What is Decarboxylation?
A raw cannabis plant doesn’t have tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Instead, it has tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA). These inactivated acidic cannabinoids contain an extra carboxyl ring that prevents users from experiencing the expected results of cannabis.
THCA, for instance, is non-psychoactive. And while researchers are beginning to look into the potential benefits of CBDA, CBD is still widely considered to be the more advantageous compound 1, 2 Formato, M., Crescente, G., Scognamiglio, M., Fiorentino, A., Pecoraro, M. T., Piccolella, S., Catauro, M., & Pacifico, S. (2020). (‒)-Cannabidiolic Acid, a Still Overlooked Bioactive Compound: An Introductory Review and Preliminary Research. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 25(11), 2638. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25112638 .
Decarboxylation, or decarbing for short, is the process that converts THCA and CBDA to THC and CBD by removing that extra carboxyl ring. This is a chemical reaction that results from applying heat to the marijuana plant 3 Wang, M., Wang, Y. H., Avula, B., Radwan, M. M., Wanas, A. S., van Antwerp, J., Parcher, J. F., ElSohly, M. A., & Khan, I. A. (2016). Decarboxylation Study of Acidic Cannabinoids: A Novel Approach Using Ultra-High-Performance Supercritical Fluid Chromatography/Photodiode Array-Mass Spectrometry. Cannabis and cannabinoid research, 1(1), 262–271. https://doi.org/10.1089/can.2016.0020 .
But the process isn’t as simple as nuking your raw plant in the microwave or placing it in the oven at 450° and sitting back for an hour. Not enough heat can result in a reduction in the amount of THC and CBD that is converted, while too much heat can destroy the active compounds altogether. The process itself requires precision and an understanding of the chemistry involved to achieve optimal results 4 Perrotin-Brunel, Helene & Buijs, Wim & van Spronsen, Jaap & Roosmalen, Maaike & Peters, Cor & Verpoorte, Robert & Witkamp, Geert-Jan. (2011). Decarboxylation of Δ 9-tetrahydrocannabinol: Kinetics and molecular modeling. Journal of Molecular Structure – J MOL STRUCT. 987. 67-73. 10.1016/j.molstruc.2010.11.061. .