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What Is Decarboxylation? [The Ultimate Guide To Activating Weed]

Most people who exclusively smoke cannabis as their only means of consuming the herb do not realize that they automatically decarboxylate the weed as soon as they subject it to intense heat.

This is because when raw, cured cannabis is smoked in a joint, pipe, bong, or dry herb vaporizer, the originally non-psychoactive cannabinoids (THCA and CBDA) are promptly converted into the more desirable compounds, THC and CBD.

Keep reading to learn more about decarboxylation, and why it is a vital part in the process of making edibles.

smoking a dooby

What is decarboxylation?

Decarboxylation is a term that describes a chemical reaction, which removes a carboxyl group and releases carbon dioxide.

In the case of cannabis decarboxylation, it refers to a reaction of the carboxylic acids within the herb, which removes a carbon atom from the original carbon chain.

Why is decarboxylation important?

Performing the process of decarboxylation is vital for individuals who intend to consume their cannabis in the form of edibles or by other similar means because tetrahydrocannabinolic acids such as THCA are not themselves psychoactive in their raw form.  

They require a proper amount of heat and time to be converted into a substance that can be digested into the body to successfully attain the mind-altering effects that Cannabis is noted for imparting.   

Decarboxylation is the first step needed to transform raw cannabis flowers into popular end products like canna-butter, cannabis infused oils, tinctures, and more.

The decarboxylation of weed has traditionally been accomplished by pre-grinding the raw cannabis plant into a semi-fine consistency, preheating in a conventional oven and then heated to approximately 250 degrees Fahrenheit for around 45 minutes.

However, using this method can be a bit inexact because of the variance of individual oven temperature settings. In some cases, this can result in under-processing, which will not accommodate proper conversion or, if over-heated, can reach temperatures that may destroy some or all of the THC that would have been produced.

Fortunately, over the past few years the advent of various cannabis decarboxylation devices has virtually eliminated this problem.

Manufacturers incorporate predetermined intuitive algorithms in their products, which regulate the length and intensity of the heating cycles to which a consumer’s weed is exposed, and then handily convert it into the desired end product that it has been programmed to create.

PAX Decarbing bud

Decarboxylation of THCA

Decarboxylating THCA is an essential process in converting it into the active cannabis compound THC so that it can be incorporated into a wide variety of products suiting individual delivery preferences. 

Decarboxylation can occur at varying rates, depending upon the time and temperatures that are employed to accomplish the conversion. The trick, however, is to decarboxylate cannabis at the ideal temperature in order to avoid cannabinoid degradation or, worse yet, dangerous combustion.

Each individual cannabinoid requires a different decarboxylation temperature. As an example, THCA requires being subjected to temperatures of around 220º Fahrenheit for a period of 30 to 45 minutes before the THCA compounds begin to fully decarboxylate.

The decarboxylation needed to complete the process can vary depending upon the material and amount being used.

Ideally, the decarboxylation process should use the least amount of heat necessary to complete the process in order to retain the optimum amount of the plant’s therapeutic cannabinoid and terpene compounds. Terpenes are particularly vulnerable to evaporation when exposed to high heat.

Notably, not all acidic cannabinoids will be converted into THC or CBD during the decarboxylation process. Trace amounts of certain raw cannabinoids may be left behind after comprehensive decarboxylation has taken place.

The finished products may also leave behind small amounts of acid compounds such as CBDA, which will appear on lab test results

joint smoke

Decarboxylation of CBDA

CBDA, as well as all of the other cannabinoids that exist within the trichomes of raw cannabis flowers, have an extra carboxyl ring or group (COOH) that is attached to their chain. This means the molecular makeup CBD begins as CBDA in raw flowers, which has an acid attached to its molecular structure. 

In order for CBD to deliver its full effect, the CBDA molecule has to be converted by eliminating the acid within.  The best and easiest way of doing this is by applying heat. 

How to Decarboxylate Weed

When working with raw, unprocessed cannabis flowers, the most important aspect of the decarboxylation process that you need to understand is that the lower the heating temperature, the longer it is going to take for complete decarboxylation to take place.

One advantage of utilizing a lower temperature is that you will be inhibiting terpene loss, which often takes place at higher temperatures. 

Terpenes are renowned for contributing the aesthetically pleasing aromas and flavor profiles coveted by cannabis connoisseurs. 

The terpenes are those pungent oils which color the cannabis and give it those pine, citrus, and berry flavors. Additionally, terpenes also help to improve mental awareness, promote focus, and relieve stress.

Here are a few time-tested methods and specific temperatures for decarboxylating weed, which include:

  1. 212 degrees: Boiling weed with water for 90 minutes
  2. 240 degrees: Cooking weed in the oven for up to 40 minutes
  3. 310 degrees: Cook weed in the oven up to 10 minutes
  4. 250 degrees: Heat in hot oil bath until bubbles recede

Before beginning any of the aforementioned methods, be sure to coarsely grind your weed and spread it out for about 20 minutes so that it dries out evenly.

Below we’ll dive into the common ways used when decarbing weed but if you want an automated solution, skip the below and head to our decarboxylation devices review. Yup. There’s multiple all in one solutions that will do all of this for you and even alert you when its done!

edibles decarbed

Decarb Method 1:

  • Place the cannabis in a heat-proof container of cooking oil, like canola oil, that is heated to 250 degrees. Stir slowly to break up any bubbles.
  • Once the bubbles slow down, remove the now-cannabis oil or leave on low heat until all bubbles stop.

Decarb Method 2:

  • Preheat your oven to either 240 or 310 degrees as explained above.
  • Sprinkle the weed on a nice-sized pie plate, cover with silver foil, and crimp along the edges of the plate.
  • Place in the oven for the desired times as noted above to keep it in longer for fresher material and less for drier herb.
  • Once the desired time has elapsed, turn off your oven and remove the plate.
  • Allow the plate to cool before you begin to remove the foil. This will allow the cannabis to absorb the vapors.

Decarb Method 3:

  • Place your cannabis into a boilable cooking bag or pouch. Be sure to seal the bag before submerging in water.
  • Place the bag of cannabis in a pot of boiling water for 90 minutes, ensuring the pot does not boil to dryness and damage the pouch.
  • After 90 minutes remove the bag slowly and allow to properly cool before opening and accessing the cannabis inside.
  • Now that you have a better understanding as to how to decarb weed, you will be able to enjoy the full strength of your cannabis next time you want to party.

The decarboxylation process triggers the THC and allows you yet another way to enjoy smoking without having to do things the traditional way. Whether boiling or baking, you lock in the power of the cannabis while releasing only moisture trapped inside.

Cannabis Decarboxylation Chart

Decarboxylation Chart

Wrapping Up: Decarbing Weed

Nonetheless, when it comes to edibles and other converted cannabinoids that are consumed in order to produce a psychoactive effect, decarboxylation is the key to your success.

While decarboxylation can be accomplished by using one of the previously described methods, many people these days are discovering that it is much easier and far more convenient to simply purchase one of the pre-programmed decarboxylation devices that are currently available on the market.  

That way, they can accomplish what would otherwise be a somewhat involved task with the simple push of a button.