Decarboxylation can sound intimidating, but it’s merely the process of applying heat to cannabis to convert the cannabinoids THCA and CBDA into THC and CBD, respectively. Without decarboxylation—also known as “decarbing”—we wouldn’t get to maximize the many health benefits of the plant. Once you become comfortable with decarbing, you’ll be able to enjoy medical cannabis to its full potential and create edibles at home.
If you’ve ever eaten raw cannabis flower, hoping to get high, you were probably disappointed. That’s because THC (the chemical compound responsible for the “high” and psychoactive effects) doesn’t exist in significant amounts in raw cannabis. Neither does CBD, a cannabinoid known for its beneficial anti-inflammatory effects and for relieving anxiety. The cannabinoids THC and CBD actually start out as the cannabinoids THCA and CBDA, which both have an additional carboxyl group in their molecular makeup.
In scientific terms, decarboxylation is a chemical reaction that removes a carboxyl group from a molecule. A carboxyl group in molecular form is identified as COOH, or a carbon atom that is double-bonded to an oxygen and an -OH group. (See the graphic below for a simple illustration of the carboxyl groups in THCA and CBDA.) Decarboxylation occurs naturally at a very slow rate, but it can be expedited when a certain level of heat is applied for an amount of time that allows for the molecules to break down and be released as carbon dioxide (CO2).
With their carboxyl groups still attached, THCA and CBDA cannot effectively bind to our cannabinoid receptors. This would explain why you won’t experience any euphoric effects if you ingest it in raw form. In order to be bioavailable to our endocannabinoid system, these cannabinoid molecules must undergo decarboxylation. That is why it is so important to decarb your cannabis before making edibles and why heat needs to be applied for it to be medically effective.
Decarbing cannabis should usually be done at high temperatures. In fact, when you take a lighter to flower in a pipe, joint, or bong—or when you turn on a vape pen—you are decarbing it by applying heat! When it comes to edibles though, cannabis should be decarbed at lower temperatures for longer periods of time.
It’s easy to burn off cannabinoids if you use the wrong temperatures or when decarbing for too long. When decarbing for edibles, using lower heat for a longer period of time allows one to preserve the cannabinoids (especially THC, which produces psychoactive effects) as well as the terpenes (the aromatic compounds found in plants that have their own set of benefits and give cannabis its flavor).
Additionally, decarboxylation at lower temperatures allows the THCA to be converted to THC, as opposed to CBN, the sleepy cannabinoid. Low and slow is key. Let’s go over how to decarb in more detail, so you can enjoy cannabis in its many forms at the potencies necessary for your medical needs.
When you consider the fact that decarboxylated weed contains activated compounds that are psychoactive, heating up cannabis does make it stronger. Heating up weed is essential for converting THCA and CBDA into THC and CBD.
There is a debate within the cannabis community about whether flower should be broken up with a grinder or by hand before decarbing. Many seasoned cannabis consumers swear that using your hands disturbs fewer trichomes, the microscopic hairs on buds that store cannabinoids and terpenes. Plus, feeling the cannabis with your hands is an important part of the ritual and experience for some.
Others argue that using a grinder prevents sticky fingers. If you’ve ever broken up cannabis with your hands, you’ve probably noticed the sticky residue left behind. The trichomes tend to stick to your skin, thus losing some of the potency. Supporters of the grinder method also argue that using a three-chambered grinder allows you to collect kief. Collecting kief means you can still use it, whereas trichomes stuck to your hands end up wasted. Additionally, kief can be decarbed and used in cannabis edibles, tinctures, cannabutter, etc. Grinders can be purchased at affordable prices, but the choice of whether or not to use one is yours.
Combustion, or smoking, is the quickest and most convenient way to decarb cannabis. This can be done through a variety of different approaches like taking a flame to a pipe, joint, or handmade device. If smoking isn’t a preference, vaporization of cannabis—with options like portable vaping devices—would be the next most effective method for decarbing.
Do be aware that decarboxylated cannabis can be a very aromatic endeavor that will produce a strong smell in your home. However, this is also dependent on the size of your house and the extent of the ventilation. The smell will most likely dissipate within 30 minutes to an hour after you have finished decarboxylating. Some decarboxylators on the market claim that they produce no smell.
There are many ways to decarboxylate, so let’s have a look at the different ways to decarb and their steps.
Decarbing in your oven is easy to do, doesn’t require any fancy equipment, and can be done in most kitchens.
You can use an oven bag to reduce the smell. If you would like to decarb kief in the oven, it can be done by following the same steps, but set the oven to 250°F and let it bake for 20 minutes. Keep in mind that most home ovens fluctuate in temperature, and some of the compounds in the cannabis plant are lost in this process.
