What is the Decarboxylation of Cannabis?
Decarboxylation is the process that takes natural cannabinoids acidic molecule and removes it. "Decarbing" your cannabis is necessary in order to bind with your body's receptors and have your desired therapeutic effect.
In simple terms, decarboxylation is heating up the cannabis to make it give you the psychoactive effects when eating it. If you were to eat a cannabis bud without decarboxylating it first, you would not get high. All edibles use decarboxylated cannabis so they provide the effects many people seek.
THCA: Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid
THCA (non-psychoactive) + decarboxylation = THC (psychoactive)
CBDA: Cannabidiolic acid
CBDA + decarboxylation = CBD (increases bioavailability for medical users)
What Happens Without Decarboxylation?
FACT: All bud, fresh and cured, needs to be decarboxylated in order to be active and bioavailable. If you intend on smoking it, there is no need to decarboxylate it. When it is heated up by your lighter, it will turn THCA into THC, so you will get the high.
Decarboxylation is what turns cannabis psychoactive and the most bioavailable, however without decarboxylation your cannabis will still have some health benefits.
Cannabis that has yet to be decarboxylated has higher levels of THCA and which comes with many health benefits. Some of these health benefits include neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory qualities. THCA, on its own, isn’t intoxicating in any way. In order to turn this THCA into an intoxicating substance it needs to undergo decarboxylation to turn it into THC.
Do We Need to Track the Amount of Decarboxylation?
Decarboxylation is how dispensaries determine the cannabinoid content (or how psychoactive it is) for consumers. In regulated markets this information often is found on the labels of your cannabis products.
Here is an example of a study done by Ardent Cannabis. 5 Strains after drying + curing, before decarboxylation.
You will note that none of these strains have over 1% activated THC cannabinoid.
How Do I Decarboxylate My Cannabis?
Here are the two basic steps to facilitate the process of decarboxylation, being heat and time. When you dry cannabis over a period of time, it will naturally undergo a very partial decarboxylation. It’s because of this that some cannabis flowers have a presence of THC together with the THCA.
Vaporizing and smoking cannabis will immediately decarboxylate the cannabinoids because of the high temperatures involved in burning. The quick decarboxylation of smoking and vaporizing quickly converts the THCA into THC, making it available to the body for absorption and psychoactive effect.
Most avid smokers would be surprised to hear that smoking only gives you access to about 10% – 20% of the available cannabinoids in your cannabis. Smoking certainly achieves some decarb – but very little survives the combustion. Decarbing first gives you a more potent smoke and is especially popular with those looking for a heavy, sedative feeling that can help with sleep, nerves and anxiety.
By vaping you are able to heat up the cannabinoids slowly at a low temperature. This will effectively decarboxylate the cannabinoids and at allow your body to receive the maximum benefit of your cannabis. Vaping is more financially friendly too, as you will need less cannabis to achieve the same effects.
In edible form, you should always decarboxylate your weed. The cooking process does not heat your cannabis up enough to get two birds stoned at once. Once you have decarbed your cannabis and made your edibles, the effect of the cannabinoids present will require more time to be properly absorbed by the body because it has to be digested before entering the bloodstream.
What then is the most appropriate temperature that makes decarboxylation occur? THCA in cannabis starts the decarboxylation process at around 220 degrees Fahrenheit when it has endured 30 to 40 minutes of exposure to heat. If the cannabis smells like it is burning or turning brown, you should turn down the temperature. Ideally the cannabis will be a golden color after being decarbed.
How Important is the Temperature?
Low temperatures over an extended period of time preserves the terpenes through the decarboxylation process. Terpenes are responsible for the smell of your cannabis. Many strains of cannabis have a distinct and pleasing smell, and this is because of the terpenes. Low temperatures also makes sure you don’t accidentally evaporate vital components of your cannabis, including the flavour.
In all, just note one thing: whether you go for low or high-temperature method, do not use any temperature that exceeds 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Exceeding this temperature will compromise the integrity of the cannabinoids and terpenoids. There is a good chance it will also smoke if the temperature is over 300F. For this reason, temperatures in the 200’s are ideal.
Bear in mind also that the length of time the cannabinoid is subjected to heat can also affect the quality of your cannabis product. Too much time exposed to heat can cause damage to your cannabis. For instance, there is a process that can occur along decarboxylation when the reaction time is too long. When this process takes place, the THC you are trying to create is instead converted to cannabinol (CBN). Cannabinol naturally forms as cannabis becomes old.
Interested in decarboxylating your cannabis yourself? Keep reading below and we’ll take you through the steps nice and simple!
The Science of Decarboxylation
Decarboxylation can mean a few different things.
One definition of it refers to the chemical reaction that takes place when a carboxyl group is removed which releases carbon dioxide (the same gas we breathe out).
Another definition of it is when a reaction takes place while removing a carbon atom from the carbon chain.
A third description is reducing carbon when an amino acid group is turned into keto acid.
Want to find the theoretical maximum amount of THC in a sample?
Add the amount of THC present in the sample to the amount of THC that can be created from THCa by the formula:
Max THC = THC + THCa * 0.877
How to Decarboxylate Your Own Cannabis
Here, we arrive at the main point of the article. Wouldn’t it be awesome to go about doing these things on your own without depending on anybody? Well, it’s not as hard as you think! Doing this is relatively easy and can be done at home with a few supplies.
You can use this decarboxylated cannabis to make your own edibles, infused oils and much more!
Here are the things you need in order to decarboxylate cannabis on your own:
- Oven or Toaster Oven (set it somewhere between 200 – 230 degrees F.)
- Parchment paper
- Baking tray
- Cannabis (the main material)
- Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees F
- Spread your cannabis in an even layer across a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place in oven.
- Now, set the timer for 30 minutes and sit back! Keep watch of your cannabis during this process but try not to open the oven door and let the heat escape. Typically folks like leaving it for 30 minutes minimum or 40 minutes maximum.
Note: You can go over 40 minutes but make sure to keep a close eye on your cannabis. Ovens’ temperature can also be pretty notorious when it comes to fluctuating. Sometimes, it can go higher or lower than what you expect by as much as 20 degrees F. This is another reason to keep a close eye on your cannabis while it is in the oven.
Does it smell like it’s burning or turning too brown? We recommend turning down the oven.
If you know you are going to be making frequent use of the oven for decarbing, consider getting an oven thermometer for yourself.
Time to cool and then enjoy your cannabis! Congrats, you just decarbed your own cannabis. It’s a simple process and now you have all the knowledge and know-how to decarboxylate your cannabis like a pro!