Decarboxylation 101

What Is Decarboxylation? How it works, reasons to decarboxylate marijuana, and effective decarb methods.
Last Modified: February 07, 2019

Decarboxylation involves heating marijuana to a specific temperature for a certain length of time. This not only activates its THC (and unleashes its psychoactive effects); it also activates all the other cannabinoids inside.

Cannabinoids are the active ingredients in marijuana that cause effects such as making people high, sleepy, hungry, and more. While undecarboxylated marijuana has some uses (studies are ongoing to determine if it may have medical benefits), decarboxylating marijuana is standard procedure for producing noticeable effects for both medical and recreational users.

The decarboxylation process isn’t just for raw cannabis flowers; it’s also useful for other forms of marijuana. For example, it’s necessary to decarboxylate kief and marijuana concentrates in order to activate their effects.

The Science of Cannabis Decarboxylation

Why does decarboxylation of marijuana make a difference in the way it affects people? This is because it changes the molecular structure of the cannabinoids inside. When they transform, their effects also change. Although decarboxylation happens to all cannabinoids, the two that get the most focus are THC and CBD. Studies show that these two cannabinoids don’t appear in high concentrations in raw cannabis, but their percentages go up after the decarboxylation process occurs.

THC Decarboxylation

All of the cannabinoids in raw cannabis plants start out as acid forms with an extra carboxyl ring attached to them. This means that THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is first THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid). THCA isn’t considered pharmacologically active until it loses its carboxyl ring – otherwise known as being decarboxylated.

Once this process happens, non-psychoactive THCA turns into psychoactive THC. This is one of the main reasons to decarboxylate marijuana; without decarbing, it can’t cause a high. THC decarboxylation is necessary to unleash many of the effects most valued by marijuana users – especially those using it for recreational purposes.

CBD Decarboxylation

Similarly, cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) must be transformed into CBD (cannabidiol) in order to become pharmacologically active. For a long time, CBDA was considered a rather useless cannabinoid and was largely ignored by researchers. In recent years, however, scientists have been studying its potential in the medical world.

For everyday users to make the most of it, however, CBD needs to be decarboxylated first. While CBD isn’t intoxicating even in its decarbed form, it still produces mild effects and is often used to calm anxiety, relieve pain, and help with insomnia.


Reasons to Decarb Marijuana

What’s the purpose of going through the process of cannabis decarboxylation? If the material will be heated through cooking it or smoking it, what good does decarbing it really do? To understand this, it helps to look at two of the most common ways of using cannabis material.

Cooking with Cannabis

It’s a common assumption that simply mixing marijuana into a dish (whether the material is ground-up flower, kief, or hash oil) is all that’s needed to create a psychoactive edible. However, baking a pan of brownies or warming up a sauce isn’t enough to properly decarboxylate marijuana mixed inside.

Even if a dish is baked for a long period of time, the cannabis is unlikely to be decarboxylated evenly. This makes determining its potency very difficult. It’s also why decarboxylating cannabis is the ideal strategy for creating marijuana-infused sweet or savory dishes.

Increase Marijuana Potency for Smoking/Vaping

Smoking or vaping is an all-in-one form of marijuana consumption, as it provides a method for activating cannabinoids as well as a method of ingestion. While many people don’t bother, some insist that taking the time to decarb marijuana before smoking or vaping it makes it much more potent.

It’s worth noting that decarboxylating marijuana in the oven before smoking it will make the material more brittle and cause the smoke to be harsh. To keep the flower from drying out, it’s best to use the sous vide method explained below.


How to Decarboxylate Marijuana

Unleashing and activating the cannabinoids within marijuana isn’t hard to do with basic equipment most people have at home. There are many different ways to make sure cannabis is decarboxylated…and also many different opinions on which way is the most ideal. Finding the best decarbing method often requires a bit of experimentation, trial, and error. Here’s a list of common methods for beginners who are wondering where to start.

Decarbing Cannabis By Curing It

The fastest way to achieve decarbed cannabis by heating it, but cannabis also decarbs somewhat during the curing process. This is when raw cannabis leaves and flowers are trimmed and laid out to dry. As the material ages, the cannabinoids slowly begin to transform.

While this isn’t an effective way of decarboxylating marijuana, it may be the reason why some people have reported feeling ill or high after eating raw cannabis that’s been sitting for some time.

Decarbing Cannabis with Heat

The fastest, most reliable, and most effective way of activating the cannabinoids inside marijuana is to apply heat. There are many different methods of doing this.

Different cannabinoids require slightly different temperatures and heating times (CBD, for instance, requires a slightly higher temperature and longer decarb time than THC). There are also various opinions on what decarboxylation temperature is best. This is a general guide for decarboxylating flower, kief, or oil. Achieving the best results will depend on experimenting with various materials, times, and temperatures.

Keep in mind that taking the temperature above 300 degrees F will begin to destroy cannabinoids, as well as the terpenes that give marijuana strains their signature scents and flavors.

