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 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.”

More about 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.

 

Decarbing the cannabis 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.

Decarboxylation of Cannabis at Home

Decarboxylation of THCA at home takes some trial and error and may take a few attempts to perfect. 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. Degradation of THC can cause the formation of the cannabinoid CBN, which has its own health properties.

 

There are a variety of ways to decarboxylate cannabis at home. Here are a few.

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 decarb your 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 the sous-vide method may be favored among some cannabis users, and those who may be foodies, too. 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 one (1) hour and 30 minutes.

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 of dry-weight cannabis to one pint of olive oil, covered and cooked on high in a slow cooker for one (1) hour, then turned to low and cooked for an additional two (2) to three (3) hours. The mixture is then cooled and strained through a cheesecloth, with each tablespoon of oil containing about two (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 and extract THC at the same time. Only a small amount of butter is needed to help draw out the cannabinoids. Making teas using this method is a common way of accomplishing two goals in one.

Decarboxylation in Biochemistry

Decarboxylation has many other applications in biochemistry aside from cannabis use. While this process changes the affinity 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. And as mentioned before, further degradation can transform THC into CBN.

 

If you want to maintain both the freshness and cannabinoid content of your cannabis, it’s important to store both flower 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.