Weed Decarboxylation: Why & How to Decarb Cannabis
Have you ever wondered what activates cannabis?
Where does the magic happen?
Why doesn’t raw weed get you high?
If you’ve been bitten by the cannabis bug, it’s obvious you’re going to seek answers to those questions sooner or later.
The answer lies in one simple term: decarboxylation.
Activating the molecules in marijuana requires some science, but this science is fun and simple.
It’s the stoner science after all!
Today, we’re going to explain the process of marijuana decarboxylation from the chemistry end of it.
We will also cover:
- Why drying isn’t enough to get the most out of your weed
- The effects of decarboxylation on cannabinoids and terpenes
- Why you should decarb weed before smoking, making edibles, etc.
- 6 common myths about decarboxylation and why they are wrong
- What you can make with weed once you’ve decarbed it.
Let’s get to the science behind decarboxylation.
What Is Decarboxylation?
One thing is certain, decarboxylation is hard to pronounce, but fortunately, this is where all difficulties end.
Decarboxylation is a fairly simple process which involves treating cannabis with heat— to activate compounds such as THC and CBD.
Raw cannabis doesn’t actually provide any psychoactive effects; it happens only through decarboxylation.
Okay, let’s not get too technical at the very beginning.
First things first, you need to know why you should even bother about decarbing marijuana in the first place.
Why Should I Decarb Weed?
The main reason is because it activates the cannabinoids in the cannabis plant.
Without decarboxylation, your weed is in standby mode.
By definition, decarboxylating means removing a carboxyl group from a chemical compound.
Wait… What on earth is a carboxyl group and what does it have to do with weed?
In simple words, a carboxyl group is an extra link that binds to the THC and CBD compounds of your cannabis that prevents these compounds from engaging into interaction with the endocannabinoid system in your body.
This, in turn, means you can’t feel any psychoactive or calming effects if you consume raw weed.
The decarboxylation process gets rid of this extra molecule and allows THC and CBD to interact with cannabinoid receptors, resulting in a “high” if your weed is rich in THC or deep relaxation if the strain contains high levels of CBD.
Now, let’s see how exactly decarboxylation affects cannabis.
What Does Decarboxylation do to Weed: Cannabinoid Chemistry
To summarize the previous section, decarboxylation is a process that activates your weed, allowing it to interact with the endocannabinoid system by detaching the naturally occurring carboxyl group from THC and CBD (and other cannabinoids).Cannabis contains at least 113 cannabinoids. Most of them won’t ever produce psychedelic effects, much like CBD. However, they are all activated during the decarboxylation process, hence the whole palette of health benefits resulting from using the herb responsibly.
The existence of the endocannabinoid system means we’re already geared for the consumption of cannabinoids.
With that said, let’s shed some light on how decarboxylation affects cannabinoids.
Decarboxylation and THC
THC, short for delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the “why” behind getting high.
This psychoactive compound can be found in marijuana plants but it occurs in different forms in raw and decarboxylated cannabis.
Raw cannabis contains a cannabinoid called THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid), which has no psychoactive properties but has strong anti-inflammatory effects.
By heating cannabis, you remove the extra molecule from THCA; as a result, the compound turns from an acid to its active form; THC
Simply put, decarbing weed leaves the THC molecule free to bind with the cannabinoid receptors in your brain and body when you consume the herb.
THC produces the buzz and psychoactive effects described as the cannabis high. It can elevate a person’s mood, bring bliss, euphoria, deep relaxation, and pain relief. On top of that, THC is a powerful appetite stimulant.
When smoked, the psychoactive effects of marijuana are rather short-lived, usually passing within around 3 hours after inhalation. Weed edibles produce longer lasting effects, lasting anywhere between 4-6 hours.
Decarboxylation and CBD
The second-most popular cannabinoid, and arguably the most important one, is CBD (cannabidiol).
This compound is completely void of psychoactive properties but can produce a whole range of beneficial effects. CBD is known for its painkilling, anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, and neuroprotective qualities.
Unlike THC, CBD doesn’t directly bind to any of the cannabinoid receptors; instead, it stimulates their activity, thereby helping the endocannabinoid system achieve the chemical balance in your body.
A raw cannabis plant doesn’t contain any cannabidiol. Instead, it comes with cannabidiolic acid (CBDA).
