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Cannabis 101

Cannabis Decarboxylation Walkthrough

12.14.21 - 4 min read

Summary 

  • It may sound like something done in a chemistry lab, but decarboxylation is simply the process of heating up marijuana to a specific temperature to “activate” the compounds in it. 
  • THC and CBD are synthesized from THCA and CBDA after the process of decarbing. 
  • You can decarb cannabis at home with just the appliances in your kitchen, smoking, vaping or by using special decarb machines. 

Interested in cooking with cannabis? A major part of maximizing the power of the plant is decarboxylation—the process of  “activating” cannabinoids through heat, making them ready to plug into the cannabinoid receptors in your body.  

Some friendly decarboxylation advice for the uninitiated—don’t be thrown off by all those syllables. If you’re wondering how to decarb cannabis, trust us when we say it can be (really, really) easy. In fact, decarbing marijuana is something you can do right at home with basic kitchen appliances. 

What is decarboxylation? 

Decarboxylation sounds like a complicated lab procedure, but the truth is that you’re probably a master decarboxylator already. If you’ve ever heated marijuana at all, you’ve already decarbed it. Consider yourself a total newbie? No worries! If you’ve ever successfully cooked something in the oven or microwave, high five, you’re ready for decarboxylating cannabis. Basically, decarboxylation is the process of heating up marijuana to a specific temperature to activate the compounds in it. 

When to decarb marijuana 

Simply put, you need to decarboxylate marijuana if you want to feel the potentially euphoric effects of THC or if you want the benefits of CBD. Raw cannabis plant doesn’t contain much CBD or THC just yet, these compounds are synthesized in marijuana from CBDA (cannabidiolic acid) and THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) respectively through the decarbing process. [Source] 

Decarbing can be as simple as touching a flame to the flower. But igniting cannabis can lead to partial loss of many of the compounds that make cannabis use enjoyable and beneficial for many. [Source] 

Additionally, if you want to make edibles that aren’t going to be baked or cooked before eating, you’ll need to decarb it—otherwise, you will just have marijuana-flavored food.  

Advantages of Decarbing Cannabis 

Cannabis chefs will tell you that a major advantage of decarboxylation is that it allows you to make any food into an edible. If you’ve ever wanted to make tinctures or turn your favorite non-baked goods into THC-infused ambrosia, then decarbed cannabis is what you’re looking for. 

How Does Decarbing Work? 

As we’ve explained, THCA and CBDA in raw cannabis are not the same THC or CBD that many of you are familiar with. Looking closely at a raw cannabis bud, you’ll notice lots of gooey, crystalline droplets covering it. These are the trichomes—glands where marijuana compounds like cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids are produced. Here you can find the cannabis acids mentioned above: THCA and CBDA. By exposing cannabis to heat, it ejects the “A”—an organic molecule called a carboxyl group—and leaves the THC and CBD that we know (and many of us happen to love). [Source]  

decarboxylating cannabis

Cannabis decarboxlation temperature 

A classic misstep of novice cooks the world over: assuming higher heat creates faster results. This is especially important when it comes to decarbing in the kitchen. 

In general, all the compounds in marijuana decarb at about 240ºF, but it is not instantaneous. Part of the reason decarbing takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour is that there is no set threshold when all the THC or cannabinoids cross over from acid to “activated.” Like microwaving a bag of popcorn, there will be a less than 100% pop rate. You need to give the cannabis time and, unless you are an expert on the strains you’re using and a maestro at manipulating your oven, there is some loss of compounds to be expected, either to burning or to inactivation. 

Cannabinoids 

The big two, THC and CBD, are probably the best-known cannabis compounds. Something to be aware of is their relatively low boiling points (315ºF and 320ºF for THC and CBD, respectively) compared to their decarbing temperature.[Source]  

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Terpenes 

Terpenes are what give cannabis strains their unique aromas and flavors and are as chemically variable as they are culinarily diverse. Some cannabis terpenes boil at temperatures much higher than cannabinoids, but others boil off mere degrees above the recommended decarbing temperature of 200ºF – 290ºF (95-145ºC). Destroying these compounds won’t get you any less high, but it may result in an acrid flavor that makes consuming your edibles into more of a chore than a delight.[Source]  

Flavonoids and Phytosterols 

Both flavonoids and phytosterols are common compounds found in all plants, and cannabis contains a variety that is common to all plant life yet unique to itself. Though prohibition has made cataloging the flavonoids and phytosterols in cannabis difficult, those that are known have a higher boiling point than cannabinoids.[Source]  

Chemistry of decarboxylation: THC and CBD 

If you’re comparing sativa-dominant strains vs indica-dominant ones, the good news is there are no adjustments to be made as you are mostly focused on THC production. The difference between decarbing for THC and CBD, however, is a bit more subtle. 

What’s the difference between CBD and THC when decarbing? 

For the most part, there is little difference between decarbing with THC or CBD in mind, though CBD carboxylation may benefit from slightly lower temperatures, closer to 230ºF (110ºC)

What happens if you are decarbing a THC/CBD balanced strain? 

If you’re decarbing a 1:1 strain, you will generally not have to adjust anything, but there is a decent chance that the ratio will favor one or the other depending on your process. A lower, longer bake will most likely favor a higher CBD ratio, while the recommended 240ºF (116ºC) for a 30-minute bake may cook off some CBD, thus favoring THC quantity. 

decarboxylate marijuana

Is decarboxylation necessary for edibles? 

Decarboxylation is necessary to activate the THC and marijuana cannabinoids, so any edibles that aren’t cooked need to be infused with decarboxylated cannabis.  

