What is decarboxylation?
Decarboxylation (de-carb-OX-yl-a-tion) or decarbing refers to the process of heating cannabis to activate the psychoactive compounds found in the plant. This is what makes you feel high when you consume cannabis. This process takes the raw form of some cannabinoid acids (like THCA) and converts it into the cannabinoids we're more familiar with (THC).
Decarboxylating sounds complicated but it's as simple as heating, via the flame of a lighter, the atomizer in a vape pen, a torch with a dab rig, or an oven when making edibles. Some decarboxylation happens over time when drying and curing cannabis.
The Science of Decarboxylation
As mentioned above, decarbing takes the raw form of most cannabinoid acids and converts it. But what exactly happens in that conversion process? Let's take a look at THCA. In the plant it has an extra carboxyl ring in its chemical structure, and heat removes that ring (or de-carboxylates) the compound, converting it from THCA to THC. When activated, cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a network of cannabinoid receptors found throughout the body. These interactions are what creates the various effects of cannabis.
Decarboxylating cannabis for cooking
So we know that in order to active cannabinoids we need to add heat, otherwise we wouldn't get high. When making edibles the process is essential, yet very simple. The chart below shows how quickly cannabinoids decarboxylate at various temperatures and times.
As a general rule of thumb, decarboxylate buds at 220°F (104°C) for 30-40 minutes. Keep in mind that this is just a general recommendation, temperatures and timing varies oven to oven so keep an eye on your cannabis while it cooks. If it turns brown too quickly or smells like it’s burning, turn down the heat.
Just like consuming edibles, you want to cook low and slow. This is to assure that the cannabinoids and terpenes remain in tact. Decarbing at too high of temperatures (300°F+) will burn off and evaporate cannabinoids and terpenes, causing your edibles to have an undesirable aroma and flavor, and most importantly, make your cannabis ineffective.
It's recommended to grind you buds before cooking them to broaden the surface area and create an even consistency, ensuring all your weed decarbs at the same time.
How to decarboxylate cannabis at home
Parchment paper or aluminum foil
Cannabis grinder (optional)
Set the oven temperature to 220ºF, with the oven rack in the middle position.
Line the baking sheet, and lightly break up or grind the cannabis onto it, but not too fine, to avoid burning.
Heat for 30-40 minutes, stirring at least once.
Let cool for 30 minutes at room temperature. The cannabis should look lightly toasted and golden brown.
When cool enough to handle, add the decarboxylated cannabis to butter, oil, or another base for an infusion, or carefully put it in a storage container for future use.
Alternatively, if you use a vaporizer to consume cannabis, keep the leftover used flower in a storage container to save for future use. This is also decarboxylated cannabis and can be used to make edibles and other infusions.