Decarboxylation is the process of applying the right amount of heat and time to activate the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in cannabis.
All cannabinoids contained within the trichomes of raw cannabis flowers have an extra carboxyl ring or group (COOH) attached to their chain. For example, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) is synthesized in prevalence within the trichome heads of freshly harvested cannabis flowers.
Because of this, you can’t experience any effects of cannabis (i.e. feel “high”) until it’s been decarboxylated.
Decarboxylation converts the major phytocannabinoids in cannabis (namely THC and CBD) into “active” molecular forms that are able to influence neurotransmitters in our body. In fact, without decarboxylation, marijuana would possess few – if any – of its medical and recreational properties.
If left undisturbed, the active compounds in cannabis will decarboxylate over time. However, total decarboxylation of THC-A and CBD-A in raw plant material would take years. When exposed to heat, the compounds decarboxylate instantaneously.
When you heat cannabis, you help activate the active compounds that lie within it. For example, if you decide to make edibles with marijuana, the flowers need to be decarboxylated first. If you fail to decarb your weed, you’re doing little more than adding raw plant matter. As nutritious as raw cannabis is, it does little in terms of producing therapeutic benefit.
The actual term ‘decarboxylation’ refers to the chemical reaction that removes a carboxyl (COOH) group from THC-A and CBD-A. Carbon dioxide is released as a by-product of this combustion reaction. To decarboxylate marijuana, all you have to do is apply heat. But how much heat is necessary? Or in other words, at what temperature does marijuana decarboxylate?
How Do I Decarboxylate My Cannabis the Right Way?
Here are the two basic ways to facilitate the process of decarboxylation. They are heat and time.
Vaporizing and smoking cannabis will immediately decarboxylate the cannabinoids because of the high temperatures involved in burning. The quick decarboxylation of smoking and vaporizing quickly converts the THCA into THC, making it available to the body for absorption and creating the psychoactive effects.
By heating cannabinoids slowly at a low temperature, you will be able to decarboxylate the cannabinoid and at the same time preserve the integrity of the cannabis to effectively infuse what you consume. Low temperatures are used in vaporizing and cooking cannabis for use in edibles. In vapour form, decarboxylated cannabinoids can easily be absorbed in our lungs, in an edible form, however, the cannabinoid present in what we consume requires more time to be properly absorbed by the body because it has to be digested before entering the bloodstream.
This is called a decarboxylation chart and it allows you to see how you can reach the desired THC by baking the buds on a specific temperature for a set period of time.
As this chart was based on a strain that can reach a maximum of 15% THC, you can see that the easiest way to reach that amount is by baking cannabis in an oven for about 7 minutes at 300°F (148°C)—or for 20 minutes at 250°F (121°C).
The length of time you must expose your cannabis to heat in order to achieve decarboxylation depends on the temperature you’re using. In general, the lower the heat, the longer the process will take. But at the same time, you don’t want to use such a high temperature that you end up scorching or combusting the plant material.
Here, we arrive at the main point of the article. Wouldn’t it be awesome to go about doing these things on your own without depending on anybody? Well, it’s not as hard as you think! Doing this is relatively easy and can be done at home.
Here are the things you need in order to decarboxylate cannabis on your own:
- Oven (set it somewhere between 220 – 250 degrees F)
- Baking paper
- Baking tray
- Cannabis (the main material)
- Preheat the oven to 250℉. The light should turn off once the oven has reached the temperature.
- Break up your cannabis into small chunks. Don’t grind it, just break it into smaller bits and don’t leave any nugs out.
- Spread the cannabis on a piece of baking paper you placed on baking tray. Make sure there are no overlapping pieces of cannabis.
- Bake the cannabis at 250℉ for 25-30 minutes. Make sure not to open the oven too often. Decarbed cannabis should change its color from green to light brown.
- After 25-30 minutes, check your cannabis. It should be light to medium brown and should be very dry. If it’s not, put it back in the oven for an extra 5 minutes. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn.
- Remove cannabis from the baking sheet and let it cool for a while. Careful, it’s going to get very crumbly at this point.
To decarb kief or hash in an oven, bake it for 10 minutes at 300°F (149°C). Have in mind that, at higher temperatures, kief and hash tend to decarb faster than dried flowers.
High CBD strains tend to decarb a bit slower than those with high THC content:
- Decarb high CBD strains by baking them for 15-25 minutes at 300°F (149°C)
- Decarb high THC strains by baking them for 10-15 minutes at 300°F (149°C)
Cannabis can also be decarboxylated in a slow cooker by introducing solvents such as cooking oils or lecithin. These methods create infusions that can be used in a variety of cooking recipes, topicals, and even cannabis capsules. Since they contain decarboxylated cannabinoids, they will be effective any way you choose to consume them.
Can you use a microwave to decarboxylate weed?
Using a microwave is sometimes espoused as a quick and easy way to decarb weed. Though some who have tried this method report successful outcomes, decarbing weed in a microwave can be much more volatile than using an oven, potentially resulting in burnt weed with lost potency and a degraded smell and taste. In short, decarbing with a microwave is possible, but ultimately riskier and not always worth the shorter timeframe it offers.
Although it is one of the most important parts of enjoying marijuana, decarboxylation is also one of the least understood. If you aim to use cannabis recreationally or fully benefit from the medical properties of the plant, most of the active components will need to be decarboxylated. THC-A must be transformed into THC, CBD-A into CBD, and so on.
When you light a joint or use a vaporizer, the process of decarboxylation occurs instantly. However, those who use cannabis in edibles have to go through a time-consuming decarb process to ensure their products are “molecularly active.”