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.
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!
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”.
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 (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 for THC-dominant strains. CBD requires about double the time to fully convert from CBDA to CBD, so heat hemp flower at the same temperature for 50-60 minutes instead. Or, meet in the middle at 45 minutes for balanced THC/CBD strains.
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.
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.
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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.
If you enjoy this article, be sure to check out:
Please feel free to ask questions, or spread the love by sharing or pinning this post! Thank you for tuning in.
Can CBD Oil Be Used Topically?
Lately we’ve been hearing a lot about the “best CBD oil for…” any number of issues. Sometimes, that’s exactly what they’re looking for—the best CBD oil for sleep or certain skin conditions.
But, in many cases, people are really looking for CBD creams and other topicals. For example, if you’re looking for the best CBD oil for acne, the best CBD oil for rosacea or eczema? You’re really looking for a CBD cream or similar CBD topical.
Most CBD oil is actually formulated to be taken orally. So what is the difference between topicals and CBD oil? That’s exactly what we’ll focus on here.
CBD Topicals vs CBD Oil
Although it is already massive, CBD and skin care are two growing markets that have merged to create a ton of new products. This means that while companies are still developing many new ways to use CBD, the basic CBD oil that is taken orally is still the most common way of administering the cannabinoid.
When you use a CBD tincture, you just place several drops or whatever your serving size is under your tongue. Hold it there for at least a minute, if you can, to hasten the benefits, which you can feel in minutes.
Still, especially for those with skin issues or joint and muscle pain, CBD topicals are often more effective and quicker. Topical CBD formulations typically include additional ingredients to enhance an analgesic, anti-inflammatory effect. So although there are many ways to try CBD, a topical may be your best bet if you need to treat skin issues or relieve aches and pains.
A CBD topical is any CBD-infused lotion, cream, or salve that can be applied directly to the skin. They don’t have enough tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, of course, to get you high.
However, many have other cannabinoids and terpenes and are therefore capable of producing the entourage effect–the effect that happens when all of the plant’s cannabinoids and terpenes work together to produce benefits.
Science on CBD topicals (and the cannabis plant as a whole) is in its infancy, but we do know some promising things:
We already know that cannabis sativa has anti-inflammatory properties. CBD topicals may help manage inflammation and pain associated with arthritis more effectively by avoiding the GI system, resulting in more constant plasma levels.
Experts from the American Academy of Dermatology have also suggested that topical CBD products might be used to treat eczema, acne, and psoriasis. As a bonus, these products don’t have the typical side effects of oral medications, and they provide additional skincare benefits.
Just like other forms of CBD, however, the effectiveness of topical CBD varies depending on things like dosage or serving size, quality, and source.
Unlike edibles, topicals serve a different and unique purpose. They are used mostly to target surface areas to treat muscle pain, spasms, and tension because topical CBD does not reach the bloodstream. Instead of treating your entire body or system, you’re just spot treating a place where you’re having chronic pain.
Can You Use Oral CBD Oil Topically?
What type of product will work best for you? There are pros and cons for both oral and topical CBD products—so if you apply a tincture or oil to your skin, do you get the same benefits of CBD you’re used to?
A lot of this is related to the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a biological system all mammals share. The ECS is mostly composed of enzymes, endocannabinoids, and CB1 and CB2 receptors for the endocannabinoids. The ECS regulates many functions in humans, including memory, appetite, pain sensation, mood, reproduction, and sleep.
The ECS helps achieve and maintain homeostasis in the human body—or in some cases re-establish it. Homeostasis is the balanced, healthy zone within the bounds of which biological systems stay well-regulated. Imagine a human body with ideal blood pressure, blood sugar levels, etc.
What are cannabinoid receptors and why do we have them? Much like a thermostat, cannabinoid receptors collect data on conditions just outside the cell upon whose surface they sit, allowing them to then respond to changing conditions by “kick-starting” the correct cellular response.
