidify. Once it solidifies, the milk solids will be forced to the bottom, and if it comes from the fridge, the water will remain liquid, so you can blot off the remaining water. The milk solids will be mostly on the bottom of the container, so you can try to exclude those when you take the butter out to add it to the cannabis.
Optional Preparation – cannabinoid decarboxylation
So what does it mean to decarboxylate your cannabis? Well it’s chemistry-speak for turning inactive cannabinoids, such as THC-A, CBD-A, and CBN-A, into psychoactive cannabinoids, such as THC, CBD, CBN, etc. When you smoke or vaporize cannabis, the heat you apply does this automatically. Without decarboxylation, the cannabutter won’t get you high in the traditional sense. The THC-A molecule loses its carboxylic group (COOH) in the form of water vapor and carbon dioxide and becomes THC, which is what we want if we want to feel the high. If you want to make the strongest cannabutter possible, this step is not optional. However, if you need very high dosages for medicinal reasons but prefer to avoid an intense high, you can skip this step. Carboxyl-intact cannabutter still has analgesic, anti-inflammatory, mood and metabolism regulating, anti-cancer, anti-tumor, anti-bacterial, and bone growth promoting properties without the intense high that usually goes along with them. If you plan to make carboxyl-intact cannabutter, check out Bad Kat’s carboxyl-intact oil & tincture guide.
So how can we, or how should we, decarboxylate our cannabis? If you read our strain guide you’ll understand the importance of terpenes, but put simply, they affect the type of high. Terpenes are very unstable, so if you use higher temperatures you lose more of them. This means that we’ll want to decarboxylate our cannabis at the lowest temperature possible while still causing the chemical reaction to take place. There are two main methods for accomplishing this, but regardless of the method you choose, make sure you grind your cannabis as finely as possible before you start.
Method 1 – Preheat oven to ~225 F. Spread your cannabis over an oven-safe dish, ideally no deeper than 0.5″ or 1.2 cm in any spot. Cover the dish with foil or put it inside an oven bag (like these, but they’re cheaper at grocery stores) and seal it with a twist tie. Put the sealed dish in the oven for 30 minutes. If your cannabis is fresh and not totally dry, you may want to consider leaving it in the oven for an extra 10-20 minutes. If you’re concerned with the cannabis odor, you can double wrap the dish that goes in the oven. You can leave it uncovered on a cookie sheet if you prefer, but covering the cannabis will allow so me of the vaporized terpenes to reabsorb back into the cannabis as it cools. After leaving it to cool for about 20 minutes, uncover your cannabis and then it’s ready for cooking.
Method 2 – Boil a large pot of water and submerge the cannabis in a tea ball (like this 5″ tea ball, don’t get a small one) or boilable nylon bag (like this one again) for 40 minutes. A tea ball is ideal, but if you follow our advice you’ll use such a milk bag for a later step anyways. After decarboxylation, allow your cannabis another 30 minutes to cool and dry. There are a few advantages to this method. First, since you’re boiling water, you know you’re at the absolute minimum temperature to decarboxylate the weed which helps preserve the terpenes.
The second reason is that the water is able to absorb a lot of the plant-like tastes of the cannabis, allowing your end product to have a cannabis taste that isn’t as overwhelming. Some may like that taste, but for most people, the goal of good cannabutter, aside from potency, is to taste as close to regular butter as possible. When you toss the water used to boil it, you’ll see that this step definitely extracts something from the cannabis because the water isn’t clear. We know the water doesn’t contain any THC since THC isn’t water soluble. Although there are distinct advantages to this method, we usually use the first method since we use water when making our cannabutter anyways.
Optional Preparation – Spray with food grade alcohol
This step was pioneered by scientist Tamar Wise, CSO at Nutrawerx, a cannabinoid nutraceutical company. All you have to do is put some food grade alcohol, ideally something like everclear, into a spray bottle (like this one). Once your freshly decarboxylated cannabis has cooled, spray it with your alcohol sprayer. If you don’t have a sprayer, you can use a spoon or some other method, just spread it as evenly as possible and don’t use too much. You’ll want it to evaporate as much as possible before you use it, but anything that doesn’t evaporate should boil off during the cooking process. The everclear breaks down the plant matter, which helps the cannabinoids separate from the cannabis and transfer into the butter when we start cooking. Afterwards let your cannabis sit and dry for about 15 minutes, wait a little longer if there are noticeably wet spots remaining.
