Most cannabis consumers, whether they are aware or not, engage in an activity called decarboxylation. This involves the application of heat to the resin-bearing trichomes of cannabis flowers to “activate” the tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, found within. THC is the most common of a family of botanical chemicals in the cannabis plant called cannabinoids, which are molecules that deliver medical efficacy and psychoactive effect. This process of molecular transmogrification involves converting THC-A, which is the acidic precursor to THC, into its infamous sibling. The “A” in THC-A represents “acid.”
Acidic precursors are a critical part of the world of cannabis and the genesis of all cannabinoids, including CBD (CBD-A), CBG (CBG-A), CBC (CBC-A), and CBN (CBN-A), which is itself the result of “stale” THC-A that has been exposed to oxygen and light for a period). In fact, nearly all of these precursors are themselves created by the mother of acidic precursors, CBG-A (one could reasonably consider it to be a meta-acidic precursor). This single molecule spawns a series of acidic precursors that, in turn, “manufacture” cannabinoids that offer a wide range of medicinal efficacy, including pain and nausea relief and anti-inflammation.
Why is decarboxylation necessary? Simply because THC-A does not deliver the same medical efficacy as THC and provides zero psychoactive effect or euphoria. Adult use consumers who create edibles must be sure to decarboxylate their cannabis flowers (buds) if they desire to experience these effects.
Decarboxylation normally occurs when people smoke or vape the cannabis herb and heat is applied by a lighter’s flame or a vaporizer’s flow of hot air. The application of heat causes a carbon and oxygen group (COO) to break away from the molecule. It is only after this conversion that the molecule, now THC, will fit into the CB1 receptors distributed throughout the brain and central nervous system that are part of the endocannabinoid system.
There are a few ways that cannabis flowers can be decarboxylated in a common household kitchen. One of the best methods is to heat a conventional convection oven to 240 degrees Fahrenheit (116 Celcius) and toast the ground cannabis flowers, spread evenly on a cookie sheet or tray, for up to 90 minutes. Grinding is important because it allows the heat to evenly distribute throughout the herb. The problem, however, arises from the fact that most kitchen ovens can fluctuate up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit above or below their target temperature.
Unfortunately, some believe that this is enough to corrupt the decarboxylation process. Fortunately, this issue can be resolved using something as inexpensive as an oven thermometer. Some may opt for more expensive laser-based temperature guns, but this is overkill, especially for those on a budget. Once the exact temperature has been achieved, those making their own edibles should bake their herb (again, at 240 degrees Fahrenheit), checking it at 10 minute intervals to ensure that it is toasting evenly. This process typically requires a total of about 40 minutes to 90 minutes, but individual ovens and opinions vary.
A poor decarboxylation job typically won’t result in cannabis that delivers no psychoactive effect. Instead, the maximum conversion of THC-A to THC will simply not occur, meaning the resulting edibles will be less potent. Proper decarboxylation, at an exact temperature and for the correct period of time, simply converts the most THC-A as possible, delivering the best possible medical efficacy and euphoria.
Properly decarboxylated cannabis flowers or cannabis trichomes (also known as kief) can be used to create many infused food ingredients, including cannabis butter (or kief butter), cannabis oil, or even cannabis-flour. If flowers are not decarboxylated, they will deliver medical efficacy (although that provided by THC-A, not THC), but no psychoactive effect whatsoever. For those treating psychological conditions such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety, the euphoria provided by THC is often one of the primary benefits of this plant-based medicine that is so effective for mind, body, and spirit.