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? Those questions take us back to our second option for consumption: eating.
If you decide to eat your weed instead of smoking it, you’re going to have to wait a little bit longer. 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, you can’t light your buds on fire or there wouldn’t be anything left with which to cook. 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.
For more information on all things cannabis and to check out our 100-percent all-natural marijuana products, visit HonestMarijuana.com today.