OAKLAND, CA – JANUARY 16: A worker looks through a bag of marijuana that will be used to make marijuana infused chocolate edibles at Kiva Confections on January 16, 2018 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan via Getty Images)
There’s a reason people don’t just eat dried cannabis bud. Whether fresh or dried, cannabis won’t get you high unless it’s heated. The act of transforming a sticky herb into a mind-bending medicinal plant relies on a process called decarboxylation. In chemistry terms, decarboxylation is the process of removing an acid (carboxyl) group from a fatty molecule. But, what is decarboxylation in simple terms? This article tells you everything you need to know about decarboxylation and how to decarb weed properly.
One way to think about decarboxylation is as an activation. In order to “activate” your herb, you’ll need to break down the components of cannabis resin from fatty acids into their more potent and medicinal formats. Marijuana causes a psychoactive “high” thanks to a compound called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This THC, however, is not found on fresh cannabis plants. In fact, the psychoactive only shows up on fresh plants in trace amounts. Instead, trichome-coated flowers are rich in THCA, the acid form of THC.
Believe it or not, THC is actually a breakdown product of THC-Acid. As THCA ages, it loses some of its chemical bonds. When cannabis flowers are dried and cured, small amounts of THCA are converted to THC. Yet, the trace amounts of THC present in dried buds are not quite enough to produce a substantial psychoactive effect. To speed up the process and ensure that more THCA is converted into its more psychoactive relative, you need heat. Smoking, vaporizing, and otherwise heating the herb unlocks the plant’s psychoactive potential.
The process of converting THC-Acid into psychoactive THC is called decarboxylation. Often abbreviated to “decarbing”, understanding this simple science is useful for herb smokers and culinary artists alike. Not only does decarboxylation explain why smoking is one of the most popular ways to consume the cannabis plant, but decarbing your herb and concentrates prior to cooking is a surefire way to make for potent and effective edibles.
Photography by Jonathan Coward for Herb
If you’re hoping to get the most from your cannabis, decarbing is essential. Decarboxylation is the only way to achieve a strong psychoactive effect from your herb. Yet, apart from simply taking a lighter to a bowl, where’s when it’s useful to decarb:
While decarbing is necessary to tap into the cannabis plant’s mind-altering nature, a psychoactive experience isn’t always appropriate for everyone. Fortunately, for those hoping to tap into the healing potential of cannabis without the high, there is some benefit to keeping things raw. The cannabinoid acids found in uncured and unheated cannabis plants may not be as well-researched as THC, but they are not without their benefit.
Early research in the lab suggests that THCA may be useful as an anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory aid. Virtually no human trials, however, examine just how effective THC-acid can be. Though, many medical patients use fresh cannabis in juices and smoothies to take full advantage of the potential benefits cannabinoid acids may provide.
EVERGREEN, CO – APRIL 18: Kurt Levy, senior formulations scientist and inventor for Ebbu, holds up a sample of 95% purified CBD oil that is almost completely crystallized before it is ground into a pure compound in the R&D lab at Ebbu, on April 18, 2018 in Evergreen, Colorado. Ebbu, an Evergreen-based company, develops cannabinoid formulations tailored for specific effects and specific consumer products goods. The company shed its marijuana licenses with the state to become a marijuana technology licensing and research company that serves a global marketplace. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Just like THC, only trace amounts of activated CBD exists on the fresh cannabis plant. Instead, consumers can expect high quantities of CBD-acid. Like THC-acid, the acid form of CBD is less bioavailable than the decarboxylated stuff. While there may be many undiscovered benefits of CBDA, it’s the decarboxylated stuff that you’ll find in the tinctures and infused oils often sold online.
The exception is often isolated CBDA crystalline, which is a purified extraction of CBD. Like all cannabinoid acids, CBDA crystalline will transform into CBD when heated via baking, dabbing, vaporization, and smoking. Those hoping to supplement with the raw extraction, however, may be able to melt CBDA crystals in a warm beverage like coffee or tea without triggering a full decarboxylation reaction.
A full decarboxylation can happen at various temperatures over prolonged periods of time. CBDA crystalline can melt in your average cup of coffee, but that won’t equate to a cup full of CBD. In order to decarboxylate CBDA at such a low temperature, you would need to heat the crystals in your coffee for several hours. With a hotter temperature, like those achieved with a vaporizer, you can expect a fast decarboxylation reaction with any CBDA extraction.
Photography by Jonathan Coward for Herb
When you’re smoking and vaporizing cannabis, decarboxylation occurs as soon as you add heat. If you’re hoping to decarboxylate before cooking, however, some additional steps are required. But, don’t worry. Decarbing right in your own kitchen is easy!
