This series is meant to explain the various cannabis-related terms you may have heard. The following is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to condone the use or consumption of the term being defined. For more information, please refer to our disclaimer.
Every time you light up dried cannabis, you’re performing a bit of a science experiment without even knowing it. When you put a flame or heat to cannabis, it undergoes the process of decarboxylation.
Cannabis also goes through a partial decarboxylation process over time when it is dried and cured at a grow facility, but heating through fire or vaporizing causes an immediate reaction that brings out the plant’s cannabinoids.
In scientific terms, it’s a chemical reaction that removes a carboxyl group, releases carbon dioxide and turns inactive compounds into active cannabinoids. It sounds complicated, but essentially you are using heat to activate compounds like THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) and CBDA (cannabidiolic acid) and converting them into THC and CBD. These cannabinoids then bind to the cell receptors in your endocannabinoid system and produce a range of effects.
Decarboxylation is also important for people interested in making cannabis-infused foods, topicals and tinctures. Many people skip this step and still produce goods that achieve noticeable effects, but it can affect the potency and taste of the finished product. There are other ways to stimulate the cannabinoids in cannabis that don’t include a flame, like slowly heating it in the oven, or with devices designed to decarb your cannabis. Though the process takes longer at lower temperatures, the reduced heat can help preserve the flavour profile and beneficial components of terpenes that may be harmed or compromised at higher heats.
Once properly decarboxylated, cannabis is at its most potent state whether it’s being smoked, used for edibles or tinctures, or prepared for tinctures and capsules.
Story by K. Astre