What happens if you eat a bag of medical marijuana? Nothing resembling a high – that’s one clue why decarboxylation is so important.
Decarboxylation is a crucial process for cannabis consumers, particularly those using marijuana for medical purposes and rely on the plant’s active compounds. Here’s why:
What is Decarboxylation?
Decarboxylation is the process of heating cannabis to activate the compounds within the plant.
Found in the trichomes of raw marijuana flowers are cannabinoid acids, inactive cannabinoids that have an extra carboxyl ring attached to their molecular chain. When heated, or decarboxylated, the molecular structure of these cannabinoid acids shift as a carboxyl group is removed, converting the compounds into an active form.
Once the cannabinoids are activated, they can freely and directly interact with the endocannabinoid system’s receptors in the brain and throughout the body to elicit their effects.
There are more than 100 cannabinoids so far discovered in cannabis. For them to be able to interact with the body in the manner that cannabis consumers typically rely on and expect, they have to undergo this chemical reaction.
Why is Decarboxylation Important?
Decarboxylation is a necessary process for medical marijuana because it activates the plant material’s variety of cannabinoids – including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
Fresh, unheated marijuana flower does contain cannabinoid acids, but until they’re heated up these compounds remain in an inactive form.
Specifically, decarboxylation converts tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), a non-psychoactive cannabinoid acid, into THC, the compound most commonly associated with medical marijuana that causes a euphoric high. It also converts cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) into CBD, a sought-after cannabinoid in recent years.
While there are benefits to consuming raw cannabis and its cannabinoid acids, vitamins, and nutrients, doing so will not cause any psychoactive effect.
THC and CBD act as partial agonists or agonists of the endocannabinoid system’s cannabinoid receptors – CB1 and CB2. The endocannabinoid system is a regulatory network responsible for regulating many of the body’s functions – including sleep, mood, appetite, and pain and immune response.
This interaction between the activated cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors alters the release of neurotransmitters in the brain, yielding a host of effects. THC’s psychotropic effects, for example, come about because it activates brain CB1 receptors.
This is why for medical marijuana patients who rely on the effects of these active compounds, decarboxylation is a crucial step.
What Causes Decarboxylation?
Decarboxylation of marijuana occurs when at least one of the following two things happen: The flower naturally dries and ages, or the marijuana plant material is exposed to heat.
If you were to leave your marijuana material out in the open, over time the cannabinoid acids would gradually convert into their active forms. Drying and curing marijuana flower over time also triggers partial decarboxylation.
Marijuana plant material needs to be exposed to a temperature of at least 220 degrees F for about 30 minutes to fully decarboxylate. If you make edibles, internal heat of your marijuana-infused baked goods won’t reach this temperature, which is why the flower needs to be decarboxylated even before it is added to cooked foods.
Due to exposure to high temperatures, smoking, dabbing, or vaporizing marijuana instantaneously decarboxylates cannabinoids, making them active so they can quickly go to work once they’re absorbed through inhalation.
How Do You Decarboxylate Your Marijuana?
Whether you grow your own medical marijuana, or have purchased flower from your local dispensary, you can easily decarboxylate it with the help of a baking sheet and your home oven. Here’s a full list of what you’ll need and a step-by-step explanation of how to decarboxylate your marijuana.
- Marijuana flower
- Baking sheet
- Parchment paper
How to decarboxylate your marijuana, step-by-step:
- Preheat your oven to 250 degrees F and line your baking sheet with parchment paper.
- While the oven heats, break your marijuana flower into smaller pieces.
- Spread the flower out on the parchment paper so that it’s in a single layer.
- Place the baking sheet in the oven. Cook for 30-45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so.
- Once the marijuana is darker in color, remove the baking sheet from the oven and set aside to let the activated flower cool.
- Use the grinder or a food processor to coarsely grind the flower. Store the cannabis in an airtight container.
Pro Tip: While you may be tempted to cook the flower at higher temperatures, opting for low-temperature heat helps protect the integrity of the plant’s compounds.
Temperatures higher than 310 degrees to 400 degrees F will compromise the integrity of the cannabinoids, and burn away the marijuana’s terpenes, the oils that work synergistically with cannabinoids and give cannabis its unique flavor and scent.
Learn More about Medical Marijuana
Now that medical marijuana is legal in nearly 30 U.S. states, more and more people are interested in what it takes to get a medical marijuana card, as well as how to properly grow, handle, and consume cannabis.You can learn more about medical marijuana by visiting our Cannabis 101 Page.