If you’ve ever taken a look at the third party lab reports for CBD products, you’ve probably noticed the array of cannabinoids that are listed. In addition to the well-known THC and CBD cannabinoids, other components like THCa and CBDa are also included in the reports.
When most people picture consuming marijuana, it’s likely that their minds jump to smoking the plant. It makes sense given the fact that this is the most popular way to use marijuana. But have you ever wondered why the plant isn’t eaten directly? Despite the growing popularity of cannabis, there are still a few basic facts that many people don’t understand. One of these is that there is a very good reason why users heat marijuana before consuming it.
What is going on behind the scenes, albeit in plain sight, is that the heating of marijuana plays an integral part in changing the chemical makeup of the plant to ensure its active effects. Simply put, if you were to consume a pack of “raw” weed, the effects would be mediocre at best.
In this article, we will be exploring the decarboxylating process, or “activation” of cannabis. Whether you use marijuana for recreational or medicinal reasons, this is a basic process that you should be informed about.
What is Decarboxylation?
The phytocannabinoids that are found in the cannabis plant occur naturally in an acid-form. These molecules have a carboxyl group or ring (COOH) that is present in their molecular structure. When UV lighting or heat is applied, these cannabinoids lose a molecule of CO2 and are changed into their neutral form. This process is known as decarboxylation.
For instance, if you look at a potency screening for raw hemp, you are likely to see high levels of tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa), which is one of the naturally occurring cannabinoids. It’s only through the process of decarboxylation (when heated) that this non-psychoactive acid form is converted into the popular psychoactive compound that is known as the compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). To put it simply, THCa will not get you high, but THC will.
To achieve decarboxylation, all you need to do is apply some heat. The resulting effects are fascinating. As explained above, while one of the main components found in weed is THC, there is actually very little THC present in raw cannabis. Instead, you will find a ton of THCa – which is non-intoxicating. However, when heat is applied to the marijuana, the THCa is transformed into THC. The reason that this happens is because, by releasing water and carbon dioxide, the decarb process removes the COOH group from the THCA molecule, thus turning it into THC.
When it comes to the non-psychoactive effects of the other well-known cannabinoid, CBD, the same concept applies. Through the process of decarboxylation, the naturally occurring Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDa) is converted into the benefit-packed cannabidiol (CBD).
How Does Decarboxylation Work?
As briefly touched on above, decarboxylation is the process of removing a carboxyl group from a molecule. For cannabis specifically, the reaction of carboxylic acids eliminates a carbon atom from a carbon chain, and during this conversion process, CO2 is released.
There are two simple factors that cause decarboxylation; time and heat. Each and every time that cannabis is vaporized or smoked, this chemical reaction occurs. The rapid heating (combustion) of the cannabis instantly “decarbs” the phytocannabinoids, thus converting them into their effective active form as they are inhaled.
When cannabis is ingested in the form of edibles, capsules or tinctures, decarboxylation becomes very important. To have the acid cannabinoids changed into their active forms, the original extract should be carefully heated for an extended period of time. This process helps to activate the compounds of cannabis without damaging the material. This results in a compound that can be taken sublingually or swallowed with all of the non-acid cannabinoids active effects still in place.
Does All Cannabis Need to Be Decarboxylated?
Ultimately, it depends on the effects that you are looking for, but in most cases, cannabis does needd to be decarboxylated. For those who use marijuana for recreational purposes and are looking for that infamous THC-induced high, cannabis will always need to be decarboxylated before ingesting it as an edible.
What about the CBD industry? Well, nearly all CBD products that are available for customers to purchase have gone through the decarboxylation process. If a product contains CBD, then it has already been decarboxylated.
However, while in most cases these heated molecules are favored, those who are looking for specific benefits could find what they are looking for in a “raw” or natural form of these cannabinoids. Although the acid-based forms of cannabinoids are not yet well-studied, preliminary research suggests that they have the ability to offer unique benefits not offered by their activated counterparts. For instance, studies have shown that CBDa is a COX-2 inhibitor, meaning that it works in a similar way to some NSAIDs function.
There are a few CBD companies who offer raw products that have been created by cold-pressing hemp. Often, these products are combined with activated hemp extracts.
Decarboxylation of Cannabis
There are a variety of ways to decarboxylate weed, but we will only go into detail about the most basic method. For starters, you will need: An oven, baking sheet, parchment paper, and either ground bud, kief, or leaf trim.
If you choose to use buds, you will need to grind them up coarsely. Then follow these basic steps:
- Preheat the oven to 220-240 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place the parchment paper on the baking sheet
- Spread your marijuana across the pan and make sure there are no empty spaces
- Bake for between 30 and 60 minutes
- Once done, your cannabis will have turned a darker brown in color and be slightly less in volume
Temperatures and time are what influence this process. You should do your own testing to determine the perfect settings for your own needs. Thirty minutes of baking is the right amount of time if you have well-dried weed. However, if you are using fresher cannabis with more moisture, it could take up to 90 minutes to decarboxylate.
There are many other ways to decarboxylate your cannabis. Baking isn’t your only option. One other way is to infuse the cannabis into cooking oils by using a slow cooker, or you could submerge the sealed cannabis in heated water.
Final Thoughts on Decarboxylation
Surprisingly, despite being one of the most important parts of enjoying weed, decarboxylation happens to be one of the least understood processes. If you really want to enjoy the medicinal properties of the cannabis plant or aim to get high, the plant needs to be decarboxylated to convert the THCa and CBDa, along with other cannabinoids, into the compounds that provide the greatest effects.
Having said, if you are a CBD user, decarboxylation isn’t something that you need to practice since almost all CBD products have already been decarboxylated. Furthermore, if you vape your weed or light a joint, you have already decarboxylated it. But it’s still good to know about the process. This process is most important to those who consume cannabis in edibles. If you really want your edibles to pack a punch, you need to know how to decarb it. Ultimately, although there is a little benefit to consuming raw cannabis, it’s a poor relation when compared to the decarbed version.