What is Decarboxylation? How to Unlock the Power of THC
Published on 8/6/19
Updated Jun 3, 2022
Anyone who has ever tried to make their own edibles has realized that simply adding a few spare nugs into your brownie batter will not produce the desired 'effect.' It turns out that making some pot brownies is just far more complicated than throwing some ground up cannabis flower into some gooey, uncooked brownie mix, popping it into the oven, and hoping for the best. But why is this? Why does smoking weed get you high while eating it does not?
The reason you can't get high from simply sprinkling your spare shake onto pasta is because of a process known as 'decarboxylation,' and we here at Where's Weed are going to break it down in detail for you! We'll go in-depth on what exactly decarboxylation is, how to do it with your cannabis flower, and how to go about making some top-notch cannabis-infused edibles that are as potent as they are tasty. Think of this are your one-stop guide for decarboxylation, how to do it, and how to incorporate it into delicious edibles.
Before we dig too incredibly deeply into how decarboxylation works and how it relates to making potent, tasty edibles, we first need to define some terms. So what exactly is decarboxylation?
When you purchase a few sticky nugs from your favorite dispensary, it is easy to look at its crystalline-covered surface and think, "wow, that's a lot of THC." However, raw cannabis does not contain large amounts of the well-known cannabinoid THC. Cannabis flowers instead contain a wealth of the cannabinoid THCA, the precursor to the potent effects of THC. While the names of the two cannabinoids seem very similar, the slight difference in chemical structure makes for very different effects when consumed.
The shape and size of a THCA molecule do not allow the body's endocannabinoid system to absorb it. Absorption into our system is a requirement for intoxicating effects. Therefore, any consumed THCA will not produce psychoactive effects. So, if a cannabis plant contains mainly THCA, how do we get high?
Well, that answer lies in the process of decarboxylation. The process involves using specific amounts of heat, time, and light to remove a carboxyl ring or group from THCA, transforming it into the intoxicating cannabinoid THC.
How Does Decarboxylation Happen?
The central requirements for decarboxylation to occur are heat, time, and light. Several processes performed on harvested marijuana will cause THCA to transform into THC. For instance, drying and curing freshly harvested marijuana will cause a small amount of decarboxylation to take place. This is why you may often see marijuana in dispensaries labeled with certain amounts of both THC and THCA (usually much higher percentages of THCA). Adding rapid amounts of extreme heat, such as when smoking marijuana, will instantly cause decarboxylation to take place. This is why THC is immediately available for bodily absorption when you inhale marijuana smoke.
While extreme heats will instantly cause decarboxylation to occur, they do not maintain the integrity of the transformed THC. Exposing the cannabis to low amounts of added heat over an extended time period will allow decarboxylation to happen while maintaining the longevity of cannabinoids and terpenes for later consumption. This process will allow any THC produced within the material to be infused into any consumable you wish. While this may seem very complicated at first, it is really as simple as cooking the parent material at specific heats for specific times (scroll down to view these temperatures/times).
What is the Best Temperature to Decarboxylate Weed?
As we stated before, extreme heats, like those generated when smoking weed, will instantly decarboxylate marijuana. However, very high heat will also cause terpenes and cannabinoids to denature. For this reason, when decarboxylating your weed it is best to use temperatures below 300 degrees Fahrenheit. If the parent cannabis material rises above these levels, many chemical compounds within the marijuana will begin to lose their effectiveness, which is why we recommend temperatures around 200-250 degrees Fahrenheit.
Easy Steps to Decarboxylate Cannabis at Home
If you are making your own THC-infused products, the first step of any process will be to decarboxylate your marijuana. The common way to make THC-infused treats is to dissolve the THC into a solvent that can be used as a versatile cooking material, most often butter. If you are vegan, THC can also be cooked into coconut oil, olive oil, or any other oil containing high amounts of fatty acids.
What You'll Need:
- 1 Cooking Pot
- Butter or oil to act as a solvent
- 1 Mason Jar
- Decarboxylate the Marijuana: Preheat your oven to 220-250 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a piece of parchment paper over a baking sheet to prevent sticking. Break up your marijuana into small pieces, allowing for the maximum amount of surface area to be exposed to heat. Place the tray of cannabis into the oven, setting a timer for 25-45 minutes. The time will vary based on the moisture content within the marijuana. If you are using very dry weed we recommended using less time.
- Slowly Heat Your Solvent: If you are planning to use an oil to dissolve the decarboxylated weed, add it to a pot and place it on the stovetop on low heat. If you plan to make Cannabutter, place equal amounts of water and butter into a pot or pan. Place the pan over a burner on low heat, allowing the butter to slowly melt.
- Mix in the Decarboxylated Weed: As your oil heats up or your butter begins to melt, slowly add in your marijuana, gently stirring the mixture as you go.
- Don't Let it Boil: You will need to leave the mixture on the stove for 2-3 hours, ensuring that it never reaches a boil. Slowly simmer the mixture (around 160-195 degrees Fahrenheit if you have a thermometer), stirring every 20 minutes or so to ensure proper mixing.
- Strain: Once the butter or oil has had ample time to cool, pour the mixture over a cheesecloth-lined funnel into your mason jar.
- Refrigerate: Place your jar into the refrigerator to set. The butter or oil will need a couple of hours before being ready to cook.
- Add the Butter or Oil to Your Favorite Recipe: The mixture you created can now be added to your favorite baking recipe or placed on top of your favorite dish. Don't worry about high temperature when baking, the buffer provided by the liquid within the recipe will ensure that the internal temperature of the cannabutter does not exceed 300 degrees Fahrenheit (unless you burn it, that is).
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