Decarboxylation is a simple chemical process involving raw cannabis and a heat source, but within this simple process is a complex and ever-evolving art, one that has been slowly gaining prominence as cannabis use has become more socially acceptable as a medicinal and recreational substance.
Simply put, it’s a chemical reaction that is achieved through heating up raw cannabis to a temperature at which it releases a carboxyl group and becomes psychoactive.
THCA (Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid) is the active component in raw cannabis, and it’s not a psychoactive compound by default.
Through decarboxylation, we’re essentially applying heat to plant material so that the THCA gets converted to THC, enabling us to get high.
Myths about Marijuana Decarboxylation
Decarboxylation is an important yet often misunderstood aspect of cannabis consumption.
Decades of prohibition have allowed incomplete, inaccurate, or just plain wrong information about decarboxylation to spread like wildfire through the cannabis community–hurting not only medicinal patients but the cannabis movement as a whole.
However, it isn’t as simple as sticking bud into an oven, toaster, crockpot, or even lighting it on fire. Fully activating THC without destroying valuable cannabinoids is a precise and scientific process.
Fresh and Cured Bud Need to be Treated Differently When it Comes to Decarboxylation
This myth takes a few different forms. Most people think “fresh and cured bud decarb at different rates” or “fresh bud won’t decarb – you have to remove the moisture.” While some others think that, “curing the bud decarbs it anyways, so why do I need to do anything after that?”
Each of these suggestions are myths.
Fresh bud can easily be decarbed in the right conditions. It’s a good way to preserve more terpenes in the final product (think about the smell of fresh vs. dried flowers and other plant material).
In a controlled setting, decarbing fresh bud takes the same amount of time as decarbing cured bud. Most importantly, properly cured bud does not go through the full activation when it is going through the drying and curing process that is required for the active decarboxylation process.
In the examples above, notice that proper curing never leads to a significant decarb of dried and cured cannabis flower.
The fact is, no more more than 1% THC is observed, while the average range is 0-6% of total available THC was fully decarboxylated.
Only when cannabis has been improperly stored (in a mason jar, for example) and exposed to bright light or high temperatures does it become slightly more decarbed. It is also possible that the plant goes through a degradation process if exposed to extreme sunlight. The decarb is nowhere near complete, even in extreme circumstances of exposure.
Fact: All bud, both fresh and cured, needs to get decarbed to be active and bioavailable. Decarbing fresh and well-cured bud involves the same process.
It’s Impossible to Get More than 70% Decarb Before You Start to Destroy THC
This myth comes from one of the most widely promoted and most inaccurate decarb fables that stem from this often referenced, yet largely inapplicable graph.
For many years the inhabitants of the internet have treated this graph as gospel. A quick review readily shows why it’s not a reliable source.
First, it’s the decarb of a hexane extract in an open container on a hot plate. With this material in these circumstances, indeed, you can’t get a full Decarb without destroying THC (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid). However, we have come a long way from the early ’90s. We have more knowledge about the process of decarboxylation, the chemical reactions that occur during the process, and how to create the perfect environment for more efficient decarb.
Fact: We can do better than relying on an inapplicable graph from the early ’90s. And we know it’s possible to get a full Decarb without degradation. Keep reading to learn more.
It’s Easy to Decarboxylate Using What’s in Your Kitchen
It’s hard out there for patients who want to start decarbing cannabis, but are immediately bombarded with an array of different opinions on the best way to decarb. Most patients end up getting it wrong (resulting in wasted cannabis) and never stop struggling to find detailed instructions on how to get it right.
Any of these sound familiar?
Crockpot for 3 hours… or, wait, is it crockpot for 12 hours?
Tied down pressure cookers
Monitoring ovens with laser thermometers
Endless baking trays and parchment paper
Really, how can a patient NOT be overwhelmed? In the end, not one of these methods allows patients to safely and reliably get the most from their cannabis, and it’s important to understand why.
Crock Pot AKA Water Bath Method
The crockpot is one of the most popular decarb methods. The idea behind using the crockpot/water bath method is that water boils at a constant temperature (212F) and provides better control than the fluctuations of the oven. Unfortunately, the comparatively low temperature of boiling water to other methods will never allow you to achieve a full, efficient decarb.
