Cannabis decarboxylation must occur before cooking, baking, or extracting oil from the dried flower buds of the cannabis plant in order to reap the benefits of activated CBD or THC. Learn more about how, when, and why to decarboxylate cannabis for making edibles, medicine, and more at home.
What is Cannabis Decarboxylation
If you have never decarbed cannabis before, the process can be understandably confusing. What is decarboxylation, and why do we need to do it, anyway? Often times, you will hear this process simply referred to as ‘decarb’ or ‘decarbing’ cannabis flower.
By definition, decarboxylation is is a chemical reaction that removes a carboxyl group and releases carbon dioxide. The process of cannabis decarboxylation must occur before our bodies can absorb certain cannabinoids, like CBD or THC, through digestion.
Cannabis science is still very new, and there are still many questions that science does not yet have answers to. While there is a general understanding of the decarboxylation process, in the home kitchen, it is all just one big experiment.
The cannabis plant itself is highly unique in the compounds it contains, and that varies from plant to plant, making replicating and reproducing consistent results challenging. It can often be difficult to determine the final percentage of a specific compound in your final product without expensive lab testing.
Atop of that, if you ask one-hundred different cannabis experts or cannabis chefs how they decarboxylate their cannabis, you will likely get 100 different answers.
While the variations are often slight, they are often accompanied by years of experience and personal preference. It is our hope that this beginner’s guide will help you find a decarboxylation process that is right for you.
Why You Need to Decarboxylate Cannabis
New cannabis consumers may not realize that orally consuming raw or dried cannabis flowers will provide little to no psychoactive effect at all. (This can be good or bad depending on your desired experience).
This is because raw cannabis flower contains tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), a non-psychoactive substance that can be converted into the psychoactive substance tetrahydrocannabinol Δ9-THC through the decarboxylation process1. This process also converts cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) into cannabidiol (CBD), although both forms remain non-psychoactive in their respective states.
While THCA and CBDA have potential health benefits in and of themselves, for culinary applications, most people prefer them decarboxylated into the active forms of THC and CBD.
Cannabis Decarboxylation with Heat
Decarboxylation occurs when cannabis is exposed to heat, light, cofactors or solvents, all of which can be manipulated within your own kitchen.
A safe decarboxylation process is the first step any at-home culinary cannabis chef chooses to take before transforming cannabis flower into oil, butter, or tincture. Without decarboxylation, the consumer may not experience the full range of beneficial health effects of cannabinoids like Δ9-THC or CBD. The key is to decarboxylate correctly, which is easier said than done.
The goal is to heat the cannabis flower at a low temperature over a long period of time to allow complete decarboxylation to occur, without destroying the other beneficial plant matter such as terpenes and flavonoids.
Decarboxylation can be done in your own kitchen at home by baking the dried cannabis flower in the oven at a low temperature.
It is believed that the THCA in cannabis begins to decarboxylate at approximately 220 degrees F after around 30-45 minutes of exposure, with full decarboxylation typically taking longer2.
For the more particular culinary cannabis chef, ideal decarboxylation will take place at a lower temperature for a longer period of time in an attempt to preserve the volatile monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes that may possess potential health benefits on their own3.
There are very few definitive time and temperature recommendations available today, with each chef and online resource having their own preferred time and temperature formula preference. You will likely develop your own time and temperature preferences based on the specific strain of cannabis flower you are starting with.
Once the raw cannabis flower has been decarboxylated, it can be used in a wide variety of culinary applications, similar to wherever other dried herbs would be used. Many patients will make their own tea or spice blends with their decarboxylated cannabis flower, or then add this cannabis flower to make an oil or butter.
Cannabis Decarboxylation with Fat
Cannabis decarboxylation with heat in an at-home kitchen may not be ideal for some consumers due to the strong odor often associated with cooking cannabis.
A more popular method is to decarboxylate cannabis in a slow cooker or on the stove by introducing heat and solvents, such as oil, to create an activated cannabis oil that can then be used in a variety of different application methods such as culinary recipes.
The odor associated with the fat decarboxylation method is typically much milder and inconspicuous if done correctly. Making cannabis extracts at home is popular among both medical and recreational cannabis consumer communities because they are versatile, relatively easy to prepare at home, and easy to consume.
Using a plant-based cooking oil like olive oil or coconut oil is a great place to start for the consumer who wants to make their own cannabis oil at home. The cannabis oil extraction method is preferred by some over solvent extraction methods because it is believed that less toxic substances will leftover in the final product.
When compared to other solvent extraction methods including ethanol, petroleum, and naphtha extraction, ‘olive oil was the most optimal choice for the preparation of cannabis oils for self-medication4.
