Decarboxylation is a process that activates certain desirable compounds in cannabis, including THC and CBD. When you smoke cannabis, decarboxylation happens without you having to think about it. But when you make a cannabis edible or a cannabis topical, decarboxylation is something that you need to do intentionally. If you don’t, your final product will have little to no potency.
If you’re interested in learning why decarboxylation is so important for potency and how you can easily decarb cannabis at home, this Decarboxylation 101 Guide is for you. Below, we’re going over all the basic information you need to know about decarboxylation, then giving step-by-step instructions on how to decarb cannabis at home.
What is Decarboxylation?
Decarboxylation is a chemical reaction that changes compounds within the cannabis plant into tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and other cannabinoids. Contrary to popular belief, raw cannabis contains little to no THC. Cannabis plants actually don’t make cannabinoids like THC and CBD directly. Instead, they produce cannabinoid acids that become cannabinoids after decarboxylation, a reaction that’s usually triggered by heat.
These are the most prevalent cannabinoid acids in the cannabis plant:
Decarboxylation removes a carboxyl group from these cannabinoid acids. This releases carbon dioxide and changes the cannabinoid acids into the following cannabinoids:
The decarboxylation process must occur for cannabis to contain cannabinoids like THC and CBD.
Note: If you’re wondering why the well-known cannabinoid CBN isn’t listed above, it’s because CBN isn’t produced through decarboxylation. CBN is a product of THC degradation.
How Does Cannabis Decarboxylation Effect Potency?
Without decarboxylation, cannabis won’t have psychoactive effects, let alone potent psychoactive effects. None of the cannabinoid acids found in raw cannabis flower are psychoactive. The only cannabis compound that’s known to produce psychoactive effects is THC.
How Does Decarboxylation Happen?
Cannabis decarboxylation can occur due to time or heat. It most often occurs due to heat, since it takes quite a long time for raw cannabis to decarb through time alone.
The high heat from smoking or vaping marijuana will instantly decarb it. When you’re decarbing marijuana flower because you want to use it for an infusion, you want to use a low temperature for a longer period of time in order to preserve quality. Keeping cannabis within 220 to 235 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 to 45 is ideal, since that will decarb it without having a negative effect on its taste, smell, or cannabinoid content.
One thing to note about decarboxylation is that it can sometimes happen accidentally or incidentally if marijuana is exposed to slightly elevated temperatures for a prolonged period of time. For example, the drying and curing process may cause slight decarboxylation. That’s why some flower you find at your dispensary may say that it contains THC alongside THCA.
When Should You Decarboxylate Cannabis?
Decarboxylation is something you should do if you want to feel intoxicating effects from cannabis. If you’ll be heating your marijuana to a high temperature while using it, as you would when smoking or vaporizing it, that will decarb it. If you won’t be using high heat when you consume your marijuana, it needs to go through decarboxylation before you consume it. So, if you’re making a cannabis edible or cannabis topical at home, you want to decarb your cannabis separately before using it in your recipe. The same goes for when you’re making an active ingredient to use in one of these recipes, such as cannabutter or cannabis oil.
While you need to decarb cannabis before making a DIY edible or topical, you don’t need to decarb the THC edibles, tinctures, and topicals you buy from a dispensary. These types of packaged THC products have already undergone cannabinoid activation. The amount of THC in your product should be listed on its packaging.
How Long Does Decarbed Cannabis Last?
It’s best to use decarboxylated cannabis within 3 to 6 months of decarbing it. After around 6 months, the THC in decarbed cannabis will start to degrade into CBN.
How to Decarb Cannabis in Your Oven
The easiest, cheapest, and most foolproof way to decarb cannabis at home is on a baking sheet in your oven.
- Baking Tray
- Parchment Paper
- Cannabis Flower
- Air-Tight Glass Storage Container
- Preheat your oven to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Line your baking tray with parchment paper.
- Use your fingers or a knife to break up your cannabis buds into small pieces that are around the size of grains of rice.
- Evenly spread your cannabis out on your prepared baking sheet.
- Place your tray on the middle rack of your preheated oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes.
- After 40 minutes, check your cannabis. When it’s done, it will be very dry and have a toasted, golden brown look. If it isn’t, allow it to bake for 5 more minutes.
- Once it’s done, remove your tray from the oven. Allow your cannabis to fully cool on the tray.
- Transfer your decarbed cannabis into an air-tight glass storage container, such as a mason jar.
- Store in a cool, dark place. Use within 3 to 6 months for best potency and quality.
At-Home Decarboxylation Tips
- Don’t use a grinder when breaking up your cannabis. That will create too fine of a grind and increase the risk of burning your cannabis.
- It’s not a good idea to increase your oven temperature in an attempt to decarb your marijuana more quickly. High heat will still decarb cannabis, but it will also evaporate cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, making your cannabis less potent and flavorful.
- If you try decarbing in your oven and have issues with burning or having to bake your cannabis for longer than 45 minutes, your oven’s temperature may be off. The actual temperature of your oven can be different from what it shows on its dial or digital readout. Try placing an oven thermometer inside your oven to see whether it has a higher or lower temperature than its dial or screen indicates, then adjust your settings as necessary.
- A traditional oven is the best oven to use for decarboxylation, but you can also use a toaster oven. However, the heat in a toaster oven is generally less even and consistent compared to a regular oven. If you use a toaster oven, be careful about how close your cannabis is to the oven’s heating element and keep a watchful eye on your cannabis’s color throughout the decarb process.
- Using wax paper instead of parchment paper is a common baking mistake that you don’t want to make when you’re decarbing cannabis. Wax paper and parchment paper have very similar packaging, but only one of them (parchment paper) can handle the heat of your oven. If you put wax paper in a hot oven, the wax part of the product will melt and merge with whatever it’s touching, ruining it. Don’t ruin your cannabis. Check to make sure what you’re using is parchment paper, not wax paper.
- If you can’t get your hands on parchment paper, you can use crumpled aluminum foil to line your baking sheet. Measure out the right length of aluminum foil, then crumple it slightly before laying it down and using it to line your pan. Crumpling aluminum foil allows air to flow between your baking sheet and the foil, which helps keep temperatures more even. Parchment paper does that without you having to crumple it.
- Some online sources suggest decarboxylating cannabis inside a mason jar in your oven to reduce odors, but we strongly advise against trying that. The glass that’s used for mason jars is not tempered for oven use, so it can shatter in the oven (or when you’re taking it out of an oven). Worse still, a sealed mason jar can fill with steam and become pressurized, causing it to explode. Don’t try that method at home.
- There are ways to decarboxylate cannabis that produce less odor than the oven method. One is to use a sous vide, also called an immersion circulator, which produces very little odor thanks to vacuum sealing. To decarb in a sous vide, place finely ground cannabis flower in a vacuum sealed bag and follow your sous vide machine’s instructions to create a 203 degree Fahrenheit water bath. Place your sealed cannabis bag in the water bath for 90 minutes, then remove it and allow it to cool for at least 20 minutes before opening the bag and transferring your decarboxylated cannabis to another container.
- You can decarboxylate cannabis in an oil if your ultimate goal is to make a cannabis infused oil, but be aware that decarbing while you’re infusing is tricky. Still, it’s definitely possible. If you’d like to try that method, check out the second recipe in our guide to Cannabis and Coconut Oil.
If you have any questions about decarboxylation, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Essence. Our knowledgeable team is always standing by to help our customers learn more about cannabis. You can get in touch with us through our website or by giving your closest Essence Dispensary location a call.