Optional Preparation – Add Lecithin
It’s difficult to call this an optional step due to how important it is, but since people are just now catching on, it’s still common for people to make cannabutter without lecithin. The only reason we leave it as an optional step is that it requires a lot of extra time to acquire if you don’t already have it. Hopefully by now you understand that THC is lipophilic, meaning it attracts fats and lipids due to its non-polar molecular structure. Similarly, water is polar and therefore only attracts hydrophilic substances. Lecithin is a fatty substance derived from plant and animal tissue that is amphiphilic, meaning it attracts both water AND fats / lipids. The reason this is so important is because in order for a drug, in this case THC, to enter our blood stream, it needs to become water soluble. This is because our blood contains water, not fats. Because the THC must transfer from a fat to enter your blood, taking THC in the form of edibles has traditionally had an overall lower bioavailability and slower rate of absorption. If you’ve ever waited multiple hours to start feeling an edible, you know this fact well. By using lecithin to increase the bioavailability of the THC, not only do you increase the medicinal and recreational value of the THC, you also massively increase the speed at which the THC is absorbed by the body. According to BadKat of BadKatsCannaPharm.com, the absorption rate with lecithin added is close to intravenous administration. The end result is more THC absorbed and less wasted. Lecithin’s incredible ability to increase the bioavailability and absorption rate of drugs doesn’t stop with THC. It is now being used to aid in the absorption of Vitamin C, Omega 3s, as well as other pharmaceuticals.
Bad Kat Smiles explains the importance of bioavailability of cannabis oils extensively on her website. As an expert on the subject, we trust her judgement when deciding on how much Lecithin to add, which is 1/2 cup of powdered lecithin / lecithin granules per 8 oz of butter. You can also use liquid lecithin, which you wont need quite as much of. If using liquid lecithin, you’ll want about 2oz per 8oz of butter. If you’re not sure how much to add based on the form your lecithin comes in, always add by weight. It’s worth noting that this amount adds 25% total weight to your cannabutter, so you’ll end up with more cannabutter, but the THC will be more spread out. Fortunately, with the addition of lecithin it should be more effective even with the THC spread out a little more.
Cooking – Crock-pot vs Saucepan vs double-boiler
With all of our optional preparation steps out of the way, it’s time to get cooking. Now we’ve got to decide between a saucepan, crock-pot, or double boiler. We’ve tried all of them, and in truth, it really makes no significant difference so long as the temperature is the same. If you use water mixed with butter (one of the methods below), there’s no reason to use a double boiler, but if you opt to use butter alone, a double boiler has a big advantage in that the temperature is controlled by the boiling water, and therefore is always kept at 212 F / 100 C, which is the perfect temperature for making cannabutter. If you do opt to use water, we recommend using a crock pot mostly because it’s the cheapest option (example), it’s easy, efficient, and because it doesn’t require any open flame.
Cooking Method 1 – With Water
This is our favorite method for two main reasons. First, the water regulates the temperature of the mixture. Because of the way boiling water works, it will never get above 212 F / 100 C, so even with a crock pot where the only temperature controls are “Warm / Low / High,” you can be certain that it wont be getting too hot. The second reason we prefer to use water over other methods is that the water absorbs a lot of the chlorophyll and other plant material that might otherwise be absorbed by the butter. We’ve thrown out water after cooking that was so dark green it was almost black, so there’s definitely something being absorbed, and we know it’s not THC since THC isn’t water soluble. Cannabutter is green not because THC and cannabinoids make it green, but rather because some of the chlorophyll and plant material makes it way into the final product.
Start with about ~1.5″ of water, then add your butter and decarboxylated cannabis product along with lecithin if you followed our recommendation. The amount of water isn’t too important, but you should leave enough to absorb the chlorophyll and other plant parts and still have enough to not worry about it all boiling off. With everything mixed together, leave your crock-pot on low heat. If you’re using a saucepan, just use enough heat to make sure the water isn’t boiling too fast and refill it if a significant amount starts to boil off. Stir 2-3 times in the first hour and after that stir every 2-3 hours. Cook for 8 hours at least, but we usually let it take about 16 hours. Some people let it cook for a full day or longer.
