If you’ve ever eaten raw cannabis flower hoping to get high, you were probably disappointed. That’s because you need to decarb your cannabis first.
THC (the chemical compound responsible for the “high” and psychoactive effects) doesn’t exist in significant amounts in raw cannabis. Neither does CBD, a cannabinoid known for its beneficialanti-inflammatory effects and for relievinganxiety. The cannabinoids THC and CBD actually start out as the cannabinoidsTHCA and CBDA, which both have an additional carboxyl group in their molecular makeup.
In scientific terms, decarboxylation is a chemical reaction that removes a carboxyl group from a molecule. A carboxyl group in molecular form is identified as COOH, or a carbon atom that is double-bonded to an oxygen and an -OH group. (See the graphic below for a simple illustration of the carboxyl groups in THCA and CBDA.) Decarboxylation occurs naturally at a very slow rate, but it can be expedited when a certain level of heat is applied for an amount of time that allows for the molecules to break down and be released as carbon dioxide (CO2).
With their carboxyl groups still attached, THCA and CBDA cannot effectively bind to our cannabinoid receptors. This would explain why you won’t experience any euphoric effects if you ingest it in raw form. In order to be bioavailable to our endocannabinoid system, these cannabinoid molecules must undergo decarboxylation. That is why it is so important to decarb your cannabis before making edibles and why heat needs to be applied for it to be medically effective.
Remember to Decarb at Lower Temperatures
Decarbing cannabis should usually be done at high temperatures. In fact, when you take a lighter to cannabis buds in a pipe, joint, or bong—or when you turn on a vape pen—you are decarbing it by applying heat! When it comes to edibles, topicals, and other cannabis products though, cannabis should be decarbed at lower temperatures for longer periods of time.
It’s easy to burn off cannabinoids if you use the wrong temperatures or when decarbing for too long. When decarbing for edibles, using lower heat for a longer period of time allows one to preserve the cannabinoids (especially THC, the psychoactive compound) as well as theterpenes (the aromatic compounds found in plants that have their own set of benefits and give cannabis its flavor).
Additionally, decarboxylation at lower temperaturesallows the THCA to be converted to THC, as opposed toCBN, the sleepy cannabinoid. Low and slow is key. Let’s go over how to decarb in more detail, so you can enjoy cannabis in its many forms at the potencies necessary for your medical needs.
Does Heating Up Weed Make It Stronger?
When you consider the fact that decarboxylated weed contains activated compounds that are psychoactive, heating up cannabis does make it stronger. Heating up weed is essential for converting THCA and CBDA into THC and CBD.
Should You Use a Grinder Before Decarbing?
There is a debate within the cannabis community about whether flower should be broken up with a grinder or by hand during the decarbing process. Many seasoned cannabis consumers swear that using your hands disturbs fewertrichomes, the microscopic hairs on buds that store cannabinoids and terpenes. Plus, feeling the cannabis with your hands is an important part of the ritual and experience for some.
Others argue that using a grinder prevents sticky fingers. If you’ve ever broken up cannabis with your hands, you’ve probably noticed the sticky residue left behind. The trichomes tend to stick to your skin, thus causing your flower to lose some of its potency. Supporters of the grinder method also argue that using a three-chambered grinder allows you to collectkief. Collecting kief means you can still use it, whereas trichomes stuck to your hands end up wasted. Additionally, kief can be decarbed and used in cannabis edibles, tinctures, cannabutter, etc. Grinders can be purchased at affordable prices, but the choice of whether or not to use one is yours.
Different Ways to Decarboxylate Cannabis
Combustion, or smoking, is the quickest and most convenient way to decarb cannabis. This can be done through a variety of different approaches like taking a flame to a pipe, joint, or handmade device. If smoking isn’t a preference, vaporization of cannabis—with options like portable vaping devices—would be the next most effective method for decarbing.
Do be aware that decarboxylated cannabis can be a very aromatic endeavor that will produce a strong smell in your home. However, this is also dependent on the size of your house and the extent of the ventilation. The smell will most likely dissipate within 30 minutes to an hour after you have finished decarboxylating. Some decarboxylators on the market claim that they produce no smell.
This guide is a compilation of articles written by Lo and Chane Leigh. This article was originally published in August, 2021 and updated in June, 2023.