Decarboxylation: Stoner Science Behind How to Decarb Weed

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:

You may have noticed hundreds of articles about food or drinks with infused cannabis circling the Internet for the past few years.

If you haven’t had the chance to read such an article, most of them revolve around the fact that you can eat or drink something infused with THC, get “Johnny Knoxville eating cake in a bush” high, and you don’t even know what is going on before it hits you.

Decarboxylation definition

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 the Google definition below which we completely trust as Google is the source of all internet knowledge:

“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 process

Decarboxylation process

As I’ve said, we at Greencamp are not scientists, but we do love to get sciencey about things that we’re passionate about.

One of our biggest passions is weed, smoking it, making dope edibles from it and learning more about anything cannabis related. That is why today we will be sharing what we found and what we know about the delicate process of decarboxylating marijuana.

When it comes to weed, decarbing weed means that you need to heat up your raw weed to a certain temperature at which it will release a carboxyl group.

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 plants, 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.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the two most prevalent: THC and CBD.

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. Aldo 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 the 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 it was happening at the time, but we didn’t have to know that 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.

Decarb chart

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, it is easier now more than ever to look up anything you want on Google, and right now you want to find out the balance of temperature and time during decarbing.

This is called a decarb chart, or decarboxylation chart, but honestly it is more of a graph than a chart. We just call it a chart because that’s what people type in Google when they look for it.

On this graph you can see how a desired THC content is reached by targeting a specific temperature and holding weed on that temperature.

As this chart was based on a strain that can have a maximum of 15% THC content, you can see on the chart that the easiest way to reach that amount is by decarbing you weed for about 7 minutes on 300F degrees, or for 20 minutes on about 250F.

Keep in mind that you should always preheat the oven to this temperature when decarbing weed. If you can see through the oven glass in order to make sure it is not burning to fast or something, that is the perfect scenario.

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

We learned from the decarbing chart 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:

  1. Preheat oven to 250℉. If you 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Spread the small pieces and flakes on a piece of baking paper (one with a rim works best). Make sure there is no overlapping pieces of weed.
  4. 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.
  5. After 30 minutes, check the 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 a further 5-10 minutes. Keep an eye on everything so it doesn’t burn.
  6. 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.
  7. When the cannabis has cooled sufficiently, put it in a food processor and pulse until the weed is thoroughly ground (like oregano).
  8. 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 foods, there is no need to do this

Decarboxylation before making edibles is a must

I said it before and I will say it again — it is literally impossible to get high off eating 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 it 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.