Decarboxylation: The Best Guide You’ll Ever Read

Cannabis 101
MarijuanaBreak Staff MarijuanaBreak Staff / Updated on July 9, 2019

Decarboxylation

Despite its growing popularity, there are still a few basic cannabis facts that people don’t understand. Namely, the fact that there is a good reason why users heat marijuana before consumption. If you were to consume a bag of ‘raw’ weed, the effects would be disappointingly mediocre.

However, if you were to believe movies and TV shows, doing so should cause you to hallucinate and attempt to cross the Grand Canyon’s chasm using mind power alone. But in fact, the decarboxylation process is what turns marijuana from plant to party guest, as it brings weed’s psychoactive properties to life.

 

Decarboxylation: Make Sure This is Done with Your Weed Before Using it in Edibles

When you heat cannabis, you help activate the psychoactive compounds that lie within. If you decide to make edibles with your weed supply, you must decarboxylate it first. If you fail to decarb your weed, you’re doing little more than adding plant matter to your cookies; it is the heating of cannabis that gives your hash brownies their kick.

Is Raw Cannabis Useless?

Not at all! Your herb still has some uses when it is raw. For the record, raw cannabis is plant matter that has not been dried and cured. If you go through that particular process, a small amount of decarboxylation occurs.

As it happens, there are several health benefits attributed to raw, uncured marijuana. The cannabinoid acids it contains are used as an anti-inflammatory and the herb itself is filled with the types of vitamins and minerals found in other greens.

There are cases where medical marijuana patients have been happy with the results when they drink raw cannabis smoothies, proving that it is definitely NOT useless.

If you decide to use raw weed, choose buds that have been freshly picked, or fan leaves. It is also possible to store it in your fridge for about as long as you would a ‘green’ such as kale. It is important to monitor your raw cannabis because it is prone to wilting and mold after a relatively short time. This is particularly the case for densely packed flowers that are exposed to moisture.

In other words, use your raw weed as soon as possible, because it will denature and lose its potency as it ages.

What is Decarboxylation?

However, raw cannabis does not compare to weed exposed to heat. The trouble with raw herb is its non-psychoactive nature. To get the effects you’re looking for, notably the ‘high’, your marijuana has to be heated. As we mentioned above, drying and aging also releases psychoactive compounds, just not as many as the heated herb. The term ‘decarboxylation’ refers to the chemical reaction that removes a carboxyl (COOH) group and releases carbon dioxide.

To achieve decarboxylation, all you have to do is apply some heat and the effects produced are fascinating. As you know, the main psychoactive compound in weed is THC, but there is little of it in raw herb. Instead, you’ll find a lot of THCA, which is non-intoxicating. When you add heat to your marijuana however, you transform THCA into THC. This happens because the decarb process removes the COOH group from the THCA molecule by releasing water and carbon dioxide, turning it into THC.

decarboxylation

The process happens more slowly when you cure cannabis, which is why it is necessary to use an oven when decarbing weed to place in your edibles. Incidentally, when you decarb weed, you reduce the botulism risk in your edibles. When you don’t go through the process correctly, botulism bacteria can grow in your butter or oil.

Every time you light up a joint or vaporize your weed, you are automatically decarbing the herb. You convert one compound into another and transform a regular plant into one capable of getting you stoned. During the decarboxylation process, you remove a carboxyl group from THCA and, without that group, THC can bind to the cell receptors in your body and brain freely.

Why Do You Need to Decarb CBD Strains?

You would be forgiven for thinking that CBD decarboxylation is unnecessary. After all, why do you need to decarb a strain that’s already non-psychoactive? However, the same rules apply because raw cannabis contains the acid form of CBD, known as CBDA. Again, CBDA has its own health properties but it is nowhere near as effective as its decarbed cousin. If you consume CBDA, your body is forced to work extra hard to break down the molecule and it also uses the acid form of CBD differently.

The decarboxylation of CBD increases its bioavailability. In other words, your body will be able to use the compound right away and it should work faster.