Using the oven to decarb isn’t just for flower; you can also decarb concentrates in the oven.
Using a mason jar to decarb is a good option if you want to cut down on the smell of weed in your kitchen. Any compounds that evaporate during the heating process will remain in the jar, so using the jar as the container for your infusions will conserve them in the final product.
With a sous vide immersion circulator or a precision cooker, you can use a sous vide bag to decarb your cannabis. With this option, there’s very little smell, the plant compounds and flavor are preserved, and the temperature is precisely monitored the entire time.
Decarboxylators are devices designed to make decarbing easier. They automatically control the temperature and time cycles during the decarboxylation process, so you don’t have to monitor it closely like you would when using the stovetop or the oven. While decarboxylators can be expensive, they are convenient and easy-to-use; some models only require you to place the cannabis inside and press a button. Review the instructions that came with your specific decarboxylator as the steps may differ depending on the device and brand.
Recommended decarboxylator brands include the Levo II, Ardent FX, Ardent Nova, Magicalbutter DecarBox, and MB2e MagicalButter Machine. With some models, infusions can be made directly inside of the unit, like infused butter, oils, and tinctures.
Over time, cannabis will decarb naturally, and the THCA will convert to THC. You may have noticed that older weed starts to turn brown, a sign of the process. However, this takes a very, very long time. It’s still recommended that you decarb your flower using a different method if you plan on using it to make edibles to get the most out of your stash.
After you finish decarbing, your cannabis is then activated and ready to use at your disposal! There are many cannabis recipes out there and most require that you first decarb your cannabis. Always take care not to burn your cannabis; burning will compromise the THC and CBD availability and effectively ruin it.
The worst that can happen if you forget to decarb your weed is that your infusions will have no psychoactive effects. If you forgot to decarb the cannabis before cooking with it, the heat applied while cooking may still bring out some effects. Whereas consuming it without having exposed it to any form of heat will result in no effects as the THCA and CBDA will not have had the chance to convert into the active compounds THC and CBD. None of us like wasting plant medicine though, so always be sure to decarb appropriately.
For the best results, it is recommended that you decarboxylate weed for butter. If you do not decarboxylate weed for infusing butter, you will mostly end up with a weaker or inactive product, as described in the above section. Some decarboxylators allow you to infuse butter directly in the device. The same is true with infused coconut oil.
If you are using the correct temperatures within the allocated time frames, CBD will not be destroyed. The general consensus is that CBD should not be decarbed at temperatures higher than 230°F to avoid any loss of the compound.
In order to maintain the freshness and extend the shelf life of your decarbed weed, it is important that you properly store it. Select an airtight container like a mason jar and store it in a cool, dry, and dark place. If stored correctly, it is recommended that you use it within 3 months to avoid any degradation of the cannabinoids and other compounds. Some patients prefer to decarb large batches at once, so there is plenty on hand for medicating.
Decarboxylating cannabis can sound intimidating, but it’s merely the process of applying the proper heat to raw cannabis flower to activate the cannabinoids. Without activation, you won’t get to enjoy the specific benefits and effects you’re seeking. Once you become comfortable with any form of cannabis decarboxylation, you’ll be able to enjoy all that cannabis has to offer!
Note: Veriheal does not support illegally consuming therapeutic substances like cannabis and psilocybin but acknowledges that it transpires because of the current illicit status of both, which we strive to change by advocating for research, legal access, and responsible consumption. Always consult a physician before attempting alternative therapies. Cannabis and psilocybin have both been used…
According to Migraine.com, “Studies estimate that 12% of adults in the U.S. population have migraines, and 4 million have chronic migraine(s). Most individuals in the U.S. with migraine(s) experience one to two migraine attacks per month; however, those with chronic migraine(s) may have 15 migraine days, or more, per month.” Migraines are considered to be…
Cannabis reform is booming in Italy. A ballot campaign launched by several pro-cannabis organizations and political parties in the country last week earned the required 500,000 signatures to continue down the road to cannabis decriminalization. The campaign needed to gather at least 500,000 supporting signatures by Sept. 30 in order to qualify for a popular…
For the second time, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to help resolve an ongoing legal battle between the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and various cannabis businesses in Colorado. The Court’s justices have repeatedly declined to hear the appeals from Eric Speidell, owner of the Green Solution, as well as Denver-based cannabis company Standing…
A Congresswoman with a record of voting against cannabis is now investing in the industry. Medical patients in Virginia are lining up at dispensaries to get their hands on recently approved cannabis flower. And a Native American tribe in New York is taking matters into its own hands while the rest of the state slowly…
Shopping at a cannabis dispensary is truly an experience unlike any other! If you’ve never been to one before, it can feel…
The United Kingdom’s Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society has taken a stand against restricted access to medical cannabis in the country. The society…