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A Lesson in Decarboxylation

Roughly half of the recipes we’ve shared on this site call for decarbed cannabis. And if you’ve ever scratched your head and wondered what that means, this post is for you. Here’s the thing. If you’ve smoked or vaped cannabis even once, congrats—you’ve decarbed and didn’t even know it! This cannabinoid-activation process is worth understanding, so let’s get on with our lesson in decarboxylation.

What Is Decarboxylation?

Excellent question! This is the process by which compounds in cannabis are activated so that they’ll have an intoxicating effect. Technically, decarbing uses heat to target cannabinoid acids, i.e. inactive cannabinoids, in the trichomes. During this heating process, the molecular structure of these acids changes, and that’s how you end up with active compounds like THC and CBD. Without this conversion, THCA and CBDA aren’t able to pass the blood-brain barrier, which means they aren’t able to activate cannabinoid receptors in the endocannabinoid system. That means THC has zero psychoactive effects. To put it another way, if you tried eating a bag of raw flower, the effects would be, well, pretty meh. But smoking, vaping, or baking that bag are all methods of decarbing, and then it’s a different story entirely.

So how does it work?

If you’re buying cannabis edibles, tinctures, and topicals, you can rest assured that the process of decarboxylation has already occurred. If you’re planning to smoke or vape cannabis flower, the action of smoking or vaping will do the trick. But if you’d like to whip up your own edibles, say, and you aren’t using a tincture or infused oil but flower, you can’t skip the decarb step. You can do this at home with your oven, some aluminum foil, and a sheet pan. Temperatures will range between 220 and 235 degrees F—the variation relates to your geographic location and your oven—which means you’ll need to watch your flower pretty closely. It’s better to start at the lower end of that heat range, so you can avoid any overbrowning or burning. Leafly has a step-by-step tutorial for the oven method with a few options for other ways to decarb if this is something you really want to master.

If not, no worries. Now you know exactly what the decarboxylation process is, so consider it another lesson in your cannabis education!

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