For example, when bacteria attacks the body and causes infection, the immune system triggers inflammation to help battle the infection. This also triggers the ECS to release endocannabinoids which assist in signaling other immune cells and help limit the inflammatory response so it isn’t excessive. The receptors in turn help the body fight infection, and return to normal without damaging itself.
The skin also has its own endocannabinoid system, which helps keep the skin healthy and balanced. Just like for the rest of the endocannabinoid system throughout the human body, the goal is stasis. In fact, CBD topicals are useful and can also produce healthy skin because the root cause of most skin problems is usually some kind of an imbalance in the skin.
Either way, depending on the type of issue you’re trying to treat and pain management you’re seeking, it is possible to get the effects of CBD topically or orally—if what you’re taking is made for that kind of use. But you wouldn’t eat hand cream, right? So would you put CBD oil on your skin?
The best method will depend on all of the details.
Taking CBD by mouth. You absorb CBD that you swallow in capsules, gummies, food, or liquid, through the digestive tract. This makes absorption slow and dosing a bit challenging due to several factors, including recent meals, unknown effects of stomach acids, the delayed onset of effect which is one to two hours, and other factors.
You can also take CBD using a tincture, oil, or spray by holding it under your tongue (sublingual) and allowing it to absorb directly into the bloodstream for 60 to 120 seconds. You can feel effects within 15 to 45 minutes, although you will also taste the preparation. Full-spectrum CBD oils in particular have a strong plant taste.
Taking CBD topically. Apply topical products such as balms, creams, lotions, and salves directly to the skin over a painful area. Simple! But do not apply CBD oils that are designed for taking orally to the skin; they have nothing to suspend them on the skin or make them work there, and they are intended to be in the bloodstream.
If you’re not sure if it would be better to use CBD orally or topically, you may need to refocus your question to decide which type best suits your needs. Using CBD topically works best if you have a targeted area where you need CBD the most because it allows the cannabidiol compounds to work with the cannabinoid receptors right where you apply the topical cream.
With CBD topicals, the effects are more concentrated because the cannabinoid compounds never get absorbed into the bloodstream and they aren’t spread thin throughout the entire body. This makes it a great choice for treating minor, local discomfort in muscles and joints, or soothing skin.
What CBD Products Can You Use On Your Skin?
CBD topicals are any CBD products you can use on your skin: lotions, creams, balms, roll-ons, and salves that have CBD in their formulations. CBD lotions, creams, and balms are typically not edible and are intended to be applied directly to specific affected areas of the skin.
CBD topicals generally can be used to provide localized relief by delivering CBD to the outer layer of the skin. They often have particular formulations, such as CBD creams for skin-related issues like eczema, acne, rosacea, and psoriasis, and for injuries and problems like insect bites and stings and burns.
Some of the most common types of CBD topicals that you might find on the market include these, and here are some of their applications:
Creams, lotions, and salves: These are typically used for inflammation and pain relief.
Oils, ointments, and serums: These are typically used to treat skin-related conditions such as burn ointments or ointments for eczema, acne, dry skin, and psoriasis; and in beauty applications, including anti-aging serums, beard creams, anti-aging products, tattoo ointments and other hair and skin products.
There are other miscellaneous CBD topicals, too, like CBD soap and CBD lip balm—all have specific uses.
In a CBD topical, the base, whether it is oil, cream, wax, or something similar, works as a carrier agent. If you recall our other discussions of how cannabinoids work, you remember that THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids bind with fatty acids. This is why carrier oils are so common.
The carrier agent works, usually alongside essential oils and other natural ingredients, to smoothly apply the CBD to skin conditions and other affected areas and help it cling there long enough to work.
What will happen if you use a CBD oil that isn’t a topical on your skin? For one thing, it won’t have the right carrier to hold it on your skin well enough to interact with the ECS locally. To be effective, CBD must interact with the endocannabinoid system in some way, either by entering the bloodstream or the skin’s layers. Simply placing oils on the skin won’t necessarily make that happen.