Once again, the extra molecule that makes it into an acid form prohibits the CBD from interacting with your cannabinoid receptors in pretty much the same way as with THC.
Conclusions? Without decarboxylation, there will be no CBD in your weed.
Needless to say, CBD and THC are just two of the many cannabinoids occurring in the cannabis plant.
Here’s the list of other cannabinoids that can determine the unique effects every weed strain:
1. CBC (cannabichromene)
CBC is a potential anti-tumor and anti-inflammatory medicine, but CBC can also act as an antidepressant and antifungal, not to mention that it may even stimulate brain growth by taking part in neurogenesis.
2. CBN (cannabinol)
CBN is a compound that occurs when cannabis is aged without being cured for an extended period of time. This cannabinoid can stimulate appetite, relieve pain, reduce blood pressure, and serve as an antibiotic.
3. CBG (cannabigerol)
CBG is another antibiotic with strong potential for treating psoriasis, tumors, depression, and mood swings.
4. THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin)
THCV may help reduce convulsions, protect neurons, and promote weight loss.
5. CBDV (cannabidivarin)
CBDV offers antiepileptic and anti-nausea properties.
Delta 8 THC stimulates appetite and supports digestion.
Terpenes are those volatile compounds that give cannabis strains their unique aroma and flavor.
There are plenty of terpenes and terpene combinations in the botanical world, and they all create various smells and tastes, from sour to bitter to spicy and all other variants.
In addition, terpenes come with a host of therapeutic benefits, working in tandem with the cannabinoids to boost the anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, painkilling, and calming effects of weed.
Similarly to cannabinoids, terpenes can also undergo the decarboxylation process. However, since terpenes are particularly volatile, they have a lower evaporation point.
If you want to preserve terpenes in your buds, keep the decarbing temperature below 176 F. This will increase the cooking time, but on the other hand, you’ll gain the opportunity to let the decarboxylation work its magic to a full extent.
The Difference Between Raw & Decarbed Weed
The term “raw cannabis” is exactly what it sounds like: cannabis that hasn’t been decarboxylated, either through heating or aging it.
As mentioned, this means that THC and CBD are still in their inactive forms (THCA and CBDA), so you won’t experience any of their effects.
Nonetheless, raw cannabis still offers plenty of health benefits.
In their acidic form, THCA and CBDA have powerful anti-inflammatory properties, not to mention that hemp is packed with essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients.
You can consume THCA and CBDA as a food supplement (oils, pastes) or apply them topically (heating rubs, creams).
Taking raw cannabis orally allows you to experience its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, as well as improve your immune system, neural functions, and fix digestive issues.
It’s the whole-plant medicine at its best.
Decarbing Weed In 4 Simple Steps
We’re so glad you’ve made it to this section.
Now that you’re armed with the basic knowledge and ready to act, it’s time to learn the secrets behind the successful decarboxylation of your weed.
This simple guide will help you decarb your cannabis like a pro in the nick of time— to that we swear.
The general principle is to decarboxylate the weed slowly and at low temperatures; the less is more in this case.
By maintaining the low temperature inside the oven, you’re keeping the cannabinoids and terpenes inside the plant. The proper decarboxylation process results in superior weed which is full of therapeutic features and alluring aromas.
Just be careful each time you’re about to increase the temperature because otherwise you may burn your weed and lose your terpenes.
Here’s how to decarboxylate weed in 4 simple steps:
1. Gather Your Supplies
First things first, make sure you have the necessary equipment to decarboxylate your buds.
You’re going to need:
- ½ oz of cannabis or more
- A regular baking pan
- An oven
- Aluminum foil
2. Grind Your Weed and Spread it Out on the Baking Sheet
Grab the baking pan and lay out aluminum foil over the entire surface.
Then, use a weed grinder to grind up your buds into small pieces. Remember not to grind it into a fine powder, as it will make your weed burn faster.
Once you’re done, spread the weed out evenly on the pan. You want to achieve a relatively thin layer with as few clumps as possible.
But above all, don’t overcrowd the pan.
Your cannabis needs some room to breathe.
3. Decarb the Weed In the Oven
Before you get down to baking the weed, keep in mind that decarboxylation will completely fill your house (and probably its surroundings) with the pungent aroma of freshly baked cannabis.