Decarboxylating your herb prior to cooking is a must for those hoping to make truly high-quality edibles. The good news? You can decarboxylate both cannabis flower and concentrates in your oven. Once the cannabis material has been activated, you can use it to infuse butter, oils, alcohols, fatty beverages, or simply use it as a psychoactive spice the next time you make some pasta. Before diving into the nitty-gritty on how to decarb cannabis, this time table acts as a reference for various common methods:
Table: Decarboxylation Temperatures and Times
|Temperature||Heating Mode||Plant Material Time||Kief / Hash Time||Cannabis Oil|
|310F||Oven||10 – 18 minutes||5 – 10 minutes|
|250F||Hot oil bath||Until bubbles taper off|
|240F||Oven||50 – 60 minutes||30 – 40 minutes|
|212F||Boiling water bath||90 minutes||90 minutes|
Following the timetable works best, of course, when your cannabis material is prepared and handled in just the right way. When decarbing, there are a couple of key things to keep in mind. One of the most important is temperature. The lower the temperature, the longer it’s going to take to decarb your cannabis. Keep in mind that a lower temperature will allow you to lose fewer terpenes. Terpenes are the pungent oils that color your cannabis with distinctive flavors such as berry, mint, citrus, and pine. There are many medicinal benefits to terpenes; some will successfully relieve your stress while others will promote focus and awareness. In order to maintain the aromatic integrity of your flower, the following is a general guide to decarboxylation:
As a general rule of thumb, make sure not to leave the oven door open for too long when checking your cannabis. The heat will quickly escape and you decrease your likelihood of developing an even decarboxylation reaction. Your herb will gradually change color as it toasts. The cannabis should go from a vibrant green to a golden brown or dark green color.
As simple as this recipe sounds, if you want to completely cut down on the hassle, we recommend the MagicalButter machine, the easiest way to make cannabutter at home.
Photography by Jonathan Coward for Herb
Just as you can decarb cannabis flower, you can decarboxylate cannabis concentrates. Of all of the cannabis extracts, decarbing butane hash oil (BHO) is perhaps one of the easiest. All you need is a sheet pan, an oven, and some time! Here’s the quick and easy way to decarboxylate BHO.
Whether its an RSO or a CO2 oil, you can use an oil or hot water bath to successfully decarboxylate cannabis oils. Fair warning: if using the cooking oil method, be mindful not to heat oils to a boil. This creates more opportunity for burns and accidents.
Photography by Jonathan Coward for Herb
Kief is another simple extraction that is easy to use as a general cooking spice. Unlike dried cannabis flower, decarboxylated kief does not add a substantial weedy taste to infused-foods. When throwing together a simple dinner, adding a half teaspoon of decarboxylated kief or hash makes for a fun treat.
Photography by Jonathan Coward for Herb
Looking for an ultra-simple way to decarb your flower? Simply throw a heat-safe cooking pouch into some boiling water and let it simmer for 90 minutes. End result? Some decarbed material that you can use for your next cooking adventure.
In general, decarboxylation is a simple process. After all, when you take your lighter to some ground herb, you can count on a psychoactive experience. When it comes to vaporization and the culinary arts, however, there are some nuances to decarbing to keep in mind. Decarboxylating your cannabis well requires steady heat, a controlled temperature, and time. If you heat your herb too little, the process will not take place. With too much heat, you may accidentally evaporate away the oils, flavors, and THC in the plant material.
The boiling points of the major cannabinoids, aroma molecules, and flavor compounds in cannabis range from 246.2° to 435.2° Fahrenheit. However, boiling points do not always equate to decarboxylation. The ideal temperature for decarboxylating marijuana in an oven is just below the standard boiling points, at 240°F. To properly decarboxylate, it’s useful to decarb at low temperatures for a long period of time.
If you’re using an oven to decarb, you may run into a few complications. It is important to note that most ovens heat in a cycle, so a varying internal temperature can occur. This is especially true in gas ovens and older models with inaccurate thermostats. Fortunately, there are a couple of tricks you can use to ensure that your precious herb is described correctly.
The best way to stay as accurate as possible when decarbing in an oven is to use a digital thermostat and a baking stone. To maintain a more consistent temperature, you can use a baking stone under your baking tray to promote consistency while avoiding opening the oven unless necessary. You can also decarboxylate at lower temperatures to safeguard your herb, as long as you increase your baking time accordingly.
If you’re a cannabis aficionado, it’s easy to get real scientific with your herb. To help you dial in the perfect temperature for your decarbing process, here is a list of major cannabinoids, flavor molecules, and aroma molecules found in cannabis. All of their individual boiling points are listed. If you’d like to get geeky about it, you can use this information to optimize your decarboxylation process for the particular flavors and aromas you would like to enhance.
There’s more to cannabis than just THC and CBD. Phytocannabinoids are a family of compounds produced only by the marijuana plant. Different cannabis strains can produce varying ratios of phytocannabinoids, giving cultivars their unique effects. Here are some of the most important cannabinoids to know about.
