How to Make Homemade Cannabis Salve (CBD or THC)
To grow and make your own medicine… that is the stuff that dreams are made of, am I right?! We like to use our organic homegrown cannabis in a variety of ways, but making topical cannabis salve is on the top of the list. Cannabis salve can help to reduce inflammation, soothe skin irritation, joint pain, and more! It also happens to be quite simple to make your own cannabis salve, and easy to customize it to suit your needs.
Read along to learn how to make cannabis salve in 4 simple steps. With this recipe, you can use marijuana, hemp, high CBD, high THC, raw cannabis, decarbed cannabis, or any combination thereof! (Depending on what is legal and available in your area of course.) Let’s talk about benefits of each of those, how cannabis salve works, and what awesome healing potential it has.
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What is Cannabis Salve
Maybe we need to step back a moment. How about, “what is a salve?”. A salve is simply the term for a healing solution that you put on your skin, including creams, ointments, or balms. Generally, salves are fairly thick, shelf-stable, and include nourishing oils such as coconut oil, olive oil, sweet almond oil, or others.
In our cannabis salve recipe, we prefer to use mostly coconut oil, because it is full of saturated fat that binds well with cannabinoids. It is also ultra-moisturizing. We also add a dash of olive oil to increase absorption and smoothness. To learn more about various carrier oils, check out our homemade calendula oil article – where I discuss the pros and cons of a dozen different oil options!
Salves also typically contain waxes or butters to bind the ingredients and make them semi-solid at room temperature. Beeswax is a popular option because it is readily available, easy to work with (especially when purchased in pastilles), and creates perfectly smooth results. See the ingredient list below for recommended vegan substitutions.
When cannabis is added to salve as an ingredient… voila! You’ve got yourself a cannabis salve. The most common way to add cannabis to a salve recipe is to create a cannabis-infused oil first, and then combine the oil with the other salve ingredients.
Our homegrown, homemade cannabis coconut oil.
Therefore, that is exactly what we’re going to do in this recipe: make cannabis oil, and then the salve. But first: “what kind of cannabis should I use in my oil or salve?”
Using Decarboxylated or Raw Cannabis in Salve
How about a little bit of both?
If you aren’t familiar with the term, decarboxylation is the process of heating cannabis at an ideal time and temperature to transform raw cannabinoid compounds from their “acid” form to more active and potent versions. For example, CBDA and THCA are changed into CBD and THC respectively. Decarboxylation naturally occurs when cannabis is smoked or vaporized, but it needs to be accomplished by other means when using cannabis in oil or salves – such as by heating it in the oven. (Read more about decarboxylation here)
The medicinal benefits of decarboxylated THC and CBD are well-documented. Both are anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, high in antioxidants, relieve pain, relax muscles, and suppress tumor growth. This is especially true when they’re used and work together, known as the “entourage effect“. THC is a particularly powerful analgesic (pain-reliever). CBD has even more expansive healing applications, and can help relieve seizures, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis. That said, we definitely want to reap those benefits and use decarbed cannabis in this salve recipe!
On the other hand, emerging studies are revealing that raw THCA and CBDA have some pretty groovy perks too. THCA is showing a promising ability to reduce inflammation, muscle spasms, arthritis, and cancer. CBDA also fights inflammation and tumor growth.
Cannabinoids are converted from their raw acid form to their arguably more potent “decarbed” form through heat, and the subsequent removal of a carboxyl group from their molecular compound. Image via VeriHeal
Beyond CBD and THC, there are dozens of other compounds found in cannabis that may produce individual, interactive, or synergistic benefits, including phytocannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes. It should be noted that THC is psychoactive and CBD is not, though that doesn’t matter all that much when making a cannabis salve intended for topical use only.
Considering all of this, we like to use both decarbed and raw organic cannabis (containing both THC and CBD) to create a full-spectrum, well-rounded, ultra-healing finished product.
What Can Cannabis Salve Be Used For?
Cannabis salve is stellar at relieving many ailments! First of all, coconut oil and olive oil are extremely nourishing on their own – so you’re going to get plenty of moisture from your salve to heal dry, cracked, or otherwise irritated skin. If you add a few drops of essential oils to your salve, you’ll also get the benefit of aromatherapy.
The healing properties of your homemade cannabis salve may vary slightly depending on what type of cannabis you use. In general, cannabis salve can be used to treat or relieve the following :
- Rashes, itching, or other skin irritation
- General inflammation
- Sore joints
- Muscle aches
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Irregular cell growth (e.g. skin cancer cells)
Personally, I like to rub a little cannabis salve on my tight and sore neck muscles, shoulders, wrists, knees, elbows, ankles, bottom of my feet, and behind my ears. Hey, all this gardening (and sitting to blog) does a number on my body!