There is some dispute over the right decarboxylation temperature of CBD, although it is typically higher than that of THC. Bear in mind that its boiling point is between 320 and 356 degrees Fahrenheit (160-180 degrees Celsius), so the latter should be the maximum temperature you use, with most users opting for less than 320 degrees. As for the timeframe, it depends on the temperature! Certainly, you should be aiming for between 30 and 60 minutes.

Decarboxylation of Weed

There are a multitude of ways to bring about the decarboxylation of weed, but we’re going to show you the most basic one. You’ll need the following equipment:

  • An oven
  • A baking sheet
  • Parchment paper
  • Leaf trim, ground bud, or kief.

decarb weed

If you elect to use buds, grind them coarsely before following these steps. In this example, we used 40 grams in a bid to turn it into coconut canna-oil.

Make sure you preheat the oven. We will discuss the right decarboxylation oven temperature for weed in more detail in the next section. In this example, we set the oven to 220 degrees Fahrenheit (104 degrees Celsius). Place the parchment paper on the baking sheet and spread your marijuana across it. Make sure you break up larger pieces with your hands if necessary.

Place the sheet in the oven for approximately 30 minutes to begin with. This is the right length of time for well-dried weed, but if you’re using fresher marijuana with more moisture, it could take up to 90 minutes at this temperature. Some users invest in a hygrometer to check the level of moisture in their herb. It is easy to use; place the weed in a closed container with the hygrometer. After the weed is dry enough, leave it to completely cool. The decarboxylation of the weed is complete!

Decarboxylation Temperature

If you ask 20 different users what temperature they decarb their weed at, don’t be surprised to receive 20 different answers. What we can tell you is that the lower the decarboxylation temperature, the longer it takes. To be frank, this is a good thing because, if your decarboxylation temp and time are too high and too long respectively, you will ruin your herb.

Remember, when you’re using weed in edibles, you want to get every last piece of goodness provided by the plant; this means compounds such as THC and CBD, along with terpenes and flavonoids. The boiling points for all of these compounds varies markedly. Here are just a handful of examples:

Cannabinoids

  • CBC: 428 degrees Fahrenheit/220 degrees Celsius
  • THC: 314.6 degrees Fahrenheit/157 degrees Celsius
  • CBN: 365 degrees Fahrenheit/185 degrees Celsius
  • THCV: 428 degrees Fahrenheit/220 degrees Celsius

Terpenes

  • Myrcene: 330 – 334 degrees Fahrenheit/165 – 168 degrees Celsius
  • Limonene: 350.6 degrees Fahrenheit/177 degrees Celsius
  • Linalool: 388.4 degrees Fahrenheit/198 degrees Celsius
  • a-pinene: 312.8 degrees Fahrenheit/156 degrees Celsius

Flavonoid and Phytosterols

  • Beta-Sitosterol: 273.2 degrees Fahrenheit/134  degrees Celsius
  • Cannflavin A: 359.6 degrees Fahrenheit/182 degrees Celsius
  • Apigenin: 352.4 degrees Fahrenheit/178 degrees Celsius
  • Quercetin: 482 degrees Fahrenheit/250 degrees Celsius

It is advisable to keep your decarboxylation temperatures on the low side to preserve terpenes. There are also compounds that are volatile and evaporate at higher temperatures. The result is foul odors and an unpleasant taste. If you plan to preserve your terpenes, keep the temperature in the 200-300 degree range.

Now that we know the key to faster decarboxylation is greater heat (within reason), it should be a straightforward process, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t quite as easy as that! The existence of another mechanism means we have to control decarb temp very carefully indeed.

When we heat weed and turn THCA into THC, or CBDA into CBD, we also convert THC to CBN at a quicker rate. Once we reach 70% decarb, THC gets converted into CBN at a faster rate than the conversion of THCA into THC. In other words, when we go beyond 70% decarboxylation, THC levels apparently start to fall off quickly, as you can see in this chart.

Decarbing

As helpful as graphs are, there is always an issue with the interpretation of data. For instance, the graph above relates to marijuana extract data. It transpires that the temperatures used for kief, bud or trim would be different. Also, the graph was created in 1990 and was a decarb of a hexane extract in an open container on a hot plate! With modern equipment, it is possible to reach 100% decarb without damaging your THC content.

