Decarboxylation of CBD and THC– That’s How You Activate Cannabis

As the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach, it’s no surprise that cooking and baking with cannabis is growing in popularity. In order to enjoy their pharmacological effects, THC and CBD need to be decarboxylated. Or to put it another way: no heat, no high!

Decarboxylation is a horrible word. It reminds many of us of those awful school chemistry lessons. But anyone who is interested in cooking and baking with cannabis needs to know what decarboxylation is all about.

Let’s start at the beginning: Cannabis consists of hundreds of cannabinoids. The best known of these, THC and CBD, are present in the plant in the form of what are known as carboxyl acids. This is why in this form they are also referred to as THC-A and CBD-A (‘A’ stands for acid).

When you heat these substances, the acid releases a carbon dioxide molecule in a process known as decarboxylation or activation. This is, in fact, the natural process of decay and the application of heat just serves to speed it up.

Why do you need to decarboxylate your cannabis? Purely and simply because this is the only way to obtain its pharmacological or healing effects.

Here’s how you decarboxylate properly!

The basic rule is: the higher the temperature, the faster the cannabinoids will be activated. When you smoke a joint, you are decarboxylating the cannabis as you do so. And even when you steam your cannabis using a vaporizer, a few seconds is all it takes to convert THC-A into THC. By the way, the steamed cannabis left in a vaporizer is fully activated, is usually still very potent and can be eaten straight away.

When decarboxylating, the cannabis should not be heated for too long, as this can create inactive products of decomposition. You particularly need to avoid the oxidation of THC into CBN (cannabinol).

A patent owned by the UK company GW Pharmaceuticals defines the ideal conditions for decarboxylation: It involves low temperatures and a relatively long period of heating. This process ensures that 95% of the cannabinoid acids are converted into their phenol form without many decomposition products being created. Another benefit: The aromatic terpenes remain intact. Terpenes are responsible for the aroma, taste and they also influence the effect of cannabis.

According to the patent, decarboxylation in a lab setting should be carried out in two steps:

  1. First heat the cannabis briefly, to make any remaining moisture evaporate.
  2. Then heat the plant material twice more for longer periods.

The best results involve 15 minutes at a temperature of 105°C and then 60 to 120 minutes at the same temperature.

If you are using a marijuana variety which has a very high CBD content, (defined as >90% CBD as a percentage of the total cannabinoid content), then the second phase needs to be 30 minutes at 140°C.

Tea, butter or cookies? It all depends on the final product

Please note that the above instructions are based on ideal conditions created in a laboratory. If reading this has dampened your enthusiasm for baking, let’s soften the blow. You don’t have to stick to precise temperatures and times. Depending on what you are going to use the activated plant material for, there are only good and less good methods of preparation.

Let’s say you want to make some marijuana tea. If you pour boiling water over the buds and leave everything to brew for 5 to 10 minutes, the cannabinoids will not be fully activated. At 100°C, the plant material needs to be heated for at least 1 hour. A common practice is to heat the material in a closed pickling jar for an hour in a water bath. The result: Cannabis with plenty of flavour and strong effects! Make sure to heat up the water slowly as rapid changes in temperature increase the risk of glass breaking.

It is even simpler if you want to bake tasty cookies or cakes. Most baking recipes give near-perfect results. Avoid any temperatures above 155°C, because at that temperature, the THC starts to evaporate.

To make cannabutter, the best method is again a pickling jar in a water bath. Afterwards, boil the activated plant material with butter and water for at least one hour, strain to remove the buds and leaves, and leave to cool. The active butter can then be scooped off the top of the cooled liquid. Once frozen, the hash butter can be kept for a very long time.

And one final tip: for the best results, you should crush or grind the plant material before activating it.

  • Disclaimer:
    Laws and regulations regarding cannabis use differ from country to country. Sensi Seeds therefore strongly advises you to check your local laws and regulations. Do not act in conflict with the law.

Comments

8 thoughts on “Decarboxylation of CBD and THC– That’s How You Activate Cannabis”

  1. FredyJohnSmith

    Good explanation regarding how long one should heat up the weed to get the THC & CBD. Most in the case of edibles as I guess it requires some practice to bake the perfect weed edibles. Thanks for the share

  2. Please read the actual patent (link was given). The extended times given in the patent application relate to the 40C temperature used in the supercritical fluid extraction process and have nothing to do with the basic decarboxylation!

    The decarboxylation is simply the same thing people have been doing all along before this patent – it is nothing magic. They describe a 2-step heating for the decarboxylation. The chopped cannabis is heated to 105C for a while to dry the material; until the water is gone the cannabis can’t rise above 100C and so depending on how wet the cannabis, this would be a variable otherwise. This removal of water will occur if simply heated directly to the typical decarboxylation temperature of 110C to 115C, but driving off the water first allows for a more controlled effect of time at the 110C decarboxylation temperature; a time of 60-90 min (at temperature) is effective at decarboxylation. If you fold the cannabis into an aluminum foil packet with tightly seamed (double folded tightly) edges, it will make much less stink in your house and retain more of the terpenoids (the “stink”) that we would like in the decarbed product. Note that you can just simply eat a small pinch of the dry decarbed bud directly, but please start with a small pinch! Eating dry bud can take an hour to be noticable and last 8 hours or more – start low and go slow. Way less messy and trouble than making oils and tinctures.

