In order to actually experience any of the therapeutic (or intoxicating) effects of cannabis, it must go through a process known as cannabis decarboxylation. In this article, you’ll learn all about the decarboxylation process, and how to decarb cannabis at home so that you can make your own edibles & tinctures.
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What is Decarboxylation?
Cannabis decarboxylation removes the carboxyl group from the cannabinoids found in the plant by various methods, such as exposure to light, heat, or solvents (i.e. grain alcohol or vegetable glycerin) or naturally on its own over time. (1,3)
You may have also heard of these abbreviated terms*:
- Decarboxylation = decarbing
- Decarboxylate = decarb
- Decarboxylated = decarbed
*these terms will be used interchangeably throughout this article
This process turns the acidic, inactive cannabinoids into their usable, active counterparts. For example, through decarboxylation, THCA (inactive/acidic/non-impairing) is converted to Δ9-THC** (active/impairing/therapeutic). (1,3)
**Δ9 is the most common form of THC you’ll find in cannabis products. Δ8 & Δ10 are other derivatives, although currently under a bit of scrutiny legislatively-speaking.
Regardless of which delivery method you choose, all cannabis needs to be decarboxylated to experience any therapeutic effects, but the decarboxylation process varies based on that chosen method.
This article will primarily discuss decarboxylation by heat (in preparation to make your own edibles & tinctures) as these processes are more involved than decarboxylation via flame when inhaling.
Why Do I Need to Decarb Cannabis?
Simply put: you’d just be wasting it!
Acidic cannabinoids are the inactive versions of the cannabinoids that provide therapeutic, and/or intoxicating/impairing effects. If we don’t decarb cannabis before using it, then we won’t (likely) experience any of its benefits. I know I definitely want to get the most bang for my buck! (1,2,3)
However, there are some individuals so highly sensitive to the active forms of the cannabinoids, even the non-impairing ones, that they may find great benefit and relief from using the acidic forms, such as steeping raw cannabis flower in hot water to make a raw cannabis tea.
How Long to Decarb Cannabis?
Temperature & time matters a lot when it comes to cannabis decarboxylation, regardless of which of the cannabinoids you’re attempting to decarb. Depending on which cannabinoid you’d like to dominate that session, follow the guidelines below to optimize your cannabinoid profile.
Take note that the strain type will heavily influence decarb temperature and time. Timing will be influenced by the temperature chosen.
Decarboxylation of THCA
Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) begins to decarboxylate around 220°F after 30-45 minutes of exposure.
An optimal decarb temperature to convert THCA to THC is approximately between 220-240°F. When decarbing via baking, bake for at least 40 minutes at 240°F for a more THC-dominant end-product (less cooking time activates more THC & less CBD). (2,3)
But don’t get too hot! Cannabinoid and terpene integrity is heavily compromised at temperatures over 300°F, so try to keep your temperature somewhere in the 200s.
Somewhat, but not fully related, a butane lighter ignites at 77°F. So if you smoke/inhale to decarb your cannabis, you’ll need to hold the flame over the flower for a few seconds to reach more optimal temperatures.
However, not for nearly the same amount of time as baking since the flame is directly touching the cannabis with this method (there’s no perfect method for measuring this, so don’t overthink it & use your best guess). This method is more so decarboxylation via light exposure.
Decarboxylation of CBDA
Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) begins to decarboxylate around 220°F after 60-90 minutes of exposure.
An optimal decarb temperature to convert CBDA to CBD is approximately between 220-240°F. When decarbing via baking, bake for 80 minutes at 240°F for a more CBD-dominant end-product (more cooking time activates more CBD & less THC). (2,3)
Decarboxylation of CBGA
All cannabis plants produce cannabigerolic acid (CBGA), but CBG is considered a minor cannabinoid because it is the least abundant at levels <1%.
While that’s fascinating, what’s even more interesting about this cannabinoid is that despite how low levels might be, it’s one of the most critical and powerful cannabinoids because it’s also the precursor to all the other acidic cannabinoids, including CBDA and THCA!