The beneficial effects of various cannabinoids. Chart courtesy of PotGuide
How Does It Work?
Did you know we all have an Endocannabinoid System? Yep. Just like we have an endocrine system, immune system, digestive system, and so on. Our bodies have natural receptors, literally made to interact with cannabinoid compounds. This includes both internal, naturally-synthesized cannabinoids and those from external sources – like those from marijuana or hemp. Neat, huh?
When cannabis salve or medicated topicals are applied to our skin, the THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids present in the solution penetrate the skin to bind and activate our localized endocannabinoid receptors. They won’t enter the bloodstream however, so topically-applied salve will not get you “high”.
Image courtesy of Medical Cannabis Awareness New Zealand
HOW TO MAKE HOMEMADE CANNABIS SALVE
- 7-10 grams of decarboxylated cannabis (ground or torn to fairy small pieces). If your cannabis is not yet decarbed, see Step 1 in the instructions below.
- 1 ½ cups of coconut oil OR, 1 ½ cups of already-infused cannabis coconut oil (*see notes about using different types of oil below)
- Optional: 5 grams raw cannabis, dried and cured.
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/3 cup beeswax pastilles (vegan option: replace with the same amount of organic soy wax, candelilla wax, or carnauba wax)
- Optional: Essential oils of choice. I like using this certified organic lavender oil. Tea tree, peppermint, rosemary, lemon, or eucalyptus are also great choices!
- Optional: 1 tablespoon of shea butter or 1 teaspoon of vitamin E oil for additional antioxidants and moisture
- A double-boiler, or make-shift double boiler – such as a glass pyrex bowl or stainless steel bowl perched on top of a saucepan with water below
- Cheesecloth (if your cannabis oil is not already made)
- Mixing bowl
- Glass jars or salve tins, for storage
- Recommended: probe thermometer
Makes: Approximately 2 cups (16 ounces) of finished salve
*Notes: If you want to scale this recipe up or down: the general rule of thumb for salve is to use about 1 part of beeswax to 4 or 5 parts oil, including both coconut and olive oil. Since we use virgin coconut oil that is solid at room temperature, we can get away with lesser beeswax and the salve will still set up well. If you use a different carrier oil that is liquid at room temperature, either omit the extra 1/3 cup olive oil mentioned above, or increase the amount of beeswax pastilles to 1/2 cup.
Step 1) Decarboxylate Your Cannabis
If you haven’t done so already, the first step is to decarboxylate the cannabis you intend to use in this salve recipe. Or at least some of it, if you want to also use some raw material.
Grind or tear up the cannabis into fairly small pieces. Spread it evenly on a baking sheet, and heat it in the oven on 250°F for 25-30 minutes. Easy, right?
Step 2) Create & Strain Cannabis-Infused Oil
If you tuned into our “How to Make Cannabis Oil” tutorial, you will recognize these steps. The process is virtually the same, except we are going to use slightly more coconut oil here. If you’re interested in making medicated edibles, check out that article!
When making cannabis oil, it is important to not overheat it. Because we are starting with already-decarboxylated cannabis, maintaining a lower temperature will preserve the already-active THC and CBD content as well as the terpenes. Avoid heating it over 200 degrees F. 120 to 180°F is even better.
That is where a double-boiler comes in handy! Even over the lowest flame, heating oil in a pot directly on the stove is much more difficult to prevent overheating, and can create “hot spots” – destroying our precious cannabinoids.
I suggest monitoring the oil temperature with a probe thermometer if possible. Because oils have a higher boiling point (or “smoke point”) than water, the oil will not appear to be as hot as it really is! For example, the oil may be well over 212 degrees but not visibly bubble and boil like water would at the same temperature.
Steps to Make Cannabis-Infused Oil:
- Add water to the bottom pan of your double-boiler. Now add 1.5 cups of coconut oil to the top section of the double-boiler. Heat until it melts.
Stir in 7–10 grams of decarboxylated cannabis to the melted oil. Add an optional few grams of raw ground cannabis if you desire.
Continue to heat the cannabis and oil over a low heat for 30 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally. Use a probe thermometer to check the temperature, and adjust the heat as needed to maintain the oil below 200°F. We aim for a target temperature range of around 130 to 150°F and infuse for one hour.
When the time is up, line a strainer with cheesecloth and position it over a glass bowl. Pour the cannabis and oil mixture through the strainer. Gather the cheesecloth and gently squeeze out the excess oil from the cannabis. Warning: the oil will be hot, and your hands will get greasy! You may want to wear food-grade gloves.
Keep the strained cannabis oil aside for now. It will be added to the salve mixture soon.
