Last Updated on 6 months by Plain Jane
What is decarboxylation, and what is the most efficient way to do it? If you are a cannabis enthusiast, these are just some of the questions and skills you might need to manufacture your own edibles and benefit from the psychoactive effects of the cannabis plant and its by-products.
What Is Cannabis Decarboxylation?
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The cannabis plant is another plant with hardly any effect on the human mind and body—until you introduce heat. Decarboxylation is the process of activating the THCA, a compound present in the cannabis plant that doesn’t get you high unless it is introduced to heat and turns to THC, which is what gets you high.
Tetrahydrocannabinol acid (THCA) is the most common compound in cannabis. It has an extra carboxyl ring within its chemical structure, which can be removed by introducing heat. This is often done through several processes, including:
- Introducing it to a lighter
- A torch that has a dub ring
- Baking when making edibles
- The atomizer in your vape pen
Once heat is introduced, that extra carboxyl ring is removed or essentially decarboxylated (which is where the term comes from), and what remains is THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), the main psychoactive compound in cannabis.
How Decarboxylation Works
Decarboxylation is a process that requires heat and takes time. The more heat you introduce to the cannabis, the quicker decarboxylation occurs. In the case of smoking weed, the high temperature introduced to the plant by your lighter instantly vaporizes the decarboxylate compounds in your weed, making THC immediately available to your body.
It doesn’t, however, require an extremely high amount of heat as some decarboxylation occurs when drying or curing cannabis. Oxygen also contributes to the process. That is why keeping your cannabis products in an air-tight container is always advisable. This helps maintain their freshness and keeps decarboxylation from occurring over time and reducing their potency.
How Does Decarboxylation Occur in Edibles
To get high from any cannabis product, the THCA in it has to be turned into THC, which only occurs through the decarboxylation process. When dealing with edibles, the process occurs in three steps:
Buds are heated in an oven. The first thing edible producers do is heat the cannabis buds in an oven. This introduction of heat to the buds decarboxylates them, activating the THC.
- Infusing of the buds: Once the THC has been activated in the buds through the heating process, they are infused in a medium such as oil or butter.
- Final product: This infusion makes the THC-activated buds ready for use in any number of edible products, including cookies, brownies, and gummies.
It’s the first step that is crucial in this entire process. You have to heat the buds in an oven to activate the THC so that it can be carried into the infusion process and finally into the edible.
How Much Heat Is Necessary for Decarboxylation to Occur?
For decarboxylation to occur, the heat needs to be high. It often occurs between 200-245ºF. However, when making edibles, it’s recommended that you heat the buds at a temperature of around 220ºF for about 30 minutes.
When dealing with edibles, the decarboxylation process needs to be done at a lower temperature for a longer period of time. This is mostly done to keep the terpenes and cannabinoids intact when you infuse the buds.
Terpenes tend to be quite volatile and do evaporate when introduced to higher temperatures. This leaves behind not only undesirable flavors, which will ruin the edibles but also undesirable aromas.
If you heat your buds at 300ºF, for example, you will end up burning off the valuable terpenes and cannabinoids. This will leave you with undesirable flavors, aromas and a product that will not get you high even after infusion.
According to a study, THCA breaks down into different compounds when burned at different temperatures for different durations:
- THCA turns into THC when burned at 230ºF for 30 minutes but only for 9 minutes at 265ºF
- CBDA turns into CBD when burned at 230ºF for 45 minutes but only for 20 minutes at 265ºF
When decarboxylating cannabis in a high-heat environment, like in an oven, it’s important to remember that the temperature within these devices tends to fluctuate.
Temperatures within an oven can fluctuate by 20 degrees compared to what is indicated on the dial. It’s, therefore, necessary to keep an eye on the buds whenever you are heating them in your oven.
If they start to turn brown too quickly or they smell like they are burning, it’s advisable to turn the temperature in your oven down. This is one of the main reasons why it’s necessary to invest in an oven thermometer if you intend to do a lot of decarboxylating at home.
Can You Use a Microwave to Decarb Weed?
No, using a microwave to decarboxylate cannabis isn’t a good idea because there’s no way to regulate the temperature. Because decarboxylating cannabis is typically a slow and steady process that can take up to 45 minutes, depending on the temperature, an oven is frequently the best place to achieve this effect.
If you are not keen on using your regular kitchen oven, you can buy a small toaster oven with temperature regulation capabilities.
How to Decarb Fresh Cannabis Buds in the Oven
The process of decarbing buds in an oven is straightforward:
- Preheat the oven to 230°F
- Break the dried buds up into small pieces
- Place the small pieces on the baking sheet
- Bake it at 230°F for about 35 minutes, stirring it every 10 minutes to ensure that the buds are evenly roasting
Once the 35 minutes are done, check to see that the buds have evenly baked and have a light or medium brown color. They should be very dry at this point. If they haven’t achieved this level, it’s best to return them to the oven for a further 5–10 minutes. You should keep a very close eye at this point since they can easily burn.
Once the cannabis buds are done and cooled (they will have achieved decarboxylation at this point), put them in a food processor until coarsely ground, then mix into any edible process of your choice.
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