Once converted to cannabigerol (CBG), it can be useful to fight cancer with antibacterial properties, and may be a helpful treatment in bladder disorders due to its ability to prevent muscle contractions. (2)
CBGA begins to decarboxylate around 230°F after about 40 minutes of exposure.
An optimal decarb temperature to convert CBGA to CBG is approximately between 230-240°F. When decarbing via baking, bake for 40 minutes at 240°F. (2)
Temperature control is one of the most essential components of the decarboxylation process. Time & temperature will affect which cannabinoid is the most dominant.
For example, THC requires less time to decarboxylate, whereas CBD would require more time to decarboxylate at the same temperature. Use the following cannabis decarboxylation chart to help you achieve even heating and avoid temperature fluctuations.
Unintended Cannabis Decarboxylation
When exposed to light and heat over time, such as old, dried flower that wasn’t properly stored, THCA will naturally decarboxylate on its own into THC. Further exposure will eventually cause THC to convert into CBN (cannabinol), a heavily sedative, yet not overly abundant, cannabinoid.
How to Decarb Cannabis at Home
The processes below will walk you through the different ways to decarb cannabis, so pick the method that is most practical for you and your environmental setting (i.e. apartment vs. single-family home).
Just keep in mind that regardless of which method you choose, there will be an obvious and apparent odor during the decarboxylation process.
>>> Coming Soon: “How to” guides for making your own cannabis-infused butter (CannaButter) and cannabis-infused oil (CannaOil). Don’t miss out, sign up to snag your “Golden Ticket” below! <<<
Cannabis Decarboxylation via Heat
There are several ways to decarb cannabis by heat: oven baking, slow cooker, or sous vide. When deciding which method to choose, consider things such as odor transference, connectivity to others’ residences, and any HOA or property management rules and regulations.
Explained further below, but most decarbing processes will produce a very potent, noticeable odor. Even in a single family home, you may be able to even smell it from the driveway. Just take that into consideration when deciding which method to choose.
Side Note: There are also lots of new infusion machines out on the market that make the decarb process a bit easier, such as Levo II, but they can be quite a monetary investment upfront. So this article will discuss the more traditional methods to decarb at home.
Cannabis Decarboxylation for Edibles
In order for your edibles to be effective, you must decarb cannabis prior to making them since you don’t manipulate ingestibles with heat or light like you do with whole flower. For example, you’d never take a lighter to an edible to activate it. You’d literally just be burning everything away. (3)
Therefore, edibles/ingestibles contain decarboxylated THCA, meaning that THC has already been activated when making the product.
By doing this process first, it will activate the cannabinoids (CBD & THC) for you, and then you’d just make your treat-of-choice as you normally would by using either cannabis-infused butter or oil as the fat source (equal substitution amounts). This will work for gummies, chocolates, baked goods, etc.
Should I Grind My Cannabis Before Decarbing?
You often hear that it is necessary to grind your cannabis prior to decarbing to allow for more even heating. While there is some truth to that, most of the good stuff you’re trying to get from the plant is on it (like trichomes!), not in it. So finely grinding would be a colossal waste of resources!
Still very much a matter of personal preference, the best method of grinding cannabis prior to decarbing is to simply break up the bud with your fingers into crumbles, removing stems & seeds.
And if you do choose to grind, shoot for coarsely ground, although I don’t recommend that. (4)
You don’t want finely ground cannabis on something like a sheet pan or mason jar because you’ll lose quite a bit of product at that size. The bigger pieces will allow you to preserve every single bit of plant matter.
Cannabis Decarboxylation via Oven Baking
This is by far one of the most popular, and easiest, methods for cannabis decarboxylation. Just keep in mind that this method produces the most potent odor compared to the other methods.
- Baking sheet or high-temperature, glass baking dish (preferred)*
- Aluminum foil
- Cannabis flower/bud
- Amount is totally up to you (and your wallet)
- Most common measurements are ¼ oz, ½ oz or 1 oz
We know the monetary investment that comes with cannabis, and we certainly don’t want to waste any product.
PRO TIP: if this is your first time, try an even smaller amount, like ⅛ oz, just in case something goes wrong as you’re learning to master this process. Practice makes perfect!