Step 3) Mix the Salve Ingredients
Just like the last step, we want to avoid excessively heating the cannabis oil in order to preserve cannabinoids. If you happen to be using solidified cannabis-infused coconut oil that you previously made, I highly suggest mixing everything in a double-boiler once again (since you’ll need to heat it longer and hotter to re-melt your oil).
On the other hand, if you just made your cannabis oil and it is still liquified, you can do this step straight in a pot on the stove – keeping the heat as low as possible once the cannabis coconut oil is added.
In either a pot or double-boiler, add ⅓ cup of beeswax. Heat until it is completely melted. Now turn down the heat to low. Next, stir in 1.5 cups of strained cannabis coconut oil and ⅓ cup olive oil. Now is the time to add the optional vitamin E plus a few drops of optional essential oils as well. Stir until everything looks completely combined. Once it is, quickly remove the liquid salve from the heat and transfer it into your storage containers of choice.
Step 4) Cool & Store
When it is ready, I pour the liquid salve straight into these 2 ounce glass jars, or these 4 ounce glass jars. You can also use these shallow wide aluminum salve tins. The cannabis salve will harden as it cools, and then it is ready to use!
It is best to store your finished cannabis salve in a cool dark location because light degrades cannabinoids. The amber and cobalt jars we use block UV light, which protects the salve if I leave it out.
Note: Sometimes, the surface of the salve may crack just a little bit as it cools. See the photos below. I have found that salve in our 2-ounce glass containers don’t crack, but larger volumes may. This is really only an aesthetic “issue” if you care. Personally, I don’t mind. It disappears as soon as you begin to dig in and use it!
However, some folks may not like the appearance of the cracks – particularly if the cannabis salve is going to be sold or given as a gift. To avoid settling cracks, put the cannabis salve in a mixing bowl before transferring it into a storage container. Allow it to only partially cool and solidify, whip and mix it up, and then pack into your containers.
In this case, the crack doesn’t kill.
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Step 5) Feel Good
Lather up! Apply a thin, even layer to the affected area. You should start to feel the results within 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the severity of your issue and strength of your salve. Repeat several times per day as needed.
Will this make me smell like weed?
Just slightly! I find our salve to have a mild cannabis odor, but nothing overpowering. The coconut aroma also stands out. If you add essential oils to your recipe, that can also help to mask the smell. I often apply salve after showering (including before going to work) and don’t think there is much of a noticeable odor after a half an hour or so. No one has ever said anything to me at least!
How long does cannabis salve last?
When stored in ideal cool and dark conditions, homemade cannabis salve should last up to a year. The potency will only slightly decrease during this time. I try to use clean hands when I dig into my salve jars, to avoid introducing any contamination that could make it potentially mold or spoil faster. You could also use a salve spoon.
Ready to make your own medicine?
I hope you found this tutorial to be useful, interesting, and informative! I also hope that it helps you soothe your trouble spots, whatever those may be. Finally, please remember to heed caution depending on your local laws, and always be careful with your cannabis products around curious kiddos or pets.
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Learn how to make your own healing cannabis salve, using marijuana or hemp. It helps reduce inflammation, skin irritation, joint pain, psoriasis, & more!
How to Make Cannabis Salve
|Making cannabis salves requires just a few ingredients.|
|Gather a scale, infused oils, beeswax and clean containers, and you’re ready to make salves.|
By Roberta Bailey
Photos by the author
As cannabis has become legal and more readily available, people are embracing its uses. Slowly we are coming back to a plant that was our ancient medicine. Slowly we relearn its delicate secrets, its diverse strengths. Cannabis has so much to offer, from enhancing the soil beneath us to providing fiber and medicine. Peter Grinspoon, M.D., notes in Harvard Health Publishing (https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/medical-marijuana-2018011513085) that patients “report many benefits of CBD, from relieving insomnia, anxiety, spasticity, and pain to treating potentially life-threatening conditions such as epilepsy.”
There are many alternatives to smoking. Not all forms make you high. This article relates only to external uses of cannabis – as salves and lotions.
Cannabis salves are topical applications made from cannabis-infused oils and beeswax. The carrier oils are infused with medicinal properties and then thickened with beeswax. Herbalists often recommend plantain, calendula and comfrey for skin conditions, Arnica chamissonis for muscle aches and Solomon’s seal for ligament and muscle healing. Cannabis-infused oils and salves have been and continue to be studied for their potential to alleviate muscle pain, aches, spasms, arthritis, various skin conditions and for general relaxation, especially during massage.
