Cannabis,  Natural Health

How to Decarboxylate Cannabis to Use in Oils, Edibles & Salves

Are you interested in using cannabis to create homemade edibles, cannabis-infused oils, or healing topical salves? If so, it is very convenient and effective to start with cannabis that has been properly decarboxylated first. Wait, what? Don’t worry… It’s cool if you aren’t familiar with the term. This article will give you a quick run-down of what cannabis decarboxylation is and why it is important. Then, we’ll go over how to decarboxylate your cannabis, including easy step-by-step instructions on how to “decarb” cannabis in the oven. The result is a ready-to-use, versatile, activated cannabis product. 


What is Decarboxylation? 

Think of decarboxylation (also known as “decarbing”) as activating raw cannabis into an enhanced potent form. In more scientific terms, decarboxylation is the process of physically altering the chemical structure of various cannabinoid compounds found in raw cannabis plants – including both marijuana and hemp. 

When a cannabis plant is growing or freshly harvested, the cannabinoids found within the flower trichomes contain an extra carboxyl ring or group (COOH) attached to their molecular chain. The process of decarboxylating cannabis removes that carboxyl group from the cannabinoid molecule. This process is what effectively transforms THCA into active THC, described more below.

Some slow and natural decarboxylation occurs as fresh cannabis dries and cures after harvest. However, heat is the most quick and effective catalyst to trigger the cannabis decarb reaction. For example, decarboxylation is virtually instantaneous when cannabis is smoked or vaporized. 


A diagram showing how THCA turns into THC when it is heated.
The cannabis decarboxylation reaction. Diagram courtesy of Restek


Temperature and Decarboxylation


As we explored in this article about vaporizing cannabis, various cannabinoid compounds and terpenes respond to distinct temperature ranges. Some are activated, altered, or even destroyed at different temperatures. This is one of the many reasons we love using a dynamic heat range vaporizer rather than combusting (smoking) cannabis. You get to reap the benefits of far more intricate elements of the bud.

In the same manner, it is best to decarboxylate cannabis low and slow. Experts say that approximately 230-250°F is the “sweet spot” temperature to decarb cannabis. In that range, THCA converts to THC while also preserving many other beneficial cannabinoids and terpenes. The chemical reactions (and THC activation or degradation) will vary with time, as noted in the chart below.  


An L graph diagram showing how THC is activated when heated at different temperatures for different amount of times.
The content (activation or decomposition) of THC with time and temperature. Graph courtesy of 420 Magazine


Why Decarb Cannabis

In the cannabis community, the raw or non-decarboxylated cannabinoid compounds are referred to as the “acid” forms – such THCA or CBDA. Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid and the acidic precursor to potent CBD. Likewise, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) is not psychoactive until it is converted into the more well-known compound THC. For instance, when you ingest raw cannabis there is very little psychoactive effect or “high” experienced. Then, when cannabis is decarboxylated it becomes psychoactive

Obviously, this is important for folks who are hoping to feel the psychoactive effects of their cannabis edibles, oils, tinctures, or otherwise. Yet the benefit is so much more than just feeling the “high”. Both THC and CBD exude scientifically-proven powerful healing properties in their decarboxylated forms. This includes providing relief from anxiety, pain, inflammation, and more. THC and CBD readily absorb in our bodies and interact freely with our bodies endocannabinoid system to work their magic. 

On the other hand, the raw acid forms of THC and CBD (THCA and CBDA) also have some promising but lesser-studied medicinal applications of their own. Therefore, folks who are interested in a full-spectrum, ultra-healing experience may choose to use a combination of raw and decarbed cannabis in their homemade oils and salves. 


A pint mason jar is open and visible from the top, it is filled full of decarboxylated cannabis, the colors range from greenish yellow to purple and they all have a slight golden brown to them. Below the jar is a potted agave plant as well as garden beds that are filled with fava beans and mustard greens.
Isn’t it pretty? A mix of our homegrown Cookie Wreck and Gold Lotus, post-decarb.



Ways to Decarboxylate Cannabis

The good news is that it is very easy to decarb cannabis. Especially the way we do it – in the oven! Because the basic idea behind decarboxylating cannabis is to heat it, there are clearly many ways you could decarb cannabis at home. This includes heating it on the stove, in a double-boiler, or in a crock pot. Some people add it directly in food or oil as part of the final cooking process. 

However, those methods require more hands-on monitoring or stirring. Also, they easily lend themselves to accidentally overheating or unevenly heating the cannabis. Overheating will destroy many of the beneficial cannabinoids, and the resulting product can also become very lethargic. In contrast, decarbing cannabis in the oven is extremely precise, effective, and virtually hands-off.  The only easier (and odorless) option is to use one of these badass Nova or Magical Butter automatic decarboxylator devices.




