I get a lot of confused questions from my audience about using lecithin in cannabis cooking. Some people seem to be under the misconception that lecithin is somehow an integral part of the process of making marijuana butter or oil. Not so. In fact, I can’t see that adding lecithin to your fat based cannabis infusions will do a darn thing. But there are times it could potentially be helpful. Let’s explore.
What is Lecithin?
Lecithin is a phospholipid, a type of fat that serves an essential role within the body and makes up parts of cell membranes.Medicinally lecithin is used to treat a variety of conditions including high cholesterol, anxiety, eczema, liver and gallbladder disease, and memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. It is also frequently used in the manufacturing of medicines.
What Does Lecithin Do?
Lecithin is also commonly used as a food additive because it helps stabilize foods and works as an emulsifier that helps bind ingredients that normally don’t stick together, such as oil and water. When you look at lecithin in these terms, it’s easy to see how this might be useful for some applications.
Do you Need Lecithin in Cannabis Cooking?
Need it? No. And in many cases you won’t even want it. But there are some applications where it’s helpful.
I get emails from people all the time who add lecithin to the mix when making marijuana butter or oil. I am not a scientist, but this to me seems nonsensical. We know that the cannabinoids we are extracting, like THC, bind to fats. Lecithin helps bind waters to fats. Likewise, I see no need to introduce lecithin into the mix when making marijuana butter or oil. In fact, if you add water when making your infusions, as many people do for better flavor and yields, it could actually be counterproductive as you do not want the cannabis to bind to the water which will eventually be thrown out.
So when might lecithin come in handy when cooking with cannabis? Whenever you need to emulsify or bind a fat to a liquid. I don’t worry about this when making baked goods like cakes and cookies as natural lecithin exists in many of the ingredients used to make these. Nonetheless, some people like to add lecithin to their batters to help the process even more. It is an option but certainly not necessary.
I do think lecithin might help when making fat free foods however, because in those cases you are trying to bind a fat (cannabis trichomes) to a liquid. I plan to do some experiments with gummies for instance, something I, and judging from my emails many others, have trouble keeping stabilized for very long. Stay tuned.
It could also help with things like salad dressings, which have trouble staying emulsified even without cannabis in the mix.
What Kind of Lecithin to Use for Cannabis Cooking and for Health
Unfortunately, not all lecithin is created equal. The most common type, soy lecithin, should be avoided as it has almost always been genetically modified, is highly processed, and is extracted with potentially cancer-causing solvents like hexane or acetone. In addition, soy itself comes with some questionable side effects
While more expensive, sunflower lecithin, which is cold pressed from the seeds and minimally processed, is far superior. If you are going to add lecithin to your foods, be sure it is sunflower lecithin. As it comes in a fine powdered form, it is easy to stir into most recipes.
Many people take lecithin as a dietary supplement although it is also found in many foods we commonly consume such as egg yolks, soybeans, milk, legumes, avocados, sunflowers, and more. Learn more about the health benefits of Sunflower lecithin here, along with info on the rare cases of when it should not be used.
Can Adding Lecithin to Marijuana Edibles Increase Their Potency?
Some people claim that adding lecithin to cannabis infused foods increases their “bioavailability” and likewise makes them feel more potent. Some people also claim that eating mangoes before ingesting cannabis makes you feel more high too. Some people are more sensitive to cannabis than others and some are far more sensitive to suggestion. Personally I have tried it and felt no difference from the lecithin “enhanced” edibles and likewise I don’t put a lot of stock in it. But try it for yourself and see what you think. Some folks swear it's true.
Science and lab tests do not seem to support the enhanced high theory. No increase in potency shows up on lab tests, people just say they feel more high. In fact, when then High Time’s edibles editor Elise McDonough conducted the Great Cannabutter Experiment that tested various methods for making marijuana butter, the batch made with lecithin yielded the least amount of THC!