What Is Decarboxylation in Cannabis?

Published October 28, 2022
What Is Decarboxylation in Cannabis? - Secret Nature

It’s certainly possible to whip up a passable edible recipe on the fly, but true connoisseurs know that baking edibles or otherwise cooking with cannabis is something of an art. At the core of this modern, mind-bending art form is a simple process called decarboxylation.

The name may be complicated, but decarboxylation itself is dead simple. If you don’t do it, though, you’ll fail to properly breathe life into your buds before baking. Learn what decarboxylation is and how to do it properly in this guide.

What is decarboxylation?

Decarboxylation is the process of heating cannabis buds to activate their cannabinoids. In raw cannabis buds, the majority of cannabinoids remain in their carboxylic acid forms, characterized by an additional carboxyl group attached just above a cannabinoid molecule’s “tail.”

These carboxyl groups are more sensitive to heat than other components of the cannabinoid molecule. Exposed to relatively low heat, cannabinoids shed these carboxyl groups while otherwise staying intact — that’s the process of decarboxylation.

Why is decarboxylation important?

The carboxyl groups attached to raw cannabinoids not only look clunky, but they also get in the way as psychoactive cannabinoids like THC attempt to bind with your brain’s CB1 and CB2 receptors. In other words, without being properly decarboxylated, weed won’t get you high.

How does decarboxylation work?

Decarboxylation naturally occurs when cannabinoids are exposed to oxidative stress, which can emerge from a variety of different sources. UV light and age naturally cause cannabinoids to decarboxylate, but the process can be significantly hastened by the application of heat.

For most cannabinoids, the point of vaporization or incineration is much higher than the point of decarboxylation. As a result, application of low temperatures (though greater than the heat generated inside the human body) activates cannabinoids without damaging or gasifying them.

At what temperature does decarboxylation occur?

Each cannabinoid has a different decarboxylation temperature. The decarboxylation temperatures of 5 common cannabinoids are listed in Fahrenheit below:

  • THC: 230°
  • CBD: 265°
  • CBG: 230°
  • CBC: 265°
  • CBDV: 265°

How to decarboxylate cannabis and hemp step-by-step

Ready to make sure your cannabis or hemp is properly decarboxylated? The process is simpler than you might think, and you probably already have everything you need laying around the house. Follow these six simple steps to decarboxylate your buds like a pro:

1. Arrange your materials

First, make sure you have everything you need:

  • Cannabis/hemp (3.5g or more to make potent edibles)
  • Grinder
  • Baking sheet
  • Parchment paper (optional)
  • Timer

2. Preheat your oven

Next, preheat your oven to the decarboxylation temperature for your desired cannabinoid. You don’t have to be precise — simply set the oven to 250°, and any cannabinoid you might have in your possession will decarboxylate within around 30 minutes.

3. Grind your cannabis

This step is somewhat controversial, so we’ll discuss it in detail. It is our position that yes, it is a good idea to grind your buds prior to decarboxylation. Why would some say otherwise, though?

Nay-sayers to grinding before decarbing contend that cannabis reaches the same temperature whether it’s ground up or not. The mess of picking up tiny pieces of heated-up cannabis isn’t worth it when you can simply grind afterward.

In our opinion, though, grinding buds before decarbing allows heat to pass through the plant material more evenly and efficiently, accomplishing your goal over less time and with less heat applied. As long as you have a system in place to prevent messes, definitely grind first and decarb after.

4. Arrange it on a cookie sheet

Any cookie sheet will do for this step, but just make sure it’s fully clean and doesn’t have any residual cooking oils on its surface. Spread the ground-up bud across the surface of the sheet — to avoid messes and improve airflow, optionally put a sheet of parchment paper on top of the cookie sheet before spreading your buds.

5. Put it in the oven

Once preheated to 250°F or thereabouts, put the cookie sheet with the hemp buds in the oven. Make sure to avoid any exhaust fans or other sources of airflow in the process since they can scatter your ground buds.

6. Wait 20-30 minutes

Keep your buds in the oven for at least 20 minutes and no more than 30-35. THCA decarboxylates slightly faster than CBDA at 250°F, so take THC buds out of the oven a little sooner than you would with CBD hemp. Make sure to allow your buds ample time to cool before handling.

