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The Importance of Decarboxylation

Created by
JoshuaHolt JoshuaHolt
Added 29 January 2021

The Importance Of Decarboxylating Cannabis

Decarboxylation is one of those terms you may only hear about when preparing edibles, but it is relevant every time you heat cannabis through smoking or vaping. In order for us to get the most benefit from our favourite plant, certain chemical process must take place. This article gets into all the details and teaches you why decarboxylation is so important when we consume cannabis.

What Is Decarboxylation?

Decarboxylation of Acid Cannabinoids

Decarboxylation is the process of chemical compounds (carboxylic acids) breaking down into new compounds through the removal of one carbon atom. In the case of cannabis, we're focusing on the two main phytocannabinoids which interact with our bodies; THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).

In their natural state, the compounds are known as THCA and CBDA, the 'A' being the carboxylic acid. This atom breaks down into Co2 and water when heat is applied to the cannabis, which activates the properties of THC and CBD.

Without the carboxyl molecule, THC and CBD can efficiently bind with receptors that form part of the nerve network known as the endocannabinoid system.

The Importance Of Decarboxylating Cannabis

Decarboxylation Occurs Through Application Of Heat

Every time you light up a joint or hit the vape, decarboxylation happens in one swift move as the weed is heated to a certain temperature and then either burns or vaporizes. At around 115°C the carbon atom is lost and the cannabinoids are activated. That means most cannabis consumers decarb their weed without even knowing it. Many users know that eating raw cannabis doesn't have the same potency, but understanding why allows us to get the most out of our buds.

When we decarboxylate cannabis past certain point, THC also begins to degrade and converts to CBN, a less desired cannabinoid which produces a heavy, sedative effect rather than a euphoric, stimulating high.

This is one of the reasons why cannabis edibles are mostly prepared using heat, because eating raw cannabis on it's own would likely have little to no effect. It is a common mistake to overlook decarboxylation when first starting out, but it makes a significant difference to the results.

When Not To Decarboxylate Cannabis

When Not To Decarboxylate Cannabis

The only time you do not want cannabis to decarboxylate before consuming it is if you are not using heat or are consuming it in raw form as part of a diet, and therefore do not intend to get high. There are other potential benefits to consuming cannabinoids like THCA and CBDA in their raw form; a field which is still being studied.

CBDA also needs to be decarboxylated in order to help the body break it down more easily. The body can metabolise THCA and CBDA but it has to work harder to so and we may ending up wasting plenty of the benefits that come with decarboxylating the weed first.

Raw cannabis can possess many qualities that can be of interest to medicinal users and it has shown great potential as an antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antifungal supplement.

How To Decarboxylate Cannabis

Decarboxylation Process

Decarboxylating your cannabis is easy do to. The tricky part is keeping it accurate as the temperature in most ovens isn't stable and can fluctuate. If you're not careful, there is the possibility of overheating your weed and eventually destroying a large portion of the THC. In this sense, vaporizers are much more efficient than methods of consumption that involve smoking.

Preparing edibles takes a bit more effort than for example, lighting up a joint. As we mentioned earlier, cannabinoids decarboxylate at roughly 115°C. That means we can prepare our cannabis before stripping it of its trichomes, resulting in a more potent product. It can then also be consumed directly without the use of heat and the cannabinoids will already be activated. 

How To Decarboxylate Cannabis

Decarboxylating your cannabis for edibles can be done as follows:

  • Heat the oven to 115°C-117°C or 240°F with fan. Use an oven thermometer to gauge the temperature.
  • Break up the buds lightly using a grinder. You can also use sugar leaves if they are covered with trichomes.
  • Take a clean baking sheet and cover it with 2 or 3 layers of aluminium foil.
  • Spread the ground cannabis buds over the tray. Do not overfill the tray and spread the weed so there is one even layer.
  • Place the tray with the cannabis on the middle shelf in the oven and bake for 30-45 minutes until crispy and golden/ toasted brown.
  • Collect the decarboxylated cannabis for further preparation in edibles.

It is not completely necessary to have an oven thermometer, however many ovens are not entirely accurate so it is recommended you get one to avoid burning your weed. It takes time for the decarboxylation process to occur and much of it depends on whether you are decarbing flowers or hash.

CBD may also require lower temperatures to decarboxylate. Use less heat for slightly longer if you're worried, however it is not recommended to dacrb for longer than 60 minutes or higher levels CBN may get activated, therefore reducing the THC content.

Tips for Decarboxylated Cannabis

Vaporizing Cannabis

Let's end with some useful tips on decarboxylating cannabis to summarize this article. Remember, you only need to understand this if you are preparing edibles or making extractions, although you may also want to consider the reasons why vaporizing is such an efficient way to consume cannabinoids. 

