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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…
What is decarboxylation?
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:
- Preventing nausea & vomiting
- Overcoming anxiety
- Fighting bacteria
- Inhibiting breast cancer cell migration
- Reducing epilepsy-related seizures
- Relieving pain & inflammation
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:
- By Curing Cannabis: The fastest way to achieve decarbed cannabis is by heating it. But, cannabis also gets decarboxylated during the curing process, at least to some extent. This is when raw cannabis leaves and flowers are trimmed and laid out to dry. With time, the cannabinoids slowly begin to transform.
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.
- By Heating Cannabis: The fastest, the most reliable, and the most effective way of activating the cannabinoids in marijuana or hemp are by applying heat. For decarbing different cannabinoids, you need to heat the cannabis leaves and flowers for different time periods. They also require different temperatures to activate. For instance, CBD needs a slightly higher temperature and longer decarb time than THC. However, it still boils down to experimentation. While 230°F is the optimal temperature to gently decarb cannabinoids, without destroying them or the terpenes that give cannabis strains their signature scents and flavors, heating the cannabis at temperatures above 300°F will only destroy the cannabinoids, as well as the terpenes.
- Smoking/Vaping: The easiest method to decarb cannabis is to simply light it up. Apart from heating it, smoking or vaporizing it ensures its immediate absorption into the bloodstream. You can also heat it in an oven before smoking or vaping it too. However, smoking isn’t always the best suited for those who are using it to overcome other addictions and suffer from dehydration.
- Heating in the oven: For this method, you need marijuana flowers, a baking sheet, and an oven set to 230°F. Break the cannabis buds into small pieces to ensure even heating and then spread them evenly over the baking sheet. Heat the material slowly in low flame for around 30 to 45 minutes (or until the material turns medium brown).
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.
- Sous Vide Method: This method allows you to maintain the precise temperature, while preventing the buds from drying. For this method, you need a sous vide precision cooking device, a vacuum sealing machine and bags (you can replace the last two items with heat-safe zip lock bags), a 10 quart pot, and a weed grinder.
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.
- Specialized Decarboxylation Devices: There are some devices that are specially designed for this purpose. Generally, large-scale facilities use large specialized decarboxylating ovens to activate large batches of cannabis. However, smaller, do-it-at-home decarboxylating devices are also available that can ensure precise timing and temperature control.
- Microwaving: While microwaving it is a speedy process, it is not a preferred method. Microwaves generate temperatures that can easily destroy both cannabinoids and terpenes.
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:
- Caryophyllene: Gives out a spicy smell. It offers many therapeutic benefits for treating ulcers, arthritis, and gastrointestinal problems.
- Limonene: This is a citrus-smelling terpene. It offers anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. It can also help with depression and heartburn.
- Linalool: Flower-like sweet smelling, this terpene has medicinal values that include relief from depression and anxiety.
- Myrcene: Myrcene gives away an earthy smell. It is good for relieving muscle tension, curing insomnia, as well as alleviating chronic pain.
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:
- Preheat your oven to 230° F.
- Break up the cannabis buds and flowers into tiny pieces of one ounce or less.
- Place the pieces evenly on a baking sheet in a single layer. Make sure not to leave any empty space on the pan.
- Bake it for around 40 minutes, stirring it every 10 minutes.
- Once the cannabis is dry and turns a medium brown color, remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the cannabis cool. You will find the material turn crumbly.
- Pour it into a food processor and work it until the cannabis is coarsely ground.
- Store the end product in an airtight container to ensure freshness.
The process of activating cannabinoids may seem pretty easy. But there are two things you must remember:
- Make sure the temperature doesn’t reach 300°F. You will lose most of the cannabinoids and the terpenes along with it.
- Decarbing cannabis activates all the cannabinoids in it. If you want a CBD-heavy product, you need to leave the complicated task of its extraction to the professionals.
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/