The bottom line: Do I need to decarboxylate my weed?

Why is all this fuss even necessary? Because you get better results in the end.

When smoking or vaping cannabis, the high temperatures applied immediately decarboxylate cannabinoids before you inhale them. When making edibles, however, there’s the off chance that the buds inside your treats will decarboxylate unevenly, reducing the overall potency of the batch.

Decarboxylation is even more essential when using buds for non-baking culinary purposes. Sprinkling ground-up cannabis buds on a salad, for instance, will be pointless unless you transform the THCA inside into THC first via the process of decarboxylation.

So, is decarboxylation necessary in every situation? Definitely not. Every time you want to bake reliably potent edibles or otherwise infuse cannabinoids into delicious dishes, however, you should definitely decarboxylate your buds ahead of time to ensure you enjoy the results you’re looking for.

Decarboxylation FAQ

Learn more about the art of decarboxylating hemp and cannabis buds in the FAQ section below:

— Do you grind buds before decarbing?

Yes, it is generally recommended that you grind hemp or cannabis buds prior to decarboxylation. If you don’t take this additional step, the cannabinoids in the interior of your buds will take longer to decarboxylate than those on the exterior, resulting in a process that takes longer and provides results that aren’t as reliable.

If you’re having issues grinding your buds before decarbing, make sure you’re using the right tools. A proper baking sheet and piece of parchment paper will provide everything you need for a safe and productive decarboxylation experience.

— Is decarboxylation necessary for edibles?

Yes, it is recommended that you decarboxylate cannabis buds intended to be used in edibles prior to baking to ensure maximum cannabinoid expression. While temperatures inside your edibles will exceed the decarboxylation point of cannabinoids during baking, the period of time in which you bake your edibles may not be sufficient to achieve decarboxylation of all the cannabinoids in your cannabis.

Even if your edibles have long enough to properly decarboxylate, they’ll decarb unevenly depending on their position within the dough or batter. For the best experience, always decarb buds you intend to bake with.

— How long does decarboxylation take?

The process of decarboxylating cannabis should not take any longer than 30 minutes. Depending on the temperature you use and the cannabinoid in question, your buds could be completely decarboxylated after only 20 minutes. Decarboxylation doesn’t take as long when you grind your buds first.

— What happens if you decarboxylate too long?

If you decarboxylate your buds for too long, you’ll end up burning off terpenes and cannabinoids. While 230-265°F might not be a particularly high temperature to bake cannabis at for a short period, heat accumulates in oils over time and will eventually cause the cannabinoids in your buds to vaporize.

As a result, buds that have been decarboxylated for too long become less potent. You generally should never decarboxylate cannabis for more than 30 minutes, and after more than an hour has passed, your buds will definitely have lost some potency.

— Can you decarboxylate at 200 degrees?

Yes, it is technically possible to decarboxylate cannabis at a temperature as low as 200°F. Setting the temperature in your oven this low (if your oven even goes that low), however, will extend the duration of the decarboxylation process from 30 minutes to an hour or longer. That’s why most experienced decarboxylators set their ovens to 250 degrees — that and the fact 250 degrees is the minimum temperature on most ovens.

— Does decarboxylation happen naturally?

Yes, cannabinoids naturally decarboxylate over time. By the time all the cannabinoids in cannabis flower have turned into their decarboxylated forms, however, the flower itself will be so old and dry it’s essentially dust. Don’t just trust weed to decarboxylate as it ages — fully decarboxylate fresh buds in the oven instead.

— Does decarboxylating cannabis smell?

Yes, terpenes burn off faster than cannabinoids, so your baking buds will start emitting a characteristic cannabis odor long before they’re done decarboxylating. Turn on your exhaust fan before you get started to avoid drawing the wrong kind of attention, and make sure to let others in your home know before you start baking your delicious buds.

— How do you decarboxylate without losing terpenes?

To be honest, it’s pretty much impossible to decarboxylate cannabis flower without causing at least some terpenes to evaporate. The lower you set your decarboxylation temperature, however, the better chance the terpenes in your flower will have to avoid being gasified over the course of the decarboxylation process.
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