Decarboxylation must occur before cooking, baking, or extracting oil from the cannabis plant in order to reap the benefits of activated cannabinoids like CBD or THC. Learn more about when, where, why, and how to decarboxylate cannabis for making edibles and more at home.
A General Overview
If you have never decarbed cannabis before, the process can be understandably confusing at first.
Don't worry; I'm here to help you understand this process (and I promise, it's not as hard as it sounds!)
So what exactly is decarboxylation, and why do we need to do it, anyway?
If you were to eat raw or dried cannabis, it is unlikely that you will feel any intoxicating effects of THC.
To convert these non-intoxicating cannabinoid acids into the activated cannabinoids we want, the process of decarboxylation must occur.
By definition, decarboxylation is is a chemical reaction that removes a carboxyl group and releases carbon dioxide.
Decarboxylation can occur when cannabis is exposed to heat, light, cofactors, or solvents, all of which can be manipulated within your own kitchen.
This guide will explore the science behind what decarboxylation is, how you can do it at home in your oven or Instant Pot, and I'll share my expert tips and tricks along the way so you can feel confident trying the process on your own.
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Variability of Methods
If you ask 100 members of my Well With Cannabis Community how they decarboxylate their cannabis, you will get 100 different answers.
While the variations in each method are slight, they are usually accompanied by years of experience and personal preference.
Ultimately, we will all arrive at the same goal - activated cannabinoids that can be used in homemade edibles.
Now it's important to remember that this is not a perfect process in a controlled environment, nor does it need to be.
Each cannabis plant is unique and contains a full-spectrum of compounds including different cannabinoids, terpenes, and more.
The cannabinoid and terpene profile varies from plant to plant, and each cannabinoid decarboxylates at a different temperature, making consistent results challenging.
On top of that, we all have different kitchen set ups with different equipment available to work with. Temperature fluctuations can vary greatly from oven to oven.
However, this is not to discourage you.
While this sounds like one big science experiment going on in your kitchen, it really is as simple as putting a mason jar full of cannabis in the oven and baking it.
The Science Behind The Process
If you're a new cannabis edible consumer, you may not have known that eating dried or raw cannabis will provide little to no intoxicating effect at all.
This can be good or bad depending on your desired experience.
Raw cannabis flower contains tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), a non-intoxicating substance that can be converted into the intoxicating substance tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) through the decarboxylation process (1).
This process also converts cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) into cannabidiol (CBD), although both forms remain non-intoxicating in their respective states.
While there is a general understanding of the science behind the decarboxylation process, truthfully, it is all just one big experiment in a home kitchen.
Ultimately, they all get you to the same place - decarbed cannabis flower.
Decarboxylation with Heat
As mentioned before, decarboxylation occurs when cannabis is exposed to heat, light, cofactors, or solvents.
For this process, we prefer to decarb with heat, as this is the easiest method to control in an at-home kitchen environment.
Decarboxylation can easily be done in your own kitchen at home by baking the dried cannabis in the oven at a low temperature for a certain period of time.
The goal of cannabis decarboxylation is to heat the flower at a low temperature to allow decarboxylation to occur without destroying the other beneficial plant matter such as the terpenes or flavonoids.
Again, this becomes difficult because each cannabinoid decarboxylates at its own specific temperature.
General Decarb Temperature Recommendations
- The most common recommendation for decarboxylating THCA to THC is to bake the flower at 240° F for 40 minutes.
- The most common recommendation for decarboxylating CBDA to CBD is to bake the flower at 240°F for 90 minutes.
- The most common recommendation for decarboxylating CBGA to CBG is to bake the flower at 220°F for 60 minutes.
- The most common recommendation for degrading THC to CBN is to bake the flower at 240°F for 180 minutes.
THCA begins to decarboxylate at approximately 220°F after around 30-45 minutes of exposure, with full decarboxylation typically taking longer to occur (2).
Again, the type and strain of cannabis flower you are using will impact decarboxylation time and temperature recommendations.
As noted below, decarboxylating CBD flower requires a much longer cooking time than decarboxylating traditional THC dominant flower.
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.
Once the cannabis flower has been decarbed, it can be used in a wide variety of applications, similar to how other dried herbs would be used.
Factors That Impact The Process
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:
Maintaining Temperature Control
It is important to keep tight temperature controls when decarboxylating cannabis, as much as possible.
