Many cannabis newcomers wonder if you can eat the raw cannabis plant and feel its intoxicating or psychoactive effects. Pop culture references to eating a big bag of raw weed and getting super stoned have no basis in the reality of how cannabis works, specifically how cannabinoids elicit effects in humans. For example, to exhibit the intoxicating effects associated with the cannabis high, THCA must be transformed into THC through a heating process called decarboxylation.
Here is a quick summary of everything you need to know about decarbing weed — what decarbing is, when you should decarb, and how to best decarb your weed at home.
What is decarboxylation?
Decarboxylation is a chemical reaction that results from two main factors: heat and time. When a cannabinoid decarboxylates, it loses a carboxyl group, which gives it the ability to interact with the body's receptors through which therapeutic and recreational effects are elicited. Over a long period of exposure to the elements, cannabinoids will decarboxylate on their own which is why proper cannabis storage is so important. Without airtight storage in a sufficiently sturdy container, cannabis will lose potency as cannabinoids slowly decarboxylate and activate prematurely.
To speed up the decarbing process, you'll need to activate cannabinoids such as THC by heating them. When cannabis is smoked or vaporized, for example, the THCA loses a carboxyl group and converts to THC. Likewise, the cannabinoid CBDA must decarboxylate to turn into CBD.
A crucial step in making edibles or cannabis topicals at home is decarbing weed to make sure all the cannabinoids you want to experience are fully activated. When cannabis is cooked or baked, its active cannabinoids are absorbed through digestion. Decarbing weed also helps reduce the risk of microbiological contaminants. When weed decarboxylates, it loses moisture, which in turn decreases the chance of bacterial growth. Weed is dried and cured for the same reason, though some unwanted activation of cannabinoid, and therefore loss of potency, is inevitable during the curing process.
Why you should decarb your weed
In a nutshell, weed won't get you high unless it's decarbed. Marijuana's most sought after cannabinoids — THC and CBD — need to be converted from THCA and CBDA over time to deliver the coveted recreational and therapeutic benefits. When making edibles and topicals, decarbing improves the function of these products by allowing for faster cannabinoid absorption. Edibles in particular have a reputation for delivering incredibly potent, long-lasting effects, but an edible won't be as potent as its reputation suggests if the cannabis inside isn't decarbed properly.
Cannabis is a complex plant with a wide variety of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds that contribute to its effects, including intoxication. But when it comes to the cannabis high, THC still reigns supreme. If you don't decarb your weed, it won't have active THC, which is a huge problem when making any cannabis product that isn't immediately combusted and requires slow absorption through other avenues, such as the digestive tract.
How to decarb your weed at home
There are a variety of methods for decarbing weed at home, and the method you choose depends largely on what you want to do with your weed. Here are a few of the most common methods of decarbing and when you might want to try them:
If you're baking edibles, your best bet for proper decarbing may be making cannabis oil or cannabutter to infuse into the final product. If you, it won't need to be decarbed because it's already been through the process. Well-made cannabutter, which involves heating butter and cannabis together, will decarboxylate the cannabis material while ensuring that active cannabinoids bind to the fats in the butter.
Time needed: 45 minutes.
If you're planning on infusing foods with dried plant matter, baking your weed is a sufficient decarbing method. Here are 4 steps to follow to bake and decarb your weed.
- Break your buds into small pieces and spread in a thin, even layer across a sheet of parchment paper.
- Cover the paper with aluminum foil.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes at 230 degrees Fahrenheit, or 110 degrees Celsius.
- Let your decarbed weed cool before using.
If you want to make potent cannabis tea, simply put your weed in a tea bag and immerse in simmering water. The temperature should be around 212 degrees Fahrenheit, and you can add a small amount of butter to help draw out cannabinoids.
The Sous-Vide method is optimal for decarbing dried plant matter without releasing an odor that could get you in hot water with your landlord or neighbors. To decarb your weed Sous-Vide, grind your cannabis and enclose it in a heat-safe, vacuum-sealed bag. Then, fill a large pot with water and place it on your stovetop. Insert a Sous-Vide precision cooker into the pot and set the temperature to 230 degrees Fahrenheit, or 110 degrees Celsius. Once your precision cooker reaches the right temperature, cook your sealed cannabis for 1½ hours.
To make a cannabis-infused oil, you can decarb weed using a slow cooker and coconut or olive oil. For this recipe, you'll need 64 ounces of dry cannabis plant matter and 433 milliliters of olive oil. Cover the ingredients and cook them on high in a slow cooker for 1 hour, then turn the slow cooker to low and cook for 2-3 more hours. Let the mixture cool, then strain it through a cheesecloth.
How long should I decarb my weed?
The amount of time you let your weed decarb depends on the temperature at which you're heating it. The lower the heat, the longer your weed will take to decarb. It's always better to err on the side of slow decarbing, as too high a temperature will scorch your plant material. Heating cannabis over 300 degrees Fahrenheit will cause too much degradation too quickly. According to a 2011 study from the Journal of Molecular Structure, the optimal yield of active THC occurs when weed is heated at 110 degrees Celsius for 110 minutes.
Baking, boiling, and slow cooking are a few ways you can decarb your weed at home to release the full therapeutic potential of vital cannabinoids such as CBD and THC.