- Preheat oven to 240°F with oven rack in the center. This will allow for more even heating since ovens tend to be hotter on the top and bottom. Remember that we have to be very careful not to overheat it also.
- Next cut a piece of aluminum foil and crumple it (loosely). Gently unfold and place on baking sheet or dish. This will keep your cannabis off the direct surface of the baking sheet or dish to reduce the risk of burning your product.
- Now delicately break up the cannabis with your fingers into smaller crumbles, and spread in an even layer on your baking sheet or dish. Lightly lay another piece of crumpled aluminum foil on top of your cannabis to act as a lid. (show picture as example)
- Bake for 40 minutes for more THC-dominant flower, or 80-90 minutes for more CBD-dominant flower. You want to see a lightly toasted, golden brown color with a noticeable aroma.
- Allow to cool, and once ready to handle, place in an airtight, glass container in a cool, dark place.
*You can also do this method in a mason jar. Using the same method above, instead of crumpling foil and spreading cannabis on baking sheet or dish, place cannabis inside mason jar with lid, then place mason jar on its side on top of a kitchen towel (instead of foil) on the baking sheet or dish on center rack. Baking times and temperature remain the same. (3)
Cannabis Decarboxylation via Air Fryer
Anyone who knows me is well aware that I am OBSESSED with my air fryer! It is one of the most versatile pieces of kitchen equipment, and something I actually use every single day.
So you can imagine my excitement in utilizing it for cannabis decarboxylation! And much like oven baking, it will produce a very potent odor while cooking.
- Air fryer
- Oven-safe baking dish to place in air fryer basket
- Aluminum foil
- Mesh filter or cheesecloth
- Cannabis flower/bud
- The amount of cannabis used will again depend on you
- Preheat air fryer to 250°F.
- Carefully break up the cannabis with your fingers into smaller crumbles, and spread in an even layer in oven-safe baking dish.
- Cover baking dish with foil, and poke tiny holes in foil to release air. Place baking dish inside air fryer basket.
- Heat for 30 minutes, mix the buds around like you would when cooking frozen fries, then heat for another 30 minutes, for a total of one hour**.
**PRO TIP: Remember that you can adjust cook time up or down depending on which cannabinoid you’d like to dominate. For this method at this temperature, to preserve more CBD and less THC, try cooking for an additional 20 minutes.
Cannabis Decarboxylation via Slow Cooker
This method is most optimal to use if looking to decarb big batches of cannabis at once. Think of it like meal prepping….we’re just marijuana prepping here.
- Slow cooker
- Size based on amount of cannabis & oil being used
- Olive or coconut oil
- Mason jar***
- Cannabis flower/bud
- The amount of cannabis and oil used will again depend on you
- Shoot for ratios of approximately 7 mL of oil for every ounce of cannabis (or 0.25 mL of oil per gram of cannabis)
- Gently break up the cannabis with your fingers into smaller crumbles, and spread in an even layer in the slow cooker. Cover the cannabis with oil by pouring it as evenly as possible.
- Set slow cooker to high, and cook for 1 hour. Then switch to low and cook for another 2-3 hours.
- Allow to cool, and once ready to handle, strain product through a cheesecloth, and then place in an airtight, glass container in a cool, dark place.
***PRO TIP: If using smaller amounts of cannabis & oil (i.e. < double-digit ounces & mL, I recommend placing everything in a mason jar first, and then place in slower cooker as some devices have larger-than-necessary capacity for smaller weights of product that may negatively affect temperature control. Or choose a smaller sized slow cooker, like one with 2 qt. capacity. (3)
Cannabis Decarboxylation via Sous Vide
This is one of the most precise methods of cannabis decarboxylation, and the easiest method to control temperature and avoid burning or ruining any product.
- Immersion circulator (not blender) or sous vide machine
- Plastic container for immersion circulator
- Resealable plastic bag
- Vacuum sealer****
- Cannabis flower/bud
- The amount of cannabis and oil used will again depend on you
- Fill water bath with hot water, and place immersion circulator inside. Follow manufacturer instructions from container water volume.
- Set immersion circulator to 203°F.
