Young adult man holding marijuana cannabis

What is Decarboxylation & How Does it Work?

So, you’ve decided to start growing your own marijuana. Fantastic! You’re about to enter a new and exciting world that will completely transform your pot experience. But if you think this new adventure is going to be as simple as growing the plant and eating the raw bud, you’re in for a rude awakening. There’s one crucial step that’s required to prepare raw cannabinoids for activated consumption: decarboxylation.

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. .

Dried marijuana in marijuana joint

Why is Decarboxylation Necessary?

Technically, decarboxylation is only necessary if you want to experience the full benefits of the plant’s activated cannabinoids. However, the cannabinoids found in the raw plant have some benefits as well. For example, raw cannabinoids have been shown to improve memory and may even aid in the treatment of certain cancers 5, 6 Hampson, Robert E., & Deadwyler, Sam A. (1999). Cannabinoids, hippocampal function and memory. Life Sciences. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0024320599002945 .

Nevertheless, so much more is known about the benefits of activated cannabinoids than that of the inactivated. And if you want to experience the psychoactive effects of THC, decarbing is required.

Drying & Curing Your Plants

While there are those who enjoy juicing and eating raw cannabis plants, most of us are used to consuming dried flower. Drying and curing the plant preserves the cannabis, allowing it to be stored for a longer period of time before use. Curing can also jumpstart the decarboxylation process, converting some cannabinoids to their active forms before heat is applied.

Complete decarboxylation is still required to activate most of the cannabinoids, but drying and curing your plant is the first step.

Leave to Dry in a Cool, Dark Room

To dry your plant, take the harvested cannabis and place it in a cool, dark room. The ideal temperature for this room is between 60-70°F, with humidity between 45-55%. You may need to use a dehumidifier and an air conditioning unit to ensure these conditions are maintained, and a small fan to circulate the air is recommended.

The initial drying process can take a week or two to complete. You’ll know the plant is sufficiently dried when the flowers begin to feel crunchy, and the smallest branches can easily be snapped.

Cure Your Dried Buds

Once drying is complete, it’s time to cure. This can be accomplished by sealing your dried buds in an airtight container that’s preferably made of glass. You’ll want to place the container in a cool, dry, dark location for several weeks. You should open the container for just a few minutes each day for the first week, then every few days in the weeks that follow. This allows moisture to escape and oxygen to replenish.

This process can be accomplished in two to three weeks; however curing for up to two months can produce even better results. Once the process is complete, you can decarboxylate your plant.

How to Decarboxylate Your Flower

If you smoke or vape your dried flower buds, you’re in the clear – decarboxylation occurs by way of the heating method you use to consume. But if you’re hoping to make oils or edibles from your plant, you’ll need to decarb the flowers. For most people, completing this process in the oven is the simplest solution.

There are many differing opinions on the best temperature to achieve decarboxylation. We’ve created a decarboxylation temperature chart below to help determine which temperature you should be using and for how long you should be decarbing. Keep in mind that lower temperatures require longer periods of time, while higher temperatures run the risk of destroying cannabinoids if you decarb for too long.

You can decarboxylate your plant using an oven, a baking sheet, and parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 245°F, line your baking sheet with parchment paper, and spread your dried, cured flower out on top of the paper. For a high THC strain, decarboxylation can occur within 50-60 minutes at this temperature. For a high CBD strain, shoot for 60-90 minutes.

Remove your cannabis from the oven and allow it to cool. You now have properly decarboxylated marijuana.

Decarboxylation Temperature Chart

Oven Temperature Time for High THC Time for High CBD
300° F 10 to 18 minutes 15 to 25 minutes
245° F 50 to 60 minutes 60 to 90 minutes

Remember, decarboxylation temps and times are variable, use the oven light to watch that cannabis has changed from green to light brown before removing – decarbed cannabis should be very dry upon removal.

Decarboxylation FAQs

Is decarboxylation necessary for edibles?

In some edibles, decarboxylation isn’t necessary beforehand because it takes place during the baking process. This is true for pot brownies, for instance. But, in most cases, you will want to decarboxylate your marijuana prior to making edibles. Consider how long your edibles will be cooking for and at what temperature before deciding whether or not decarboxylation is necessary beforehand.

Why is decarboxylation important?

Decarboxylation is especially important for those who want to experience the psychoactive effects of THC. But, activating cannabinoids is also important for those who want to experience the full benefits of CBD.

How do you decarb flowers?

By baking dried and cured flowers in the oven for the appropriate amount of time and at the appropriate temperature (as detailed in our decarboxylation chart), decarboxylation can take place.

What happens during decarboxylation?

During decarboxylation, a chemical process takes place in which the extra carboxyl ring that makes THCA and CBDA an acid is removed, converting these cannabinoids into their activated forms, THC and CBD.

Sources
  1. 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
  2. Corroon, J., & Phillips, J. A. (2018). A Cross-Sectional Study of Cannabidiol Users. Cannabis and cannabinoid research, 3(1), 152–161. https://doi.org/10.1089/can.2018.0006
  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
  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.
  5. Hampson, Robert E., & Deadwyler, Sam A. (1999). Cannabinoids, hippocampal function and memory. Life Sciences. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0024320599002945
  6. Takeda, S., Himeno, T., Kakizoe, K., Okazaki, H., Okada, T., Watanabe, K., & Aramaki, H. (2017). Cannabidiolic acid-mediated selective down-regulation of c-fos in highly aggressive breast cancer MDA-MB-231 cells: possible involvement of its down-regulation in the abrogation of aggressiveness. Journal of natural medicines, 71(1), 286–291. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11418-016-1030-0

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