While heat is needed to decarboxylate, extreme temperatures can destroy many important plant materials that contribute to positive health outcomes, like terpenes (3).
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°F during the decarb process, you run the risk of denaturing many important plant compounds (4).
Oven Temperature Variability
Unfortunately, tight temperature control becomes more difficult with the variability of temperatures in traditional home ovens.
Many variables can impact the final temperature of the oven, and even two same brand ovens may vary in temperature by 5-10 degrees or more!
For this reason, we recommend purchasing a digital oven-safe thermometer so that you can track the temperature in the oven that you have.
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 your time and temperature recordings' reliability.
Other Equipment Variability
If you are using an oven or other pieces of equipment like a crockpot, slow cooker, or Instant Pot, small variables in the cooking equipment may impact your final product.
Different crockpots will have different temperatures when set to the same setting, which is why we recommend a digital oven-safe thermometer be used throughout the process.
Important to note, an Instant Pot works great for decarbing, especially if you want to contain the smell. Be sure to grab my guide for decarbing in an Instant pot here.
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, they 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, or kief, will require much more attention paid to the temperature and cooking times to prevent burning and denaturing of the important compounds in the plant.
Should You Grind The Buds Before Decarboxylating?
This is a matter of personal preference.
Additionally, grinding the plant material will expose more surface area which will allow more 'green' material, aka chlorophyll, to be absorbed into the final product.
Many people do not want large amounts of chlorophyll in their final product due to the bitter, earthy taste.
It is for this reason that we recommend to skip the grinding process and simply break up large buds by hand into smaller, popcorn sized pieces before decarbing.
Managing the Smell
Yes - the decarboxylation process can cause your house to smell like weed.
When we bake cannabis we activate and release certain terpenes which gives cannabis a distinct and prominent smell.
While many enjoy the wonderful aroma of the baking herb, others are concerned about the smell affecting a loved one, a neighbor, or someone else in the home.
That is why we recommend baking the cannabis flowers in a sealed container, like a mason jar. You can contain the smell even further by decarbing in an Instant Pot.
The sealed lid will hold in many of the terpenes, which is great for your final product, and helps to cut the odor down significantly.
One question I often receive inside my Well With Cannabis Community is:
How long you can store decarbed cannabis for future use?
Thankfully, decarbed cannabis can be stored for quite a long time before infusing into an oil or tincture.
Just store the decarbed cannabis in an airtight mason jar in a cool, dark space. A freezer works well and helps to preserve the potency of the activated cannabinoids.
Estimating Final Product Potency
One negative of homemade edibles is that it is nearly impossible to determine the final exact concentration of final cannabinoids, including CBD and THC, in an at-home setting.
This is a disadvantage because it is hard to accurately assess and track how much of each cannabinoid you will be orally consuming.
Without lab testing, it is nearly impossible to accurately assess the final product's total cannabinoid concentration, making accurate dosing difficult.
This uncertainty opens up the risk of either underdosing or overdosing, which will ultimately prevent you from experiencing the desired health benefits.
You can, however, use our edibles dosage calculator to get a guesstimate of what your final potency may be.
Combining Decarboxylation with Infusion
The heat decarb method is most often combined with the fat infusion method to ensure maximum cannabinoid activation and terpene retention.
This is my favorite way to create all of our popular staple oils including:
- Cannabis-Infused Butter
- Cannabis-Infused Coconut Oil
- Cannabis-Infused Olive Oil
- Cannabis-Infused MCT Oil
- Full-Extract Cannabis Oil (FECO)
Remember, without decarboxylation, you will not experience the full range of beneficial cannabinoids like Δ9-THC or CBD!
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How to Decarboxylate Cannabis Flower
- 1 ounce cannabis flower leaf, trim, shake, or kief (amount of choice)
- Preheat the oven to 240° F.
- Using a digital scale, weigh the cannabis flower to your desired weight. For example: 0.25, 0.5, or 1.0 ounces.
- Gently break up the cannabis flower buds, removing any seeds and stems as necessary.
- Add the flower to a mason jar or oven-safe baking dish with a lid, making sure the flower is in an even layer (you do not want clumps or mounds). If you don't have a lid, the tin foil will work.
- Place the container in the oven and bake for 40 minutes for THC-dominant flower or 90 minutes for CBD-dominant flower. You are looking for a light golden brown color and fragrant aroma when it is done.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely 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.