If you're new to cooking with cannabis, the terms can be a little intimidating. Cannabidiol, Tetrahydracannabidiol, “still federally illegal”… you know… the kind of terms that make you a little confused.
Today here at Wake+Bake, we're tackling the big one – Decarboxylation (pronounced: DEE-CARB-OX-OH-LAY-SHUN).
It's a big word, but there's no need for overwhelm or stress when it comes to cooking with cannabis.
In a nutshell: Decarboxylation is a necessary step in making cannabis infusions that are effective and affordable. Both THC and CBD need to go through the process and it's not complicated at all. You can do it in your own home and it will greatly improve the effectiveness of your edibles.
However, the science behind it can get a little confusing, so I'm going to break it down in detail.
If you just want to skip the cannabis science geek out and get to the instructions, just skip to the section that says “the Verdict on Decarboxylation”. For the rest of my fellow cannabis nerds… read on.
Decarboxylation is absolutely essential to making potent cannabis oils, butters, and tinctures. So let's get to the point of this article and start by learning what decarboxylation is, and how beneficial it is and how to do it.
What Is Decarboxylation?
We're going to get a little science-y here, but stick with me. It sounds more complicated than it actually is.
Decarboxylation is simply “a chemical reaction that removes a carboxyl group and releases carbon dioxide (CO2)” [wiki].
When it comes to marijuana, decarboxylation effectively removes the COOH group from the THC-A molecule by releasing H2O (water) an CO2 (carbon dioxide), turning it into the psychoactive THC.
This release of water and carbon dioxide naturally occurs during the drying process and happens instantly when you burn one down.
When making edibles, its easy to take this step for granted. Decarboxylation happens haphazardly (to some degree) when we heat oil or butter to infuse it with cannabis and when we cook with it.
Benefits of Decarboxylating Marijuana
There are several reasons why decarboxylating cannabis is so important when making potent and medicinal edibles, tinctures and topical treatments. When you decarboxylate your cannabis at a controlled temperature for the right amount of time you:
- fully activate the THC in your material making it readily psychoactive.
- fully activating the CBD in your material making it more effective
- get potent edibles, tinctures and topicals with all of the medicinal value intact… every time.
Time and Temperature of THC Decarboxylation
Ask 10 cannabis cooks how log they decarb for and at what temperature, you'll likely get 10 different answers.
I've been on the hunt to find the most accurate scientific data surrounding this, and if you have something more up to date, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section below. Here's been the journey so far:
When I found this article at Skunk Pharms Research about decarboxylation, I felt like I was really getting the hang of this whole decarb thing. They shared this handy little chart that shows the rate of decarboxylation of thc at different temperatures:
But this chart shows data from a “marihuana extract”. Since I'd be working almost exclusively with trim, keif and flower, would my temperatures and times be the same? It turns out… no.
And this widely circulated chart, while helpful as a starting place, doesn't really have that up-to-date science feel to it. I mean, it's from the Journal of Chromatography's 1990 edition and… is that Greek at the bottom?
Enter: Marijuana Growers HQ
They tested keif and trim at 240• F for 30 minutes and 60 minutes and had the results tested for several different cannabinoids. Here's what they found:
|Compound||Before Decarb||30 Min Decarb||60 Min Decarb|
|Compound||Before Decarb||30 Min Decarb||60 Min Decarb|
Testing provided by SC Labs and experiment conducted by Marijuana Growers HQ
“As you can see from the two charts, 30 minutes was not quite enough to completely decarboxylate either the kief or the trim. At 30 minutes the kief was about 90% decarboxylated but the trim was only about 60% decarboxylated. This difference is likely because the trim had a higher starting moisture content. After 60 minutes however, both keif and trim samples were close enough to 100% decarboxylation for my satisfaction.
So there you have it. 240° F for 60 minutes should be enough to decarboxylate any cannabis with a reasonably low moisture content. For material with higher moisture content, the time can be extended but the temperature should not be increased. If you are concerned about losing organic compounds, lower heat can be used but the time should be extended to compensate.”
(UPDATE 2021) It's Not Over: Enter the Nova
So after gathering all of this information, I was pretty content thinking I was decarbing at the right temp for the right amount of time. Since I don't have a lab to test in, I thought that I was really killing it at the decarb game and my edibles were more effective than ever.
But just when I was getting comfortable and set in my ways, Ardent Cannabis released some data that explained how my oven method was probably burning off some of my THC.
As a matter of fact, they found that decarbing in an oven can cause a 33% loss of THC.
That's 1/3 of the active compound in your very expensive cannabis lost due to temperature fluctuations.
They used lab supported data to test every purported decarboxylation method that I've ever heard of… which is quite the undertaking.
They also have sweet graphics that break things down in a way easy-to-understand way. I felt like I had woken up from a decarb nightmare and everything was so much clearer and simpler.
Controlled temperatures are key. Controlled temperatures are very hard to consistently achieve in an oven or crockpot or toaster oven.
I don't like living in that kind of mystery.
And I really don't like wasting a 1/3 of my homegrown organic cannabis just because I don't know whether or not my oven is going to kick on at the wrong time or the heating element in my crockpot is going to decide to fluctuate.
And so yeah, I couldn't resist. I had to try one of these babies…
The Nova Decarboxylator aka the Lift boasts 100% THCA to THC conversion and no THC loss. I did a test on the same material I've been working with for awhile now and it was truly incredible. It allowed me to use so much less cannabis and cut my dosage almost in half.
I'm writing up a review with a cost analysis (it's finally here!), but I can tell you for certain that if you decarb and cook with more than a couple of ounces a year, this little machine is absolutely worth the investment.
The Verdict on Decarboxylation
Based on the the results of the MGHQ experiment, I felt confident enough to decarb my trim at 240• F for one hour and my keif for 30 minutes at 240° F. Since I started doing so, my edibles and topicals have seen a dramatic increase in efficacy.
UPDATE: Since I started using the Nova Decarboxylator, I've seen an even greater increase in potency and I've decreased my dosage by at least a third since making the switch. I'd highly recommend checking it out. You can read more in my review here.
How To Decarboxylate Cannabis in an Oven (to Activate THC)
So now you know that decarboxylation is an important step in making cannabis infused products. Thankfully, it's a super easy process that requires very little input from you.
1. Preheat oven to 240• F (116•C).
Any amount of Buds, Trim, or Keif
3. Cover with tinfoil (optional).
4. Place pyrex into the oven and bake for 30 minutes for keif or 60 minutes for buds/trim.
5. Remove and allow to cool completely. Use immediately or store in a mason jar in the freezer.
Put your cannabis in a Nova, push the button. In about an hour, you'll have fully activated THC without having to wonder or waste weed.
Decarboxylation and the Levo or Magical Butter Machine
I get this question really often, so I'm going to use this post to answer it.
Do you have to decarboxylate if you're using a Levo or Magical Butter Machine?
Yes. Yes. And yes. If you want a psychoactive experience. Yes. Research is starting to show that THCa (remember… that's the non-psychoactive precursor to THC) has its own benefits, but if you really want the big bang for your buck, decarbing is the way to go for both THC and CBD rich infusions. [see: Do you need to decarboxylate CBD?]
One of the best things about the MBM is that you can infuse your oil at a controlled lower temperature and keep all of the incredibly medicinal terpenes, cannabinoids and flavonoids intact. For this reason, you really want to decarboxylate your cannabis before you run it through the Levo, the Magical Butter Machine or any other infusion gadget.