Cannabis decarboxylation explained
Cannabis plants produce cannabinoids which have been used by humans for thousands of years. What is lesser known is that these cannabis compounds in its raw form do not actually have any noticeable effect on humans without being “decarboxylated” first. This is why cannabis plants are not generally consumed raw.
Activating the cannabinoids such as Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) with heat is essential to induce the psychoactive effects when consumed. This heating process is known as decarboxylation (aka decarbing).
There is a bit of chemistry which goes into the decarbing process - and also a lot of contradicting information on the topic. This makes it difficult to understand how you can decarboxylate cannabis in a way that is safe and effective.
If this all sounds too technical, don’t feel intimidated. We’ll take you through the important parts of decarboxylating cannabis, as well as mention a few methods to decarboxylating your own dried flowers at home.
What is decarboxylated cannabis?
Decarboxylation is the process in which the cannabinoids in cannabis such as THC are activated.
In its raw form, cannabis does not contain high concentrations of active compounds such THC and CBD. Instead, there are higher concentrations of their chemical precursors known as Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA).
Only through drying, curing or heating the cannabis flower, will the THCA and CBDA be converted into THC and CBD. This process of converting cannabinoids into its non-acidic counterparts is also known as decarboxylation.
Even though trace amounts of THCA are converted to THC in dried and cured cannabis, it is not enough to have any significant psychoactive effects when consumed. To speed up the process and ensure most of the THCA are converted into its psychoactive THC form, heat is required.
Why decarboxylate cannabis?
Without this chemical transformation, our bodies would simply eliminate the cannabinoids without producing any effect. Decarboxylation is not only necessary for making various cannabis edibles and cannabutter, but for vaping and smoking cannabis. Although with the latter, the cured flowers are decarboxylated through combustion.
Combustion happens at temperatures much higher than vaporization, which causes some of the terpenes and cannabinoids to be lost in the process. This is why edibles or vaping often deliver a more profound therapeutic effect than smoking joints, pipes or bongs.
The key ingredient of this process is heat. Too little means that the chemical bonds will not break down. Too much heat and you’ll burn the cannabinoids before they can be consumed. Either way, the end result is a combination of disappointment and wasted cannabis.
The second most important factor in decarboxylation is time. In the event of smoking a joint and using a dry herb vaporizer, the chemical transformation takes place very quickly and at higher temperatures. Cured cannabis requires at least 45 minutes to decarb, depending on your chosen decarboxylation method.
Although this is obviously still effective, it does not compare to the fuller concentration of cannabinoids which result from decarbing at a slightly lower temperature for a longer period of time. This is another reason why edibles seem more potent than other forms of cannabis.
How to decarb cannabis at home
No one wants to waste their precious herbs - especially if you’ve spent months carefully growing and curing your own crops. As complicated it seems, now that you understand the basics of decarbing cannabis it can be easy to do at home.
There is no specific method for decarbing cannabis. Unfortunately, there is a lot of contradicting information available on the internet, and it can be difficult to tell which way is best to go about it.
Depending on what tools and utensils you have available, you’ll be able to choose different decarboxylation methods. The most basic components you’ll need for decarboxylation are:
A heat source
Something to cover or hold the herbs
And of course, cannabis!
Regardless of the method you choose, it is important to lightly break up the cannabis flower before proceeding with decarboxylation. By doing this, you are increasing the surface area of plant material exposed to heat. This results in a more even roasting and fuller effects.
Be careful not to grind up your herb into pieces that are too small, though, as this may result in the plant material burning before decarboxylation even has a chance to occur.
We’ll take you through a few different methods of decarbing cannabis shortly. First, let’s discuss the importance of choosing the right temperature for decarboxylation.
The right temperature for decarbing cannabis
Did you know that cannabinoids decarboxylize at different temperatures? Understandably, this adds a little bit more to consider when choosing your decarbing temperature.
It’s also important to note that some ovens are more powerful than others. Both the temperature and the amount of time needs to be adjusted accordingly.
Although decarboxylation occurs at different rates in different cannabinoids, using a temperature setting above 150 degrees celsius will cause most of the plant’s compounds to denature after 30 to 45 minutes.
Therefore, when decarbing hybridised cannabis strains, the general rule of thumb is to heat the flowers at a temperature between 100 and 140 degrees for at least 45 minutes. You may require some wiggle room depending on your heat source, but generally, you can leave your cannabis to sit for up to 6 hours depending on your method of decarboxylation.
THCA generally begins to decarb at 100 degrees, where CBDA requires about 10 degrees higher to release its cannabinoids. This is important to keep in mind when dealing with cannabis strains which are either THC or CBD dominant.
You’ll know that the cannabis is decarboxylated when it is a light brown colour. You’ll also be able to smell the rich and sweet aroma of activated terpenes.
DIY decarboxylation methods
There are definitely more ways to decarboxylate cannabis yourself, but these are the most widely used methods. Although the equipment, time frame, and the amount of attention may vary, each of these methods produces a strong vapour that will travel. If you’re not looking to hotbox your own home, keep lots of windows open for ventilation.
