Most of us take for granted how the things we use every day are produced. Marijuana is no exception. All we really want is to roll a fat doobie and fly away. But what if we want to bake some pot brownies? Can we just pick a fresh bud, grind it up, and put it in the mix?
The quick answer, no, highlights the importance of knowing how marijuana products are produced and how they are made to do what they do.
To fully understand how to get the most out of our cannabis, we have to understand decarboxylation.
Yeah, we know it’s a big word that can be a bear to pronounce, but it’s an integral part of the marijuana experience. The fact that we’ve dedicated an entire article to the process should tell you just how important decarboxylation really is.
And don’t worry, we’ll keep our explanations simple so you come out understanding everything you need to know about decarboxylation (even how to pronounce it correctly).
So let’s dive right into the whys and hows of the decarboxylation process.
Raw, or freshly picked, marijuana buds are the beginning of our journey toward understanding decarboxylation. But before you grind up those buds for smoking or cooking, there’s something you should know: raw marijuana will not get you high. Sad but true.
The reason freshly picked weed won’t get you high has to do with some really big words and some basic chemistry. Let’s take a look.
The Chemistry Of Cannabinoids
The raw bud of every marijuana plant contains a variety of cannabinoids. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the two most prevalent: THCA and CBDA.
Astute readers will quickly notice the extra “A” on the end of THC and CBD. No, this is not a typo. There’s a reason we’ve included it there. Here’s why.
THC is the abbreviation for tetrahydrocannabinol while CBD is the abbreviation for cannabidiol. The thing is, THC and CBD aren’t found in raw bud. I know, mind blown, right? Instead, raw bud is made up of tetrahydrocannabinolic acid and cannabidiolic acid. Those are the THCA and CBDA mentioned earlier.
In their natural state, THCA and CBDA don’t interact with the body in the ways you’re used to: THCA won’t get you high and CBDA won’t provide its potent medical benefits. That’s not to say that the medical benefits of the CBDA in raw marijuana disappear completely.
Some patients do see results just by drinking juices or smoothies containing raw cannabis. And the raw herb does contain vitamins and nutrients just like other leafy greens. But the body uses that CBDA differently than it would the CBD.
To really get the effects we’re looking for, we have to activate the cannabinoids. Activate is just a fancy word for making the cannabinoids easier to “digest”, if you will.
So how does nature activate or transform THCA and CBDA into the more familiar THC and CBD? In a word: drying.
Think of drying as nature’s way of giving you a good trip. In fact, drying cannabis is probably the original way that early ganja aficionados activated their weed. They didn’t have our fancy ovens or climate-controlled rooms. They just hung the herb up to dry in the sun.
During the drying process, the heat from the sun caused a small amount of THCA and CBDA to chemically transform into THC and CBD. It was a natural process that prepared the cannabis for the next stage: consumption.
Drying bud is still an important step in the process of producing the cannabis we’re used to today. That said, drying doesn’t release the full potential of the cannabinoids. For that we need another step: decarboxylation.
To fully understand decarboxylation, we need to break the word into its constituent parts. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a long rant on language. Just a quick defining of three terms.
The first term, “de-” (pronounced like “dee”), is a prefix that basically means removal.
The second term, “carboxyl” (pronounced like “car-box-ill”), is a chemical term for the acid radical group COOH which is found in most organic substances.
The third term, “-ation” (pronounced like it would be in vacation), is a suffix that basically means an action. Put those three terms together and you get, “the action of removing the carboxyl group (COOH)”. That’s what decarboxylation means.
Before we go any further, let’s take a moment to discuss the correct pronunciation of the whole word, not just the individual syllables.
Thankfully, if we just put those individual syllables together (dee-car-box-ill-ation) and say them at regular speed (putting the same amount of stress on each part), we’ll pronounce the word correctly. Go ahead, try it a few times.
After two or three passes through the word, your tongue will get used to all the ups and downs and you’ll actually find the word fun to say. Just remember not to put too much stress on any one syllable. It’s not dee-CAR-box-ill-ation, nor is it dee-car-box-ILL-ation.
If anything, the absolute correct pronunciation would place the most stress on the “BOX” syllable (dee-car-BOX-ill-ation). But don’t worry about this too much. If you just say all five syllables with the same amount of stress, it will come out right and you won’t sound like a complete and total newb.
But enough about pronunciation! Let’s get back to the chemistry of decarboxylation.
Take a look at the image below. You’ll see a typical THCA molecule on the left. On the right, you’ll see a typical THC molecule after it has been decarboxylated.
But how do you go about decarboxylating (or decarbing) your cannabis? The same way the ancients did it—through the application of heat.