Cannabinoids are the medicinal compounds in cannabis. When infused in an oil or salve, they can be absorbed through the skin. Because they work on a peripheral basis, they are not absorbed into the bloodstream and therefore are nonpsychoactive. The cannabinoids in topicals bind with CB2 (cannabinoid-2) receptors in the skin, where they interact with our body’s endocannabinoid system and slow the pain signals from the brain. (“Cannabinoid Delivery Systems for Pain and Inflammation Treatment,” by Natascia Bruni et al., Molecules, Sept. 27, 2018, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6222489/) Bruni et al. also note that cannabinoids possess remarkable antibacterial activity.
In a 2007 study, cannabinoids alleviated symptoms of psoriasis by inhibiting the buildup of dead skin cells, which is a direct cause of psoriasis. (“Cannabinoids inhibit human keratinocyte proliferation through a non-CB1/CB2 mechanism and have a potential therapeutic value in the treatment of psoriasis,” by Jonathan D. Wilkinson and Elizabeth M. Williamson, J. Dermatol. Sci. 2007;45(2):87-92; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17157480/)
Cannabis salves or canna-balms and lotions are commercially available – some with and some lacking quality. For economic and safety reasons, try making your own. It is quite easy and does not take much time.
Before starting, here’s what you will need:
- 1 oz. cannabis bud and/or plant trimmings. Choose a calming strain of cannabis if possible.
- 16 oz. coconut oil, apricot kernel oil, sweet almond oil or even olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. shea butter (optional)
- 2 oz. beeswax
- 2 to 10 drops of essential oils (for optional scent)
To make cannabis salve, you need to infuse oil with cannabis. You can use buds and trim from plants. First the cannabis needs to be decarboxylated. Heat converts the CBD to a more easily absorbed, active form. To decarboxylate cannabis, heat an oven to 240 F. Break up the plant matter and spread it on a baking sheet. Cover it with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove and cool.
Grind the cannabis in a food processor until it is in small pieces or powder. Place the plant matter in a clean jar. Cover with oil.
There are a few ways to infuse the oil with the cannabinoids. Place the covered jar in a crock pot filled with warm water and steep it for eight hours on the low setting or place the oil and cannabis in a double boiler and simmer for two hours. Strain the infused oil through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth. Wring out the plant matter to release every drop of oil.
The oil is your medicine. You can use it in its simple oil form or thicken it with beeswax to make a salve. To thicken infused oil, carefully warm it in a double boiler, adding the beeswax and stirring until melted.
To test consistency, cool a small bit of the oil-wax mixture on a plate. If you prefer a thicker salve, add another half ounce of beeswax. (This recipe is based on an 8:1 oil:wax ratio. You can increase it up to 6:1. Lip balm is a 4:1 ratio.)
Add essential oil if using. Stir.
Pour the warm salve into clean tins or jars. It will thicken as it cools.
Other options include adding other herbs or oils. If you are interested in skin salve, consider adding tea tree oil or calendula oil.
A simple way to make herbal oils is to gather your herb and dry it or at least wilt it to half moisture content. Place it in a jar and cover it with oil, such as apricot kernel, coconut, sweet almond or jojoba oil. Cover the jar and set it in the sun for two to four weeks. Shake it daily or as often as you remember. Strain the oil through cheesecloth and a sieve.
(This recipe makes a lighter, slightly less oily product.)
- 4 oz. shea butter (You can substitute up to half with kokum or mango butter. Refined and unrefined shea butter can be used interchangeably. Unrefined has a stronger scent.)
- 2.5 oz. apricot kernel, almond or other oil (These can be infused with cannabis as per the above instructions.)
- 2 tsp. arrowroot powder
- 2 to 6 drops essential oils as desired
Warm the infused butter and oil in a double boiler and whisk in the arrowroot powder. Cool the mixture in the fridge. If you’re using essential oils, add them now. Whip with an egg beater or immersion blender into a creamy light lotion. Pour into containers.
You can tailor the salve to your needs. Add specific herbal oils for specific skin or pain relief needs. I add Arnica chamissonis, Solomon’s seal and sometimes St. John’s wort to my pain salve. I add calendula, plantain and comfrey to my skin salve. For arthritis, I add 1 tsp. ground cayenne powder, but keep this salve away from your eyes.
For a lighter lotion, experiment by adding a small amount of aloe vera gel and whipping it into the base.
Thousands of years ago, cannabis played an important role in personal care. The Egyptians used it as a salve. Now we have the option of coming back to relying on ourselves for simple medicine, for personal empowerment.
About the author: Roberta Bailey of Seven Tree Farm in Vassalboro has been writing for The MOF&G for more than 36 years.
This article is for informational purposes only and relates only to external use of cannabis salves. It is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
How to Make Cannabis Salve Making cannabis salves requires just a few ingredients. Gather a scale, infused oils, beeswax and clean containers, and you’re ready to make