Article written by
Tina MagrabiSenior Content Writer
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
“Decarbing” is short for decarboxylation — a chemical reaction that occurs by heating raw cannabis. It is necessary to activate the therapeutic cannabinoids of the cannabis plant, namely CBD and THC. It is called “decarbing” or “decarboxylation” as it is a chemical reaction that removes carbon dioxide (CO2) from carbon chains in cannabinoids.
Every time you light up a joint or smoke a bowl, you’re decarbing weed. But, when it comes to making homemade edibles, tinctures, or topicals, the process is a little different. Learning how to decarb weed for these purposes involves a bit more than a lighter and a bong.
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What Is Decarboxylation?
Decarboxylation is the process of heating your weed to power up essential cannabinoids like CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) that are present in other forms in raw cannabis.
CBD is reputed to offer many therapeutic effects, such as reducing anxiety and easing pain. THC is a big part of what makes cannabis a “pharmacy in a plant,” (in addition to its psychoactive effects), potentially helping combat cancer and other serious diseases. Adding THC arguably also helps improve other cannabinoids’ efficacy, so even small amounts of THC can help enhance CBD’s therapeutic value by the “entourage effect.”
Before decarboxylation, CBD and THC exist in acid form as cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA).
When you heat cannabis at different temperatures, a decarboxylation reaction occurs and the acidic cannabinoids CBDA and THCA lose a carboxyl group, thus converting into neutral CBD and THC.
Heating cannabis is not the only way to decarboxylate the plant, though. Improperly stored cannabis will naturally decarb over time, causing the cannabinoids to activate before you’re ready to consume the weed, resulting in less potency. For this reason, it is crucial to store your cannabis in an airtight container under the right light and temperature conditions.
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Why Is Decarboxylation Necessary?
Simply put, you decarboxylate cannabis to reap the plant’s potential rewards. Cannabis that has not been decarboxylated cannot get you high and does not offer the same level of medicinal properties as decarbed cannabis does.
Decarbing cannabis is essential for making cannabis edibles, oils/tinctures, and DIY topicals. Your digestive system and your body as a whole will more readily absorb the cannabinoids in edibles and topicals when cannabis has been decarboxylated.
Another benefit of decarbing cannabis is that the heating process reduces bacteria content. Heating, curing, and drying cannabis decreases moisture levels, which inhibits bacteria and other contaminants from accumulating.
Ways to Decarb Cannabis
There are many ways to decarboxylate cannabis, some of which we do not recommend. For example, the mason jar method is an effective way to decarb cannabis but involves heating glass over an open flame and can be dangerous. Here are some other safer, equally effective ways to decarb cannabis in your kitchen.
The boiling stovetop method is good if you make a simple recipe like cannabis tea. Take an empty tea bag, fill it with decarboxylated cannabis, and seal. Place the tea bag in a pot of simmering water on the stovetop, ideally at a high heat of about 210 degrees Fahrenheit. The end product will be a potent, slightly bitter cup of cannabis tea. Add fresh lemon juice and honey to enhance the flavor of your marijuana tea.
Double-Boiler or Sous Vide
The sous-vide method is discreet and won’t create the same pungent marijuana odors as other decarboxylation methods. Use a vacuum-sealed bag, fill up a pot with water, and set the pot on your stovetop. Adjust the temperature on your sous vide precision cooker to about 230 degrees Fahrenheit after inserting your cooker into the pot of water. Decarb your cannabis at the same temperature for approximately 90 minutes.
The slow cooker or Crockpot method will help you make edible staples like canna oil. In addition to a slow cooker, you’ll need a carrier oil like coconut or olive and dried cannabis plant material. Slow-cook the mixture on high for one hour, then move to a low temperature for an additional three hours.
The oven method is perhaps the most popular way to decarb cannabis at home. This method requires a few basic supplies that you likely have in your kitchen, along with a short heating time of just 40 minutes.
How to Decarb Cannabis Using the Oven Method
The oven method is often considered the easiest and best way to decarboxylate cannabis at home. Gather these kitchen tools before you decarb cannabis in the oven:
- Baking tray
- Parchment paper
- Spice or coffee grinder
- Raw cannabis flower
Once you’ve gathered these basic supplies, follow these easy steps to decarb your cannabis:
Preheat oven to 240 degrees Fahrenheit.
Line the baking tray with a sheet of parchment paper.
Using the spice or coffee grinder, grind the cannabis into loose chunks over the parchment paper. (Make sure they’re not very, very small pieces.)
Place the baking tray in the oven and keep it in the oven for 40 minutes at a temperature of 240 degrees Fahrenheit (115 degrees Celsius).
Note that the oven method produces strong marijuana odors and is inappropriate if you want to be discreet. Let the final product fully cool before integrating it into edible recipes.
The Bottom Line
Going through the decarboxylation process is a simple but necessary step in creating a wide range of cannabis products at home. It doesn’t take a very long time, and it will ensure that your products produce the intoxicating effects you’re after. Using the oven method is the most popular choice, but using your stovetop, slow cooker, or sous vide are other suitable options.
Whatever method you choose, Leafwell can help you with the cannabis portion of your shopping list. Apply for a medical marijuana card to start purchasing products from licensed cannabis dispensaries in your state. Connect with a physician at Leafwell today to get started.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What happens during decarboxylation?
A chemical reaction occurs during decarboxylation, transforming acidic cannabinoids into neutral cannabinoids. Cannabinoid acids such as CBDA and THCA change into therapeutic, potentially psychoactive compounds when you heat cannabis flower at high temperatures.
Is decarboxylation necessary for edibles?
Decarboxylation is essential for making potent cannabis edibles like cannabutter. Decarboxylate cannabis before making edibles to maximize the potency of the plant’s potential health benefits. As a classic example, you must decarb your cannabis before baking a pot brownie if you want to get high.
How long do you decarboxylate for?
Marijuana’s decarb temp and time go hand-in-hand. The length of time you should decarb your cannabis depends on the temperature you’re using to heat it. Lower temperatures take a longer period to decarboxylate cannabis, while higher temperatures will expedite the process. One scientific study suggests that decarbing cannabis for 110 minutes at 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.33 degrees Celsius) is optimal for activating THC.
Do cannabinoids all decarboxylate at the same temperature?
No, there are differences in the specific temperatures that different cannabinoids will decarboxylate at. In general, though, it is best to keep your decarboxylation temps to about 230-240 degrees Fahrenheit or about 110-115 degrees Celsius to retain cannabinoid content.