Keep in mind that the bud we have is pretty much still raw. And as we’ve learned, raw bud won’t get us high and won’t give us the medical benefits we’re used to.
There may be a slight psychoactive effect and a slight medical benefit because of the drying process, but the buds haven’t reached their full effectiveness yet.
It’s at this point that our journey splits into two different paths. Each path is a different way of consuming the now-dried cannabis we see before us. Those two basic means of consumption are smoking it or eating it (inhaling or ingesting).
Let’s start with smoking as it’s the most straightforward.
So you’ve got your dried buds on the table in front of you. You’ve ground the buds into small pieces in preparation for consumption, and you’ve rolled the grounds into a joint. You’re ready to smoke.
But remember, the dried bud in your joint is basically raw and won’t get you very high (if at all). So how does the weed go from the state it’s in now to the psychoactive powerhouse that it is when it hits your lungs? One word: fire.
When you apply a flame to your joint, or to the cannabis in your bong, immediate decarboxylation occurs. THCA is converted to THC and carbon dioxide (CO2) is given off as a by-product.
At the same time, the solid marijuana is vaporized (burned) and the whole kit-and-kaboodle, THC and all, is inhaled. From your lungs, the THC and other cannabinoids travel to your brain, where the THC causes the wonderful psychoactive effects that we’ve come to know and love.
But what if you don’t want to smoke your dried, ground cannabis? What if you’d rather bake it in a pie, brew up a tincture, or extract the cannabinoids into an oil? Those questions take us back to our second option for consumption: eating.
For the purposes of this section, we’re going to refer to “eating” as anything that enters your body through your mouth and doesn’t first travel through your lungs.
Yeah, we know that, technically, smoke enters your body through your mouth, but that’s why we added that little italicized bit at the end. Smoke goes into your lungs.
Foods, oils, and tinctures do not. If they do, for any reason, you’re doing something really wrong.
Inhaling your food is extremely dangerous, so don’t do it. Although, we should probably qualify that statement and say that literally inhaling your food — taking solids or liquids into your lungs — is the dangerous part.
Figuratively inhaling your food (a.k.a. snarfing it down or shoveling it in) can be dangerous if you don’t chew first, but we do it all the time — especially when we have the munchies. Nom nom! But we digress…
One of the many wonderful things about eating weed is that once the bud is ready to go, you have so many marvelous options to choose from.
Solids, Liquids, And Oils
Over the years, creative cannaseurs have baked, boiled, extracted, and brewed chronic into everything under the sun.
You can pretty much add weed to anything you eat and drink (one of our favorites is gummies).
Nowadays, you can even purchase edibles like:
Oh, and let’s not forget cannabis lube. We know it’s not technically an edible, but it could be under the right circumstances (wink wink, nudge nudge).
And if you want something a little more powerful and a little faster-acting than the tried-and-true pot brownie, you can always cook up your own cannabis concentrate.
Cannabis concentrates — also collectively known as extracts — take many forms, including:
And while some of those aren’t technically edibles — you can eat them but you’ll get more action by smoking them — they give you an idea of what is possible once you’ve decarboxylated your pot.
Tinctures and oils are particularly useful because they’re so easy to take.
With a tincture, a few drops under your tongue (hold it there; don’t swallow) is enough to get you flying high or relieve your pain and anxiety (depending on what type of tincture you take).
With an oil, you can use it in all kinds of recipes or even rub it on your skin. Amazing!
Back To Decarboxylation…
If you do decide to eat your weed — as a food, drink, tincture, or oil — instead of smoking it, you’re going to have to wait a little bit longer and plan ahead.
Remember that burning the cannabis is basically immediate decarboxylation that transforms the inactive cannabinoids (THCA and CBDA) into their active counterparts (THC and CBD).
But at this point — with the dried and cured ganja on the table in front of you — you can’t just light your buds on fire or there wouldn’t be anything left with which to cook, extract, or brew. You’ve got to decarboxylate your cannabis in another way.
The easiest, most convenient way to do that is in an oven. “But at what temperature should I set the oven?” you ask. “And how long should I let the buds bake?”
Two excellent questions, dear reader, that bring us to another important variable: terpenes.
Terpenes are those oils that give the cannabis plant its unique smell and flavor. There are a wide variety of terpenes and terpene combinations that create the various odors and tastes—sour, bitter, sweet, spicy, and all their variants—that distinguish one cannabis strain from another.
In addition, terpenes work in tandem with the cannabinoids to increase the medical effects and effectiveness.
