The old film stereotype always comes to mind when explaining decarboxylation. In the film, somebody eats a whole baggie of raw weed to stop officers from finding it. The inevitable gasps and wide eyes ensue, with somebody asking the now high person, “Did you just eat that whole bag?” This could not be farther from the truth. If you eat a bag of raw cannabis, you are unlikely to feel much, if anything at all.
What Is Decarboxylation?
Raw cannabis flowers contain trichomes. Within these trichomes are all the plant’s cannabinoids, which, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, in their raw form, all have an extra carboxyl ring or group, or COOH, attached to their chain. For example, the trichomes of freshly harvested buds synthesize tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, or THCA, in abundance.
In a legal marketplace, a regulated one, dispensaries sell cannabis products that have labels on them, which detail exactly which cannabinoids are present, and in what concentrations. In most of them, THCA has the highest cannabinoid presence in raw flowers and some concentrates. THCA has neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties, but it is non-psychoactive. You need to first decarboxylate to get high.
To decarboxylate, or convert THCA into the intoxicating tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, there are two primary catalysts: Heat and time. Drying your buds and curing them over time will cause some decarboxylation to occur, where THC levels will be higher, but it still will not be sufficient to make you really stoned. You need heat. Vaporizing and smoking causes instant decarboxylation, and you feel it.
Any time you expose cannabis to extremely high temperatures, you are turning non-psychoactive buds psychoactive. It makes THC and other cannabinoids immediately bioavailable, or absorbable, via inhalation. While smoked and vaporized cannabinoids absorb easily in the lungs, edibles require a different approach, since the body absorbs them via digestion.
When you heat cannabinoids at lower temperatures, especially over time, decarboxylation occurs. In fact, in the case of edibles, this allows decarboxylation while still preserving the integrity of both the cannabinoids and the materials used; making it ideal for infusion into whatever edibles that you wish to add to your menu.
Understanding the Role of Temperature
THCA in cannabis starts to decarboxylate, or convert into THC, at roughly 220 degrees Fahrenheit in around 45 minutes of exposure to this temperature range. You may need more time for full decarboxylation to occur, approximately an hour. However, in an attempt to preserve terpenes, those compounds responsible for smell and flavor, many decarboxylate at low temperature for longer periods.
Terpenes are rather volatile, especially mono- and sesqui-terpenes. They evaporate very quickly at high temperatures, leaving bad tastes and smells behind. Any time temperature exceeds 300 degrees Fahrenheit, the integrity of both terpenoids and cannabinoids are at risk. This is why temperatures in the 200s are ideal. Decarboxylation causes other degradation too, converting THC into cannabinol, or CBN, if heated for too long. CNB is less psychoactive and more sedative than THC.
How to Decarboxylate Safely at Home
To perform successful decarboxylation at home, you only need some raw buds, an oven preheated to around 220 degrees Fahrenheit, even 235 degrees Fahrenheit depending on your oven model, a baking tray, and some parchment paper. Grind your cannabis up finely before spreading it thinly over the parchment and placing it in the baking tray. Bake the weed for around 45 minutes, longer if wanted.
You can also decarboxylate in a slow cooker for several hours. This method is best for making cannabutter for edibles, capsules, even topicals. Fatty solvents, such as lecithin and cooking oils, make an excellent substance for infusion that you can use to make whatever you want really. Since you decarboxylate the cannabinoids first, they will be effective no matter how you decide to use them.
You can order raw weed from any recreational dispensary in Santa Monica, provided you are 21-years or older, of course. You can even order it via cannabis delivery for home decarboxylation. Decarboxylation is really only important when making edibles and other cannabis infusions at home, since the simple act of lighting up your buds causes instant decarboxylation, and therefore you never need think about it.