    1. Don’t use aluminium foil unless you want toxic heavy metals in your brain, thats very bad advice! Don’t use it in direct contact with food either.

      1. First, the facts. Aluminum is not a heavy metal – chemically speaking – and is not hazardous in an application with mildly heated dry “food” materials. Aluminum has a melting point of over 1220degF and we would be heating it to 230degF in this application. Furthermore, Aluminum spontaneously forms a layer of aluminum oxide that has the higher melting point of 3762degF and is even more inert. There are accounts of substantial aluminum being dissolved from aluminum stockpots that simmer acidic tomato sauce for many hours in restaurants, but the case of heating dry plant material encapsulated by aluminum foil is not at all related. If interested, please read Wikipedia on Aluminum and read the section on Biology and Toxicity, and then you can make an intelligent decision for your own actions. Wikipedia states “There is little evidence that normal exposure to aluminium presents a risk to healthy adult, and there is evidence of no toxicity if it is consumed in amounts not greater than 40 mg/day per kg of body mass.” People should do what they are comfortable with, but use your head and look at evidence. I also don’t believe in a flat earth.

      2. Three Nazis Walk into a B.A.R.

        Are vaccines bad too Simon?! Aluminum foil is made from pure Al ingots squished between a couple of massive rollers. I worked at a place that made the stuff. Please stop talking out your ass there Simon. You’re very full of shit and presenting it as fact. Aluminium is not a toxin or a heavy metal. The only thing it comes in contact with is a little bit of food grade lubricant that is on the rollers and that is removed when it’s heated. It is absolutely safe to use to decarb and for food.

      3. Simon Says….Use your brain! Well, Aluminum is not a heavy metal, neither physically not chemically, so you won’t get any heavy metals, sorry. It is atomic number 13, Atomic Weight 26.981… It is NOT a heavy metal. It IS toxic, but you aren’t going to get it by covering food in an oven.

        Aluminum has the following properties:
        Melting point 933.47 K ​(660.32 °C, ​1220.58 °F)
        Boiling point 2743 K ​(2470 °C, ​4478 °F)
        The first thing that aluminum does on heating in the presence of air (with oxygen) is form aluminum oxide, a thin layer that has a much higher melting point than aluminum.
        Melting point 2,345 K (2,072 °C, 3,762 °F)
        Boiling point 3,250 K (2,977 °C, 5,391 °F)

        There is no way that aluminum foil will contribute aluminum to a batch of buds being decarboxylated at 120C.

        Intelligently used, aluminum foil can even be used for lining a pipe bowl. Really. Again, use your head and don’t put an oxy-acetylene torch on it! With normal gentle heat to vaporize the goodies in the bud, you end up with the aluminum foil covered with tar, not evaporating the aluminum. You get a bowl with a glowing cherry, now that is a different propsition and that is not what I am talking about. You are going to get aluminum into your body from environmental sources like water, foods, food additives and drugs; it will not come from lightly heating your buds at 120C to decarboxylate the cannabinoids.

  3. So, if I’ve got this correct, GW Pharma was granted a patent for decarboxylation of cannabis by heating – an old and well-known method. If this is true, then anyone who uses heating to decarboxylate is infringing on their patent; any company, any individual. And, I have learned in a different context the unpleasant way, anyone who advises or encourages one to use this method of heating to decarboxylate is violating their assigned rights. The patent offices are staffed with idiots (well, maybe just overworked and underpaid gov’t employees) who often give away patent rights without really doing any research. Then it is on the people who should own the rights to use simple and long-used methods to have to fight in court against corporate lawyers. Just be warned folks – it sure looks like they have patent rights to our basic heat decarbing process! Follow that link in the article and it is right there: “In PCT/GB02/00620 the applicant discloses a method of preparing a herbal drug extract (botanical drug Substance) from medicinal cannabis. The process comprises:
    1. a heating step to decarboxylate the acid form of the cannabinoids to their neutral
    form; ”

    I guess that for many of us we are in the clear since we might use a “recreational cannabis” (and who knows what we do in the privacy of our cellars anyway), but any company using this method for any “medical cannabis” would be in violation of their patent. This is very troublesome.

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    Sensi Seeds

    The Sensi Seeds Editorial team has been built throughout our more than 30 years of existence. Our writers and editors include botanists, medical and legal experts as well as renown activists the world over including Lester Grinspoon, Micha Knodt, Robert Connell Clarke, Maurice Veldman, Sebastian Maríncolo, James Burton and Seshata.
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