The mystery of decarbing temperature was somewhat solved thanks to the efforts of Marijuana Growers HQ. In 2012, they tested cannabis trim and kief at 240 degrees for 30 and 60 minutes. The results are in the table above.

They chose 240 degrees because, during their research, they discovered that the vapor point of all major terpenes, flavonoids, and cannabinoids was over 246.2 degrees. As consumer grade ovens are not that reliable when reading temperatures, they played it safe by staying a few degrees below.

According to the results, 30 minutes was not long enough to completely decarb either the trim or the kief. The latter had reached 90% but the former only managed 60%. Both were very close to 100% once the hour mark had been reached.

Decarboxylation Methods Investigated

It is assumed that the oven is the best way to decarb, but is this really the case? Bear in mind that most ovens will fluctuate by 10 degrees in either direction. When using the oven in the 250-400-degree range in particular, if the heat is 10-15 degrees more than what you’ve set, the result could be the loss of important compounds. Incredibly, you could lose up to 33% of your THC via oven decarboxylation.

The crockpot/water bath method is a popular one because water boils at a consistent temperature of 212 degrees. The temperature also fluctuates less. The problem is that, while the max temp you use here will preserve all compounds, it is impossible to achieve a full decarb.

Decarboxylation is NOT a linear process, as the last part of THCA to THC conversion takes longer. When you use boiling water, the weed is exposed to heat for too long and this causes degradation.

There is a product on the market called the Nova which promises to decarb your weed while preserving 100% of THC. It has the lab tests to back up this claim, so it may be worth buying if you’re dedicated to keeping the strength of your weed intact.

The other issue with decarb charts, graphs or anything else showing this kind of information is a lack of knowledge of the precise starting point of the decarb process. Therefore, the times and temperature figures shown are always an average. Remember, you can’t place dry material in an oven at a specific temperature and expect it to remain at that exact level for the duration of the decarbing process.

Decarboxylating Kief

First of all, it is important to know what kief is! It is the name given to the crystallized structures that stick to the surface of pure weed. In other words, it is cannabis pollen that acts as a defense mechanism to keep pests away.

Kief is extremely potent, so if a predator consumes some kief, they have an experience that persuades them to steer clear in future! It is also one of the most popular parts of weed for edible creation.

If you decide to try kief decarboxylation, grind the weed into flakes and sift the kief away from the plant parts. It takes a little while, but you should get plenty of sticky goodness for your troubles.

Kief tends to decarb faster than bud, meaning you can afford to use a lower temperature. Once you have spread it over the sheet, follow the steps mentioned earlier in the article. Place it on a parchment sheet on a baking tray and put it in the oven at between 240 and 300 degrees Fahrenheit (115 – 150 degrees Celsius). It should be fully decarboxylated after 45-60 minutes.

Final Thoughts on Decarboxylation

Although it is one of the most important parts of enjoying marijuana, decarboxylation is also one of the least understood. If you aim to get high or fully benefit from the medical properties of the plant, it has to be decarboxylated to transform the THCA, CBDA and other cannabinoids into the compounds that have the greatest effect.

As soon as you light a joint or vape your weed, you have decarbed it. However, those who use cannabis in edibles have to go through this process to ensure their products pack a punch. Although there is some merit to consuming raw cannabis, it is a poor relation to the decarbed version. We hope this guide assisted you, and maybe you now realize why the edibles you made last week didn’t have the desired effect!

Just before you go!

Decarboxylation is extremely important but so is knowing how to dry and cure your cannabis buds. That’s why we’ve developed this Complete Guide to Drying and Curing Cannabis Buds. Enjoy!

Article Sources
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47 comments
  1. Mark England
    Air fryerdecarb

    The Decarb and temp is different in every youtube video. Recently I tried to put an aluminum foil envelope into an air fryer. I then used the Everclear method in a jar, later to evaporate in a pan over an electric stove. I first ate the black tar substance and enjoyed it. Next I made small bite size brownies with an amount about the size of a ball that would fit on a pin. I am still learning times and temperatures for the air fryer. The foil envelope works to keep everything from spilling. I would appreciate any information you might pass on to a newbie. I set the air fryer at 220 for 20 minutes. I was pleased with the amount of return of what I call tar, correct me on my terminology here.

