Decarboxylation 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. To put it another way: no heat, no buzz!
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 vaporiser a few seconds is all it takes to convert THC-A into THC. By the way, the steamed cannabis left in a vaporiser is fully activated, 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 GW Pharmaceuticals company defines the ideal conditions for decarboxylation: It involves low temperatures and a relatively lengthy 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, last but not least, the effect of cannabis.
Decarboxylation should preferably 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 longer periods. The best results involve 15 minutes at a temperature of 105°C and then 60 to 120 minutes at 100 to 110°C. 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 60 minutes at 120°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 dampened your enthusiasm for baking, then I would like to soften the blow. You don’t have to stick to precise temperatures and times. Depending what you are going to use the activated plant material for, there are only good and less good methods of preparation.
Let’s assume 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, then 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!
It is even simpler if you want to bake tasty cookies or cakes. Most recipes for baking give almost ideal 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 cannabis 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 best results, you should crush or grind the plant material before activating it.