Decarboxylation refers to the critical process of activating the psychoactive compounds in cannabis and hemp. For smokeable plant matter, the process happens organically through heat. However, tinctures, salves, and consumables require a more delicate process much earlier in its creation. Let’s examine and better understand how the decarboxylation process works.
What Is Decarboxylation?
Decarboxylation is an activation process of the cannabinoids in cannabis and hemp through applied heat and targets the buds, leaves, or kief. “Decarbing,” or decarboxylation, is the process that creates a consumer’s euphoric experience with an activation of the components that deliver the unique attributes of the plant.
Decarbing primarily targets the inactive cannabinoid acids in a plant’s trichomes, and the plant’s flowers contain the targeted trichomes. Sometimes, trichomes are traceable in the plant’s smaller properties like stems and leaves, but these quantities are significantly smaller.
The molecular structure of the cannabinoid’s acids changes when it undergoes a heating process. Through decarboxylation, the acids lose a single carboxyl via carbon dioxide (-COOH) while simultaneously preserving a single hydrogen atom.
The acids in cannabinoids contain 22 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 4 oxygen atoms. The group lost in decarbing contains only 1 carbon atom and 2 of the 4 oxygen atoms, which we know as CO2. After removing this carboxyl group, the THCA reduces by 12 percent and converts the active THC compounds.
Because of the activation process, an interaction between cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system (ECS) occurs. ECS is a network of receptors within the body that includes the peripheral and central nervous systems. The body produces varying effects through differing cannabinoids, stretching from relaxation to total euphoria.
Why Decarboxylation Is Important
Decarboxylation is an essential process for producing tinctures, consumables, edibles, and other consumable cannabis goods because it activates the plant’s most critical components, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Compared to smoking the plant, the flame’s heat hits the flower decarbs it, which means a separate decarb is not necessary.
There are very few psychoactive benefits of freshly harvested cannabis flower until decarbing occurs. The decarboxylation process essentially flips the conversion switch on the acids, turning them into THC and CBD. The heating process transforms THCA, the inactive psychoactive compounds, into THC, producing intoxicating effects. Furthermore, it takes the inactive cannabidiol acid (CBDA) and converts them into CBD, which has milder effects than THC.
The heat conversion process is critical for passing through the blood barrier to reach the receptors. Specifically, THCA cannot bind with the CB1 receptor, which oversees the psychoactive influences. The consumption of decarboxylated cannabis has various effects on several bodily functions that play a part in the ECS, like sleep, pain, appetite, immune responses, mood shifts, and inflammation.
Patients looking to treat their symptoms with medicinal marijuana need to make sure they’re using cannabis that has gone through a decarboxylation process. A commercial manufacturer must ensure the decarb execution for consumption post-purchase. Without this process, consumers don’t have access to the varying choices of edibles and topical solutions like brownies, gummies, syringes, suppositories, capsules, and more.
The Decarb Process
The key to the entire process is decarbing at the right temperature for the most optimal amount of time to prevent combustion or degradation. Terpenes and cannabinoids have varying requirements for accurate decarbing.
An example of this is that THCA requires 220 degrees Fahrenheit for a range of 30 to 45 minutes before the decarboxylation process begins. The time for decarbing varies based on materials used and their requirements.
The ultimate situation is using as little heat as possible to achieve the most out of the plant’s therapeutic compounds. The plant’s terpenes are susceptible to evaporation with excess heat exposure. The entirety of the acidic compounds don’t always convert through decarbing, and sometimes, a minimal amount of raw matter goes unprocessed.
Should You Decarboxylate Your Cannabis?
Decarboxylation is critical for their varying desired outcomes from a consumer’s standpoint. But as the industry evolves and more cutting-edge research surfaces, the health benefits of THCA and CBDA emerge. These non-psychoactive compounds play significant roles with the unharvested plants themselves.
THCA protects the leaves from UV-B light radiation and stimulates the death of particular cells. These same functions can offer several health benefits, including:
- Metabolism stabilizer
- Stress reduction
In contrast, when the plant is in its raw form, the non-decarboxylated CDBA can have its own health benefits, including:
- Pain management
Proper Decarb Temperatures for Cannabis
Getting the right temperature is critical in the decarb process. Too little heat can take too long to fully decarb, while too much heat can lead to degradation. When processing raw cannabis matter, CBDA begins its decarb at approximately 245 degrees Fahrenheit, while THCA will start at 220 degrees. The process can take roughly 90 minutes to complete.
To retain the terpenes, process the temperatures lower for a more extended time period. The decarb chart suggests the optimal THC temperature ranges between 252 and 293 degrees Fahrenheit.
The decarboxylation process can destroy terpenes with low boiling rates, but it is sometimes necessary. To complete this process without losing terpenes, the processor must use a precise technique. These techniques are costly and often tricky, so many extractors avoid preserving terpenes.
Decarbing post-extraction has its own set of unique trials, including smaller yields and a more time-consuming extraction process. This process is achievable with delicately made precision ovens that house the necessary components to decarb without damaging or losing terpenes.
Is Decarb Necessary for Smokable Cannabis?
Because of how decarboxylation works, the short answer is no; you do not need to decarb smoking cannabis. The consumer will heat the flower, vape pen, or concentrate directly through the product, and this will initiate the decarb process that will convert the THCA and CBDA and convert them to THC and CBD.
Is Decarb Necessary for Edibles and Topicals?
When producing medicinal products on a large scale, the decarb process is essential. This process ensures each product contains the components THC and CBD that consumers are seeking for various purposes.
Based on the many ways to produce and market a cannabis product, a decarb cannabis machine from Beaker & Wrench is an instrumental piece of equipment that ensures return on investment. The cannabis industry is rapidly growing, and the best way to market your products is by utilizing a high-quality decarboxylation process.