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Cannabis Decarboxylation

Check out the video below on cannabis decarboxylation and why it's so important for edibles!


Video Transcript:

Hello everyone, I’m Brandon Allen with Trichome Institute, and in this video I’m going to talk about decarboxylation and how important this process is for edibles and other orally consumed cannabis products.  

For this discussion we’re going to primarily focus on THC and CBD.

Now, when we think about the most common cannabinoids like THC and CBD, these cannabinoids don’t actually occur in the plant at significant levels.  Instead, the compounds THCA and CBDA are what the raw plant primarily consists of. 

The A at the end, stands for Acid, and the best way to think of cannabinoids like THCA and CBDA, would be in their raw state.  

When these cannabinoids are exposed to heat or are oxidized over a period of time, they go through a process called Decarboxylation.

Without getting super technical, this process essentially changes the shape of the cannabinoids, and removes the carboxyl group, or what makes their name have an “acid” at the end, and transforms them into their neutral form.

Now, although the majority of CBD or THC in raw cannabis flower is going to be in their ACID form, decarboxylation can happen at room temperature over longer periods of time as well.  

This is why when you look at a cannabis lab test, you will see both THCA and THC, or CBDA and CBD, and then total THC or CBD.

Whenever you’re determining the sum of THCA and THC as an example, you can’t just add them together. If you have 100 mg of pure THCA, and then decarboxylate it, you’ll be left with approximately 87 mg of THC, because the carboxyl group falls off, essentially  making the cannabinoid lose molecular weight.  This happens with all acid cannabinoids, but the percentage of weight they lose, can vary from cannabinoid to cannabinoid.

Decarboxylation is really important when we’re consuming cannabinoids because the neutral forms of THC and CBD are much more potent than their acid forms.  This doesn’t mean there isn’t a time and place for THCA and CBDA, but I assure you, 10 mg of THCA isn’t going to be anywhere near as potent as 10MG of THC.

When it comes to cannabis edibles, tinctures, pills, capsules, or anything else that you swallow, decarboxylation is crucial, especially for THC. 

Without decarboxylating THCA before ingesting it, you will never feel “high”.  In order for your liver to create 11-hydroxy-THC,  it needs THC, not THCA.  If you were to simply ingest THCA, there may be medicinal benefits if you have the right dose, but it’s not going to make you feel high.

Although THCA and CBDA can decarboxylate at room temperature over a longer period of time, heat is ultimately what’s needed to transform these cannabinoids into their neutral forms.

In 2016 researchers experimented with isolated cannabinoids to determine the best temperature and time for decarboxylation.  They determined that under vacuum, without any light exposure to prevent oxidation or degradation, that the best temperature and time for THCA was 230*F for 40 minutes, and for CBDA, 266*F for 40 minutes

This is something that everyone needs to keep in mind when making edibles at home with either hemp or marijuana flower.  In order to get the most out of your dominant cannabinoid, you need to make sure you’re working with the proper temperatures so you’re getting the most potent neutral cannabinoids as possible.

Hope y’all enjoyed this video on decarboxylation!  If you’d like to learn more about the ins and outs of cannabis, be sure to visit trichomeinstitute.com and check out our online courses that will help you Weed Better!


Decarboxylation Continued:


What if I told you that all the various temperatures and times for decarboxylation you've read about online... may not apply to the product you are looking to decarb!?

Throughout the development of the Cooking with Cannabis course, I did many decarboxylation experiments on both hemp, marijuana, flower, and concentrate products, to determine the ideal decarboxylation temperature and time for CBD or THC dominant varieties.  I based my experiments on the published literature and then made slight modifications to adjust to cooking at home, versus what's done in a lab setting with all the decarb studies.  What I found is that regardless of what the studies show, everything changes.

If a study showed that researchers were able to achieve 100% THCA decarboxylation of flower in a glass container with a lid, in an oven at 239°F for 40 minutes, you could try and mirror every aspect of the experiment and only achieve a 60% decarb efficiency.  But, why?  

The first thing you need to consider is the environment!  The oven you use at home is going to be very different from the oven used in a lab, another person's home, or in a commercial kitchen.  In fact, you could have the exact same oven as what was used in a study, and still have different results.  Many ovens have hot and cold spots, which can drastically change the temperature the part of the oven your product is us, compared to what the temperature on the oven says.  Convection (moving air) ovens are a lot more reliable as the circulating air helps prevent hot and cold spots in the oven, but they can still vary from oven to oven.

The next thing you need to consider is the type of product you're trying to decarb.  When you're working with concentrates, you can actually see the decarboxylation process taking place due to the bubbling of the oil, showing the evaporation of the carboxyl group, or CO2.  However, there are other chemical reactions happening, which could allow bubbling to continue even after you reach 100% decarboxylation.  In situations like this, it's possible to then experience loss of cannabinoids due to evaporation to decomposition into other cannabinoids or unknown compounds.  Unfortunately, when you're decarboxylating flower, you cannot see any part of the process, aside from your beautiful flower changing colors - which is no indication of decarboxylation efficiency.  It doesn't matter how you grind the flower, how it's spaced out in a container, what kind of container it's in, or if it's covered or not, the genetics of the plants (all the wonderful phytochemicals within it) are ultimately going to determine the rate and efficiency of decarboxylation.  Yes, from variety to variety (strain to strain) you can end up with different decarboxylation rates, even if every other element of the decarb environment and process are the same.

The last thing you need to consider is the fact that just because you have flower that says it's 17% total decarbed THC on the label, it doesn't mean that the flower you have in your possession represents the same lab test.  Unfortunately, lab tests do not accurately represent the entire harvest or batch of flower.  What was tested was most likely the cream of the crop, and even if you have a beautiful looking bud in your oven, it doesn't meant the potency is the same.  There are now cannabis brands that are now putting ranges of flower potency on their labels, 13-25% total THC as an example.  The reality is, not every trichome has the same cannabinoid content within it, and not every flower has the same amount of trichomes.  Even within a single plant, flowers can have different potency profiles from branch to branch.

So what's the solution?  It's simple - work with decarboxylated concentrates like distillate, isolate, and others.  This is the only way you'll know your dose!  I realize this isn't the ideal scenario for many people who only have access to flower, but it's an unfortunate reality.   If you're one of those who only has access to flower, then I would recommend going low and slow with your flower infusions, so you don't end up getting too high.  Base your flower infusions at 100% decarb and extraction efficiency, dose based on what the lab test indicates, and start with half the amount you normally would when you consume your infusion.  Increase your dose in increments of what you would determine to be 2.5mgs at a time, until you reach your sweet spot!

Want to learn more about decarboxylation and cooking with cannabis?  Be sure to check out the Cooking with Cannabis course, which was created in partnership with the American Culinary Federation!


Chef Brandon Allen 

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