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. Don’t worry; I’m here to help you understand this process!
You will often hear this process referred to as ‘decarb’ or ‘decarbing’ cannabis flower, and it is an important step to take if you plan on making homemade cannabis edibles.
But what is decarboxylation, and why do we need to do it, anyway?
If you were to eat a whole dried or raw cannabis flower bud, it is unlikely that you will feel the intoxicating effects of THC.
That is because raw cannabis does not naturally contain high amounts of CBD or THC, it actually contains what is known as cannabinoid acids.
Cannabinoid acids, known as CBDA and THCA, have potential health benefits – but they are not intoxicating in nature (meaning you won’t get high).
To convert these nonintoxicating cannabinoid acids into the activated cannabinoids we want to consume, a process called decarboxylation must occur.
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 science behind the decarboxylation process, truthfully, it is all just one big experiment in a home kitchen.
Below we will explore the many different ways you can decarboxylate your cannabis flower at home.
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The Full Cannabis Spectrum
If you ask one-hundred different cannabis experts or chefs how they decarboxylate their cannabis, you will likely get 100 different answers.
The cannabinoid and terpene profile varies from plant to plant, which makes replicating and reproducing consistent results challenging.
It can be difficult to determine the final percentage of a specific compound in your final product without expensive lab testing.
While the variations are often slight, they are often accompanied by years of experience and personal preference.
We hope that this beginner’s guide will help you find a decarboxylation process that is right for you.
Why You Need to Decarboxylate Your Cannabis
New cannabis consumers may not realize that eating dried or raw cannabis flowers will provide little to no intoxicating 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-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.
There are two primary ways to decarboxylate the cannabis flower:
- Decarboxylation with heat (baking the cannabis in the oven)
- Decarboxylation with heat and fat (decarboxylation occurs during the longer infusion process
We will explore the pros and cons of each method below.
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.
Decarboxylation can 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.
Remember, without decarboxylation, you will not experience the full range of beneficial health effects of cannabinoids like Δ9-THC or CBD.
The goal of cannabis decarboxylation is to heat the flower at a low temperature over a specific period of time to allow decarboxylation to occur without destroying the other beneficial plant matter such as the terpenes or flavonoids.
This becomes difficult because each cannabinoid and each terpene decarboxylates at its own specific temperature.
For the most popular cannabinoid THC, it is believed THCA begins to decarboxylate at approximately 220° F after around 30-45 minutes of exposure, with full decarboxylation typically taking longer to occur (2).
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.
General Temperature Recommendations
The most common recommendation for THCA to THC decarboxylation is to bake the flower at 240° F for 40 minutes.
Thie most common recommendation for CBDA to CBD decarboxylation is to bake the flower at 240°F for 90 minutes, or 280°F, and for 60 minutes.
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.
Cannabis Decarboxylation with Fat
Making cannabis extracts at home is popular because they are versatile, relatively easy to prepare, and easy to consume.
However, the decarboxylation with the heat method mentioned above may not be ideal for some home cooks because it does produce a powerful odor.
A more traditional method is decarboxylating cannabis in a slow cooker or on the stove with both heat and solvents (fat) for an extended period of time to achieve decarboxylation. In this case, fat and oil act as the solvent.
When paired with heat over time, this method creates a decarboxylated cannabis oil that can then be used in various application methods, including cannabis recipes.
The odor associated with this decarboxylation method is typically much milder and inconspicuous if done correctly.
Some prefer the cannabis oil infusion method over alcohol solvent extraction methods because it is believed that less toxic substances will leftover in the final product.
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-medication (3).
For those who want to try this method at home, this process involves a water bath in a slow cooker, crockpot, instant pot, sous vide set up, or on the stovetop.
In this method, dried 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 of 185-195° F (not to exceed 245° F) for up to 8 hours.
This leaves a cannabis cooking oil that can then be used in various delicious cannabis recipes.
Are You New to Consuming Cannabis Edibles? Be sure to read my Beginners Guide to Consuming Cannabis Edibles before getting started to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable experience!
Combining Both Heat and Fat Decarboxylation Methods
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 cannabis oils including:
- Cannabis-Infused Butter
- Cannabis-Infused Coconut Oil
- Cannabis-Infused Olive Oil
- Full-Extract Cannabis Oil (FECO)
Important: Temperature Controls
It is important to keep tight temperature controls when decarboxylating cannabis.
While heat is needed to decarboxylate the acids into the active form of cannabinoids our bodies can use, extreme temperatures can destroy many important plant materials that contribute to positive health outcomes, like terpenes (4).
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, you run the risk of denaturing many important plant compounds (5).
Unfortunately, this becomes even 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.
For this process, we recommend purchasing a digital oven-safe thermometer so that you can track the temperature that works best for you and your desired 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 your time and temperature recordings’ reliability.
Important: Safety Considerations & Bioavailability
For many individuals, the most difficult piece of the cannabis edible puzzle is accurately assessing the final product’s potency.
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 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.
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 Used
The type and strain of cannabis flower you are using will impact decarboxylation time and temperature recommendations.
As noted above, decarboxylating CBD hemp flower requires a much longer cooking time than decarboxylating traditional THC dominant flower.
Remember, 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.
The concentration of cannabinoids will vary with the freshness of the starting material, impacting your final product.
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 more attention paid to the temperature and cooking times to prevent burning and denaturing of the important compounds in the plant.
- Dried Cannabis Flower (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 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, the tin foil will work fine.
- Place the covered dish in the oven and bake for 40 minutes for THC-dominant flower. See recommendations for CBD-dominant flower in notes*
- Stop every 15 minutes to shake the flower, but remember, it is better to not remove the lid during this process, if possible. You are looking for a light golden brown color and fragrant aroma when it is 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.
*If you are decarbing CBD-dominant flower, you can either keep the oven set to 240°F and increase the baking time to 90 minutes, or you can increase the oven temperature to 280°F and bake for 60 minutes.
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