(insert grow diary)

Cannabinoids and terpenes boil at different temperatures. This means that when decarboxylating at high temperatures there is a possibility of some essential compounds getting lost through evaporation, vaporization or even combustion. To get a rough idea of the temperatures at which this occurs, take a look at the following chart:

Terpene/CannabinoidTemperature (°C)
Humulene107
Caryophyllene155
Pinene168
Myrcene176
D-Limonene176
Educalyptol199
Linalool130
Terpineol219

Δ-90-THC

157

Δ-8-THC

178
CBD180
CBN185
CBC220
THCV220
  • Consider using a vaporizer -  they make efficient use of the oils in cannabis and waste very little.
  • Vaporized cannabis is well decarboxylated and although it may not contain much THC, there is very often still CBN in there which we can take advantage of.
  • Decarbing at slightly lower temperatures can help to preserve the terpenes in the cannabis, as they begin to evaporate after around the 140°C level.
  • Some concentrates and extracts are a great way to end up with a pure, activated (decarbed) cannabinoid product. 

Decarboxylating by Ferenc from GrowDiaries.

Conclusion

As we've seen, decarboxylation is a fundamental part of the consumption of cannabis. This molecular process gives us an insight into how cannabis interacts without our bodies, as well as the chemical changes happening in the plant when we apply heat.

Standard decarboxylation practices may not be completely accurate but indeed work for the most part to begin the activation of the cannabinoids we are usually trying to consume. Consider trying decarboxylation for your next edibles if you haven't already.

If you found this article useful or have any comments regarding decarboxylation, please feel free to leave your thoughts down below!

External References

Why Is THCA Decarboxylation Faster than CBDA? an in Silico Perspective. - He, Weiying & Foth, Paul & Roggen, Markus & Sammis, Glenn & Kennepohl, Pierre. (2020).

A preliminary investigation of lung availability of cannabinoids by smoking marijuana or dabbing BHO and decarboxylation rate of THC- and CBD-acids. - Hädener, Marianne & Vieten, Sina & Weinmann, Wolfgang & Mahler, Hellmut. (2019).

Exploration of THCA & CBDA Synthases. - Pauli, Christopher & Clancy, Kayla & Kane, Nolan & Vergara, Daniela. (2015).

Evolution of the Cannabinoid and Terpene Content during the Growth of Cannabis sativa Plants from Different Chemotypes. - Aizpurua-Olaizola, Oier & Soydaner, Umut & Öztürk, Ekin & Schibano, Daniele & Simsir, Yilmaz & Navarro, Patricia & Etxebarria, Nestor & Usobiaga, Aresatz. (2016).

An Investigation Of Decarboxylation Of Acidic Cannabinoids: THCA-A, CBDA And CBGA. - Wang, Mei & Wang, Yan-Hong & Avula, Bharathi & Radwan, Mohamed & Wanas, Amira & Antwerp, J & Parcher, J & ElSohly, MA & Khan, Iftikhar.

(2016).

This article was updated January 2021.






Comments

NobodysBuds
NobodysBuds

Even after reading up on the process still clinging to how it used to be poorly described with words like "activated." A word you hear in a snake oil operation like GNC. Then, somehow using the science to reaffirm previous shoddy terminology that accompanied historically poor explanations of what was going on. Cultures/subcultures are so insecure.

One molecule is psychoactive, and one is not (THCA vs THC, simplified). This is only relevant to receptors in a human brain. All molecules are "activated" unless it's absolute zero. Their behaviour does not change based on whether it impacts a human brain or not. The causality is missing therefore it was always a poor way to describe the process by people that only understood an end result in a superficial way and worked backward from there. Inductive reasoning invariably leads to bad hypotheses. Especially sad when the knowledge already existed and just required a little initiative to read up on instead of making sh^t up to fill the gaps. i.e. a common way of doing things for most people.

It's not losing "1 carbon". The carboxyl group does contain 1 carbon, but you don't refer to molecules in that manner. That carboxyl group is covalently bonded together. It is its own molecule with distinct and predictable behaviour. Once separated, the individual atoms just don't go flying off willy-nilly in separate directions in this context (temp & pressure). Also, it is "activated" at all times because it exists in the realm of reality, lol.

Heat is a constant force.. merely at different rates of impact per molecule and particular temperature at hand. Even 65F is degrading some portion of THC to CBN, but at a slower rate than 212F. Again, not "activating cbn" ... that word has no integrity, lol. It ain't bonafide! It's a tool of a salesman or someoen repeating things they don't actually understand. "it's got electrolytes!"

You don't reach a temp and it degrades.. it's just a faster rate of degradation. Nothing gets "activated." That's such a stupid f%$ing word, and a gigantic, highlighted with bright blinking neon lights red flag that you are hearing a load of bullsh^t, or in this case somehow reconciling past ways of describing this process that were wrong and still are wrong. Didn't know a subculture could exude insecurity so overtly, lol. Just let go of the holistic explanations and accompanying terminology.. they have no integrity and never did except by pure accident.

I had to rant, because i hate how that f%$ing word is used in some sort of pseudo-science way. "activated" .. was stupid before, still is stupid now.

STFUppercut
STFUppercut

This is literally the only article on decarbing that I’ve read that actually makes sense.

SeaGrow
SeaGrow

I think it is good article, to decarb intro, for someon who doesnt know, almost nothing, about decarb, and wants to start learning something.
Thank you! :+1:

miahbdanky
miahbdanky

Love little insights like these...

Realpepperfake
Realpepperfake

Good article.

DogDoctor
DogDoctor

Love it, thanks :pray::v::heart:

Gayek
Gayek

Thanks, great article :+1: