Decarboxylation: Activating THC in Cannabis
Those who are new to cannabis and keen to make edibles need to learn the process of decarboxylating their weed to trigger the THC before baking those tasty marijuana treats. Karen Lloyd explains how decarboxylation works.
As scientific as it sounds and as difficult as it is to pronounce, decarboxylation is a word you'll probably want to get to know. In fact, should you be thinking about edibles with high hopes of one day transforming your raw bud, shake, or sugar leaf into magical, mouthwatering, and mildly addictive THC gummy bears.
The truth is you can’t just toss a bunch of weed into your store-bought brownie mix, chocolate chip cookie dough, or a pound of butter and expect to feel much of the plant’s intoxicating effects — no matter how long you wait. Most recipes call for decarboxylated weed. If it’s not mentioned, it’s because the writer assumes you already know that.
Bake Your Cannabis
In other words, if you really want to get baked, you first have to bake your weed, on its own, before using it in any recipe. That’s because, in its natural form, cannabis does not contain THC — the most psychoactive (and popular) component of marijuana. Instead, raw cannabis is chock full of anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, and appetite-inducing tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA).
THCA converts to THC when it’s heated. Sorry to say, but your batch of brownies would be pretty boring without weed that hasn’t been baking in the oven first. The same goes for the marijuana’s cancer-inhibiting cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) properties which when heated, transform into relaxing CBD properties.
Can you see now why so many people choose to smoke or vape their weed rather than eat it as a salad? It’s not (really) about the taste. With decarboxylated weed, you can concoct cannabis goodies from granola bars to salted caramel bites to pasta sauce, and many other kinds of delicious edibles — even a sativa salad dressing, if you wish.
(Read also: The Benefits of Eating Raw Cannabis)
Activating THC in Marijuana
More so, if it’s done properly at the right temperatures and for the right length of time, decarboxylation will activate the THC in your cannabis to a much higher potency than smoking or vaping. As the now-legalized (in Canada) cannabis continues to go mainstream with more first-timers testing out this power plant than ever before (that’s roughly 10 per cent of Canadians), edibles are looking to be the next big trend in the cannabis industry (and food and beverage industries) because they’re discreet, delicious, and ultimately so easy to consume.
While they’re still illegal to buy or sell in Canada until later this year, you can certainly make them at home for personal enjoyment. There are literally hundreds of recipes to try. Despite its fussy name and superior rank in the edibles making process, decarboxylation is really quite simple once you understand not only what you’re doing but why.
Oven Temperature is Key
In order to decarboxylate cannabis at home, all you need is some cannabis flower (or shake), an oven set to anywhere between 200-245°F (depending on your oven and the state of your cannabis), a sheet of parchment paper, and a baking tray. Grind your cannabis (not too finely) and then spread it nice and thinly over the parchment, place it on a tray, pop it in the oven and voila. The THCA in cannabis begins to decarboxylate at approximately 220°F after around 30-45 minutes. Be warned: The integrity of your plant will be compromised at temperatures exceeding 300°F.
The temperature at which you want to do your decarboxylating will depend on how much time you want your cannabis to spend in the decarboxylase process. The longer it’s roasting in the oven (to preserve more flavors and smells from the terpenoids), the lower the temperature should be. If you have a lot of weed, you should increase the amount of time it’s in the oven, but not the temperature.
(Read also: A Quick Guide to Cannabis Infusions)
If it’s already dry due to age, decrease the temperature. If it’s wet increase the temperature. Some methods call for covering the cannabis with aluminum foil while it's in the oven so the vapor rolls right back into the bud and therefore increases its potency. This makes sense. Getting it right is a bit tricky at first, and you may even face a few failed batches, but familiarizing yourself with the decarboxylation process (and cannabis in general), will be worth it in the long run. Start with a few grams at first and once you nail a process, move it up to an ounce.
While it’s perfectly okay to put your own oven to good use for this process, decarboxylation will fill up your home with the distinct aroma of marijuana. If you’re new to making edibles or don’t like the smell, you can try simmering a pot of water with a few teaspoons of cinnamon on the stove.
If you’re planning on decarboxylating regularly, you should know there are several products on the market designed exclusively for the purpose of producing perfectly decarboxylated weed (without the smell). These products promise a full activation of the THC in your flower, kief, or concentrates which makes life easier — so much easier — down the road when it comes to making edibles and dosing.