Smoking/Vaping

The easiest way to decarboxylate marijuana is to simply light it up or put it in a vaporizer. In addition to heating the material, smoking/vaporizing it also provides an immediate ingestion method. To decarb marijuana before smoking/vaping it or to prepare it for using in edibles, the next sections will explain how.

Heating in the Oven

The only equipment needed for this method of decarboxylation is marijuana flower, a baking sheet, and an oven set to 230 degrees Fahrenheit. Break the cannabis buds up into small pieces that will allow them to heat all the way through and spread them out evenly over the baking sheet. Heat the material low and slow for 30 to 45 minutes (or until the material turns medium brown).

To decarboxylate kief, spread it on an oven-safe dish in a 250-degree Fahrenheit oven and bake it for approximately 20 minutes.

For hash oil or shatter, preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit and place the concentrate on a piece of parchment paper (ensuring that there’s enough room for the oil to spread as it heats and melts). Heat it for about 20 minutes, watching for it to stop bubbling, then turn the oven off and allow it to cool. Placing the hash oil in the freezer to finish cooling will make it easier to handle.

Once they’re decarboxylated, flower, kief, and hash oil are all ready to be sprinkled, infused, or mixed into edible recipes.

Sous Vide Method

When it comes to the decarboxylation of marijuana flower, the sous vide method is perhaps the best strategy because it allows precise temperature control while preventing the buds from drying out. It requires a sous vide precision cooking device, a vacuum sealing machine and bags (many people also skip the vacuum sealer and simply use heat-safe ziplock-style bags), a 10 quart pot, and a weed grinder.

Grind the weed into a coarse grain and seal it in the plastic bag. Fill the pot with water and place the sous vide device inside, set at 230 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the water reaches the desired temperature, place the plastic bag inside and leave it for approximately an hour and a half. This also works using a pot of boiling water and a thermometer to monitor the temperature, but precise temperature control is more difficult without a sous vide device.

The result of this method will be evenly-decarboxylated marijuana with no worry of burning it or drying it out.

Specialized Decarboxylation Devices

In addition to all of the above methods, there are also devices designed especially for decarboxylating cannabis flower and extracts. Large-scale facilities use huge decarboxylating ovens to activate large batches of material. Meanwhile, there are also compact, at-home decarboxylating devices that use precise timing and temperature controls to decarb marijuana, as well as concentrates.

Microwaving

While this is not a preferred method because most microwaves generate temperatures that are high enough to destroy cannabinoids and terpenes, some cannabis users microwave their marijuana to decarboxylate it. The microwave method is speedy, however, at one and a half to three minutes per every three grams of material.


Cannabis Decarboxylation FAQ

Here are a few of the questions people may have regarding cannabis decarboxylation, temperature and time necessary to achieve the best results, and reasons not to decarboxylate.

What is decarboxylation?

Decarboxylating marijuana means heating it to a specific temperature for a specific amount of time. This process activates the cannabinoids, or active ingredients, inside the material. People not only decarboxylate marijuana flower; they also decarboxylate other materials such as kief and cannabis extracts such as wax and shatter.

What does decarboxylation do?

Before marijuana is decarboxylated, its active ingredients – otherwise known as cannabinoids – aren’t pharmacologically active. For minor cannabinoids like CBC, users may not notice if they’re inactive. For cannabinoids such as THC, however, decarboxylation makes a big difference. Without decarboxylation, THC will not cause a high.

At what temperature does marijuana decarboxylate?

Decarboxylation temperature differs from one cannabinoid to the next. THC, for example, decarboxylates at a lower temperature than CBD. 230 degrees Fahrenheit is a good temperature to gently decarb cannabinoids without destroying them or the terpenes that give marijuana strains their signature taste and scent.

How long does decarboxylation take?

Decarboxylation times can vary depending on the decarb method used, as well as the material being decarboxylated. Kief and hash oil decarboxylate in the oven in about 20 minutes, while flower can take 30 to 45 minutes. Sous vide method and at-home decarboxylation devices generally take about 90 minutes, while the less-preferred microwave method only takes a few minutes.

What if I don’t decarboxylate marijuana?

Some people choose not to decarboxylate marijuana because they’d like to enjoy its health benefits without the psychotropic effects. This is particularly true of people who juice or consume fresh, raw cannabis leaves and flowers. For those who are hoping to experience a high from consuming cannabis, however, this can only be achieved through THC decarboxylation.


Decarboxylation: A Useful Tool for Cannabis Consumers

Research into marijuana decarboxylation will reveal a wide range of opinions on the best decarb methods, as well as the ideal time and temperature necessary to generate the optimal results. Some cannabis consumers swear that taking time to ensure proper THC decarboxylation before smoking their flower makes it more potent, while others insist that simply lighting it up is sufficient. Most agree that some degree of heating marijuana flower and its concentrates is necessary before making edibles, but the debate rages on about whether time spent in the oven or a gentle sous vide bath is the ideal decarboxylation method.

One thing all cannabis experts agree on, however, is that decarboxylation in any form affects major change in the way marijuana works – making it an infinitely more versatile plant for recreational and medical users everywhere.


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