  2. Eric Pipkin
    Simple to do

    Yes, I have read the above, and you are right. Decarboxylation is a very important step if you want to consume raw cannabis. Never underestimate it or forget it. And it is simple to carry out as well.

  3. Diana A.
    Flavonoids and Terpenes do not get decarboxylated

    Under “Decarboxylation Temperature” terpenes and flavonoids are listed. Terpenes and flavonoids are not carboxylated by the plant.
    The cannabinoids are created by the plant in the acid form. The carboxylated form. They need to be decarboxylated to be fully activated.
    The terpenes and the falvonoids do not have to be decarboxylated because they are not created by the plant in the acid form. Flavonoids are deactivated by the temperatures required to decarboxylate, vaporize or combust.

  4. Yannai Ravid
    Helpfulllllll

    Thanks so much for the informative article. I felt like I was in Cannabis 102.

  5. Julia
    Different baking times for different dryness?

    2 questions please. 1. I your making brownies and you mix raw weed( ground up) and bake for an hour, why doesn’t the weed decarb while it’s baking?
    2. I may have some raw weed that is super dry already, will the decarb baking time be different?

  6. Pofilmboy
    My Decarb Method

    I am a Chemical Engineer and serious home cook. I understand chemical processes, reaction kinetics and food. I decarb by choosing an edibles recipe that takes vegetable oil, like supermarket brownie mix. I use a digital thermometer to monitor temperature – a common kitchen thermometer with a thermocouple probe – in a Pyrex cup of oil. I preheat the oven to about 275 deg F to bring oil to 260 deg F, add ground flower, kief or wax, and bake for 60 min, adjusting oven temp (+/- 5 deg F or so) to maintain 260 deg F oil/herb mix. Your oven may be different but the principle is to maintain constant temp in the oil/herb mix. I let it cool until it can be combined with the rest of the mix ingredients, and cook the brownies according to the package recipe.

    The oil is a heat sink that smooths out the bad temperature variation in the oven. The brownie recipe generally calls for 1/2 – 2/3 cup of oil, and I use 2g of 70% THCA wax, 4g of 35% THCA kief, or 7 g of ground 22% THCA flower per batch. I would like to see more data on the time and temperature conversion kinetics to make this even better, or find a lab that can quantify my conversion efficiency.

  7. Austin Garcia
    At home Decarboxylation.

    I am a newbie to weed, so have a query. If we grow some weed strain at home, any for that matter for personal consumption, how do we do the decarboxylation process.

    1. Margaret Hopkins
      Decarbing home grown

      Hi Austin, Last year we grew 3 plants and harvested, dried and cured it all. Didn’t think ahead to weight it before starting to use it so not sure of how much we got all together. Whenever I want to make another batch of cannabis coconut oil for baking or Vegetable Glycerin tincture for gummies or making vape juice, I just get another jar out of the closet and place it on parchment paper on a cookie sheet, break the buds up in small almost rollable consistency, then cover it with aluminum foil and bake in a preheated oven at 240 F for 1 hour to decarb. When done leave in oven to cool naturally before removing from oven. Then I use the cannabis however I want. I also use this method to decarb when making an MCT oil extraction to use in cooking. I use the coconut oil infusion for baking as a substitution for butter or lard and also for pain rub.

  8. Joss West
    Question

    A lot of terpenes degrade past 225° degrees. At least with flower, wouldn’t this do the same?

  9. dr chemistry
    partitioning coefficient

    Here is a thought: partitioning coefficient. which is never 1.00, which means that discarding the “extracted” cannabis after whatever procedure used means discarding THC/CBD. You can prove this to be true by using the “throw away” to make another set of brownies out of the “waste”.

  10. Jason T
    Thank You For Sharing This Article!!!

    GREAT information!!! Thank you for sharing this article!

  11. Sean looney
    Cold Decarbowylation .

    Ive Tried carboxylation using citric acid , no heat involved .
    Method . Mix the citric with water , using as much citric as the water will take . Mix citric with ground canna until it has a mucky appearance .Leave in the open for at least 4 days . This should give it time to do the job an decarboxylate .
    Taste best in orange juice , wicked buzz . Under certain conditions may take over a week . Good luck

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