Which of the following is true about decarboxylating weed?
- The hotter the temperature, the better the decarb.
- Fresh bud needs to be decarbed differently than cured bud.
- Concentrates are already decarbed.
If you answered none of the above, you’re right. These are all myths about decarbing cannabinoids, but a lot of people readily believe them. If you have no idea what decarb-a-what-now is, don’t worry, you’re in the right place.
Most of what we know about decarbing weed has been discovered through amateur experimentation in the kitchen. However, as legalization becomes more prevalent and research more accessible, we are better able to distinguish fact from fiction.
Read on to find out what science says about the process of decarboxylation, why cannabis needs it, and how to do it yourself.
What Decarboxylation Does to Cannabinoids
Lots of sources say that decarboxylation “activates” cannabinoids, but that’s somewhat misleading.
Technically, cannabinoids are always active. Just like any chemical compound you ingest, inhale, or otherwise absorb, cannabinoids trigger physiological reactions. Raw cannabis can trigger mild reactions, none of which are psychoactive. For example, THCA (the non-decarboxylated, acidic precursor to THC), may have anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and immunoprotective effects. It won’t get you high, though, which is why researchers don’t study it as much as THC, its decarboxylated, psychoactive variant.
Rather than “activate,” it’s more accurate to say that through applied heat, decarboxylation changes the cannabinoid’s structure in a way that initiates stronger reactions, the most notable of which is potent psychoactivity resulting from the synthesis of THCA to THC.
How Decarboxylation Works
Acid cannabinoids including THCA and CBDA contain an extra -COOH bond called a carboxyl group. The combination of heat and time synthesizes acid cannabinoids into neutral forms by causing them to drop that extra carboxyl group, releasing carbon dioxide. Just as the word describes, they de-carboxylate, or “decarb,” cannabinoids. The acid THCA becomes the neutral THC, and the acid CBDA becomes the neutral CBD.
As the following chart from OCO Labs shows, the decarboxylation process is dependent on heat and time.
The hotter the heat, the faster the decarboxylation process. However, too much heat for too long can cause THC to convert to CBN. An oxidized byproduct of THC, CBN is not psychoactive but it might make you sleepy.
Interestingly, even if you don’t manually apply heat to cannabis, research shows that it will inevitably convert to THC anyway. It will just take a much longer time to do it and happen at a less even rate.
Do You Have to Decarb Weed?
Whether or not you should decarb your weed depends on the potency you want from your medicine.
If you want to get high, you have to decarb your pot. Unless your flower or concentrate is decarboxylated, you will not experience the maximum potential of THC, the cannabinoid responsible for weed’s psychoactive effects. However, you may experience the effects of THCA, including its anti-inflammatory and diabetes mitigating properties.
The differences between CBDA and CBD are more mysterious since neither produces psychoactive effects. However, initial research shows that CBDA demonstrates anticonvulsive and limited mood-boosting effects. The literature exploring CBD’s medical efficacy is much more promising, suggesting that the CBD is preferable to CBDA.
How to Decarb Your Cannabis
The easiest way to decarb your cannabis is to smoke, vape, or dab it. The heat created through combustion, the heating element in a vape pen, or the nail on your dab rig is enough to decarb your pot. While vaping temperatures can be cool enough to preserve the terpene content and flavor of your cannabis, the heat from combustion is enough to denature many of cannabis’ chemical compounds.
If you want to keep your pot’s flavor profile intact, make a cannabis extract, or incorporate cannabis flower into a meal, you should decarb it in an oven in order to access the effects of neutral cannabinoids.
According to Project CBD, THCA decarbs about 63% more quickly than CBDA. You can decarb THC in roughly 25 minutes, but it will take about 40 minutes to fully convert CBDA to CBD. The good news is that if you follow the instructions below, you won’t lose too much THC if you wait the full 40 minutes.
It’s important to note that kitchen ovens are not lab-grade materials. The temperatures in an oven can fluctuate widely enough to impact the success of a decarb. For more accurate at-home decarboxylation, you might want to invest in a cannabis-specific decarboxylator like this one by Ardent.
- Baking sheet
- Aluminum foil or parchment paper
- Cannabis flower
- Pre-heat your oven to 230°F.
- Line your baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. This serves the double purpose of protecting the cannabis from the high heat of the baking sheet and simplifying the cleanup process when you’re done.
- Break up the cannabis flower into small pieces, each about the size of a pea or grain of rice. You can do this by hand or with a grinder, but make sure that you don’t make the cannabis pieces much smaller than that or you may burn your bud.
- Spread the cannabis onto the baking sheet, making sure that the bud is evenly distributed over the sheet and not in clumps.
- Place another piece of aluminum foil or parchment paper over the cannabis. This will protect the flower from burning.
- Let the cannabis cook in the oven for 40 minutes. Then, take it out of the oven and let it cool at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
- Store your decarbed weed in an airtight, opaque container at room temperature for future use.
Mix decarbed flower into smoothies, teas, salads, oatmeal, or any food item that doesn’t require too much additional heat. Alternatively, use your decarbed bud to make a batch of cannabutter or cannabis coconut oil. Replace regular butter with cannabutter or cannabis coconut oil for more sophisticated, less weed-flavored edibles.
When stored properly, decarbed flower can remain usable for up to two years.