Cooking Method 2 – With food-grade Alcohol
Disclaimer / Warning: Cooking with alcohol generates alcohol vapors which are flammable and can explode, so if you choose to use this method, you do so at your own risk. Make sure your cooking area is well ventilated.
Using food-grade alcohol (e.g. everclear) alone isn’t our favorite method, mostly because of the extra expense and difficulty involved, but there are definitely reasons why you might want to use alcohol instead of, or in addition to water. You might use everclear for the same reason you might spray your freshly decarbed cannabis with everclear. The alcohol breaks down the cellulose and plant matter, thus allowing the THC to more easily transfer to the butter and lecithin. You definitely don’t want everclear to end up in the final product, but there are two main ways to avoid this. First, is that you should be cooking until the alcohol all boils off. Second, is that alcohol doesn’t freeze, so if you stick your cannabutter in the freezer, you can dab up any alcohol that was leftover with a cloth / paper towel. Much like how water regulates the temperature at a max 212 F / 100 C, everclear will regulate the temperature to a max of 173 F / 78 C. Once again, there’s no reason to use a double boiler since the temperature is regulated by the alcohol. You’ll want to use about the same amount of everclear as you would water, and cook for about the same time, but this time your cooking time is tied to when your everclear completely evaporates. It may be difficult to tell with exact certainty, but you should see a lot less activity (e.g. boiling) at the surface once the everclear evaporates.
Once the everclear is finished evaporating, we recommend adding about 1-2 cups of water and bring the new mixture to a light simmer to allow it to cook at a higher temperature for about 2 hours, as well as let the water absorb the water soluble plant material. By adding water at the end, you’re able to get the benefits of cooking with water while also gaining alcohol’s ability to help the THC transfer to the butter and lecithin more easily. Based on our research for this guide, it appears that using some combination of water and alcohol might be the best method, but we can’t speak from personal experience yet, so if you use both, just make sure you experiment with varying amounts of water and alcohol.
Cooking Method 3 – No Water or Alcohol
No comprehensive guide to cannabutter would be complete without mentioning the possibility of cooking without either water or alcohol. This is how many people make their cannabutter. As far as we can tell, there are no significant benefits to not using water or alcohol besides removing the water/butter separation step at the end. This is very a minor step, and well worth it for the payoff of getting all the advantages of cooking with water and/or alcohol. Because you’re not using alcohol or water, you’ll need to watch the temperature much more closely. If you let it get too high and you’re not using clarified butter, the butter could get scorched, or even worse, the THC will begin to evaporate and you’ll lose potency. If you use a double boiler however, you’ll retain the temperature control benefits of using water, you just wont have the advantage of removing the water soluble plant material. Another disadvantage to not using water is that when you’re straining out the butter in the final step, the liquid retained by the cannabis product that you toss at the end will be 100% butter, therefore resulting in more butter/THC wasted. In some minor respects, it makes the process simpler, but overall is definitely not worth it in our opinion. If anyone knows of any significant benefits to not using water or alcohol, we’d love to hear them.
Now you’re ready to isolate your cannabutter for later cooking. The process is very simple. First, prepare your container to hold the final product, then pour the mixture from your saucepan / crock-pot through a milk bag if you have it into your container. You can also use a strainer + cheesecloth, or can even use bubble hash bags if that’s all you have. Some people even use a T-shirt or some kind of cloth, but we recommend the milk bags because they have the right size filter (~200 micron or finer), are a good size, and aren’t very absorbent, which means you wont lose much butter while straining it. Make sure you squeeze out every last drop out that you can, as every drop has precious THC. If you have a mobile vice/press, you may want to consider using that, or any other tool you have available to make pressing easier and more thorough.
Now that you’ve got the mixture with all the plant material filtered out, it’s time to put it in the refrigerator. Let it cool for about an hour, or ideally overnight, then pull it back out. The cannabutter should now be solidified and separated, much like the image on the right. If you cooked with water, pull the butter out, toss the water, and dab up any leftover moisture with a cloth / paper towel.
That’s it, now you’ve got your cannabutter! It’s time to decide what you want to make with it, and the sky is the limit. Cannabutter will remain usable for 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator and 2-3 months in the freezer. We recommend that everyone experiment with different methods outlined here, and even consider pioneering your own methods, just make sure your experiments are done properly and are backed with science if you want to share the results with others. We recommend following Elise McDonough’s example for comparisons as made in her ultimate cannabutter experiment, which we drew on for much of this guide.