A Volatile Subject

Medical Marijuana is a touchy subject. While seven states have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes, forty-three haven’t and neither has the federal government. But the facts are that the majority of people suffering from cancer pain have reported a significant benefit from the analgesic properties of marijuana. This article is not meant to encourage the use of pot;  it is here to explain the methods by which it might be used as a part of a physician approved pain control regimen.  As with any alternative therapeutic supplement, your doctor should be on board and approving of its use.

The obvious drawback to smoking marijuana is that it damages the lungs. While it provides fewer tars and toxic gasses than tobacco products, users are still inhaling superheated air whose density is increased by the vaporized oil resulting from combustion. Smoking marijuana  through a pipe, water pipe or cigarette will irritate the lungs and so it is not the best way  of ingesting its THC, the active component.

Vaporizers are a better method of inhalation because it doesn’t actually burn the marijuana leaves. Instead, it heats the material in a chamer to the point that the oils vaporize and separate from the leafy bulk in a mist. Ergo, the name vaporizer. The output of these devices is generally cooler and less likely to irritate the lungs. Vaporizers which transfer the vaporized oils into a balloon device from which it is then inhaled, do the least damage. The vaporized oil is absorbed by the body and so it does not build up in the lungs as combustion methods do. To be perfectly accurate, some small amounts of contaminants are transferred, but may be likened to the contaminants that breathing air in urban areas offers.

But the best way to consume marijuana for its medicinal effects is to consume it as an oil. As an oil, it will readily bond to clarified butter, and marijuana butter is a common way to create a spread applied to toast or baked goods, just as plain butter is used. It can also be used as a shortening, and mixed with other ingredients exactly the same manner butter is used. The way that the oil is separated from the leafy material is a simple one,  and can be performed in any kitchen with common kitchen implements.

Making butter is easy. The marijuana should be fed into a grinder; a standard electric coffee bean grinder will work fine. The idea is to turn the leaf into a fine powder, making the extraction of the oil a quicker and more efficient process. Melt a cube of butter for each eighth of an ounce of material. Clarify the butter in a double boiler and add the powdered material to it. Cover it and leave it on medium heat, at a point where the water in the double boiler gently simmers. You could bring it to a high boil without damaging the product, but the more gentle the process the better the result. Leave the mixture to heat for at least an hour and no more than three. There is no productive reason to heat it longer, and two hours is often more than sufficient. While it is still hot, pour the resulting fluid, saturated powder and all through a cloth filter. Do not use a coffee filter, they’re made to remove bitter oils from coffee. Instead, use a piece of clean jersey material, the clot from which cotton tee shirts are made. This allows the oil and clarified butter to pass while filtering out the particulates of the now neutral powder. It’s wise to use stainless pans for all portions of this operation because they’re easy to clean afterwards in a dishwasher or hand washing with any dish soap. The resulting fluid will be opaque and a greenish yellow. Refrigerate the product for a few hours until the oil impregnated butter completely congeals. That’s it, you have marijuana butter. Depending on the potency of the initial leaf material, the potency of the product varies. It’s wise to experiment with the amount of butter you consume. While it is impossible to damage yourself by overdose, too much can be uncomfortable and the discomfort can last for hours. So experiment with each and every batch. When cooking with the butter, it is safe to follow the quantity of butter called for in the recipe, and regulating how much of the baked goods you consume to moderate the use.

If you’re interested in extracting only the oil and not mixing it with butter, the process is more involved if you don’t possess an oil extractor. These machines can be quite expensive because of the high pressures required for extraction, and the improvement in the process added by using heated rollers. If you don’t have a press, you can still extract the oil in one of two ways. Please note that there is fire danger with both of these methods because they involve the evaporation of volatile aromatic solvents.

Butane extraction is the most dangerous. It is performed by grinding the leaf as described above, and then packing it into a small piece of PVC pipe about 4 inches in lngth. You will also need end caps for the pipe which fit snugly onto the ends of the PVC tube. Drill a single hole in one end (top) that will accept the nozzle of a standard butane lighter refilling tank. Use the economy size. In the other end cap, drill a series of hole much like a pepper shaker. The holes should be small enough to permit fluid passage but block the powdered leaf. Using a heavy glass jar with a metal lid, cut a hole in the top that allows the PVC pipe end to protrude through it. Then carefully supporting the tube (filled with leaf powder) press the butane refilling nozzle into the top and empty the entire contents of butane into the PVC pipe. Do this out of doors and away from any spark or ignition source!!! Once you have emptied the can, you can plug the top end of the PVC pipe hole with a small square of duct tape. It doesn’t have to be a perfect seal. Make sure to wear gloves for this operation because the butane refill canister and the PVC pipe is going to get pretty cold. Leave the PVC pipe stuck in the jar lid and leave it for an hour. After the wait, you will find a fairly clear and viscous liquid in the jar, colored a greenish gold. The green comes from chlorophyll and is harmless. Remove the PVC pipe and the lid of the jar, and let it set for another couple of hours to ensure that all of the butane has evaporated. The resulting oil may be used in vaporizers, electric cigarettes or combusted in small pipes with fine screens to prevent the oil from drooling into the pipe stem and being wasted.

The last method is solvent extraction and works like this. Purchase a pint of petroleum ether from a supply store. It is a non-regulated chemical liquid solvent. Again, powder the leaf material and mix it with the ether in a jar with a sealable lid. Shake the mixture vigorously for a few minutes and allow it to stand for a half hour. Repeat this three times. Then fill regular mayonnaise jar (clean, of course) halfway with water. Pour the ether and particulate mixture into the water, cover and shake. Allow it to stand totally still for a couple of hours. The clear, yellow oil and ether mix will rise to the top while the water and particulates remain below. There is a very clear and visible separation point between them. Using some small plastic tube, air hose from an aquarium air filter pump works great, siphon off the oil and ether back into the original jar, which you have washed and dried completely while waiting for the settling process to complete. Try hard not to get any of the water/mush mix. Leave the jar uncovered overnight in a well ventilated area. After eight to ten hours, the petroleum ether will have evaporated, leaving behind only the purified oil. This may be used as described above in the butane extraction section.

Again, this article is not intended to encourage the use of marijuana. It is here to provide instruction on the best ways to extract the active component in marijuana, the THC, for use in a more healthy way than smoking raw leaf.  Again, be aware of local law and always discuss your plans to use marijuana with your physician. It is imperative that your doctor knows what you are using for self-medication, whether it is marijuana or any medicinal or health supplement.