If you’re baking, it’s best to make cannabutter or canna-oil to use in the recipe. 

Can you make cannabutter without decarbing? 

Cannabutter and canna-oil can be made without decarbing, but the butter will be no more psychotropic than the sticks you get at the grocery store. That’s because the fats will pull the THC and CBD in their inactive acid states: THCA and CBDA. By decarboxylating cannabis first, the THC and CBD will be “activated,” and the butter can be applied to any food—hot or cold—and deliver the psychoactive effects. 

Also, worth noting—improperly decarbed butter and oil are susceptible to harmful pathogens. So, nutritionally speaking, it’s definitely best to decarb before making cannabutter. 

How to Decarboxylate Cannabis 

By now you know the importance of decarboxylation in any mode of cannabis consumption, but which method is the most efficient? Smoking marijuana requires high temperatures to combust the flower, but decarboxylation itself doesn’t require nearly so much heat. The key to decarbing when cooking is just like using a Crock-Pot: low and slow. And remember, you want your cannabis lightly browned, not dark brown. 

There are many ways to decarb at home, ranging from easy enough to unbelievably easy—it’s all a matter of how much THC loss matters to you and how much time you want to devote to the process. 

Natural Method 

Entropy affects cured marijuana—given time, cannabis will actually decarb itself, but this process takes an exceptionally long timeframe and provides no quality control. In other words, there’s no telling just how much of your THCA has been converted to THC. Unless you’ve got flowers and time to spare, and we’re talking over a year, this method is probably not ideal. (Hey, it would make a pretty cool long-term science experiment, though.) 

Baking Sheet 

By far the simplest and most common way to decarb marijuana is to bake it in an oven: Place a baking sheet-covered pan in the middle level of your oven 

Grind up your flower and spread it over a parchment-lined baking sheet 

Set your oven to 220- and 240-degrees Fahrenheit (105-115 C) and bake for 30 minutes 

You’ll notice that your cannabis has slightly changed its color to a more golden hue 

Don’t let it overheat and get too brown, this will make it lose its potency 

Oven Bag 

Nearly identical to the baking sheet method: 

  • Place a baking sheet-covered pan in the middle level of your oven 
  • Put your ground-up cannabis in an oven bag and tie it up 
  • Place it on the baking sheet 
  • Same temperature and time 
  • Let it cool for a bit and store for future use 

You can also throw an oven bag into a pot of water and boil for 90 minutes. Though it is more time-intensive, the major benefit to boiling is that the cannabis will not burn. 

Mason Jar 

Using a mason jar to decarb is great if you want to control odors: 

  • Set your oven between 220- and 240-degrees Fahrenheit  
  • Place the oven rack in the middle position 
  • Cover a baking tray with a sheet of baking paper with a lightly wet kitchen towel on top of it 
  • Put the ground cannabis flower in the jar 
  • Lightly screw on the lid (just don’t make it too tight, as this can cause the jar to burst) 
  • Place your jar on top of the towel 
  • Bake for approximately 60 minutes 
  • Carefully remove the jar from the oven and give it a shake every 15-20 minutes to make sure the cannabis is dispersed evenly 
  • When done let cool for 20-30 minutes 

WARNING: The glass will be VERY HOT!!! 

Microwave Oven 

For those without a lot of time to spare or who would like to scale test decarbing, using a microwave is a quick—albeit more hands-on—method.  

  • Grind the cannabis and put it in a microwave-safe bowl  
  • Cook on high for 90 seconds  
  • It should smell pungent but not burned. If you’re not getting either, run it for another minute and repeat as needed.  
  • Stay close, because if you smell burning you’ll need to stop the microwave immediately 

If you’re concerned about burning, you can also try a lower setting. (Just stand by and keep an eye on the microwave!) 

cannabis decarboxylation

Decarb Machine 

We just might be living in a golden age of cannabis consumption. Not only are there varied and powerful strains—we also have plethora of innovative tools to get the most out of them. So maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a dedicated decarboxylating machine exists. It consumes less energy than an oven and contains odors better than any other method (except maybe the good old mason jar). Plus, they even have sensors that turn off the heat as soon as they sense that the cannabis has reached its ideal temperature. If you foresee a lot of decarbing in your future, a decarbing machine may be worth the investment. 

Have more questions? The staff at your local RISE Dispensary loves to talk decarboxylation! 

Step-by-Step Decarboxylation Guide 

Oven 

  1. Preheat oven to 240°F(116ºC) 
  1. Grind cannabis 
  1. Place your ground cannabis in the desired receptacle: 
  1. Baking Sheet — line sheet with parchment or foil and place on oven rack 
  1. Oven Bag — tie a tight knot, place on a baking sheet (no liner needed), and place on oven rack. Leave some room in the bag for air to expand. 
  1. Mason Jar — leave the lid loosely on and place directly on oven rack 
  1. Bake for 30 minutes or until browned (if using a mason jar, let cool before opening) 

Microwave 

  1. Grind cannabis 
  1. Place it in a microwave-safe bowl or tray 
  1. Microwave on high for 90 seconds (or lower temperature setting depending on power output) 
  1. Remove bowl and smell. If not pungent, stir and return to the microwave for another 60–90 seconds, standing by to stop the microwave if burning. 
  1. Repeat Step 4 as needed 

Stovetop 

  1. Boil a large pot of water 
  1. Grind cannabis 
  1. Place cannabis in an oven bag and tie in a tight knot 
  1. Place bag in boiling water for 90 minutes 
  1. Remove and let cool 
decarb cannabis-banner

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