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Decarboxylation: What is it?

Decoding Decarboxylation: What Is It and Why Is It Important to Cannabis Consumers?

  • Exploring the science behind cannabis consumption and simplifying the chemistry behind it.

Have you ever consumed cannabis and not experienced the psychoactive effect?

If you’ve smoked, vaporized, or otherwise heated the cannabis up to inhale its constituent parts, then you’ve always been performing an important step in cannabis chemistry that produces the “high” associated with consumption.

It’s called decarboxylation.

However, if you were to eat a freshly harvested bud, you will ingest cannabinoids, but they will not get you high.

That’s because the cannabinoids were not decarboxylated.

What is the decarboxylation of cannabis? It’s the process of altering the molecular shape of cannabinoids to change the way they interact with our endocannabinoid systems.

In other words, it turns non-active cannabinoids into the chemicals that get you high.

What is Decarboxylation and How Is It Done?

To be very specific, cannabis initially produces a compound called cannabigerolic acid.

This chemical is later cyclicized by THC acid synthase.

This results in the creation of THCA—the acidic precursor to THC.

Upon extraction from the cannabis plant, the compound remains largely in the form of THCA, which is non-psychoactive and carries different pharmacological properties than THC.

THC is generated once THCA is decarboxylated.

Technically speaking, decarboxylation involves in the process of removing a carboxyl group from cannabis.

In order to decarboxylate cannabis, cannabis must be heated.

Obviously, this points to the fact that when cannabis is ignited, it rapidly reaches a temperature that will decarboxylate the plant’s compounds.

The heat of a fire, however, far exceeds the boiling point of cannabinoids.

The key to decarboxylating cannabis without destroying the plant material is heating it at relatively low temperatures for an extended time.

So, for how long, and at what temperature should cannabis be decarboxylated?

Research from 2016 looked at just that.

They studied the decarboxylation of THCA into THC at 80, 95, 110, 130, and 145 degrees Celsius.

The researchers tested the levels of both compounds during an hour of exposure time.

The two lowest temperatures were not able to completely decarboxylate the cannabinoids.

The lowest temperature showed by far the smallest concentration of cannabinoids after one hour.

At the highest temperature, the research showed that THCA will fully decarboxylate within 10 minutes.

After the first 10 minutes, the level of THC begins to drop as the compound is destroyed through heat exposure.

The results were similar at 130 degrees Celsius.

When the authors of the paper looked at the data for 110 degrees Celsius over an hour, they found that the THCA was almost completely reduced to THC shortly after 20 minutes into the process.

Beyond 30 minutes, the cannabinoid levels began to drop slightly.

After studying the data, it appears that the optimal temperature and time to decarboxylate and cannabis is roughly 110 degrees Celsius for about 25 minutes.

Of course, cannabis consumption is possible without decarboxylation, but it may be necessary to receive all of the benefits of cannabis.

Decarboxylation is especially useful when preparing edibles which aren’t heated before consumption.

Has this helped you better understand decarboxylation? If so, please share this article with your friends so they can better understand, as well!

Molecular depiction of the decaroxylation process

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