By Troy Ivan
in•fu•sion /in‘fyooZHən/ (noun)
a drink, remedy, or extract prepared by soaking the leaves of a plant or herb in liquid.
*definition from Oxford Languages
INFUSION IS EASY!
Making an infusion is as simple as the definition states: just soak plant material in a liquid. We work with cannabis soaked in a fat-based carrier like olive oil, MCT oil, avocado oil, butter, and such. Despite the simplicity of the process, we see more and more devices geared toward the cannabis consumer to make infusions. It’s funny if you think about it; you don’t see reasonable people running out and spending up to $400 on an appliance to infuse olive oil with rosemary, garlic, or whatever herb because they know better. However, once you mention “cannabis,” people start shucking out hundreds of dollars for unnecessary and silly appliances for the exact same process.
Anyone following me knows I prefer using extracts and concentrates to medicate carrier oils because of the direct control of potency and ability to minimize the carrier oil volume. Not everyone can afford safe extraction equipment, so crafting infusions is very effective and medicinally significant for those in need. Understanding the infusion process is essential to make good decisions and not waste money and valuable resources.
In addition to this process comparison blog, I have prepared a video to show exactly how easy the process is and exactly what’s happening when making an infusion. This blog and video together should provide all you need to know to make the best decisions possible.
To help everyone understand the process and equipment available, I decided to see how the “infusion devices” performed compared to simple techniques using things a person may already have in the kitchen. Our main question here is, does complicating the simple act of soaking and heating cannabis in a carrier oil with popular infusion devices ensure better results that warrant the price tags? We are going to see right now!
I focused on making attractive and clean infusions that would typically be used for edibles or topicals. I used decarbed CBD dominate cannabis (10 g per sample) and extra virgin olive oil (400 ml per sample) to compare the Levo II, Ardent FX, a jar in an Instant Pot, and a jar in the oven. Several time and temp combinations can be used for infusion, and I don’t have the time or resources to test every combination, so I opted to follow the manufacturer’s recommended settings for the Levo II and Ardent FX, then used what I consider reasonable settings for the Instant Pot and oven.
I’m not including the “magic” butter machine and herbal infuser type of machines because I find them silly. These are simply soy milk makers re-branded and marketed as cannabis infusion devices. It’s not a cannabis infusion device; it’s a soy milk maker. If you’d like to see for yourself, put “soy milk maker” in the Google or Amazon search bar and see what comes up. Anything that chops cannabis in heated liquid makes green goo that tastes like swamp-ass. There’s no worse way to complicate and dirty what should be a clean and straightforward infusion process. Yes, many people are out there using these things that will swear on the bible that “I’m making the best infusions ever!” or “What I make will knock you out!” They’re not making the best infusions but are making green goop through pulverization. Moreover, while the green goop may knock you out, imagine what would happen if made properly!
Samples of each infusion were sent for lab testing and found to have the following cannabinoid content potencies.
LEVO II 0.220% total cannabinoids; 0.190% CBD
Ardent FX 0.260% total cannabinoids; 0.230% CBD
Oven 0.252% total cannabinoids; 0.220% CBD
Instant Pot 0.341% total cannabinoids; 0.300% CBD
Results Summary Notes:
Tested Flower: The hemp flower tested at 15.065% total cannabinoids and 12.224% total possible CBD (CBDA 10.89%, CBD 2.67%). Decarbed testing was 13.783% total cannabinoids, 12.256% total possible CBD (CBDA 0.47%, CBD 11.85%).
Understanding Potency Numbers: The potency information above is confusing since we measure liquid volume by milliliters (ml) and calculate dosing by milligrams (mg). While cannabis concentrates themselves can be very close to 1 g = 1 ml, olive oil and other carriers are a bit lighter. Olive oil is about 0.9 g (900 mg) per 1 ml. That means every 1 ml of the Instant Pot infusion results would contain about 3 mg of total cannabinoids (900 mg x .00341 = 3.069 mg) or 2.7 mg of CBD (900 mg x .003 = 2.700 mg).