Going back to the decarboxylation process for a moment, we could just crank up the oven to 450℉ and bake for 5 minutes. However, that would destroy all the terpenes that give your favorite strain its character. Terpenes begin to break down above 310℉, so we want to stay away from those high temperatures.
And because we can’t use high temperatures, the cooking time is going to increase so that decarboxylation has the opportunity to work its magic. So let’s get to the step-by-step recipe for getting the most out of your cooking weed.
How To Decarboxylate Your Weed
- Preheat oven to 230℉.
- If you haven’t already, break up the dried buds into small pieces with your hands.
- Spread the small pieces and flakes on a baking sheet (one with a rim works best).
- Bake the cannabis at 230℉ for 35 minutes.
- Stir the cannabis every 10 minutes to ensure even toasting.
- After 35 minutes, check the cannabis. It should be light- to medium-brown in color and should be very dry. If it’s not, put it back in the oven for a further 5-10 minutes. Keep an eye on everything so it doesn’t burn.
- When finished baking, remove the cannabis from the baking sheet and let cool. Careful, it’s going to be very crumbly at this point.
- When the cannabis has cooled sufficiently, put it in a food processor and pulse until the weed is coarsely ground (like oregano).
- If you’re going to use this marijuana in smoothies or drinks, you can continue grinding until you produce a powder.
Cannabis can also be activated through solvent extraction and ice-water extraction. These methods produce a concentrate that can be hardened and used for dabbing or kept in an oily state and used for cooking.
The important point of all this is that the cannabinoids in the marijuana need to be chemically altered (or activated) so that your body can process them easier.
It’s this activation that gives your weed the psychoactive and medical benefits you crave. You can thank decarboxylation for that.
Is It Possible To Decarboxylate Your Weed Too Much?
It is absolutely possible to “over-decarboxylate” your weed. There are two major concerns that first-time DIY decarboxylators express: time and temperature, and reheating the finished product.
Time And Temperature
Too much heat (i.e., high oven or stove temperatures) for short periods of time, and even low heat for long periods of time, breaks down the cannabinoids and terpenes until there’s nothing left. All you’ve got in those cases is plant matter that will not get you high or relieve your depression.
Decarboxylation temperature recommendations abound on the internet but all hover in the low to mid-200s (Fahrenheit). Anything higher than that begins to destroy the valuable chemicals for which you use pot in the first place.
The higher temperature you use the shorter amount of time you should leave the bud in the oven. Even then, you run the risk of starting to degrade the terpenes and cannabinoids on the surface of the marijuana.
It’s better to go low and slow when it comes to decarboxylation. Remember, sure and steady wins the race.
Try our recommended settings in the instructions above and see how it goes. The next time around, try another temperature setting and compare the results.
Individual ovens differ and that can affect the decarboxylation process. Even the strain you choose or the pan you put it on can influence the potency of the finished product.
Your best bet is to experiment within a certain range and find the time and temperature that work best for your purposes.
Reheating The Finished Product
Another concern about too much decarboxylation is this:
If you decarboxylate your bud, make butter (or oil), and then use that butter to make brownies, cookies, or other baked or cooked edibles, won’t the high heat from the oven break down the THC and CBD?
Thankfully, the answer to that question is no. You’ll notice in the Terpenes section above that these important molecules begin to break down at 310℉.
But the high heat you use to bake cookies (350℉) won’t affect the cannabis-infused butter or oil in the recipe. The internal temperature of the baked good doesn’t reach the same temperature as the oven around it. This protects the terpene and cannabinoid molecules and prevents them from degrading.
In fact, the other ingredients in the recipe act as a buffer against the high cooking or baking heat. So, unless you burn the sh#@ out of your brownies, there’s little risk of “over-decarboxylating” your bud.
Even the moisture inherent in ingredients like flour, butter, vanilla, and the like protects the delicate marijuana molecules. Water turns to gas at 212℉ (check local listings), so the internal temperature of the edible will never exceed that temperature until all the moisture is gone.
It doesn’t matter if you set the oven at 500℉, you’ll still have a few minutes of successful baking before the water burns off and the internal temperature of the edible skyrockets and destroys the terpenes and cannabinoids.
That said, don’t do this thinking you’ll save time. You won’t. The edible won’t be cooked and all the good stuff from the cannabis will be gone.
Bottom line: don’t worry about reducing the psychedelic or medicinal effects of the ganja when baking or cooking with cannabis-infused ingredients.
The only real risk you’ll face is decarboxylating your weed all by itself. Just stick to low temperatures and you’ll be fine.
For more information on all things cannabis and to check out our 100-percent all-natural marijuana products, visit HonestMarijuana.com today.