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Cannabis Knowhow – What is Decarboxylation and Why is it Important?

If you’ve ever seen in a movie how one of the characters consumes an entire stash of raw cannabis for whatever reason, followed by the typical ‘eyes popping wide open, gasps being heard left and right’ scenario – know that you’ve been misled into thinking that that’s what happens as a result.

In reality, the aftermath is quite different – in fact, the effects of consuming raw cannabis (even in fairly large amounts) are mediocre at best. And if you’ve ever done that, based on what your expert cannabis friend once told you, well, you wasted a lot of the good stuff that’s inside that cannabis.

Let’s cut to the chase and clear the air, shall we? There’s a process known as decarboxylation, which is absolutely 100% necessary to bring out the psychoactive effects of cannabis.

Decarboxylation Explained at Length & Why it’s Important

From a scientific standpoint, decarboxylation is a chemical reaction which removes a carboxyl group from cannabis and releases carbon dioxide in the process as well. But why would you be interested in knowing this as a cannabis consumer?

You see, the buzz or high that you feel from cannabis would not be possible without the decarboxylation process. Well, the buzz would be there, but lackluster at best. This is because raw cannabis contains no THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) whatsoever – i.e. the most psychoactive component responsible for a strain’s potency or ‘high potential’.

It’s also important to understand that raw cannabis plants contain the acidic form of cannabinoids, which is THC-A: Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid – the stuff that will not get you high. Therefore, intervening factors such as age or heat to put that cannabis through the decarboxylation process is what converts the THC-A into THC.

How to Bring about Decarboxylation

Just to reiterate, the two main catalysts responsible for decarboxylating cannabis are time and heat. You may be thinking that cannabis which is smoked or vaped would be going through the decarboxylation process automatically, right?

Well, this is where many cannabis users are doing it wrong because smoking or vaping flowers which have been decarboxylated first, noticeably improves the overall potency and experience. Therefore, if you’re not decarboxylating your cannabis properly prior to consumption, then you should reconsider. How to properly “decarb” your cannabis is something we’ll be discussing in detail later on in the article.

Why You Can’t do without Decarboxylation

Other than the fact that cannabis must be decarboxylated to maximize its high or ‘buzz’ potential, the full medicinal potential of certain cannabinoids in it can also be unlocked through this process – namely CBNs, CBDs, and CBGs. Without getting too technical, these are the most abundant cannabinoids in cannabis; by unlocking them, you can enjoy the complete range of medicinal benefits they offer.

However, apart from the medicinal benefits (pain relief being the most popular one), if you’re simply looking to maximise the potential and potency of your cannabis, you need to decarboxylate it. And this applies across the board not just to cannabis flowers but also kief, hashish, and hashish oils.

Another important point to touch upon is that many cannabis users are under the impression that when they consume cannabis as part of a recipe, cooking it will more than suffice as far as decarboxylation is concerned since your food will be heated at some stage.

The heat will activate some of the good stuff in your cannabis (THC) but not all of it. So at the end of the day, you’re wasting your plant’s full potential.

Do All Varieties of Cannabis Need to Undergo Decarboxylation?

Well, the answer to this is mostly ‘yes’, although some might argue that it depends on the effects each user desires.

For instance, those looking to get a THC-induced high through an edible should decarboxylate their plant. In addition, many users have reported that decarboxylating the flower prior to smoking it boosts potency, although some claim that this boost is not very noticeable. We would recommend that you

decarb the plant anyway, as you’ve got nothing to lose, even if decarbing it means a mild (but noticeable) increase in the potency.

Here’s an interesting fun fact: if the cannabis you’re purchasing contains the cannabinoid CBD then it has already been decarbed.

Cannabis Decarboxylation Explained in 3 Easy Steps

1. Prior to the Decarbing Process – Measure Potency

Cannabinoids in their raw acid form will have a noticeably greater mass than their decarbed version, and this is an important factor to consider while screening your cannabis for potency.

For instance, cannabinoids like CBDA (Cannabidiolic Acid) and THCA (Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid) will use just over 12% of their mass when heated – the resulting potency can then be measured by multiplying the ‘acid form’ with 0.877.