* Here’s a conversion calculator for checking different carrier oil weight to volume conversions: https://www.howmany.wiki/vw/—-ml–of–oil–in–mg
Low Potency: The cannabinoid concentrations in this exercise are relatively low due to a large volume of olive oil used with a small amount of cannabis. A very oil-heavy weighting was used to provide the Levo II with an even playing field for performance comparison. I could only fit 10 g of broken-up cannabis comfortably into the Levo II botanical containment, and 400 ml of oil was required to submerge it. The same ratio was used with the Ardent FX, Instant Pot, and oven methods to see relatively low potency numbers across the board.
The problem with this low-level potency is that a lot of unnecessary carrier oil must be ingested to achieve a “regular” (subjective term, I know) dosage. For example, using the Levo II potency results, for just a 10 mg dose, nearly 6 ml of the medicated oil would have to be ingested. Considering a normal CBD dose is much more than 10 mg, a lot of unnecessary carrier oil must be consumed. The Levo II is stuck with this low dose conundrum due to the mechanizations used, but there’s wiggle room with the Ardent FX, Instant Pot, and oven techniques to increase potency by adjusting the cannabis to oil ratio. This means the Levo II not only performed the worst but also didn’t have the flexibility to increase infusion potency (a little) like the other processes.
PROCESS DETAILS & COMMENTS
0.220% total cannabinoids; 0.190% CBD
The LEVO II looks cool and takes on a familiar kitchen appliance look that appeals to an average consumer. Unfortunately, beauty is only skin deep, and it incredibly overcomplicates the simple infusion process. It’s a great example of what happens when marketing and/or engineering puts form before function. It doesn’t make much sense to put the herbs in a confined container that limits the botanical’s exposure to the liquid it is soaked in when the whole point is to provide as much exposure as possible. They added the magnetic stir that probably helps performance to some extent, but the metal encasement inhibits the flow more than the stirring action helps.
The “recipe calculator” on the Levo website recommends 175°F for 2.5 hours for cannabis flower and olive oil, so that’s what I used. This setting is similar to the Ardent FX operation but performed about 20% worse than the Ardent FX here. I’m sure the difference in performance resulted from the constriction of the botanical material in the metal containment.
Using the 10 g of cannabis and 400 ml of olive oil allowed the Levo II to perform to the best of its ability while hampering the performance of the other 3 methods by using too much oil and not having stirring mechanisms. The other three methods still outperformed the Levo II and would have done even better if the contents were gently mixed part way through the infusion process. The bottom line is this is by far the worst performer in the group, even when provided the best chance to shine.
EDIT NOTE (8/22/21): The Levo II operating instructions have changed since this article was written. I followed the instructions closely when this article was written to get the most accurate results possible. Instead of claiming the pod can hold 14 g of material (I used 10 g because it was understated capacity and appeared to be a good amount for best performance), the instructions state that it has an 8 g capacity. That’s a big difference. I guess they got called out too many times on their egregious capacity claims. However, their current suggestion is for the consumer to BUY an EXTRA power pod to double capacity from 8 g to 16 g if they want to do more. This is just silly, in my opinion. The main problem is the design and the constriction of the oil flow over the material due to the pod itself being in the way, but now they want you to load TWO pods in simultaneously? It’s just the wrong way to do it and a clumsy way to correct their initially aggressive volume claims.
0.260% total cannabinoids; 0.230% CBD
The Ardent FX is another slick-looking machine, which I’m sure helps significantly with its target demographic. The design is really all that’s necessary for simple infusion; it’s a heated tube with a timer that holds the carrier oil and botanical. The crazy part is it costs nearly $400 and doesn’t do any more than a heated jar, double boiler, sous vide, or Instant Pot. The marketing is excellent because they’ve convinced people that it’s a benefit to not have the ability to do larger volume or a way to adjust the time or temp and worthy of an extreme pricing premium. Regardless of the dual thermocouples and algorithm claims, it really operates just like a heated tube with a timer; that’s it. There’s a decarb function as well, but again, if you know what you are doing, all you need is a heated tube, like a jar, and you can decarb while containing odors just as well with things you already have in your kitchen for free. The process is not as delicate or complex as they make it out to be. For more information on proper decarbing, check out my post Decarboxylation (decarb) 101: Basic understanding and at home method comparison.
