Decarboxylation 101: Everything You Need to Know

Decarboxylation bHave you ever wondered why people smoke cannabis instead of eating it raw? This is because of the important process of decarboxylation used in cannabis and hemp extraction

Decarboxylation, often shortened to decarb, is an important step in the process of creating both CBD and THC, as it converts the molecules into their active forms. This is important for manufacturers and consumers in order to ensure that they are making and consuming high-quality products. 

Below, we’ll define what decarboxylation is, why it’s important, and the different ways to decarboxylate cannabis.

What is decarboxylation?

Decarboxylation is the process of heating the leaves, buds, trim, or kief of cannabis or hemp plants. The heating process targets cannabinoid acids (aka inactive cannabinoids) within the plant's trichomes. This decarb process changes the plant's molecular structure, retaining one hydrogen atom while losing one carboxyl group. This change converts THCA and CBDA into their active forms of THC and CBD, respectively. 

This change in molecular structure ensures that consumers feel the full effects of the cannabis or hemp plant. In THC, the plant must be heated in order to feel the psychoactive effects, aka the feeling of being “high”. This is why cannabis is smoked in a bong, joint, or pipe. 

In edibles, the plant must be heated in the oven or a lab before consumption. In CBD or THC oils, if the oil is not decarboxylated in a lab with specialized equipment before use, consumers will not feel the intended effects.

Why is decarboxylation important?

Decarboxylation is a critical part of the extraction process because non-decarbed CBD and THC do very little. This can be frustrating to consumers and manufacturers who may not know that you have to decarboxylate the plants, and aren’t sure why they aren’t working. 

THC-A and CBD-A reportedly have their own set of anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective qualities, but they aren’t nearly as effective as the active versions of the plant. Non-decarbed hemp and cannabis aren’t very popular and most consumers are looking for traditional THC and CBD. 

For consumers looking to feel the anxiety relieving and psychoactive effects, the plant must be decarboxylated in order to be fully absorbed into the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and pass the blood-brain barrier. This is true for the raw biomass, edibles, topicals, and oils.

How is cannabis and hemp decarboxylated?

Decarboxylation can be partially achieved from curing and drying over time, but will not be nearly as effective as heating the plant at specific temperatures and times. The plant must be heated in order for the full decarboxylation process to take place.

The process of decarboxylation doesn’t happen all at once, so manufacturers must decarb under the correct temperatures for the correct amount of time in order to activate the cannabinoids. 

Generally, cannabis or hemp is decarbed for around 30-40 minutes at around 230-250 degrees fahrenheit. 

However, temperature and time can vary significantly based on the amount of biomass, the concentration of cannabinoids, moisture content, desired result, and more. If decarboxylation is done under vacuum, this reduces the amount of time necessary for the process to be complete. 

Decarboxylation is especially important for manufacturers of hemp or cannabis oils. In this process, manufacturers must decarboxylate the oil in a lab during the extraction process. This is a highly specialized process, with specific times and temperatures needed in order to properly decarb the oil while still keeping the terpenes and quality intact. The process is highly complicated and can’t simply be done in a kitchen. It requires an exact science and specifically-engineered cannabis extraction technology, such as the oil and ethanol recovery systems designed by Maratek

Maratek OERS Equipment

Overall, decarboxylation is an essential step in the extraction process for activating hemp or cannabis and feeling the full intended effects. 

Maratek’s specialized decarboxylation and extraction equipment can help you achieve high-quality CBD or THC. Contact our team of experts today to learn more.

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