Decarboxylation is a chemical reaction. Cannabis decarboxylation is the process of using heat and time to remove a carboxyl group from cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, enhancing their ability to interact with your body's receptors. For example, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) will naturally decarboxylate into tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) over time or immediately after being exposed to heat.
What is decarboxylation and why is it important?
Pop culture would have you believe that eating a bag of weed will leave you stoned out of your gourd, but it's not that simple. Raw cannabis cannot produce strong psychoactive effects and is almost always non-intoxicating. THCA, or the precursor to THC, is the most abundant cannabinoid in raw cannabis and it doesn't produce an intoxicating high. In order to have intoxicating properties, it must first be transformed into THC via decarboxylation, or decarbing.
THCA will naturally decarboxylate into THC over a long period of time, but smoking or vaporizing the cannabis flower will decarboxylate it almost instantly. For edibles, decarbing cannabis flower before infusing it in oil will result in an intoxicating final product.
Bottom line: decarbing raw cannabis will allow you to enjoy its intoxicating effects.
Does decarboxylation destroy CBD?
No, decarboxylation does not ruin cannabidiol (CBD). Decarboxylation is actually necessary to activate CBD. As with THC, the raw cannabis plant does not contain CBD molecules.
Instead, it contains cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), which does not interact with your body the same way CBD does. To convert that CBDA into CBD, and enjoy its potentially therapeutic effects, you need to decarboxylate your weed first.
The bottom line: to convert THCA and CBDA into THC and CBD, respectively, you need to apply heat for a period of time.
How to decarboxylate weed
Decarbing cannabis flower at home takes some trial and error and may take a few attempts to perfect. Hitting the right decarboxylation temperature is critical to the process, but even if you don't achieve full decarboxylation, you will be able to decarb at least some of the cannabinoid acids in the raw plant.
While there are many ways to decarb weed, these two are common and relatively easy:
To decarboxylate weed for homemade cannabutter or other infusion purposes, you can bake cannabis in an oven at a low temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 230 degrees Fahrenheit (110 degrees Celsius).
- Break the buds into small pieces.
- Place parchment paper on a baking sheet and spread the ground cannabis on the parchment in a thin, even layer.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
- Once done, let the decarbed cannabis cool before using it.
Pro tip: If you don't mind your food having an herbal taste, you can use a food processor to blitz the decarboxylated cannabis to a fine consistency and add it directly to brownie batter or other baked goods.
Sous vide method
Sous vide is a preparation method using water or steam to hold food, or cannabis, at a precise and consistent temperature over time. Like the oven method, it uses a low temperature. Unlike the oven method, it requires a heat-safe plastic bag, a sous vide precision cooker, a grinder, and a large pot or vessel.
To decarboxylate weed using the sous vide method, follow these steps:
- Grind your cannabis.
- Seal it in a heat-safe plastic bag being sure to release all the air.
- Fill the pot or other vessel with enough water to cover the bag of ground cannabis.
- Place the precision cooker in the pot and set the temperature to 230 degrees Fahrenheit (110 degrees Celsius).
- Place the bag of cannabis in the pot.
- Cook for about 90 minutes.
Frequently asked questions
What is the best method to decarboxylate cannabis?
It's not so much about one decarboxylation method versus another as it is about executing that method properly. Before decarboxylating cannabis, consider whether you want to achieve a mild high or the most potent high possible. This is particularly important for homemade edibles. If you're more interested in the potential anxiety-relieving properties of weed than the intoxicating effects, you may be better off skipping the decarboxylation step altogether.
Do I need to decarb my concentrates?
The short answer is no, not if you're dabbing or smoking them. Concentrates are made using a number of processes including physical agitation, pressure, or use of a solvent. Most processes do not include heat, which means that concentrates contain mostly THCA rather than THC. That's why you need to combust or vaporize your concentrates to turn THCA into THC and get high.
For example, hash oil is one of the most classic forms of concentrate. Typically, hash oil is derived by soaking cannabis in some sort of solvent that pulls out most of the cannabinoids from the plant matter. Once the solvent has evaporated, it leaves behind a thick, tarlike, oily substance that is full of concentrated cannabinoid acids. However, because the final product was never exposed to heat, it does not yet contain active THC. Technically speaking, decarboxylated hash is only created at the moment of consumption when you combust it via smoking, vaporizing, or dabbing.
Bottom line: if you're smoking or dabbing your concentrates, there's no need to decarb them first.
What is unintended decarboxylation?
When exposed to light and heat, both cannabis flower and concentrates that contain THCA will eventually decarboxylate all on their own. Further degradation can transform THC into CBN.
If you want to maintain both the freshness and the cannabinoid content of your cannabis, it's important to store cannabis buds and concentrates in a cool, dark place with minimal exposure to light and heat.
Can you use a microwave to decarboxylate weed?
You can, but you probably shouldn't. Though some who've tried this method report successful outcomes, decarboxylating cannabis in a microwave is much trickier than using an oven, potentially resulting in burnt weed with lost potency and an unpleasant smell and taste. Decarboxylating with a microwave is possible, but ultimately riskier and not always worth the shorter timeframe it offers.
How long should I decarboxylate?
The length of time you must expose your cannabis to heat in order to achieve decarboxylation depends on the temperature you're using. In general, the lower the heat, the longer the process will take. At the same time, you don't want to use such a high temperature that you end up scorching or combusting the plant material — unless you're smoking it, that is.
The following chart shows temperatures and times for activating THCa, CBDa, and CBGa, according to Dr. Adie Rae, a neuroscientist and scientific adviser to Weedmaps.
Is decarboxylation necessary for edibles?
Read any cannabutter or edible how-to on the internet and it'll tell you to decarboxylate your weed or don't even bother. But it's a little more nuanced than that. Using decarboxylated cannabis when making edibles will ensure your infusion will be chock full of THC, but that's not necessarily the goal of every cannabis consumer. High-tolerance consumers who want to get every last bit of THC out of their flower should absolutely decarb. Brand new cannabis consumers would be wise to skip this step. And low-tolerance consumers might be happy going either route but should pay close attention to the math if they choose to decarb.
Also, if you're worried about getting the temperature exactly right for decarboxylation, you can always add a store-bought product to your homemade edibles instead.
Related: Calculating the dose of homemade edibles
How do you decarb without an oven?
You can use the sous vide method, which is described above, or decarb your weed in a slow cooker.
Can you decarb store-bought cannabutter?
You do not need to worry about putting store-bought cannabutter through its own separate decarboxylation process. Check the product label to be sure, but it's highly unlikely you will find cannabutter in a legal, licensed dispensary that doesn't already have activated THC.
What does decarboxylation mean in biochemistry?
Decarboxylation has many other applications in biochemistry aside from cannabis decarboxylation. While the decarbing process changes the ability of THC and CBD to bind to our body's cannabinoid receptors, decarboxylation happens with other amino acids, too. L-tryptophan, for example, is an essential amino acid that is necessary for us to make serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine), which occurs through decarboxylation. Histidine also is converted to histamine, our body's allergy response, via decarboxylation.
The reverse process of decarboxylation is carboxylation, or adding carbon dioxide to a compound, which is the first step of photosynthesis. Another popular term today is ketonic decarboxylation. This process forms the ketones that are produced by the body during fasting or low carbohydrate intake, as with the ketogenic diet.