The Ardent performed the same as the heated jar in the oven and much better than the LEVO II. The Ardent FX user manual states that the infusion process tops out at 176°F and only needs to run for 1 hour of the 3-hour cycle as the extra 2 hours provide no additional benefit. I ran it for 2.5 hours to be consistent with the Levo II settings.
On a side note, since I had the Ardent FX working anyway, I thought I’d use it to decarb the cannabis used in this exercise. I ran it on the CBD decarb setting. The test results showed that the non-decarbed CBD-A component was still close to 5%. Considering the starting flower was already about 20% naturally decarbed (CBD-A 10.89%, CBD 2.67%), I would have thought a full decarb should have been no problem, but not so. If this material hadn’t already had a decent amount of natural decarb, the conversion achieved by the Ardent FX would have probably been worse.
OVEN & CANNING JAR
0.252% total cannabinoids; 0.220% CBD
Soaking and heating cannabis in a jar in the oven is the simplest form of infusion. Since most everyone has a jar and an oven, this process can be performed for free. There are also the added benefits of nearly unlimited capacity, controlling the temp, and being able to visually observe the process.
The cannabis and olive oil were combined in a pint-sized canning jar and placed in an oven preheated to 200°F for 2 hours with the lid not fully tightened. This program was a little shorter in duration and a little warmer in temp than the Levo II and Ardent FX cycles, but it’s what I consider a reasonable starting point. In terms of performance, it ended up better than the Levo II and essentially the same as the Ardent FX, with no dollars spent.
0.341% total cannabinoids; 0.300% CBD
The Instant Pot is basically an advanced version of the Ardent FX with the same ability to set and forget and contain odors, as well as having many more features and a substantially larger capacity at a fraction of the cost. It’s just a heated tube with the addition of steam-generated pressure, and it’s priced between $60-$90 like a heated tube should be.
A fully sealed pint jar containing the cannabis and oil was put into the machine using ‘normal’ mode with ‘high’ pressure for 2 hours. The user manual for my Duo Plus 60 is incomplete and does not correctly note the working temps for this setting. For other comparable models, it appears to be listed around 230°F-240°F, which will probably be about 10°F lower here at 5,000′ elevation. The jar was sealed to keep steam and water from getting into the mixture. I’m unsure if it was the higher temp, added pressure, or both that made a difference. Still, whatever it was, it provided a 30% increase in cannabinoid pickup performance over the Ardent FX and oven methods. My guess is with the same temps, the oven method would perform the same?
We’ve seen here that infusion is, in fact, as simple as it seems. All that’s required is cannabis, carrier oil, an appropriate container, and heat. No contraptions, costly ones, or rebranded soy milk makers are necessary to make an excellent quality infusion.
Low potency is the curse of infusions, but it’s possible to increase the potency of an infusion a little by dialing back the ratio of oil used. There are so many uncontrollable variables there’s no reliable way to formulate a ratio that works with every type of material every time. It’s best to just eyeball it as the carrier oil is added, ensuring the cannabis is well covered, then add at least another half-inch to an inch above it. I’ve had infusions tested up to 10 mg total cannabinoids per 1 ml and have not heard of anything higher than 15 mg per 1 ml. As a comparison, when I medicated olive oil using concentrates in a 9:1 ratio, it’s around 75-80 mg per 1 ml, and I can still make it much stronger by adjusting the oil component down as far as I choose.
This exercise used CBD dominant flower, but THC dominant flower would behave the same way, and the same results should be expected. The main difference in consideration is that oral dosing of THC is often lower than CBD, so infusions can be more beneficial for THC applications (except for those with high tolerance). Either way, infusion isn’t the best way to prepare meds, but it is a viable way to do so on a narrow budget.