- Now in this step, you’ll notice a major difference compared to cannabis decarboxylation via baking or slow cooker. For this method, we can also finely grind the cannabis and place in a plastic bag to increase surface area. This is a much more precise process, so finely ground bud is a viable option here, or you can use your fingers like with the other methods above.
- Seal the bag using the vacuum sealer as flatly and tightly as possible, removing as many air pockets as possible.
- Now place the sealed bag in the water bath for 90 minutes. Once done, remove bag from water bath and allow to cool to room temperature. Then dry off the bag (to avoid getting your newly decarbed cannabis wet), remove the cannabis, and place in an airtight, glass container in a cool, dark place.
****PRO TIP: In place of a vacuum sealer, you can also try to remove the air by water displacement. Using a freezer bag, seal it about 80-90%, then gently lower into the water bath to force the air out. Once water reaches top line, seal the bag. (3)
Odor Control During Cannabis Decarboxylation
Cannabis decarboxylation is a very obvious and apparent process. As mentioned above, the odors can be so strong that you can smell them from outside of your residence. This could pose problems for those renting or in certain HOA neighborhoods.
And on top of that, it’s just inconsiderate to those around you, especially children, the elderly, those who don’t use cannabis, or those sensitive to the smell.
We work hard enough to destigmatize this plant, so let’s do our best not to fall into that stereotype of forcing everyone around us to have to deal with what we’re doing. Just take special caution and consideration when choosing which method to decarb, and be sure to prepare first.
- Consider getting air purifiers
- There are several countertop or plugin options. Many countertop options have ranges up to 200 sq. ft., while the plugins have ranges up to 150 sq. ft.
- When looking for countertop purifiers, make sure it has a 3 layers, one of which being a HEPA filter
- Also consider getting more than one. There’s certainly no need to overdo it, but another option to consider, especially if you live with roommates or those uninterested in cannabis use.
- Get some air freshener sprays that are water-based with light perfumes.
- Keep scented cones or an essential oil diffuser handy. I have my essential oil diffuser running all day, whether I’m decarbing or not, & it really helps to control the smell consistently.
- Ask around before you start, and get others’ opinions, experiences, successes & fails!
Check out this post for more suggestions to combat cannabis odor.
Storage After Cannabis Decarboxylation
Now that you’ve done all that hard work, don’t let your decarbed products go to waste! Storage is probably one of the most essential components of cannabis preservation, whether it’s been decarbed or not.
As mentioned earlier, unintended cannabis decarboxylation is not necessarily a good thing. Once this happens, in most cases unfortunately, the product is damaged, and will provide little to no effect.
You’ll know that your product has been compromised if it’s very dry like dried herbal seasonings, has almost no fragrant aroma, and grinds into a very, very fine powder. By this point, all the beneficial cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids have been destroyed or lost.
Luckily, we can prevent this through proper storage.
Be sure to store ALL your cannabis products (I’m talkin’ fresh or decarbed flower/bud, edibles, tinctures, topicals, transdermals, etc.) in a cool, dark place with little to no light or heat in airtight, glass containers to preserve as much of the cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids as possible.
Edibles tend to do well in the fridge or freezer. I do not recommend storing pure flower/bud in the fridge or freezer though. An airtight, glass container should be enough.
Check out this post for more storage suggestions & tips.
How to Use Your Product After Cannabis Decarboxylation
Now that your cannabis is activated and ready to go, you can use it in a variety of ways to make so many different things! Here’s just a handful of examples:
- Usually the fat base for making edibles/infused dishes
- Baked goods
- Infused milk/creamer for coffee
- Cannabis oils
- Another fat base alternative for making edibles/infused dishes
- Full Extract Cannabis Oil (FECO)
- CBD oil (for hair, skin & nails)
- Infused coconut or olive oil
- Sublingual tinctures
- Grain alcohol tinctures
- Green Dragon tincture
- Golden Dragon tincture
- Infused sugar
- Vegetable glycerin tinctures
- Grain alcohol tinctures
>>> “How to” guides for making your own cannabis-infused butter (CannaButter) and cannabis-infused oil (CannaOil). Don’t miss out, sign up to snag your “Golden Ticket” below! <<<
Until next time, go Pineapple Express Yourself!
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