As the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach, it is 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 an intimidating word and reminds many of us of those awful school chemistry lessons. Nevertheless, anyone interested in cooking and baking with cannabis needs to know what the process is all about.
Let us 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 they are 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 the natural process of decay, and the application of heat serves to speed it up.
Why do you need to decarb your cannabis? Purely and simply because this is the only way to obtain its pharmacological and psychotropic effects.
Here is how you decarboxylate – properly!
The basic rule is: the higher the temperature, the faster the cannabinoids will be activated. Although not the healthiest way to consume cannabis, lighting up a joint is the quickest way to decarb it.
Furthermore, even when you vape via a vaporizer, a few seconds is all it takes to convert THC-A into THC. Cannabis flower that has been vaporized has already been decarboxylated and can be used to prepare edibles.
Whether you are eating infused brownies or consuming cannabis concentrates—(“dabbing concentrates”)—the quality of your product will ultimately come down to the temperature you use. Just like you would ruin your cookies by baking the dough longer than necessary, heating cannabis at higher temperatures can also ruin your infused goodies!
Avoid heating your cannabis at higher temperatures (see the chart below). When the decarboxylation process reaches around 70%, THC-A begins to degrade into CBN-A and continues to be converted into CBN. Taking place at a faster rate than the conversion of THCA to THC, it can cause a significant decrease in potency.
If your cannabis is too cold, on the other hand, you may not activate the cannabinoids into their desired compounds.
Each compound present in cannabis has unique chemical properties, and the ideal decarboxylation temperature for one compound may differentiate itself from another. Knowing the boiling point of each terpene and cannabinoid is crucial and will help achieve maximum potency.
Under laboratory conditions, UK patent GW Pharmaceuticals defines the ideal conditions for decarboxylation: it involves heating cannabis at low temperatures for extended periods.
This process ensures that 95% of the cannabinoid acids are converted into their phenol form without creating decomposition products. Another benefit: The aromatic terpenes remain intact. Terpenes are responsible for the aroma and taste, and they also influence the effect of cannabis.
This is often referred to as the “entourage effect” and describes the interactions between cannabinoids and terpenes.
According to the patent, decarboxylation in a closed laboratory should be carried out in two steps:
- First, heat the cannabis briefly to make any remaining moisture evaporate.
- Then heat the plant material twice more for more extended periods.
The best results involve 15 minutes at a temperature of 105°C (221°F) and then 60 to 120 minutes at the same temperature.
If you are using a cannabis variety that 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 (291°F)
The graph below can give you a broader spectrum of the effects of temperature and time on cannabinoid content during decarboxylation.
Tea, butter or cookies? It all depends on the final product
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.
Cannabinoids are fat-soluble so boiling them in water alone is of little value. This is why many traditional cannabis drinks are made with dairy products such as milk or butter, which are heavy in saturated fats. More bioavailability allows the product to retain a more significant proportion of cannabinoids. For vegan alternatives, look for plant milk with high-fat content.
In Northern India, locals celebrate Holi, the festival of colours, with the preparation of Bhang Lassi: an intoxicating drink created from cannabis leaves and flowers. Milk, ghee, and spices are then added to create a refreshing beverage.
A common practice is to heat the material in a closed mason jar, submerged in a pan of water for an hour (“bain-marie”). It evenly transmits heat into the closed container, keeping ingredients warm over a prolonged period.
The result: Cannabis with plenty of flavour and strong effects! Make sure to heat the water slowly, as rapid changes in temperature increase the risk of glass breaking, and do not let it boil dry.
Optimal temperatures for the decarb process!
For best results, crush or grind plant material before activating. Always remember that it is essential to ensure the flower is immaculate before starting the decarb process; otherwise, any dirt, salt residue and nutrients will be retained in the medium.
Washing your cannabis with water directly after harvest can seriously improve the quality of your final product, especially if you have problems with bad air circulation or pesky critters throughout the cultivation cycle. If you are using dried cannabis, simmer it in a large pan of water for an hour or so and then change the water, as, by this point, the water will have changed colour. Repeat this process until the water remains clear.
Many cannabis enthusiasts believe approximately 105 °C (220 °F ) is the perfect temperature for decarboxylation. At that temperature, THCA is converted to THC while preserving many other beneficial cannabinoids and terpenes. Avoid any temperatures above 155 °C (310 ° F) because, at that temperature, the THC starts to deteriorate. High CBD strains tend to decarboxylate slower than those with high THC content, and it is recommended to leave these baking for an extra 25 minutes at 140 °C (290 °F).
How to infuse your medium!
To make cannabis-infused oil or butter, one of our favourite methods is the bain-marie water bath.
If you are using coconut oil as your medium. Once the water reaches a temperature of 185 °C (365 °F), carefully place the sealed mason jar (containing the oil and decarboxylated cannabis) into the bain-marie. Please leave it to infuse for two to four hours at this temperature, stirring occasionally. Top up the water level as necessary.
Remove the mason jar, and strain the enclosed liquid using a fine metal strainer or cheesecloth into a heat-proof container. Leave the remaining infused oil to cool.
If you are using butter as your medium. Please put the desired amount in the mason jar, and submerge it in the bain-marie. Wait until the medium has melted, and mix in the ground cannabis. Close the jar, and leave it to infuse for around two to four hours. Stirring every 20 minutes to ensure that heat is equally conducted.
Again, if you have a fine metal strainer, pour the liquid butter directly through it and into a glass dish or container. Any remaining plant material will be left, and the infused butter can now be cooled. When the butter solidifies, remove it from the container and drain any excess water.
Products should be stored in dark, airtight containers to avoid exposure to light and condensation damage. High temperatures also affect potency, so keeping infused products in a cool, dry and dark place is recommended. Shelf life can be extended with refrigeration, and once frozen, cannabutter can be kept for a very long time.
If you have made some impressive infused goodies or would like to share your thoughts and experiences with decarbing cannabis, let us know in the comments below!
- 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.