Decarboxylation at this temperature progresses slowly. Since decarboxylating is not a linear process (meaning that converting the tail end of THCA takes longer than the front end) we begin to see the degradation of plant material due to the excessive time exposed to heat.
Ovens aren’t designed for lab-grade precision heating. Temperatures fluctuate at an average of 10 degrees in either direction within an oven cavity.
For a process as sensitive as decarboxylation, these variations lead to either burning off cannabinoids or failing to fully activate. In either case, it’s a waste of valuable money and medicine.
Toaster Oven Decarb
Similar to the oven, the toaster oven’s lack of efficient temperature control is its downfall. Coupled with the appliance’s typical operation and the location of its heating elements, it can easily damage the bud or produce under-decarbed material. The toaster oven method makes it impossible to get reliable results consistently.
Equipped with advanced logic, dual sensor technology, and a hi-tech thermal blanket, Nova uses precision heating cycles to achieve fully decarboxylated cannabis without loss or degradation.
Fact: Kitchen appliances aren’t equipped to produce or maintain the conditions needed for full, reliable decarb, but a device called the Nova can solve this problem.
Concentrate Decarboxylation is Different than Flower Decarb OR You Can Only Decarb Concentrate by Watching CO2 Bubbles Evaporate
Concentrates that have been prepared professionally, extracted and purged under the right conditions have not been decarboxylated. They need to be properly activated before being ingested or used topically. The time and temperature parameters for the best flower decarb also applies to concentrates. As seen below, BHO extracts can become slightly more concentrated during decarb. This is likely from the evaporation of residual solvents and moisture.
Like with properly cured and stored cannabis flower, properly prepared and purged concentrates have undergone little or no decarboxylation, with less than 5% of total THC decarbed.
Fact: Decarbing concentrate involves the same science as decarbing flower.
It’s Necessary to Grind Cannabis Before Decarboxylating
We suggest that you don’t. This myth arose as an attempt to provide more even heating and combat temperature fluctuations when using the oven for decarboxylation. With precision decarb, there’s a need to disturb the trichomes by using a grinder. The Nova’s thermal blanket permeates the buds evenly, and intact buds provide more options for use post-decarb and increase the longevity of the material. All Nova tests were performed using non-ground material.
Fact: There’s no need to grind cannabis before precision decarb, and leaving the trichomes intact can increase shelf life.
Fats and Alcohols are Required to Prepare Cannabis
There is no doubt alcohol and fats can help prepare and administer cannabis in certain circumstances, and we’ll get to that. But to start, there’s an overemphasis on the role of alcohol or fat extraction that leads to patients unnecessarily spending hours, days, and even weeks preparing their medicine. It’s easy to understand the origins of this myth because it is based on science but often misapplied.
Cannabis is indeed fat and alcohol soluble. However, it’s not water-soluble. This means that THC won’t seamlessly bind and mix with a water-based substance, unlike the way it does with fat and oils.
Somehow, this fact has been twisted into an insistence that patients need to extract into butter and oils or use an alcohol-based solvent. Unfortunately for patients, these processes are complicated, time-consuming, and-in the end-inaccurate. It much easier for patients to activate cannabis flowers or kief and use it directly.
It’s possible to bypass all the hassle and prevent waste, while still getting the full benefits of whole plant therapy.
Direct activation and infusion give so many more options on how cannabis can be used and allows patients to quickly create accurately dosed topicals, sublinguals, and edibles. The instant substitute for hours of extraction is unnecessary. Take your desired dose of decarbed flower or kief and mix it with 1/2tb of good fat like coconut oil and enjoy. You can also substitute butter if you prefer.
When mixed with the active cannabinoids, the purpose of the fat is to help with absorption during digestion or topical application. Simply mixing your decarbed product with oil is a useful way to incorporate fats when dosing with cannabis.
Patients quickly realize that (thanks to precise decarb) so little flower or kief is needed to achieve results that direct infusion becomes as easy as sprinkling pepper on an entrée or adding vitamin powder to a smoothie. For patients who want butter or oil to use for canna culinary purposes, a quick extraction after decarb is all it takes for maximum ease and potency.
Fact: Fats and alcohol aren’t needed in order to decarb or administer cannabis, but they can be useful to pair with activated cannabis to aid in digestion and absorption.