Boiling point: 157° C / 314.6° Fahrenheit
Properties: Euphoriant, Analgesic, Anti Inflammatory, Antioxidant, Antiemetic
Boiling point: 160-180°C / 320-356° Fahrenheit
Properties: Anxiolytic, Analgesic, Antipsychotic, Anti Inflammatory, Antioxidant, Antispasmodic
Boiling point: 185°C / 365° Fahrenheit
Properties: Oxidation, breakdown, product, Sedative, Antibiotic
Boiling point: 220° / 428° Fahrenheit
Properties: Anti Inflammatory, Antibiotic, Antifungal
Boiling point: 175-178°C / 347-352.4° Fahrenheit
Properties: Resembles Δ-9-THC, Less psychoactive, More stable Antiemetic
Boiling point: < 220°C / <428° Fahrenheit
Properties: Analgesic, Euphoriant
If you consider yourself a cannabis enthusiast, chances are you’ve heard a thing or two about terpenes. Terpenes are the aroma molecules that give different strains their distinct aromas. You have terpenes to thank for the musky sweetness of DJ Short’s Blueberry and the pungent umami in UK Cheese. Like cannabinoids, terpenes all have different boiling points. To avoid losing your terpene content, consider keeping temperatures low.
Boiling point: 166-168°C / 330.8-334.4° Fahrenheit
Properties: Analgesic. Anti Inflammatory, Antibiotic, Antimutagenic
Boiling point: 119°C / 246.2° Fahrenheit
Properties: Anti Inflammatory, Cytoprotective (gastric mucosa), Antimalarial
Boiling point: 177°C / 350.6° Fahrenheit
Properties: Immune potentiator, Antidepressant, Antimutagenic
Boiling point: 198°C / 388.4° Fahrenheit
Properties: Sedative, Antidepressant, Anxiolytic, Immune potentiator
Boiling point: 176°C / 348.8° Fahrenheit
Properties: AChE inhibitor, Increases cerebral, blood flow, Stimulant, Antibiotic, Antiviral, Anti-inflammatory, Antinociceptive
Boiling point: 156°C / 312.8° Fahrenheit
Properties: Anti Inflammatory, Bronchodilator, Stimulant, Antibiotic,
Boiling point: 217-218°C / 422.6-424.4° Fahrenheit
Properties: Sedative, Antibiotic, AChE inhibitor, Antioxidant, Antimalarial
Boiling point: 210°C / 410° Fahrenheit
Boiling point: 168*C / 334.4° Fahrenheit
Apart from fragrance, cannabis plants also produce flavor molecules that give different varieties unique tastes. Since cannabis is a leafy herb, many of the flavors the plant produces can be quite bitter. These bitter flavors are responsible for the herb’s controversial and distinct taste. If you’re hoping to keep a gnarly weed flavor out of your edibles, consider decarbing cannabis oil instead of dried flower.
Boiling point: 178°C / 352.4° Fahrenheit
Properties: Anxiolytic, Anti Inflammatory, Estrogenic
Boiling point: 250°C / 482° Fahrenheit
Properties: Antioxidant, Antimutagenic, Antiviral, Antineoplastic
Boiling point: 134°C / 273.2° Fahrenheit
Decarboxylated cannabis is most often used to infuse cooking oils and butter. However, you can also use decarbed cannabis products in topicals, soups, sauces, edibles, tinctures, and beverages. To get you started with your own cannabis creations, here are a few recipes worth trying.
Photo by Jonathan Coward/HERB
Nothing is as essential as a solid cannabutter recipe. Cannabis butter is the cornerstone of cooking with marijuana. You can use cannabutter in everything from sauces to baked desserts, making it one of the most versatile cannabis infusions.
Hoping to avoid animal products? Cannabis-Infused coconut oil is an excellent butter replacement. A jar of infused oil can also be used as a simple topical, making this a multi-purpose infusion.
If consuming cannabis while simultaneously drinking tea isn’t the most relaxing thing on this planet, then I don’t know what is. What most people don’t realize is that weed tea is incredibly easy to make.
Another way to consume your decarbed cannabis is in a cannabis milk. It’s an easy recipe that makes a milk that’s a great addition to your tea, coffee, or baked goods. Fair warning: your milk will still expire, so drink before the expiration date.
Vegan or lactose intolerant? Don’t worry, you can easily make cannabis almond milk to drink or use for any of your recipes. Recommended for the true do-it-yourself types, this recipe walks you through making your milk from scratch.
Wouldn’t it be nice to get baked after tasting everything you, well, baked? Cannaflour keeps just as well as regular flour and is extremely easy to make, so you can mix a batch & store it for the future.
Take your skincare routine into your own hands with this CBD lotion recipe. (Photo by Jonathan Coward/HERB)
Want to make your own DIY topicals? Cannabis lotion can be used to soothe the skin and provide minor first-aid relief for general aches and pains. You can use decarboxylated cannabis or CBD oil to infuse your own natural beauty products.