Decarboxylation and the Art of Cooking Cannabis at Home

Edibles are having a moment right now, and they may have COVID-19 to thank. Since the pandemic endangers the respiratory system, some long-time tokers are seeking ways to get high without putting stress on the lungs. But if you’re thinking of transforming your leftover marijuana into delicious edibles, you’ll need to master the subtle science of decarboxylation (de-carb-oxy-lation). If you just sprinkle your herb over your favorite recipe without decarbing first, it’s going to royally harsh your buzz—because you won’t feel a buzz at all.

What Is Decarboxylation?

On its own, marijuana doesn’t do anything. The psychotropic properties are activated by heat. That’s why you have to light your joints, heat your bong, and cook your edibles. Decarboxylation is the chemical reaction that turns your weed from a bitter-tasting plant into a psychoactive magic elixir.

Raw cannabis is rich in tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA). It’s the acid form of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). But while THC gets you high, THCA is non-psychoactive.

Research shows that THCA does have benefits as an anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective chemical, and prostate cancer fighter, but it doesn’t have all the same effects or properties of THC. In order to make cannabis psychoactive, the THCA must be converted into THC. This is done through decarboxylation.

All cannabinoids in raw marijuana have one extra carboxyl group (a weak acid). When the cannabis is heated, this extra carboxyl group is removed and carbon dioxide is released. As a result, THCA becomes THC. CBDA becomes CBD. Other cannabinoids have a similar reaction. The carboxyl groups are replaced with hydrogen atoms, and the newly converted THC means that you can now experience the full effect of indulging.

Is Heat Required for Decarboxylation?

Technically no…assuming you’re not in any big hurry. There are actually two catalysts that can trigger decarboxylation:

  1. Heat
  2. Time

Cannabis will experience partial decarboxylation over time without human intervention. That’s why aged marijuana sometimes tests positive for trace amounts of THC even when it hasn’t been used. However, even if you dry and cure your cannabis and let it age for a year, it will likely only produce trace amounts of THC. Also, aged cannabis is almost always lower in quality. That’s why aging isn’t a practical means of decarboxylation. To get the maximum effect, you have to apply heat.

Does CBD Need to Be Decarboxylated?

If you’re making edibles from hemp flower or high-CBD marijuana strains, you’ll still need to decarboxylate first. Consider that CBD tinctures are always decarboxylated prior to extraction.

Again, it’s about converting CBDA to CBD. CBDA has some benefits of its own, like nausea relief, but it doesn’t have all the benefits of CBD and it doesn’t affect the endocannabinoid system in the same way. So if your goal is to create a delicious CBD remedy, you’ll have to bring the heat.

How to Decarboxylate Cannabis the Traditional Way

Since the goal is to apply heat, decarboxylation is as simple as baking your herb at a temperature high enough to activate the THC.

You may have found some decarboxylation guides online telling you to cook your herb at 300 degrees. Don’t do it. Yes, it may allow you to cook three to five times faster, but it may also ruin your finished product. The key to decarboxylation is: low and slow. High temperatures can kill the cannabinoids and terpenes.

To decarboxylate cannabis at home, simply do the following:

  1. Preheat your oven to 235 degrees
  2. Finely grind your herb.
  3. Place a sheet of parchment paper over a baking tray.
  4. Spread your ground herb over the tray.
  5. Bake for 45 minutes.

When you remove your cannabis from the oven, it should be fully decarboxylated. You can then apply it to your favorite recipes.

How to Decarboxylate Cannabis the Easier Way

If you plan on cooking cannabis on a regular or semi-regular basis, you’ll probably want to skip the oven and invest in a quality decarboxylator. This will allow you to prepare your herb more easily, and it will prevent your oven from constantly smelling like a Grateful Dead concert.

There are a lot of excellent decarboxylators on the market. We recommend the Ardent NOVA decarboxylator. This lab-grade decarboxylator holds up to an ounce of flower and is designed to minimize terpene loss.

Using the Ardent NOVA decarboxylator couldn’t be easier:

  1. Place your ground cannabis into the container.
  2. Seal the lid.
  3. Press the button to activate the decarboxylator.
  4. Let the herb heat for 90 to 120 minutes.
  5. Open the lid and remove the cannabis.

How to Make Edibles at Home

Cannabis butter is the foundation of many great edibles recipes. If you’re new to making marijuana delicacies, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with how to make cannabutter before anything else. When preparing cannabutter, you shouldn’t need more than 7 or 8 grams (about a ¼ ounce) per cup of butter.

The most common method is to melt the butter over your decarbed cannabis and simmer it for a couple of hours. Then strain the butter to remove the hard plant material. This method can be messy and requires some precision, and it once again presents the potential for lingering odors in your home.

To make cannabutter the easy way, we recommend using an infuser like the MagicalButter extractor or the LEVO infuser. Just add your decarbed herb and a few sticks of butter (according to the infuser’s instructions) and heat the infuser to 160 to 175 degrees for at least 2 hours. You’ll then have a delicious butter that you can add to your favorite recipes. Cannabutter works especially well in baked goods like cookies and brownies.

For example, to cook a batch of brownies, you can use:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 ¾ cups flour
  • 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup decarboxylated cannabutter

To prepare the brownies:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F (177°C) and grease a 9-by-13 inch glass baking pan with cooking spray.
  2. Place the unsweetened chocolate into a glass mixing bowl and melt it.
  3. Add your decarboxylated cannabutter to the chocolate and mix.
  4. Mix in the sugar, salt, and vanilla extract.
  5. Add eggs one at a time, and whisk fully.
  6. Mix in the flour.
  7. Pour into a greased baking pan and bake for 30 minutes.

You can refrigerate your brownies for up to a week.

Warnings About Cooking With Decarboxylated Cannabis

When you mix your decarboxylated marijuana into butter and other recipes, you must be very mindful of your ratios. The biggest mistake that people make is using too much herb. But a little goes a very long way.

As previously noted, you shouldn’t need more than 7 or 8 grams (about a ¼ ounce) per cup of butter. If you’re new to edibles, you might even start with ⅛ ounce per cup of butter, just to see how it affects you. Then you can adjust the ratio as needed.

While smoked cannabis is absorbed into your lungs for a quick but manageable high, edibles are digested and metabolized by the liver. The resulting enzymes are released into your bloodstream, causing a powerful high that comes on slowly but is far more intense than your typical buzz. Be very careful not to overdo it.

What Happens if You Don’t Decarboxylate Your Cannabis?

When you decide to prepare edibles with raw cannabis, one of two things could happen:

  1. The cannabis may partially decarboxylate on its own as part of the cooking process, but it won’t be a complete decarboxylation. Any psychoactive effects are likely to be mild and disappointing.
  2. The cannabis won’t decarboxylate at all. You’ll be left with no buzz and the overwhelming flavor of plant matter in your mouth. Nobody wants that.

This is why decarboxylation is so essential for anyone who wishes to dabble in marijuana cuisine. Always decarb before cooking cannabis, and people will be begging you for your magic brownies.

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