I want you to imagine somewhere in your body for a moment the feeling of intense physical pain. Pain that has no relief, constantly stabbing and throbbing, leaving you exhausted against your body by the sheer sustained force. Some of you might not even have to imagine this, at this very moment you might feel it.
Now imagine relief.
For many, cannabis has become a pain reliever like no other. A plant whose active properties actually match up to receptors in our brains, can provide relief where the artificial and sometimes dangerous chemical concoctions created by pharmaceutical corporations cannot. In my post, Why I Use Cannabis, I talk about my personal journey to finding relief through medicinal cannabis. One of my cannabis related tools I most treasure and value is my Healing Cannabis Salve.
Every region has their own version and number of healing plants available, provided abundantly by Mother Earth for the diseases and afflictions once most common to each region. Over time we have globalized, with massive and long migrations made more and more frequently, our world population becoming larger while at the same time becoming less diverse. Our bodies cannot keep up with a modern diet filled with processed and prepared foods, where it’s common for even whole foods such as produce and meat to lack vital nutrients due to commercial farming practices. Top all of this off with our constant exposure to chemicals in everything from our cars to our toothpaste, and I believe that is why we are beginning to see an overabundance of diseases such as cancer and diabetes, and disabilities such as autism and microencephaly.
There are no long-term studies for useage of medications such as oxycontin, vicodin or others. We are only now realizing that our long-term exposure to chemicals are causing problems in generations of families, not just individuals. I may be a bit paranoid, but I wonder sometimes how much pharmaceuticals might be able to do the same.
Not to mention the addiction rates for opiates.
Nowadays the most potent medication I’ve been on is the occasional aspirin when I have not had all of my usual alternative options available. This usually is when I’m at work and I don’t have complete access to my home apothecary. However, I can honestly say that keeping a small jar of the Healing Cannabis Salve at my disposal at all times, even makes the taking of aspirin a rare event. What I’m talking about is a topical salve that makes it ideal for localized pain and inflammation relief; as in, you can rub it on exactly where it hurts. THC, the active ingredient of cannabis, moves across the skin barrier but is thought to not be able to get across into the blood stream. On a side note: Studies in the industry are supporting this idea, but unfortunately widespread testing and research is stymied due to ongoing federal restrictions.
Salves are a very ancient and time-honored part of apothecary’s all over the world. A salve is a medicinal ointment that is rubbed onto the skin. It usually offers healing and soothing relief to things such as topical wounds and irritations, as well as problems with internal pain and inflammation.
My Healing Cannabis Salve came about after my worst bout with back pain yet. My back had been out for almost a month, the longest yet, and I had not had any relief since it began. It didn’t matter what position I was in, what I was doing (or not doing), or what I was taking, I was in constant and intense pain. I had begun to hear about topical products being available at the time in dispensaries, but my county is so restrictive of medicinal cannabis and dispensaries that I was unable to try any. Pain has a funny way of encouraging you to try something different though…
I had begun making an alcohol based tincture to ingest after learning more about different methods of using cannabis to treat pain. It was difficult to smoke enough cannabis to get any kind of pain relief, and even then it was usually fleeting. Smoking is one of the most inefficient methods of using cannabis, but it is probably how many of us are introduced to it as it is cheap and easy. The inefficiency can also be a positive at times as the dosage is so small and easily controlled, and the shorter length of effect can actually be beneficial for some. Smoking cannabis for my depression works just fine. Smoking cannabis for my pain does not.
One particular evening I had had enough when even the tincture didn’t do the job completely. I decided to try mixing my tincture with some olive oil and applying it topically. I rubbed it in and waited and within minutes, I began to have actual relief. No joke.
From there I began to do research on making topical medicinal cannabis preparations. There wasn’t a ton of information on the internet at the time as all of us old stoners were still convinced the government was watching us all with eagle eyes. I think it took the next generation to make cannabis lose many of it’s taboo qualities, allowing it become a much bigger talking point in mainstream society than ever before. I mean it must have worked. I’m writing this post for a homesteading blog that includes medicinal cannabis as a part of a natural and organic lifestyle for pete’s sake.