So, if you’re vaporising a CBD hemp strain and want to determine the CBD concentration level, you can do so by:

CBD + (0.877 x CBDA) = Total CBD

2. Optimal Decarbing Temperature and Time

However, this is just one aspect of the entire equation. There are also terpenes in the plant which need to be taken into consideration before heat can be applied. As a general rule of thumb, always use the minimum amount of temperature over a longer timeframe as opposed to applying a high temperature to save time. The latter is a mistake because we need to do our best to preserve those terpenes and not burn them off completely.

Furthermore, when terpenes are burned at relatively higher temperatures (148°C and higher), they can leave behind undesirable tastes and smells.

THCA, for example, decarboxylates after 30-45 minutes of exposure at roughly 104°C, although complete decarboxylation may require more time. Just to reiterate, it is always a good idea to never exceed the temperature threshold above since majority of mono and sesquiterpenes have high volatility

– you’re essentially gaining nothing apart from the undesirable aromas and flavours. In fact, we’d recommend keeping the temperature in the 93-95°C range, as a safe starting point.

3. Decarbing Cannabis at Home

Whether you have a cannabis concentrate, kief or flower, you can easily decarb it using the following baking method:

  • Pre-heat your oven to 104°C – 115°C*
  • Place parchment paper on a baking sheet
  • Grind the cannabis into fine pieces and spread it evenly across the pan. Make sure there are no empty spaces.
  • Bake for 30 to 60 minutes*
  • Once you’re done, you will notice that your cannabis has been slightly reduced in volume and has taken a darker brown tone – this is completely normal.

*Note: since time and temperatures can have a noticeable bearing on the process, we’d recommend experimenting with this to determine the ideal setting based on your decarbing needs.

As a starting point, you might try decarbing your high CBD strains for at least 2 hours at 104°C, but we’re also going to leave a little disclaimer here that we have not personally lab tested this.

Apart from baking, cannabis can be decarbed in other ways as well such as infusing it with cooking oils or lecithin.

Methods like these can help you create infusions which can be integrated with many cooking recipes, cannabis capsules and topicals. Since the decarbed cannabinoids are already present, these infusions provide for a ‘maximum effect’ no matter how you choose to consume them.

You might be thinking “do I really have to go through the decarb process even if I’m cooking cannabis with my consumables?”

Absolutely, yes! In order to achieve maximum potency, you need to do this. So, let’s say you’re stirring hash oil or kief into a brownie batter or other similar cooking tasks where cannabis is being mixed – you would want to 100% decarb it first to extract the highest level of potency.

Lab tests have also indicated that when you’re making slow and long cooking infusions like cannabis oil or butter, decarbing will definitely help you achieve higher potency.

Things that Might Go Wrong While Decarbing

Most brands of ovens are inaccurate as far as temperature goes – many have hot and cold spots even after pre-heating them to a desired temperature. We would highly recommend using an oven thermometer to determine the right temperature before decarbing.

So you need to make sure that it is actually 115°C, for example, irrespective of what setting the dial is at – we chose this value as an average based on majority of decarbing processes – actual temperature setting may vary depending on your decarbing needs and cannabinoid strain.

Sometimes, decarbing kief, for example, can result in a powdery solution which is very easy to integrate with recipes. At other times, however, certain strains may result in a gummy solution. This is completely normal, although the main point we want to stress on is the time and temperature variable – find something that works for you and experiment with the time/temperature ranges we mentioned throughout the article.

In Closing

Hopefully, this piece has put the spotlight on how certain processes affect cannabis decarboxylation, what the process itself is and why it’s considered critical to maximising potency.

You’re now familiar with how the decarbing process works for cannabis – if you ever come across another scene on TV where one of the actors plops down on the ground right after consuming an entire bag of raw cannabis, you can just laugh it off – in fact, laugh it off all the way to the kitchen as you get to work baking and infusing your own batch of cannabis

Cultivation information, and media is given for those of our clients who live in countries where cannabis cultivation is decriminalised or legal, or to those that operate within a licensed model. We encourage all readers to be aware of their local laws and to ensure they do not break them.

Steven Meredith

Steven is a full-time freelance writer based in Wales. He joined the Seedsman team in 2018, contributing articles on a number of topics including global news, cultivation and strain profiles.