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Cannabis Decarboxylation - What Is It and Why Is It Important?

With cannabis consumption on the rise nationally, both recreationally and as medication. Decarboxylation is a word you may have been hearing more frequently these days, especially if you have any interest in the cannabis plant.

So what is decarboxylation, you ask? 

Decarboxylation is a chemical reaction by  which a carboxyl molecule is freed from an acid to form a new compound.  For our interest this would refer to THC and CBD being present in fresh flowers of the cannabis plant as THCA and CBDA. While each of these have medicinal benefits all their own they must first be processed through digestion prolonging time for effects to be achieved and changing the character of the effects themselves. Decarboxylation will enable them to pass the blood brain barrier. This makes the THC and CBD "orally active" and they can be absorbed immediately in the oral cavity with no need to pass through the digestive process. Effects have a quicker onset and are more easily titrated. Decarboxylation  releases a little bit of water and carbon dioxide. The reaction itself is dependent on both time and temperature and will occur naturally as the material ages. This takes quite awhile and is inefficient to say the least. More often the reaction is immediate as the flowers themselves are smoked  or vaporized. Also plant material can be baked into an edible product or steeped into an oil. Decarboxylation happening more or less as the product is heated during the cooking process. 

While smoking is a reliable and speedy method of delivery, many would rather avoid unnecessary inhalation of possible carcinogens caused when burning plant matter. Alternatively cooking with cannabis, in the past and to some extent currently, has alway been unreliable at best, as not much was understood about this all important little bit of chemistry. Some edibles seem to have no effect at all while other are too effective. More often than not if an effect is felt it is heavily narcotic and sedative (CBN) not euphoric and clear headed(THC). 

This has caused an increased interest in and need to better understand the process of decarboxylation.

OK, so how does it work?

Being a function of both time and temperature, decarboxylation will occur more quickly at higher temperatures. Care must be taken though, as THC is itself a precursor to CBN. Which, again, has many useful effects but the most noticeable is a strong sedation. This conversion of THC to CBN begins to occur approximately 70-75% of the way through total conversion of available THCA. This contributing to the aforementioned edibles which suffered from over conversion of the THC molecule into CBN. The time it takes and the amount of heat is variable to some degree. Based on the amount of material and it's degree of dryness. Although it is not generally recommended to begin with material that hasn't dried to some degree. If fresh plant material is to be used a first dehydration step would be wise. Time being the more variable of the two factors based on quantity to be processed. Decarboxylation happens most rapidly and efficiently at temperatures between 230-290 degrees Fahrenheit. With times from one hour to seven minutes.

Consistent results can be obtained with a temperature of 250 degrees Fahrenheit and a time of 30 minutes. These parameters allow for rapid conversion to THC without over doing it and having it convert to CBN.

Just to quickly recap. THCA and CBDA (as well as the other cannabinoids) must be converted to THC and CBD to be readily assimilated by the body. The process by which this occurs is called decarboxylation. This process actually begins when the plant is cut down, but is sped along and more accurately controlled by gentle heating. 

Hopefully this has served to demystify the decarboxylation process for you. With a little care and attention to detail excellent result can be had right in your own kitchen. 

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