Through experimentation and trial and error this is now my go-to recipe. It is infinitely adaptable in terms of additions. I have made a variety of versions, some focused on cuts and scrapes by including plantain, lavender and garlic oils, while others focus on more internal pain and soreness by including wintergreen, cinnamon and habañero oils, an icy-hot of sorts. This recipe is for the basic Healing Cannabis Salve that works for nearly everything, from cuts and scrapes to pain and swelling, and from your cramped feet to your chapped lips.
Cannabis. I am not always picky about what type of cannabis I use. I’ve made this with excellent quality flowers and hash, and I’ve made it with bottom of the barrel trim. There is an element of overall quality tied into using better quality cannabis, but not as much as you might think. The other non-cannabis ingredients are so reasonably priced that I wouldn’t want to discourage you from making a batch of salve with that not-so-great bag of stash from 3 years ago. It won’t be as strong, but you could consider adding additional healing herbs and essential oils to supplement whatever healing qualities of the cannabis are left.
Coconut oil. I am a coconut oil fan, but I am not absolutely obsessed. I know it has limitations, however I also know it has many healthful uses. The fact is coconut oil has antibacterial, healing and soothing qualities. Plus it smells nice, am I right?? You do have to be careful on what coconut oil you choose however! Some have been so processed you might as well use petroleum jelly. However, if you use a completely virgin and unprocessed coconut oil for your Healing Cannabis Salve, be prepared for a slight grittiness that eventually disappears as you rub it in. It took me several batches to realize this was the problem! I like to use an organic virgin cold-processed coconut oil. It has been minimally processed, but leaves a very smooth and pleasing salve with a mild coconut scent.
Avocado oil. I am obsessed with avocado oil, I can’t lie. I use it on my food, I use it in my salad dressings, I use it in my topical products. If I’m pouring it into something and it drips, I rub it into my hands. Avocado oil is the latest overnight sensation that’s been around forever. I’ll save the internal health benefits for later. For now, I’ll extol it’s external virtues! Avo oil is a wonderful moisturizer that is very beneficial for healthy skin, as it increases collagen production and provides healing qualities.
Vitamin E oil. Vitamin E is a wonderful moisturizer with healing and anti-aging properties. It also acts as a natural preservative to the salve.
Beeswax. Beeswax is an all natural stiffener for the salve, allowing it to be solid at room temperature. Plus it smells lovely!
Optional ingredients. Consider adding some of these optional ingredients to your salve for additional benefits. These should only be added AFTER removing the salve from heat. You may have to add extra beeswax to compensate for the extra liquid of the oils.
Antiseptic: plantain oil; tea tree, lavender and eucalyptus essential oils
Icy-hot: habañero and ginger oils; peppermint, wintergreen, spearmint, cinnamon, clove, black pepper, frankincense, camphor, eucalyptus essential oils
Skin conditions: dandelion and plantain oils; lavender and tea tree essential oils
The basic process is relatively simple, but a bit time consuming. Expect the entire process to take around 5-6 hours, although you won’t be chained to the kitchen during that entire time. Much of that time is spent allowing things to simmer, freeing you up to do other things. In these kinds of situations a timer is my best friend. I would get so involved with other projects that I would forget I had something simmering at all, so I keep a timer set to check on it every hour.
Why I DON’T decarboxilate the cannabis. As a cannabis plant grows and matures, the plant produces THC-A, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, the non-active form of the chemical compound of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol. THC of course, is what most people associate with cannabis, but it only appears once THC-A has been heated enough for the extra molecule of acid to fall off, leaving THC. For this salve we are trying to extract as many different cannabinoids as possible, which includes THC-A. The beneficial properties of raw or live cannabis have gone unnoticed, which is quite unfortunate! THC-A is known for its ability to treat inflammation, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer for a start. As cooking cannabis in oils tends to leave some of the THC-A unconverted to THC it is, in my opinion, an ideal method for getting the benefits of both compounds. As cannabinoids are fat soluble, we’re further able to extract as many cannabinoids as possible using coconut and avocado oils, along with gentle heat.
Extraction. To start off we need to extract the cannabinoids from the plant material. I break up the cannabis into small chunks. Some suggest using a grinder, but I don’t bother unless the material has a lot of moisture. I will often leave the bag open overnight the day prior to dry it out and thus make it easier to break up. The flower is added to the melted coconut oil and avocado oil in a double-boiler, and allowed to simmer with occasional stirring. I use color and smell to determine doneness, with fresher cannabis taking less time in the 2-3 hour range, and older cannabis taking more time in the 4-5 hours range. Once the oils are a lovely dark green color and the fragrance of cannabis begins to get strong, it’s finished. To continue cooking means you are risking converting all of the THC-A to THC and again, for me, this is not the goal. This will be applied topically, so it is not necessary!