This is due to the evaporation of the terpenes like we talked about before.
The decarboxylation process is anything but discrete, so make sure that you keep your windows wide open, and as soon as your weed gets decarbed, you air the entire space out.
Preheat your oven to 240 F.
Since you’re using ½ oz of weed, you should bake it for approximately 40 minutes, stirring the cannabis every 10 minutes to ensure even decarboxylation.
The weed should be light to medium turnbrown in color when it’s all finished.
4. Let It Cool
Now that your cannabis has this golden-brown hue and sports a fresh roasted aroma, you’re ready to go.
Let it cool a bit and there you go, you can now make your own cannabis-infused goods.
We’ll get to different consumption methods later on, but first, we’d like to share one extra decarboxylation method with you.
It’s the expert method that will allow you to decarb your weed even more efficiently than traditional baking.
Expert Method: Decarbing Weed In a Pressure Cooker
A pressure cooker proves invaluable when you want to cook something delicious without spending hours in your kitchen.
But you know what’s a pressure cooker also good for?
Decarbing your weed.
It’s pretty simple, but in order to decarboxylate cannabis in this device, you’re going to need more greens, typically somewhere around 2 oz of dried buds. That’s how much weed the pressure cooker jar can hold.
Fill the pressure cooker to its fill line and place the jar inside. Cover the device with the lid, set it on the stove, and bring to a gentle boil.
Decarb your cannabis for approximately 40 minutes. Once you’re done, remove the jar from the pressure cooker and move the weed to a safe place.
This method preserves more of the terpene content by trapping it in the sealed jars while it’s hot. Once it cools, most of the terpenes are reabsorbed back into the decarboxylated marijuana leaves.
5 Marijuana Decarboxylation Myths Debunked
1. Fresh And Cured Bud Require Different Decarboxylation Techniques
There is a myth that has been spreading among the cannabis community for years…
Most commonly it comes as “fresh buds won’t decarb” or “fresh and cured buds decarb at different temperatures.”
Others believe that curing the bud is enough, so they can omit the decarboxylation process altogether.
The above is all false.
If you can provide the right conditions, fresh bud can be decarbed easily. Plus, it’s a smart way to preserve more terpenes in your final product; it will get even more alluring.
Decarbing fresh bud takes exactly the same amount of time to decarb as cured bud.
Last but not least, properly cured bud doesn’t undergo decarboxylation as a function of the drying process.
Long story short, all buds— fresh and cured— need to be decarboxylated in order to be active and bioavailable.
2. You Can’t Get More Than 70% Decarb Without Destroying THC
Yes, you can!
This myth is deeply rooted in one of the most popular and most inaccurate decarboxylation charts from the 90s.
Internet users have treated this graph as some sort of a totem and the only legitimate argument in the discussion about decarbing weed.
Well, let’s make something clear once and for all: this chart covers the decarb of a hexane extract in an open jar placed on a hot place.
In such circumstances and with this material you can’ reach the full decarb potential without destroying THC.
As a matter of fact, with current equipment we can do better than rely on an outdated graph and we know it’s possible to get more than 70% decarb without degradation.
3. Flower Decarboxylation Is Different Than Concentrate Decarb
Professional-grade concentrates that have been extracted under the right conditions haven’t been decarboxylated.
Therefore, you need to decarb them before ingesting or using it topically.
The time and temperature standards for the most efficient flower decarb also apply to concentrates.
BHO extracts can even become more concentrated due to decarboxylation, which results from evaporation of the remaining moisture and solvents.
4. It’s Necessary to Finely Grind Your Weed
It’s actually quite the opposite.
While it’s good to grind up your weed into a coarse consistency, turning it into a finely ground powder can cause it to burn faster than the bigger pieces.
When grinding up the cannabis before decarboxylation, make sure you have enough material to evenly fill the entire pan, but don’t be too hard on your greens. Too much will make it harder to decarboxylate your greens evenly. The stuff closer to the middle may not be activated by the time you’re finished.
5. Marijuana Decarboxylation Requires Fats and Alcohols
Of course, alcohol and fats can aid people in using cannabis in certain circumstances (digestion, absorption), but some folks tend to overemphasise the role of alcohol or fat in preparing marijuana.
