How and Why to Decarboxylate Cannabis
Decarboxylation is a crucial step in the process of creating nearly any cannabis product. Methods to incorporate this ‘decarbing’ step into an existing operation can vary, but its importance in creating valuable product is paramount. Failure to properly decarboxylate cannabis can limit potency and impact cannabinoid profiles – turning a productive crop into a bust at market.
Decarboxylation: The Why
Raw cannabis flower, believe it or not, does not contain the commonly known cannabinoids THC and CBD. Instead, these compounds exist with an added carboxyl in the form of a COOH acid pairing that is present in most organic compounds. The common cannabinoids therefore exist as THCA and CBDA, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid and cannabidiolic acid respectively, in their natural biological state within the plant.
In order for the human endocannabinoid system to utilize these potent cannabinoids, whether that be for psychoactive or medical purposes, these acids need to be removed from the molecular chain. Once these carboxyls (acids) are removed through decarboxylation, the cannabinoids can be far more readily absorbed and utilized within the body. Raw cannabis is not completely void of benefits but has similar health benefits to a vegetable or herb in a natural state. Decarbing cannabis unlocks the true potential of the plant.
Decarboxylation: The How
Decarboxylation involves two main catalysts to initiate the chemical process – heat and time. These are the most important factors to decarbing cannabis, regardless of the method or equipment used. Flowers dried naturally on the plant by the sun and air are decarbed in a basic sense, but further assistance is needed to truly activate the cannabinoids.
The most fundamental and frequently used decarbing method is smoking. By taking a flame to dried and cured cannabis flowers, immediate decarboxylation occurs, turning the THCA, CBDA, and other carboxylated cannabinoids present into smoke containing the active compounds that produce the well-known effects of consumption. Vaporization of flower also creates instant decarboxylation.
A more involved decarbing process that is used in the creation of cannabis extracts and solvents is to essentially bake the flowers under controlled conditions to initiate the chemical transition of raw cannabis flower into active compounds. Whether using large industrial scale climate controlled baking equipment, specifically designed decarboxylating machines, or at home with a normal oven, this process is essentially the same.
A temperature of around 230°F (110°C) is ideal to trigger decarboxylation without degrading any desirable terpenes found within the plant matter while also creating conditions that will not burn cannabis into an unusable state. 30-45 minutes at this temperature should properly decarb the batch of cannabis but the product should be stirred every 10 minutes to insure uniform drying and decarbing.
Too much heat, even for a short period of time, can quickly break down the cannabinoids and terpenes to render a worthless end result. Too much time, even at the suggested temperature, can also ruin a batch. Once the raw plant material has been properly decarbed, it can be ground, crushed, powdered, extracted, or emulsified in order to create any desired cannabis product.
Other methods of decarbing cannabis exist though they are yet to be as effective or reliable as simply baking the flower. As the industry progresses, new technologies may lead to new insights into decarboxylation but the method described here will produce properly decarbed product that can be used for any further application.
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