Decarboxylation

de-kärb-ˈbäk-sə-ˌlāSH(ə)n | Noun

Definition:

A chemical reaction that results from heating a cannabinoid to the point of removing a carboxyl group, thus enhancing the cannabinoid’s ability to interact with the body’s receptors. Decarboxylation is dependent upon time and temperature. For example, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) will naturally decarboxylate into tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) over time, or immediately after being exposed to heat.

 

“Decarboxylation is an important process when making edibles, tinctures, or oils.”

 

“Decarboxylation of acidic cannabinoids can occur naturally over a long period of exposure to air and light or immediately after cannabinoids are exposed to heat, or during a cooking process.”

What Is Decarboxylation?

Cannabis as a raw plant is non-intoxicating and cannot produce strong psychoactive effects. Pop-culture references to eating a bag of cannabis to hide one’s stash and getting super-high afterward just aren’t true. THCA is the compound found in the raw cannabis plant, and in order to have intoxicating properties, it must first be transformed into THC.

 

THCA will naturally decarboxylate into THC over a long period of time, but many times you want to speed up the process. To do so, you must activate the THC by heating it. The THCA in cannabis is converted to THC when it is smoked or vaporized to absorb via inhalation, or cooked over a period of time to absorb via digestion. 

 

For edible and topical applications, decarboxylation, or decarbing, allows for faster absorption of the cannabinoid. And with edibles, if you don’t decarboxylate your weed, it’s likely it will not reach maximum potency.

 

Interestingly, when you decarboxylate weed, it also helps reduce the risk of botulism and other microbiological contaminants by removing the moisture from the cannabinoids and decreasing the chance of bacteria growth.

Why is Decarboxylation Important?

Decarboxylating your weed is critical because it’s the process will allow you to get high. As mentioned previously, weed that has not been decarboxylated does not contain active THC, the chemical compound that produces intoxicating effects. Instead, raw cannabis has the inert compound THCA. However, once you apply heat, you transform that THCA into THC — and that’s what gets you stoned.

Does Decarboxylation Destroy CBD?

No, decarboxylation does not ruin cannabidiol (CBD). On the contrary, decarboxylation is actually necessary to ensure that the CBD is activated. 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 that CBD does. To convert that CBDA into CBD, the compound that gives consumers a number of positive 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 at Home

Decarboxylation of THCA at home takes some trial and error and may take a few attempts to perfect. That’s because hitting the precise decarboxylation temperature is critical to the entire process. If you don’t get the temperature right, you won’t be able to decarboxylate weed properly. 

 

Heating cannabinoids at too high of a temperature —  hotter than 300 degrees Fahrenheit, or 148.9 degrees Celsius — will cause degradation. Terpenes may evaporate, and the smell and flavor may be unsavory. However, degradation of THC can cause the formation of cannabinol (CBN), which has its own health properties.

What is the Best Method to Decarboxylate Cannabis?

There are a variety of ways to decarboxylate weed at home. There really is not one method that’s any better than the other. Instead, it’s all about what you are hoping to accomplish by decarboxylating your weed, and how you intend to consume your decarbed weed. 

 

For example, if you want to bake edibles, you’ll probably be best served by making cannabis-infused butter or cannabis oil. Alternatively if you plan on simply adding dried plant matter to foods, drinks, or some other application, and you want to avoid the weed releasing a strong odor, you may be better served by going with the sous-vide method below. Whatever your needs, here are a few of the most common ways to decarboxylate weed.

How Long to 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. But at the same time, you don’t want to use such a high temperature that you end up scorching or combusting the plant material.

 

In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Molecular Structure, researchers identified the ideal conditions for optimal cannabis decarboxylation. Here’s what they found: “Under the experimental conditions, the highest yield [of active THC] was obtained at 110 degrees Celsius and 110 minutes.”

 

Following this guidance, to decarb weed as effectively as possible, shoot for 110 minutes at 110 degrees C, or 230 degrees Fahrenheit.

