Cannabinoids found in nature, like in cannabis plants, are inactive and acidic in nature. To have any effect on our body and mind, these compounds need a bit of nudge to be activated. Only then can they be of any use to us.
Did you notice we mentioned both “inactive” and “acidic” in one sentence?
The reason: To activate these cannabinoids, their chemical composition must also be altered – i.e., transformed from an acidic form to a non-acidic one. The process that activates these compounds is called decarboxylation of cannabis.
If you are first-time marijuana or CBD oil user or you have heard of this term before but isn’t very sure about what it means and what it really does, read on…
Decarboxylation is a chemical reaction that removes a carboxyl group from a complex compound and releases carbon dioxide. When cannabis is decarboxylated, a carbon atom is removed from a carbon chain.
While cannabis, when kept dry for a period of time, undergoes decarboxylation on its own, there are other ways to speed up the process, like heating it up.
Although heating or smoking it definitely offers the most bioavailability, it is not always considered the safest method of using it if you are looking to draw therapeutic benefits from cannabis. There are various other methods of activating cannabinoids that can provide users relief from different symptoms or ailments.
We understand that two key catalysts of the process are time and heat. Depending on why a user wants or needs to consume CBD, he or she can choose a product that has been decarboxylated in one method or another.
However, we must understand that this process doesn’t entirely convert all of the acidic cannabinoid content in any sample. That is why a certain level of acidic cannabinoids – like cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) – often still remain in any cannabis product.
So, now that we have understood what decarboxylation of cannabis really is, let us find out how it helps us.
Benefits & the Science behind it
Earlier, CBDA (cannabidiolic acid – the inactive form of CBD) was considered a useless cannabinoid by scientists. However, researchers have recently been studying its potential in the medical world.
To make the most of it, CBD must first be decarboxylated. While CBD, like its inactive form, isn’t intoxicating, the decarbed form produces quite a few mild effects that are often useful to humans in calming anxiety, relieving pain, and helping overcome insomnia.
Most CBD products available in the market are made from decarboxylated cannabis – both in the case of hemp and marijuana.
This is done to make cannabinoids pharmacologically active and maximize their therapeutic benefits. That is to say: decarboxylation ensures you get the most out of any CBD product you purchase.
According to a 2017 study , published in the Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine, decarbing cannabis does, in fact, significantly increase the final concentrations of cannabinoids in the oil.
However, CBDA is also believed to have some beneficial therapeutic effects when taken by itself or with other cannabinoids, including:
A 2000 study revealed that more CBD-A in a hemp plant can produce much greater antimicrobial potency than decarbed CBD.
Besides, a 2013 study , published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, proved that CBD-A could be used as a better alternative to THC in preventing nausea and vomiting, without causing the psychoactive effects of THC. CBD-A also has significant benefits in curbing anticipatory nausea associated with chemotherapy in cancer patients.
Another study, conducted in 2012, shed more light on the idea that CBD-A can help control the growth of tumors in cancer patients. this study  that was published in Toxicology Letters found that CBDA could work to inhibit the migration of breast cancer cells.
Even though heat and time are key catalysts in decarbing cannabis for extracting active CBD, simply heating or baking raw cannabis or after mixing in food does not suffice in getting the maximum benefit from it.
That is because these methods aren’t enough to properly decarboxylating cannabis. In fact, smoking too does not decarb the CBD sufficiently or evenly. So there is no guarantee on how well its properties will be effective on us.
That is why using decarboxylated cannabis is the ideal strategy for those looking to make the most out of cannabinoids.
Different methods of decarboxylating cannabis
Activating cannabinoids within cannabis can actually be done quite easily and in several ways. There is no ideal way of doing it. It depends on how we want the end result to be. It often requires a bit of trial and error to get it right. Here are a few common methods:
Although this isn’t the most effective way of decarbing marijuana, the fact that this process partially does the job may be the reason why some people feel ill or high after eating raw cannabis that’s been sitting for some time.
To decarb kief (resinous crystals of cannabis), spread it evenly on an oven-safe dish in a 250°F oven and bake it for around 20 minutes. In case of hash oil or shatter, preheat the oven to 200°F and place the concentrate on a piece of parchment paper, leaving sufficient space for the oil to spread as it heats and melts. Heat it for around 20 minutes until it stops bubbling. Turn the oven off and let it to cool on the dish. You can also place it in the freezer to complete the cooling process faster.
Whether you are using cannabis flowers, kief, or hash oil, you can now be mixed with edible products or placed in vaping machine.
For this, you need to grind the weed into a coarse grain and place it into the bag and seal it. Fill the pot with water and place the sous vide device inside, which has already been set at 230°F. Once the water reaches the desired temperature, place the plastic bag inside and leave it in for about an hour and a half. This method provides you with evenly-decarboxylated cannabis, with no fear of burning it or drying it out.
Terpenes & their benefits
When decarboxylating cannabis, make sure to control the temperature. While a lower temperature may mean a longer time to decarb cannabis, too high temperatures can destroy both the cannabinoids and the terpenes. Meanwhile, delaying the process by heating it at lower temperatures allows you to retain more terpenes.
You may have noticed, we keep mentioning the need to preserve the terpenes. Yes, the terpenes are necessary ingredients of the CBD oil.
The terpenes are oils that not only give cannabis its unique smell and flavor, they also offer a variety of benefits.
Some of the most popular terpenes in cannabis include:
Apart from their innate medicinal values, terpenes have another very important role. Terpenes have been found to actually intensify CBD’s power. So while decarbing the cannabis, we should ensure the temperature does not reach 300°F.
Trying decarbing at home?
If you are considering trying it at home, you can do it. But keep in mind this will NOT help you extract CBD. When you decarb cannabis to activate CBD in the cannabis, you are also activating the THC in it.
To decarboxylate cannabis at home, you can follow these simple steps:
The process of activating cannabinoids may seem pretty easy. But there are two things you must remember:
Hope this article helped clarify all questions you may have about the terms “CBD decarboxylation” and “decarboxylation of cannabis”. To learn more about CBD bioavailability, click here.
- Evaluation of cannabinoids concentration and stability in standardized preparations of cannabis tea and cannabis oil by ultra-high performance liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry; Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine; August 28, 2017; Pacifici R, Marchei E, Salvatore F, Guandalini L, Busardò FP, Pichini S; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28207408
- Cannabidiolic acid prevents vomiting in Suncus murinus and nausea-induced behaviour in rats by enhancing 5-HT1A receptor activation; British Journal of Pharmacology; February 25, 2013; D Bolognini, EM Rock, NL Cluny, MG Cascio, CL Limebeer, M Duncan, CG Stott, FA Javid, LA Parker, and RG Pertwee; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3596650/
- Cannabidiolic acid, a major cannabinoid in fiber-type cannabis, is an inhibitor of MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cell migration; Toxicology Letters; September 8, 2012; Takeda S, Okajima S, Miyoshi H, Yoshida K, Okamoto Y, Okada T, Amamoto T, Watanabe K, Omiecinski CJ, Aramaki H; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22963825
Decarboxylation Study of Acidic Cannabinoids: A Novel Approach Using Ultra-High-Performance Supercritical Fluid Chromatography/Photodiode Array-Mass Spectrometry; Cannabis & Cannabinoid Research; December 1, 2016; Mei Wang, Yan-Hong Wang, Bharathi Avula, Mohamed M Radwan, Amira S Wanas, John van Antwerp, Jon F Parcher, Mahmoud A ElSohly, and Ikhlas A Khan; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5549281/