What It Is, Why You Need It, How To Do It
Decarboxylation. DO NOT let the long scientific name intimidate you and scare you off from reading this article. If you use cannabis and ESPECIALLY if you cook with cannabis, this tutorial on marijuana decarboxylation is vital information you need to know in order to get the most out of your cannabis.
Don’t worry, I am going to break everything down in layman’s terms to make it easy to understand and to do.
What is marijuana decarboxylation?
Scientifically speaking, Decarboxylation is a chemical reaction that removes a carboxyl group and releases carbon dioxide (CO2).
So why the heck should cannabis users care about this? Because if you want to feel a buzz from your cannabis, you need it to be decarboxylated. Why? Because believe it or not, the raw cannabis plant contains no THC!
Raw cannabis contains the acidic form of this cannabinoid, THC-A or Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid, which will not make you high. It takes the process of age and/or adding heat to decarboxylate the cannabis and convert the THC-A into psychoactive THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol.
All the cannabinoids contained in raw cannabis flowers have an extra carboxyl ring or group (COOH) attached to their chain, so decarboxylation works with more than just THC, although this is where its effects will mostly be felt by the end cannabis consumer as the other cannabinoids don’t make you high.
What causes decarboxylation?
Time and heat are the two main catalysts that cause decarboxylation, but mostly heat. It’s true that over time, some decarboxylation will occur, but not a lot. This is why some raw flowers will lab test positive for some THC, although THC-A will be far more prevalent.
Of course, when you smoke or vape marijuana, decarboxylation naturally occurs due to the heat of the flame or heating element. But according to expert Shanel Lindsay, inventor of the Ardent Decarboxylater, smoking or vaping flowers that have been decarboxylated first will up your high’s potency! I know most people don’t do this, but it’s something to consider.
You might also come across the term “activate” the cannabis, which also means to decarboxylate it.
Why do you need decarboxylation?
Besides the fact that you need decarboxylation if you want to get high from your cannabis, it also unlocks the full medicinal potential of other cannabinoids, such as CBDs, CBNs, and CBGs. Now to be sure, the acidic form of all these cannabinoids also has important medicinal benefits, so if a high is not important to you, full decarboxylation may not be either.
So what do I mean when I say “full decarboxylation?” This would mean you are converting 100% of the THC-A in your plant material into THC. This is nearly impossible for reasons I’ll discuss in the next section, but know that usually some is left unconverted.
Does it matter? To a degree, yes, but in my opinion, not as much as a lot of people think it does. I say this because unless you are ultra-sensitive to THC you probably are not going to notice a few points difference. And the THC-A left unconverted is imparting health benefits, so it’s not a big loss.
I also say this because, long before lab tests showed that decarboxylating before making slow cooking infusions like butter and oil increases potency, we still made some potent AF infusions. Many people still do not bother to decarboxylate before making these infusions and still get great results.
That said, most people do want to get as much potency as possible from their cannabis, so they are going to want to convert as much THC-A into THC as possible, which means they are going to want to know how to decarboxylate their marijuana. And not just flowers – kief, hash, and hash oils all benefit from decarboxylation as well.
How to decarboxylate marijuana
Before decarbing (left) After decarboxylation (right).
Consult 10 different sources and you’ll find 10 different methods for how to decarboxylate your marijuana. I tried to get some testing labs and scientists to go on record with the best times and temperatures for decarbing and could not get a straight answer out of any of them. Perhaps this is because, like so many things with cannabis, there is no one simple answer. For instance, the amount of moisture in your plants can significantly affect the time needed to decarb, with more time needed for drying, and then decarbing. Or that decarbing CBD-A takes more time than decarbing THC-A.
After researching lots of methods, especially those that have been lab-tested, my own views on decarbing have evolved. While I used to recommend about 20 minutes at 220 degrees F, I now see that a much longer decarb time can achieve far greater THC conversion. So I now recommend about an hour at 240 degrees F. thanks to the fine folks at the Marijuana Growers Headquarters who did some experiments and lab testing.
Place your cannabis or cannabis concentrate in an ovenproof dish, or on a baking sheet if you are decarbing a lot of plant material. Cover with foil and place in a preheated 240-degree oven for about an hour. Your cannabis is now decarbed and ready for cooking. You will notice that it appears and smells a bit “toasty.” You may also notice that you lost a little volume. This is normal. The photo above shows the same strain and amount of cannabis after (left) and before (right) decarboxylating.
Interestingly enough, the experiments done by the Marijuana Growers Headquarters did not convert much of the CBD-A to CBD. Probably because as a general rule CBD needs longer to decarboxylate.
CBD concentrates or isolates may or may not be decarbed already, although most are, so check the labels to see if this step is necessary. If it lists a high CBD content (as opposed to CBD-A) it has been decarbed.
According to the experts at Sensi Seeds, you should decarb high CBD cannabis strains (defined as 90% or more of total cannabinoid content) for 15 minutes at a temperature of 220°F in order to dry the plants, and then 60 minutes at 250°F. for decarboxylation. As oils and isolates don’t need drying, I would just go with the 60 minutes at 250°F. for these, if needed at all.
According to Project CBD’s Martin Lee, there is no exact boiling point number for CBD, but it is in the 320°F – 338°F range, slightly higher than THC.
When using the Ardent Nova Lift Decarboxylator, inventor Shanel Lindsey recommends putting the cannabis through two decarbing cycles, IF (and ONLY IF) the plant matter contains under 1% THC, otherwise decarb CBD in the same manner as THC.
Keep in mind CBD, like THC, metabolizes better in the presence of fat, so it best to use in recipes that contain fat, or alternately consume nonfat CBD edibles accompanied by a fat-containing food or beverage.