What is Decarboxylation?
Decarboxylation is a chemical reaction by which carboxylic acid is removed from the cannabinoid compounds of cannabis as CO2, as shown above.
This reverses the first step of photosynthesis in a plant, called carboxylation, the means by which CO2 from the atmosphere is added to these compounds.
If cannabinoid compounds aren’t decarboxylated they won’t be active at cannabinoid receptor sites in the body because they don’t readily pass the blood brain barrier in this form.
During this process the two primary cannabinoids, THC-A (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) and CBD-A (cannabidiolic acid) are converted to their bioactive forms, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).
How can one Decarboxylate cannabis?
Essentially it occurs as a result of heat and time. This can be done quickly at a higher heat or more slowly at a lower temperature.
It is essential to avoid overheating as this will result in the vapourisation (and therefore loss) of the cannabinoids and terpenoids (compounds responsible for the taste and aroma).
Its recommended to aim for lower temperatures to retain prevent vaporisation. But worth bearing in mind the two following points:
The most basic method of achieving this is in an oven on a covered baking tray. Be aware that different times and temperatures will produce contrasting end results so its worth using this table as a guideline:
To decarboxylate as a tincture, oil or butter, the process is equally simple.
Cannabinoids are hydrophobic, meaning they’re not soluble in water, so avoid this as a decarboxylation medium.
They are soluble in fats and alcohol and will decarboxylate when heated to 120 celsius in these mediums.
Decarboxylation will be complete when any bubbling tapers off, a sign the CO2 has been released. 30 minutes should be long enough.
Administering cannabis orally avoids any form of inhalation. This can be particularly important for children and patients with breathing difficulties.
Effects can be stronger and longer lasting than when smoking, this is an obvious benefit to some patients, but maybe not others.
It is harder to gauge the correct dose as effects can be delayed for up to 2 hours, in contrast to the instant effects of smoking.
Effects can be stronger because THC in orally consumed cannabis will be metabolized by the liver into stronger 11-hydroxy-THC. Start with a minimal dose.
It can be hard to judge when decarboxylation has occurred or to what extent.