Straining. The solid material will now need to be strained out of the oils to create a smoother and easier to use product. I use a cheesecloth tripled over and set inside a colander, over a glass bowl. Using a wooden spoon, push the oil out of the plant matter as much as possible before twisting the whole bundle up and squeezing out the last remaining drops.
Thickening. Once the oil has been strained, it is added back to the double-boiler and reheated. Grated beeswax or pellets are then added in to thicken the final product. The amount may vary depending on the season and your average household temperature. We live in an area where 105 is not unusual in the summer, but we also have snow in the winter. I tend to use more beeswax in summer, and a little less in winter.
Optional ingredients. As I mentioned before, there are a variety of optional oils you can add at the end of the heating process to enhance your salve. If it’s your first time making it or if you’re on a budget however, don’t worry about it! The basic salve is still wonderful and very healing in and of itself.
Containers. Glass is an ideal container as many plastics can leach harmful chemicals into your salve, and that kind of defeats the purpose of all natural and organic… I’ve used everything from baby food to pimento jars, but generally use the all-purpose and wonderful in it’s simplicity mason jar.
- 2 cups cannabis flowers, leaves and stems, chopped or ground
- 3 cups cold-pressed organic coconut oil
- 1 cup avocado oil
- 3-4 ounces grated beeswax
- 2 teaspoons vitamin E oil
- Double-boiler or pot with a glass bowl that can sit firmly on top
- Grinder or food processor (optional)
- Metal colander
- Large glass bowl
- Rubber or silicone spatula
- Kitchen towel
- Jars with lids
In a double-boiler
- Bring about an inch of water to a boil in the pan portion of the double-boiler. If you don’t have a double-boiler, a glass bowl over a pot of boiling water does just fine.
- Once the water is boiling, reduce heat to low.
- Add the coconut oil to the pot and allow it to melt.
- Add avocado oil and cannabis.
- Continue to cook over low-heat, stirring every once in a while, for approximately 3-4 hours. The oil should turn a dark-green and your house should be fragrant! **IMPORTANT** Double-boilers WILL lose water over time. Be sure to check it every hour and add BOILING water if necessary to keep the water level at about 1 inch.
- Remove from heat. Allow oils and cannabis to cool for 15-20 minutes.
- Fold the cheesecloth into thirds, allowing enough material to drape over the sides of your colander. Place the colander over your glass bowl.
- Slowly pour the cannabis and oils into the cheesecloth covered colander. Use a spoon to push gently on the flowers to extract more oil.
- Carefully gather the corners of the cheesecloth up before squeezing as much oil left as possible. The remaining oil should have very little if not any solid matter left in in.
- Ensure the bowl of the double-boiler is free of any solid matter. Wipe it out with a paper towel if needed… and then wipe that on any achy parts of your body! I don’t like to waste any of it
- Bring the water in the double-boiler back up to a boil before reducing the heat to low.
- Pour your green oil back in and add the grated beeswax, stirring to incorporate it.
- Use a spoon to gather up a sample of the salve. Place the spoon on a plate in the freezer for 2-3 minutes. Bring it out and check the consistency- it should require a little pressure to get through it. If it’s still runny, add more beeswax 1/2 ounce at a time until you reach a desired consistency.
- Turn off the stove and place a folded up kitchen towel on the counter. Remove the bowl of the double-boiler carefully and place it on the towel to avoid any moisture burning you or getting in the salve. Add Vitamin-E oil and gently stir to incorporate. If you are adding any other essential oils, now is the time.
- As you stir, close your eyes and focus your energy and intentions on the salve. I like to focus on imagery that conveys healing. You may laugh, but I find this step important!
- Pour the finished salve in your clean jars and place the lid on. This will make approximately 28 ounces, depending on how much oil the dried cannabis soaked up.
- Call everyone in your family over to where you are working. Use the spatula to scrape up every last bit of salve and rub it all over your bodies! As I said before, don’t waste any of this precious healing salve!
- Always wait until the oil has cooled a bit before adding any essential oils. Heat can break them down to a point where they can lose their effectiveness!