For those who are looking to make their own cannabis oil at home, this typically involves a water bath in a slow cooker, crockpot, instant pot, or on the stovetop. In this method, raw cannabis flower is combined with the desired cooking oil in a double boiler or glass mason jar and left to cook at a low temperature not to exceed 245 degrees F, for up to 8 hours.
After the cooking process, the cannabis plant matter is then strained and separated from the oil and discarded or repurposed. This leaves a cannabis cooking oil that can then be used in a wide variety of culinary applications.
Combining Both Heat and Fat Decarboxylation Methods
For the advanced culinary cannabis connoisseur, the heat decarb method is often combined with the fat decarb method to ensure maximum cannabinoid activation and terpene retention.
It is important to keep tight temperature control applying cannabis to various culinary applications. While heat is needed to decarboxylate the acids into the active form of cannabinoids our bodies can use, extreme temperatures can destroy many of the important plant materials that contribute to positive health outcomes, like terpenes3.
Each individual terpene may have it’s own therapeutic health benefits, but also carries its own sensitivity to heat. If cannabis is heated above 300 degrees F, you run the risk of denaturing many important plant compounds5.
Unfortunately, this becomes even more difficult with the variability of temperatures in traditional home ovens. There are many variables that can impact the final temperature of the oven, and even two same brand ovens may vary in temperature by 5-10 degrees.
For this process, we recommend purchasing a digital oven-safe thermometer so that you can track and assess the temperature that works best for you and your final product. Additionally, we recommend limiting the number of times the oven is opened during the cooking process as this alters the oven temperature significantly. Opening the door will cause the temperature to drop and alter the reliability of your time and temperature recordings.
Safety Considerations & Bioavailability
Combining cannabis with culinary applications presents its share of important safety considerations. For many individuals, the most difficult piece of the oral cannabis consumption puzzle is accurately assessing the potency of the final product. From there it is even more difficult to go about determining how the consumed product will affect the user and for how long the effects will last.
One negative consideration of homemade cannabis edibles is that in an at-home setting, it is nearly impossible to determine the final the exact concentration of final cannabinoids, including CBD and THC.
This is a disadvantage for the patient because they are not able to accurately assess and track how much of each cannabinoid they will be orally consuming. Without lab testing, it is nearly impossible to accurately assess the total cannabinoid concentration of the final product, making accurate dosing difficult.
This uncertainty opens up the risk of the patient either underdosing or overdosing, which will ultimately prevent the patient from experiencing the desired health benefits.
Other Factors That Impact Decarboxylation
There are many factors that will impact the results of your final product when decarboxylating cannabis. Here are a few additional considerations to keep in mind:
The Strain of Cannabis
The strain of cannabis flower you are using will impact decarboxylation time and temperature recommendations. Each cannabis strain contains varying amounts and ratios of different cannabinoids and terpenes.
Because each cannabinoid and terpene decarboxylates at a different temperature, you will want to consider the best temperature and cooking time for your particular strain.
The Freshness of Product
You will have noticeable differences in the final product depending on the freshness of the material you start with.
Cannabis butter can be made with raw cannabis leaf trimmings, and it can also be made with traditionally dried and cured flower buds. The concentration of cannabinoids will vary with the freshness of the starting material, impacting your final product.
If you are using an oven or other pieces of equipment like a crockpot, slow cooker, or instant pot, there will be small variables in the cooking equipment which may impact your final product.
Different crockpots will have different temperatures when set to the same setting, which is why we recommend a digital thermometer be used throughout the process.
Uniformity of Product Size
The size of the cannabis flower buds upon decarboxylation will have an impact on the final product. If the cannabis flower buds are loosely broken up by hand, that will cook differently than cannabis buds that have been run through a grinder and now have a small, uniform texture.
Additionally, decarboxylating finely ground cannabis powder, also known as kief, will require much shorter cooking times to prevent burning and denaturing of the important compounds in the plant.
- Cannabis flower
- Preheat the oven to 240 degrees.
- Gently break up the cannabis flower buds, removing any seeds and stems as necessary.
- Using a digital scale, weigh the cannabis flower to your desired weight. (Example: 0.25, 0.5, or 1.0 ounces). We recommend starting with a smaller amount until comfortable with the technique.
- Grind the weighed cannabis flower with a herb grinder until the leaves are a small, even consistency.
- Add the ground flower to an oven-safe baking dish with a lid, making sure the flower is in an even layer (you do not want clumps or mounds). Ceramic or glass baking dishes are preferred for even cooking temperatures. If you don't have a lid, tin foil will work fine.
- Place the covered dish in the oven and bake for 90 minutes for CBD-dominant flower or 60 minutes for THC-dominant flower. Stop every 30 minutes to shake the flower, but remember, it is better to not remove the lid during this process, if possible. Looking for a golden brown color and fragrant aroma when done.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool with the lid on.
- Your decarbed flower is now ready for immediate use. Be sure to store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.