It just does not make sense! Why does cannabis have to be fried, smoked or vaporized to get you high instead of simply being eaten? The active ingredients that are most commonly associated with marijuana’s high are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and cannabigerol (CBG), but in uncooked weed they are locked in a structure that is not recognized by the body to produce a high effects. In order to unlock THC and the other ingredients from their native state, the cannabis must undergo a chemical reaction known as decarboxylation.
Will eating raw marijuana get me high?
No, eating raw cannabis shouldn’t get you high, as long as it has not been heated. The cannabinoids found abundantly in raw cannabis are THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) and CBDA (cannabidiolic acid). THC is not the main compound in uncooked cannabis, it is actually THC-A, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. In raw cannabis, the main psychoactive compounds: THC, CBD, and CBG have an attached carboxylic acid group. Basically, this attachment is the natural storage molecule in cannabis and, in the plant world, allows easier metabolic activity. But, THC-A, CBD-A, and CBG-A are not recognized by the body as psychoactive compounds and cannot interact with the corresponding receptors. Like all metabolites, these active ingredients in cannabis bind to specific cells throughout the body-- most notably neurons in the brain-- to produce the desired effects. The cell-metabolite interaction is very specific so any changes to either the cell or the corresponding molecule will likely sever the communication. Adding an acid group to these compounds does just that and prevents the interactions.
What do these Compounds Do?
While these precursors are much less studied than their psychoactive partners, there are some preliminary studies that illustrate their benefits!
Much like THC, THC-A interacts with brains and produces many therapeutic effects. However, THC-A does not bind the main cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, like THC does. It is not well understood how THC-A elicits its effects, but there are many peer-reviewed benefits: Neuroprotective Activity: Dr. Nadal and others investigated the benefits of THC-A in the brain, and they found that mice treated with THC-A had a protection against neurological damaging agents. Furthermore, in mice with a predisposition to neural damage, THC-A slightly improved motor deficiency and decreased neural degradation which suggests it may be a future therapeutic for neurodegenerative diseases, like Huntington’s disease. Anti-Obesity: Dr. Palomares and others wanted to investigate how THC-A functions in the body. They were able to uncover the exact route THC-A takes in the body, and linked it to weight loss in mice. In diabetic mice, THC-A stimulated weight loss and prevented weight gain suggesting it may be used for diabetic intervention.
The difference between CBD and CBD-A is difficult to assess because CBD is a multitarget compound; meaning, it binds throughout the body rather than one specific location. One known difference is that since CBD-A is non-psychoactive it acts completely outside of the CB1 and CB2 receptors (receptors for cannabinoids that are associated with the high effect). Some of the effects of the CBD-A include: anti-depression, anti-nausea and anti-inflammation.
How can you get the Active Compounds like THC?
For these compounds to become psychoactive, the acid group must be removed so the body can recognize the compound. This is done through a process known as decarboxylation. When cannabis is brought to a temperature over 105℉ (40 ℃) the carboxylic acid group is released as carbon dioxide. Decarboxylation begins when cannabis is being dried, either in the sun or in the oven, but there is still a very large amount of THC-A or CBD-A once dried. To complete the process, it is easiest if cannabis is brought to a temperature where all acidic compounds would break down, like on fire. To put this in perspective, sun drying cannabis occurs at around or slightly above 100℉. This is about the temperature that decarboxylation will be active. If the dried cannabis were to be used to make edibles, it would be cooked in oil at somewhere between 200-350℉ for several hours. But smoking or vaporizing cannabis is a much faster decarboxylation because it occurs at much higher temperature-- a Bic lighter has a flame at over 3,000℉! That is hot enough for an instantaneous conversion of THC-A to THC.
Are there Other Ways to get THC from Cannabis?
Browse the internet with a few ambiguous searches about cannabis cooking, and you will find people trying a variety of methods like microwaving or juicing raw cannabis in an effort to get high. While neither of these methods seem to convert THC-A to THC, they may offer some small benefits. In an effort to reach the 105℉ decarboxylation limit, some users have tried to microwave their cannabis. While the contemporary microwave cannot be convert to a degree system, the hottest items get when coming out of it is around 100℉, which is equivalent to sun drying the cannabis. It would take several hours to convert all of the THC-A to THC, and by that time many of the other compounds, like terpenes, would become airborne and escape inhalation. But, microwaving cannabis can be helpful to break down the bud. If you do not have access to a grinder and need to separate cannabis into very small pieces-- most likely to put in oil to make edibles-- microwaving cannabis with a glass of water can hydrate the plant and make it easier to peel apart! Juicing has slowly made its way into mainstream culture as a way to get the daily amount of vitamins and minerals in one quick drink. Some have thought that adding cannabis to a juicing machine would be the best way to make a THC-concentrate, but as we have recently found, that is not the case. Simply putting cannabis into a juicier will not convert THC-A or the other cannabinoids to their non-acidic state, so it will not get you high. However, it will add the cannabinoid precursors to your juice which have been shown to have their own benefits. Recall some of the benefits may include flavoring, anti-inflammation, and anti-nausea.