Cannabis is not water-soluble, meaning the cannabinoids won’t seamlessly attach to water molecules.
They will, however, bind and mix with fats and alcohols.
However, this simple fact has been twisted into an urging that patients need to extract weed into butters and oils or use alcohol-based solvents. While effective, these processes are cost-prohibitive and complicated.
It’s much easier to activate your marijuana directly.
Direct activation allows a person to quickly prepare cannabis sublinguals, edibles, and topicals. It’s kind of a quick fix for patients who don’t have time for time-consuming extractions.
If you want to activate the cannabinoids directly, measure the dose of decarbed weed and combine it with ½ tablespoon of healthy fat, such as butter or hemp oil, or coconut oil.
This method of making cannabis-infused goods helps the activated cannabinoids to achieve higher absorption rate during digestion or topical application.
But most of all, it turns out you don’t need large amounts of decarbed weed to make the infusion effective. On the contrary, it’s like sprinkling salt on a steak.
It’s important to remember that under no circumstances should you ever heat alcohol.
What Can I Do With Decarbed Weed?
Decarboxylated weed has plenty of applications.
For example, you can bake some delicious edibles to spice up your culinary experience and add some good vibes to your date.
Or, if you’re the beauty type of a cannabis consumer, you can experiment with different cannabis topicals, such as balms, salves, healing rubs, and pain creams.
Finally, there are marijuana-infused tinctures which prove invaluable for fighting inflammation and a wide range of illnesses.
Here’s everything you know about working with decarbed weed:
Making weed edibles is an amazing adventure. Not only does it allow to experience the effects of marijuana from a different perspective, but it also lasts longer and sharpens your senses.
Basically, weed edibles are like weed inception; you eat them, get high, eat some more, and get high again.
Moreover, terpenes in cannabis are perfect for weed & food pairings. Adding different strains for your food can provide you with different effects and add a unique fragrance and flavor to your dish.
You can cook almost everything with marijuana. As long as the recipe calls for fat, you’re good to go.
All you have to do is extract the cannabis into the butter, pour the clean liquid into a container and add the butter to the recipe as a substitute or in a ratio of your choice with regular butter.
Sweet, savory – you name it. Just make sure your weed has been properly decarbed.
As with edibles, topicals require a “starter” to infuse the product with active cannabinoids.
Most of the time, you’ll need to mix the decarbed weed with coconut oil, butter, olive oil, or hemp oil, make it simmer for 40-60 minutes, and strain the clean liquid through a cheesecloth.
Recipes for cannabis topicals will call for different oils depending on the type of the final product.
Other useful ingredients for weed topicals include:
- Cayenne pepper
- Tea leaves
- Aloe vera gel
- Essential oils
Simply put, any natural beauty ingredient can be added to your cannabis mixture.
Have you ever dreamed of your own homemade cannabis medicine?
It’s fairly easy to prepare in home conditions.
Simply soak the decarboxylated weed in alcohol for a few weeks and voila – you now have an active cannabis tincture.
Anything higher than 40% should do the trick.
Of course, the more potent you want the tincture to be, the more marijuana you’ll have to use. Remember to get yourself a fine mesh strainer or a coffee filter to separate the tincture from the remaining plant matter.
Final Thoughts On Marijuana Decarboxylation
We hope our decarboxylation guide have explained the “why & how” behind the entire process as well as the essential differences between THC and CBD.
Decarboxylation is simple and easy.
Better yet, you can decarb weed using your regular kitchen equipment: an oven, aluminum foil, and ½ oz of your favorite cured weed strain should suffice.
Keep in mind not to grind up the herb too finely, as it will make it burn and, as a result, destroy the cannabinoids along with terpenes.
When it comes to marijuana decarboxylation, low and slow is the best approach.
There’s a whole world of opportunities for using decarbed weed, from edibles to topicals to tinctures. Each of them allows you to experience the benefits of marijuana from different angles.
Is weed decarboxylation something you’d try?
How would you use the decarbed weed?
Let us know in the comments!
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About James Reed
James Reed is the founder and editor-in-chief at iSum. He’s a big advocate of marijuana and spent most of his time writing about these topics, sharing what he learned over the years.