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by Olivier on 12/02/2018 | Medicinal

Decarboxylation of THC and CBD – here’s how you activate cannabis

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.

A photograph depicting cooking with a cannabis. On a wooden table we see a metal mixing bowl with a wooden spoon, a glass measuring  cup filled with cannabis nuggets, and a stick of butter.

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

A photograph of a single cannabis nugget laid over cannabis infused chocolate chip and Oreo style cookies.

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.

A photograph of an empty open electric oven with hot air ventilation. It’s a new oven. The door is open and the light is on.

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.

Comment Section

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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

13/02/2018

Frederick Monaghan

I have found it best to cook with hash and smoke the weed.

14/02/2018

Dale

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.

18/07/2018

Simon

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.

18/08/2018

Dale

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.

19/07/2018

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