Decarbing cannabis on the stove (Cannabis-infused oil)
Decarbing your herb directly into an oil base is a great method for cooking with cannabis. Because activated cannabis is fat-soluble, they will move from the plant material into the oil or butter directly.
The general rule when measuring out the oil-to-cannabis ratio is 1:1. However, if you have a less potent strain of cannabis you can increase the amount of oil to encourage a greater extraction. If your cannabis is on the stronger side, you can use slightly less oil to create a stronger end result. Feel free to modify our recipe portion sizes below as long as you have a close to 1:1 oil-to-cannabis ratio.
The tools needed for this method are a medium-sized pot and a sieve or piece of cheesecloth to strain out the larger plant material. With this method, the finer your herbs are ground the better. As long as you don’t let your mixture burn, the cannabis is not at risk of being scorched.
With the stove-top approach, you do need to make sure that you keep an eye on your mixture. You can use a variety of oil types, ranging from butter to coconut oil, but you need to keep in mind that some oils heat up much faster than others.
You will need to let the mixture simmer (not boil) for 3 to 6 hours to achieve a full decarboxylation. Regular checking and stirring will help your herbs infuse better, as well as prevent uneven heating. Once this is complete, simply strain out the oil and substitute it in any recipe for an automatic cannabis-infused dish, snack, or dessert.
1 medium-sized pot
Dry herb grinder
Fine sieve / cheesecloth
½ cup oil
½ cup dried cannabis
Grind Cannabis: Using a grinder, grind the dried flower to a fine and evenly ground consistency.
Pro tip: Use an electric coffee grinder for a fast and consistent grind.
Combine: In a medium-sized pot, mix together the dried cannabis and the oil
Simmer: Let the mixture simmer over low heat for 3-6 hours, stirring regularly to prevent scorching the mixture.
Let Cool: Take cannabis mixture off the heat source and let cool for 5 minutes.
Strain Mixture: Using the sieve or cheesecloth, strain the oil and filter out any ground cannabis from the mixture.
Pro tip: Try using multiple cheesecloths if you find some of the smaller bits of ground cannabis is passing through the filter.
Enjoy: Your cannabis-infused oil is now ready to use!
Decarbing cannabis in the oven
This is one of the most widely used methods of decarboxylation. However, it is quite far from the most scientific. Not only do different ovens generate different amounts of power, but they all fluctuate slightly throughout the cooking process.
This method requires the oven to be preheated as close to the desired temperature as possible. Preheating will ensure there are minimal changes in temperature between the beginning and end of the decarbing process. It also requires you to monitor your cannabis while it’s cooking to prevent burning. This can usually be avoided if you’re more familiar with your appliance.
For this method, you will need a container for your cannabis such as a tray lined with parchment paper or tin foil and covered tightly with another sheet of foil on top. This helps stabilise the temperature as well as prevents scorching your herbs. You can also use an oven-proof mason jar to catch the tasty vapour and avoid excess waste.
Top tip: by slightly crumbling your bottom layer of parchment or foil, you will create space between the hot baking tray and the herbs, which can prevent uneven heating and burning.
Baking paper or foil
Dry herb grinder
½ cup dried cannabis
Preheat Oven: Preheat oven to 115°C.
Lightly Grind Cannabis: Using a hand grinder, lightly grind the dried flower.
*Note: Try not to grind excessively as it may pass through the cheesecloth when straining.
Decarb Cannabis: Line a flat baking tray with baking paper or foil and spread ground-up cannabis evenly over the tray. Insert the tray into the oven and heat for 35 minutes.
Remove From Heat: Remove from oven after 35 minutes.
The cannabis has now been decarboxylated and ready for use in your favourite cannabis-infused recipe.
Decarbing cannabis in a pressure cooker
This quick and easy method involves using a pressure cooker to heat the cannabis for decarboxylation. What’s great about this method is that it doesn’t require you to constantly monitor the temperature of the water. All you have to do is find an airtight, heat-proof container like a mason jar, break up your cannabis and let your pressure cooker do its thing.
Note: As pressure can build up inside the mason jar, make sure the lid is fitted on loosely. (finger tighten - turning a few times but not fully secured)
Mason jar with lid
Dry herb grinder
Wire rack for pressure cooker
½ cup dried cannabis
Lightly Grind Cannabis: Using a hand grinder, lightly grind the dried flower into roughly the size of a grain of rice.
Jar the Cannabis: Place the cannabis into the mason jar, making sure not to tighten the lid too securely (finger tighten).
Pressure cooker: Place the mason jar into the pressure cooker on a wire rack. Set the pressure cooker to high for 40 minutes.
Quick release: Manually release the pressure on the pressure cooker.
Let cool: Remove the manson jar from pressure cooker and let it cool for 20 minutes.
That’s it! Your cannabis has now been decarboxylated and ready for use.
You’re ready to decarb some cannabis
Decarboxylation may seem intimidating at first, especially considering that there is very little hard evidence to back up the perfect time and temperature. The good news is it doesn’t take a scientist to do some DIY decarbing. Trial and error are the best way to find the method that works for you.