“I started experimenting cooking with cannabis a little over two years ago to find a subtle way to use it at the times I can’t smoke, playing with foods other than sweets and the usual edibles.” Credit: Courtesy Angelina Bastidas

Let’s face it. Smoke from anything—a cigarette, a toasty campfire, the rusty tailpipe of the 36 Broadway bus—isn’t good for your lungs. That’s especially true now that they’re the primary target of a deadly virus.

But what about a joint, a bowl, a bong—or even vaping through a dab rig?

Here we have this newly legal, natural medicine, good for treating ailments including Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s, MS, nausea, pain, and—critically right now—anxiety. But is it safe to smoke cannabis in the middle of a viral pandemic that’s besieging the human respiratory system?

Last month Leafly put the question to a pulmonary critical care physician, and not surprisingly, the answer was no, it probably isn’t safe to light up. According to Dr. Laura Crotty Alexander, “it has been demonstrated that smoking marijuana damages airway epithelium, increases mucus production, and causes loss of ciliated epithelial cells”—all of which could make your lungs more vulnerable to infection by SARS-CoV-2. 

You better just eat it instead.

Smoking was a barrier to lots of people enjoying the benefits of cannabis even before the virus. “A lot of my clients are either scared of smoking or they just don’t want the smoke,” says Chef Angelina Bastidas of Tournant, an infused private fine-dining operation she cofounded last November with Sarah Mitchell, who functions as a weed sommelier. “And that’s when they have questions about doing infusions.”

Before Tournant, Bastidas worked around town at spots such as AMK Kitchen Bar and BIN 36, and in 2015 she was the youngest contestant to ever compete on Top Chef. She made it to the sixth episode before she ran out of time and plated her swordfish tacos with pickled Fresno chilies, avocado, and mango on a cutting board and was sent packing. She did better last May on Bong Appetit, literally smoking corn and tomato salsa with a limey Zeta strain for Cypress Hill’s B-Real.

“I began using cannabis medically in my early 20s, helping with my depression, PTSD, and my psoriasis,” she says. “I started experimenting cooking with cannabis a little over two years ago to find a subtle way to use it at the times I can’t smoke, playing with foods other than sweets and the usual edibles.” 

Cannabis butter is one of the most universal staples in the infused pantry for a good reason. You can’t just eat weed and expect much to happen. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD need to bind to fats to be absorbed by the digestive system, and butter is one of the most efficient, versatile, and delicious delivery vehicles available to the home cook.

There are a million cannabutter recipes online, many of them flawed and overcomplicated, resulting in green, swampy-tasting over- or underdosed butters, stripped of the full spectrum of the plant’s properties. When you’re getting started, it’s best to keep it simple.

Bastidas doesn’t even use cannabis flower to make butter. She uses RSO, or Rick Simpson Oil, a highly concentrated cannabis extract named for the Canadian engineer who developed it and used it to treat his own skin cancer. RSO is easy to integrate into butter or other fats, and it’s also easy to calculate how much THC you’re infusing into any given amount. Most dispensaries are well stocked with it and other oils and extracts you can cook with, but if you don’t have a medical card you likely aren’t getting through the door right now. You can make your own, but that’s a story for another day in the pandemic.

What about that flower you’ve stockpiled, or are growing, or continuing to buy from your Weedman? It’s a bit more complicated and imprecise to make butter with buds, but anyone can do it. 

Bastidas shared her basic RSO and flower cannabutter infusions, which you can use in any recipe that calls for regular unsalted butter.

But first a couple tips: don’t grind your cannabis. That won’t do anything but make your butter taste grassy. Just gently break it up with your hands. 

Then you need to decarboxylate it, heating it gently in the oven—GENTLY—to activate the THC and CBD.

Every strain is different, and calculating dosage with cannabis flower is an imprecise, imperfect science. You can find dosing calculators online, but whether you use one or not it’s always best to start slow. Taste a half teaspoon and wait an hour. If everything’s good and you want more, try another and wait.

Cannabutter with Flower by Angelina Bastidas

3 grams cannabis flower

1 cup butter

1 cup water

Set oven to 220-230 degrees F. Place the flower on a Silpat or baking sheet and place in the oven for about 30-45 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Place butter and the water in a crockpot or rice cooker (where it’s easier to control temperature), or a double boiler on the stovetop. Heat on low until the butter is melted. 

Whisk your cannabis into the butter-water mixture. Simmer on low for two hours. Do not boil!

Line a strainer with cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl. Pour the mixture over the cheesecloth. As the butter starts to cool, squeeze the cheesecloth using a rubber spatula to extract excess solids. Transfer the mixture to a jar in the refrigerator. When the butter solidifies and water separates, drain. Store butter in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, or in the freezer for up to three months.

Cannabutter with RSO by Angelina Bastidas

When using RSO, the butter takes less work than flower and the process is faster. RSO is already decarbed. Take two sticks (1 cup) of unsalted butter and soften at room temperature. Place the butter in a small saucepan on mid-low heat. Once melted, slowly add the desired amount of RSO. It will look as if the oil won’t dissolve, but wait a couple seconds as you whisk. Once dissolved, remove it from heat. Transfer to a bowl and cool. Rewhip once butter begins to solidify. 

Note: RSO is exceptionally potent. To calculate dosage, divide the amount of milligrams of THC in the strain you’re using by the amount of butter. You can do it by ounce, teaspoon, tablespoon, or any unit you prefer. 

Bastidas’s April private dinners had to be rescheduled, but you can still order uninfused catered and delivered meals from her at tournantchi.com.  v