Baking

Cannabis can be baked in a preheated oven on a sheet of parchment paper. To start, first break your buds into small pieces and spread the cannabis in a thin, even layer. Cover the paper with aluminum foil, set the timer for 25 to 30 minutes, and bake at 230 degrees Fahrenheit, or 110 degrees Celsius.

Once done, let your newly decarbed cannabis cool before using it for any consumption application. You may want to place it in a food processor to give it an even consistency for ease of use in mixing and baking. And yes, you should decarboxylate weed before using it in an edible recipe. The body can’t convert THCA to THC on its own, so ensuring you’ve decarboxylated your weed before using it in edibles will ensure you get maximum potency out of the flower. 

Sous-Vide Method

Sometimes the safest way to cook without burning cannabis is with water, and sous vide decarboxylation may be favored among some cannabis users, and those who may be foodies, too. To decarboxylate weed using sous-vide, a preparation method using water or steam heated to a precise and consistent temperature, requires a vacuum sealer, heat-safe plastic packaging, a sous-vide precision cooker, a grinder, and a large pot.

 

Once you’re done grinding your cannabis, seal it in heat-safe plastic packaging using your vacuum sealer. Fill your large pot with water and place on the stovetop. Place the precision cooker in the pot and set the temperature to 230 degrees Fahrenheit, or 110 degrees Celsius. Once the sous-vide reaches the desired temperature, place your sealed cannabis in the precision cooker and cook for about 1 ½ hours.

Slow Cooker

You also can decarboxylate cannabis using a slow cooker and cooking oil, such as coconut or olive oil. This is a common practice when cannabis users want to make cannabis-infused oils

 

One sample recipe calls for 64 ounces, or 1.8 kilograms, of dry-weight cannabis to 1 pint, or 433 milliliters, of olive oil, covered and cooked on high in a slow cooker for 1 hour, then turned to low and cooked for an additional 2-3 hours. The mixture is then cooled and strained through a cheesecloth, with each tablespoon (about 14 milliliters) of oil containing about 2 grams of cannabis.

 

Cannabis butters, meanwhile, are often made on the stovetop.

Boiling

Simmering cannabis in a tea bag immersed in water and butter is another common way to decarboxylate weed and extract THC at the same time. Only a small amount of butter is needed to help draw out the cannabinoids. The temperature of the boiling water bath should be around 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Making teas using this method is a common way of accomplishing two goals at once.

Can you Decarb Cannabutter?

You do not need to worry about putting canna-butter through its own separate decarboxylation process. That’s because properly made cannabutter has already been decarbed. More specifically, the process of making canna-butter involves heating a mixture of butter and cannabis together and letting it simmer to the point that two things happen:

  1. The cannabis material gets fully decarboxylated.
  2. Cannabinoids get pulled out of the plant matter and bind to the fats in the butter.

The end result of this process is a final product, known as cannabutter, that is full of decarboxylated and activated THC ready to consume and give you the intoxicating high you’re looking for.

Decarboxylation in Concentrates

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 get high.

 

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. Then, when the solvent is evaporated, it leaves behind a thick, tarlike or oil-like substance that is full of concentrated cannabinoids. However, because the final product was never exposed to heat, it does not yet contain active THC. 

 

Technically speaking, decarboxylated hash oil is only created at the moment of consumption, when you combust it for smoking or vaporize it for dabbing.

Decarboxylation in Biochemistry

Decarboxylation has many other applications in biochemistry aside from cannabis use. While the decarb 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, in this way.

 

Plants and insects decarboxylate differently than humans, as well. 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, such as with the ketogenic diet.

Unintended Decarboxylation

When exposed to light and heat, both cannabis flower and concentrates that contain THCA will eventually decarboxylate all on their own. And as mentioned before, further degradation can transform THC into CBN.

 

That means that if you want to maintain both the freshness of your cannabis and the cannabinoid content of your cannabis, it’s important to store both cannabis buds and concentrates in a cool, dark place with minimal exposure to light and heat.

 

No matter what product you choose or which decarboxylation method you prefer, remember: A cannabis nug can only get you high if you heat it up.