Why Decarboxylation is Crucial for Cannabis

Decarboxylation comes across as an intimidating term. Despite the mystery, you’ve likely performed this process hundreds of times without even realizing it.

The process of decarboxylation is essential in ‘activating’ the THC within cannabis to produce its various effects. 

Here’s how it’s done, and why it’s an essential step in eliciting a psychoactive effect from cannabis.

What is Decarboxylation?

what-is-decarboxylation

Put simply, decarboxylation is the process of adding heat to cannabis to convert the chemicals inside. Specifically, it serves to activate the psychoactive effects of cannabis flowers. 

The term itself describes the chemical changes that occur from the addition of heat. Essentially, decarboxylation is the chemical reaction that transforms tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) into tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Through heat exposure, tetrahydrocannabinolic-acid releases carbon dioxide and eliminates a carboxyl group. In other words, decarboxylation removes a carbon atom from the tetrahydrocannabinolic-acid chain to create THC. 

Decarboxylation can occur within various compounds in nature, as long as they possess a carboxyl group. 

Why is it Important?

Decarboxylation is critical to the consumption of cannabis. Without it, cannabis loses or rather fails to gain, its psychoactive effect.

Raw cannabis by itself only contains only trace amounts of the cannabinoids THC or CBD. Instead, the plant material comes filled with slightly different compounds that are acidic in nature. The compounds contain a carboxyl group that helps make them more stable and less useful to humans. 

As we previously mentioned, the actual cannabinoid inside cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinolic-acid (THCA). It also contains cannabinolic-acid (CBDA), along with similarly named minor cannabinoids. The “A” is what indicates that the compounds are acidic. What makes them acidic is the presence of the carboxyl group. 

In this state, these compounds are nearly devoid of psychoactive properties.

This crucial differentiation is why cannabis decarboxylation is so critical. The conversion of tetrahydrocannabinolic-acid (THCA) to THC is necessary to elicit a psychoactive effect from cannabis.

How Does Decarboxylation Occur?

decarboxylation

As we initially mentioned, the good news is that you are likely already performing decarboxylation every time you consume cannabis. All you need to do is apply heat. 

With smoking or vaping cannabis, decarboxylation occurs in a rapid period of time. Whether we are discussing decarboxylating kief, hash, or dried flower, it’s all the same process.

However, there is slightly more to this picture. Decarboxylation can occur naturally over time if cannabis is not stored properly.

Exposure to sunlight and room temperatures is enough to degrade the quality of cannabis. As such, storing your cannabis in appropriate opaque, airtight containers and in a dark place is essential in preserving its quality for as long as possible. 

Does Decarboxylation Destroy CBD?

No, decarboxylation will not destroy CBD. In fact, it is quite the opposite. 

Decarboxylation creates CBD, as we learned above. Just like with THCA, cannabidiol exists inside the cannabis plant as cannabidiolic acid (CBDA). Removing the carboxyl group within CBDA is what converts it to CBD. 

Since CBD does not produce a psychoactive high like THC, the effects of decarboxylating CBD are less pronounced. That said, they are nonetheless important to unlock all the medical potential that CBD has to offer.

Is Decarboxylation Necessary for Edibles?

Most of the time, when we smoke or vape cannabis, we don’t need to worry about decarboxylation. We are decarboxylating the cannabis flower through these acts in of themselves. However, the situation is a bit different when it comes to edibles

Edibles available for purchase will have already have their source flower decarboxylated. Alternatively, they may also use concentrated forms of cannabis such as cannabis oil or cannabis distillate that are made from already decarboxylated flower.

A Straightforward yet Crucial Process 

Decarboxylation is a fundamental element in performing the chemical reaction necessary to ‘activate’ the cannabinoids present in cannabis. It is through this process that cannabis users can experience the characteristic psychoactive effects associated with cannabis. 

While the terminology may seem intimidating at first glance, the overall process itself is relatively straightforward and can easily be performed at home. 

If you are more inclined to purchase pre-made edibles and infused products such as tinctures and topicals, it is unnecessary to decarboxylate these items. They already underwent this process in their initial creation. 

Decarboxylation is a process you have likely been performing yourself without even knowing it. In this way, you don’t need to change any of your consumption methods to accommodate it. All you need is to keep doing what you’re doing and enjoy. 

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