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what is decarboxylation
Cannabis 101

What is decarboxylation?

Carolyn BerkNovember 13, 2019

Before you can use fresh cannabis flower for THC-rich edibles, you need the decarboxylation process. Without decarboxylation or “decarbing" first, you simply don't get the effects. In fact, if you've ever smoked or vaporized dried cannabis flower, or enjoyed a properly made edible, you've already experienced decarboxylation and may not even know it! 

What is decarboxylation?

Decarboxylation may sound complex, but don't let the name scare you. In a nutshell, decarbing is the process of applying heat to cannabinoids to produce psychoactive effects. Scientifically speaking, decarboxylation is the process of removing a carboxyl group from cannabis, which releases carbon dioxide and creates a chemical change in the plant's characteristics. Take for example THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid), which is generally the first cannabinoid (and in some cases only cannabinoid) listed on a jar of flower at a dispensary. While THCA has benefits, such as its anti-inflammatory and neuroprotectant abilities, it's not until you heat that raw flower up, whether in a decarboxylating device or oven, or with a flame, that THCA becomes its psychoactive twin sister, THC. When you smoke or vaporize dried marijuana, you're essentially instantly decarbing the flower by heating it and inhaling the CO2 released along with the activated cannabinoids. Fresh cannabis can also be decarbed through exposure to heat, with ideal temperatures falling in the low-mid 200 degrees fahrenheit. The resulting activated product is the building block of many THC-infused items.

Why decarb cannabis?

Decarbing fresh cannabis flower prepares the plant material for use in a variety of products, such as butter and oils for edibles, tinctures, and topicals. Decarbed flower can also be eaten fresh from the oven without being added to any oils or recipes. Go ahead and sprinkle some freshly decarbed bud on that pizza or salad alongside your oregano and hot pepper flakes! Aside from providing a wider variety of uses, decarbing fresh flower is also more efficient, since it takes a smaller amount of flower to produce a powerful final product.

How to decarb cannabis at home

There are several strategies to decarb in your own kitchen, so give them a try and see which works for you. Regardless of the method you choose, make sure that you stay safe and keep an eye on the process to ensure that you don't overcook your product. Slow and steady wins the race!

Oven decarboxylation

To decarb in your oven, crumble fresh cannabis flower on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and place on the middle rack of an oven that has been preheated anywhere between 220-245 degrees F (104-118 degrees C). Let it cook anywhere from 30-45 minutes. The flower should look dry and have a toasted brown color when it is complete, but should not be burnt. What a tragedy that would be! The optimal temperature and time for debarbing in an oven varies by the oven used, the moisture in your flower, and what you will use the decarbed cannabis for. It may take some trial and error to find the perfect combination, but taking a deep dive into some experiments on the matter can help you plan ahead.

Mason jar decarboxylation

A simple mason jar can help you take decarboxylation up a notch. By using a mason jar, you prevent cannabinoids and terpenes from evaporating during the process. Plus, the mason jar seals in smells, so your kitchen won't have the lingering scent of marijuana afterwards. Start by crumbling up the cannabis in a 32 oz. or larger mason jar, leaving a couple inches of breathing room at the top of the jar. Place the sealed jar in an oven and then heat the oven to 240 degrees F (115 degrees C). Bake for 60 minutes while periodically shaking the mason jar for an even cook -- don't forget your oven mitts! Another option is to place the cannabis-filled mason jar in a pot of water. Start by placing your filled and sealed jar in the water (do not completely submerge), then turn on the heat to simmer, and let it enjoy a nice hot bath for 90 minutes. Just make sure the water in the pot doesn't completely evaporate as you're cooking. For an even easier option, try a slow cooker. Place the mason jar in a slow cooker filled about ⅔ of the way with water, making sure it's not completely submerged. Then, turn the slow cooker on high and let it simmer for four hours or set it to low and simmer for eight hours. Once the decarbing process is complete, make sure that you keep the mason jar closed until it has fully cooled down. While understandably tempting, o pening it too early can release all the good stuff you were using the mason jar to preserve. PRO TIP! Be sure to place the filled mason jar in the oven, pot, or slow cooker BEFORE turning on the heat. Placing a room-temperature mason jar immediately into high heat can cause it to explode, so let everything heat up together.

The MagicButter machine condenses the entire decarboxylation process into one compact device. Because this tool was designed specifically for decarbing, it comes with pre-set temperature and time intervals for making oil, butter, and tinctures.

Ardent NOVA

The ArdentNOVA provides an odorless, mess-free way to decarb at home. The NOVA's sensors and algorithm calculate a precise heating cycle to fully decarb cannabis for butter, oils, topicals, and more. The NOVA's one-touch button activation makes it an easy-to-use tool for users who are just starting out with in-home decarbing.

Carolyn Berk Lantern Author 
Carolyn Berk
Carolyn Berk got her start working in both radio and TV before applying her journalism skills to the cannabis industry. She is currently a content marketer and an active member of the New England cannabis community.