Welcome back to another edition of Stoner Science, where today we will be explaining the process of decarboxylation from the Physics and Chemistry end of it.
We will also get into detail on:
- How to decarb weed at home
- Why you should decarb weed before making edibles, and..
- What you can make with marijuana once you have decarbed it.
Let’s jump right in, without any further ado.
The Greencamp definition of decarboxylation is as follows:
Magic behind making weed a potent additive to food.
As none of us here are a certified chemist, or any other type of certified scientist for that matter, you might want to check out Quora’s definition:
“Decarboxylation is a chemical reaction that removes a carboxyl group and releases carbon dioxide (CO2). Usually, decarboxylation refers to a reaction of carboxylic acids, removing a carbon atom from a carbon chain.”
Decarbing weed means that you need to heat up your raw weed to a certain temperature, at which it will release a carboxyl group and become potent.
Since raw cannabis doesn’t have any THC prior to this process, all those stories of people eating a gram or a handful of weed and instantly fall through, unless it was the placebo effect.
As you can see on the image above, the THCA (which is an acronym for Tetrahydrocannabinolic Acid) is the active component in raw cannabis, which turns to THC under the influence of increased temperature.
Chemistry of cannabinoids
Chemical structure of THC and CBD
All cannabinoids contained within the raw cannabis flowers have an extra carboxyl ring or group (COOH) attached to their chain.
You can see their structure on the image above. As you can see, they do not have an extra carboxyl (COOH) group attached to them.
The extra carboxyl group is lost in the process of carboxylation due to the effect heat has on the molecule’s chemical structure. Once a certain degree of heat has been reached and applied, the molecule will release the carboxyl group. The carboxyl group is then replaced with a hydrogen molecule.
This process is pretty much the same when it comes to CBD as with THC. Both CBD and THC acids are carboxylic acids which tend to decompose directly on heating.
However, not all carboxylic acids are decomposed in this manner, as only complex carboxylic acids decompose under the influence of heat solely.
Simple carboxylic acids are harder to decarboxylate. Their sodium salts do undergo decarboxylation when heated with soda lime but a complex mixture evolves. Although this is a very interesting process, it is not related to decarbing THCA and CBDA so we will leave it at that.
Now, decarbing is nothing new to mankind.
We have mastered the process of decarboxylation thousands of years ago when man first started making bronze and iron weapons.
Sure, we didn’t understand or know the chemistry behind it at that time, but we didn’t have to know it for it to happen. When you stop to think about it, that is the true magic of science — you don’t need to know what is happening or how something is happening for it to have a massive impact on mankind.
As with any other chemical process, there are certain things that need to be done in order for the chemical components to change their structure.
We have found out previously that for this particular process we need to raise the temperature of the THCA molecules found in raw cannabis.
Decarbing is not a process that happens only at a certain temperature. It happens on high temperature, but determining how high of a temperature and how long to keep it at that temperature is the key.
Luckily for us, there is a chart.
This is called a decarboxylation chart.
On this graph you can see how the desired THC content is reached by heating the buds on a specific temperature and keeping them there for a certain period of time.
As this chart was based on a strain that can have a maximum of 15% THC content, you can see that the easiest way to reach that amount is by decarbing you weed for about 7 minutes on 300°F (148°C), or for 20 minutes on about 250°F (121°C).
Keep in mind that you should always preheat the oven to this temperature when decarbing weed. You should check on the buds through the oven glass in order to make sure it is not burning too fast.
In case you don’t have a see-through glass on your oven, try not to open the oven door too much, especially if you are decarbing weed at a high temperature. Opening the door will cool down the oven temperature, thus changing important factors when it comes to the decarbing process
Here is how to decarb weed in 8 steps
So far, we’ve learned that cannabis can be decarboxylated in several ways when it comes to the temperature and the length of time for which it is being baked.
We found that the easiest way to decarb weed is at a relatively low temperature for about 30 minutes.
Here’s a step by step guide on how to do decarb cannabis:
- Preheat the oven to 250℉. If you’ve never done this before, just turn the switch so that it points to 250. Once it has reached that temperature, the oven will turn off a small (usually orange) light.
- If you haven’t already, break up the dried buds into small pieces with your hands. Don’t grind it down, just break it into smaller bits and don’t leave any nugs out.
- Spread the small pieces and flakes on a piece of baking paper (one with a rim works best). Make sure there are no overlapping pieces of weed.
- Bake the cannabis at 250℉ for 25-30 minutes. As mentioned before, make sure you don’t open the oven too often. We recommend you open it only once around the time 25 minutes have passed. The result of this should be a change of color from green to light brown.
- After 30 minutes, check your cannabis. It should be light to medium-brown in color and should be very dry. If it’s not, put it back in the oven for an extra 5-10 minutes. Keep an eye on everything so it doesn’t burn.
- When finished baking, remove the cannabis from the baking sheet and let it cool for a while. Careful, it’s going to be very crumbly at this point so every nug you touch can easily turn to dust.
- When the cannabis has cooled sufficiently, put it in a food processor and pulse until the weed is thoroughly ground (like oregano).
- If you’re going to use the cannabis you just decarbed in smoothies or drinks, you should continue grinding until you turn it to a powder. For food, there is no need to do this.
Decarboxylation before making edibles is a must
I’ve said it before and I will say it again — it is literally impossible to get high from raw weed. It is nature’s way of preventing bad things happening to us and the animals around us.
So if someone tells you they had to eat a handful while running from the cops and got super high once they caught them, they are most likely lying.
Sure, you could make a batch of weed muffins by making the muffin mix and just throwing in a couple handfuls of ground down weed. Toss it in the oven, hope for the best…
But that batch would be a nasty, burnt out cake that looks and tastes nothing like weed muffins.
Maybe you would get a little bit high if the temperature in the oven hasn’t destroyed all the THC molecules remaining…
The consequences of cooking edibles without decarbing weed are terrible so trust my word when I say it’s a must. It is just not worth it, even though most people that never made cannabis infused foods think this is the legit way to go.
Even though science is very exact, cooking is not really a science. You can never really know what is the temperature inside of the oven other than hoping that your thermometer inside is working properly.
As you can see on the image above, decarboxylating can be done in 3 different ways when decarbing THC and CBD. The basic and most common way is decarbing cannabis inside an oven, but you can also do it in a boiling water bath.
Hot oil baths are reserved for making cannabis oil and it is a bit different process than regular decarbing, so we will talk about that another time.
If you plan on decarbing kief or hash, you should always refer to the second chart we provided you with. You will notice that on higher temperatures, kief and hash tend to decarb a bit quicker than buds.
You may also want to refer to this chart if you are decarbing weed strains that are higher in CBD or THC than others. Strains that have a high level of CBD tend to decarb a bit slower than those with high THC contents.
Other ways of processing weed
Cannabis can also be activated through solvent extraction and ice-water extraction, which are both complex chemical processes.
These methods produce a concentrate that can be hardened and most often it is used for dabbing, although it can be kept in an oily state as well. The important point of all this is that the cannabinoids in the marijuana need to be activated so that the body can get high.
It’s this activation that gives your weed the psychoactive and medical benefits you are looking to get, and you can thank decarboxylation for that.