HOW TO DECARBOXYLATE CANNABIS IN THE OVEN


  • Preheat oven to 250°F. Also, keep in mind that this is will make your house smell strongly of weed for a few hours. You’ve been warned.

  • Line a baking sheet or glass baking dish with parchment paper. This makes it easy to collect and package everything after baking.

  • Choose your cannabis of choice. We specifically save our more fluffy, loose, less-manicured homegrown buds for this. I also like to use the strains we grow that are high in both THC and CBD (as opposed to high-THC, low-CBD strains) to create well-balanced and healing oils or salves. You can obviously do this with a CBD-only strain of cannabis as well. If you’re using homegrown cannabis, it is best to use material that has already been properly dried and cured first. If you need tips about harvesting, drying, and curing homegrown cannabis – see this article.

  • Rip the buds into small pieces. See the photos below for scale. Some people grind their cannabis for decarboxylation, but I don’t find it necessary.

  • Now, decarboxylate the cannabis on 250°F for 25-30 minutes. You could also use a lower temperature for slightly longer time to preserve more terpenes (e.g. 230°F for 45 minutes). Refer to the chart above.

  • Some people cover their baking pan of cannabis with foil or second baking sheet upside down on top, in order trap any cannabinoids or terpenes that may volatilize in the process.

  • When the time is up, remove the tray from the oven and allow the cannabis material to fully cool. It should have changed from green to light brown.

  • Transfer the decarboxylated cannabis into a glass air-tight container with a tight-fitting lid, such as a mason jar.

  • Finally, store the jar of decarbed cannabis in a cool dark place, like you would with other cannabis.

  • Plan to use your decarbed cannabis to make oil, salve or edibles within 3-6 months. I recommend a year maximum, unless you wan’t a sleep aid! It won’t “go bad”, but over time the THC naturally degrades to CBN – a cannabinoid that makes weed very sleepy. Find our homemade cannabis-infused oil recipe here.


A two way image collage, the first image shows green and purple cannabis flowers arranged on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. The second image shows the flowers after they have been broken apart by hand to increase the surface are for decarboxylation while being heated in the oven.
Break up buds into small pieces.
A hand is holding some broken down cannabis flowers before they have been heated in the oven. The colors are bright green and purple.
Before decarboxylation.
A pint mason jar is on its side with decarboxylated cannabis flowers spilling out of it onto a washed concrete surface. The flowers have a darker golden brown hue to them after decarboxylation.
After decarboxylation.


That was easy, right?


Now you know how to decarboxylate cannabis, ready to infuse in oil, edibles, or use in any recipe that calls for decarbed cannabis! Learn how to make cannabis-infused oil here. Please remember to heed caution when you consume homemade cannabis products. Because it is challenging to determine exact potency, I highly suggest micro-dosing (taking only tiny amounts) at first.

In closing, I hope you found this article to be useful and enlightening! Please feel free to ask any questions, and spread the love by sharing this post.


Until then, you may enjoy these other related articles:


A hand holding a pint jar of decarboxylated cannabis. The jar is filled to the top with green and purple golden brown decarboxylated cannabis flowers. The background is a sea of green and purple vegetable plants.
Cheers!



DeannaCat signature, keep on growing

4 Comments

  • MJ Blanchette

    this is so fabulous! i’ll be ready and waiting the very minute your recipes hit the airwaves (er, no pressure tho). in considering just how much to decarb, can you give a sense how much oil might be extracted from say, a pint?

    thank you, thank you for this!!

    • MJ Blanchette

      ps. question 2 (and this might be a weird one, but…) since vaporized weed is heated to these specs, would those emptied bowls not technically be decarbed? so, if one were to save it…?

      • DeannaCat

        Hey MJ! So yes, your thinking is correct! The “spent” cannabis from a vaporizer is indeed decarbed. Many folks to keep their spent bowls to “recycle” and further make products with. Yet many of the good terpenes and some of the cannabinoids have been burned off when you inhale, and personally I am not as excited to use it because of the burned aroma – but it is possible!

      • DeannaCat

        I should also mention that it depends on your vape settings too… For example, we usually set our Firefly about 380. That is significantly higher than the ideal “low and slow” decarb temp. We get the benefits all temperature ranges (and terps, cannabinoids, etc) as our vaporizer heats up and passes through all the various temperatures, but at the end it has likely denatured or otherwise burned off the majority of the good stuff.

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