Cannabis decarboxylation is a topic that comes up every so often. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation on this issue, with many people repeating decarboxylation-related myths without much thought. Of course, the most popular one is the one saying that raw cannabis inflorescences contain "inactive" cannabinoids in acidic form (e.g. THC-a, CBD-a), which need to be heated to transform into the desired active forms (e.g. THC, CBD), which is obviously not true. We explain what it is and how the process of decarboxylation of cannabinoids contained in hemp takes place.
Hemp decarboxylation - facts and myths
Let's start with a brief explanation of what decarboxylation is. There are two forms of cannabinoids in cannabis, an acidic form known as the inactive form and the so-called active/decarboxylated group. The active group is, for example, THC, CBD, CBG. The inactive group is cannabinoids in the acid form, e.g. THC-a, CBD-a, CBG-a (where "a" stands for acid, meaning acid). The cannabinoids in the "active"/decarboxylated form are, of course, responsible for the effects of cannabis known to mankind for thousands of years.
Decarboxylation is a chemical reaction in which a carboxyl group is removed from carboxylic acids or their salts and esters. This reaction usually results in the release of carbon dioxide.
In the case of cannabis plants, decarboxylation is the detachment of the COOH carboxyl group, for example, non-psychoactive THC-after removal of the COOH group becomes psychoactive THC. The analogy is the same for all cannabinoids, they all initially occur in acid form, and this is a fact. Here's how the decarboxylation of THC to THC happens from the chemical side, let's start by showing the decarboxylation process in chemical formulas:Decarboxylation of THC-a to THC - structural formulaDecarboxylation of THC-a to THC - sum formulaWhen
we subtract the carboxyl group COOH from the structure of THC-a (C22 H30 O4) we get a structure with the formula C21 H29 O2, while to the bond from which the COOH group "detaches", the smallest molecule present, that is, hydrogen (H), will naturally attach itself, therefore after the reaction the sum formula of THC is C21 H30 O2, one hydrogen has detached together with the carbon group (COOH), while in place of the whole group hydrogen has attached, hence in both formulas we have H30.
When does decarboxylation of hemp occur?
Many people believe that in the so-called raw cannabis inflorescences there are only acid forms of cannabinoids, which need to be heated to the right temperature for the decarboxylation process to take place and the cannabinoids to assume their "active" form. This is obviously untrue, and such an assumption is very wrong, a separate topic is why so many people repeat this myth, but about that at the end.
It is important to realize that the process of decarboxylation in cannabis begins to occur as soon as acid forms of cannabinoids appear in the plant. Acidic forms are not permanent forms, so the process of detachment of further carboxyl groups from them occurs spontaneously. This process can only be stopped by extremely low temperature (absolute zero is the temperature at which all chemical reactions cease) or vacuum. Neither of these situations befalls living plants, and thus the process of decarboxylation will already have occurred during the life of the plant.
What percentage of acidic forms will decarboxylate while the plant is still alive depends on many factors such as the temperature at which the flowers matured. However, it should be very clear that mature cannabis inflorescences contain cannabinoids in decarboxylated form. Of course, during the life of the plant, not all of the acidic forms will decarboxylate. That's why every hemp gardener knows that after the mature flowers are dried, they should be placed in a closed jar without access to light and such a jar should be aired once a day. This process is referred to in English as CURRING. During curring, which is the final process in growing high-quality flowers, decarboxylation will continue to occur in the already-dry inflorescences, and the dryness will gain more and more active forms of cannabinoids with each passing week. This process can take up to 5. months, but after just 6 weeks the vast majority will be decarboxylated. That is, of course, as long as the dry is stored under proper conditions.
The decarboxylation process, or rather its rate, depends on the temperature - the higher it is, the faster the process.
When to heat the drought to speed up decarboxylation, and when not to do it?
As I just mentioned, the higher the temperature, the faster decarboxylation occurs. However, when talking about speeding up decarboxylation, one must not forget that this brings with it some disadvantages. First of all, it should be remembered that you will lose most of the valuable terpenes. This loss will be more noticeable in smoking or vaporization than in hemp catering. In fact, the only sensible use of heating the dried plant for decarboxylation is when you have very fresh plants that have barely had time to dry and you want to use them in catering.
Let's point out that decarboxylation is not the last process that will take place, it is followed by cannabinoid degradation, which accelerates with heating. Thus, if you plan to use marijuana purchased from a pharmacy in the kitchen, subjecting it to decarboxylation by heating the dried product in an oven, for example, will cause the cannabinoids to simply degrade in some part, and the effect of taking it will not be what it should be. Terpenes, which are an incredibly important element in cannabis (the synergistic effect of cannabinoids and terpenes contained in cannabis is of great importance), will also be lost in large part.
You should not decarboxylate dried cannabis that has already been curried because this will definitely reduce its quality by vaporizing terpenes and degrading the desired cannabinoids.
The best method of decarboxylation in the case of cannabis is curring, which allows the full range of cannabinoids to be extracted from the plant and preserves the oh-so-important terpenes that escape when the dried is heated.
People who repeat the myth that only the acid forms of cannabinoids are present in mature, raw cannabis flowers are eager to repeat another myth that the acid forms decarboxylate when burned. This is, of course, impossible. A combustion temperature of several hundred degrees does not allow for the decarboxylation process to fully take place. If we took a theoretical twist of dried hemp containing only acidic forms (a theoretical assumption), such a minuscule amount will be decarboxylated during combustion that, colloquially speaking, the body won't even sense it.
The situation is slightly different in the case of vaporization, where, due to lower temperature and extended time, much more acidic forms can undergo decarboxylation than in the case of combustion.
In summary, decarboxylation is a spontaneous process that begins when cannabinoids appear in acid form in the plant. Mature cannabis inflorescences already contain decarboxylated cannabinoids as well as their acid forms, which will also decarboxylate over time. No heating is needed for decarboxylation to occur in cannabis inflorescences! Heating is not a necessary element for decarboxylation, but only accelerates the process. The best way to decarboxylate is through proper curring.
On the web you can find products such as dried cannabis, which is described: 30% THC-a and 0% THC. Such a situation is impossible in nature so it is certainly a fraud. Remember, the decarboxylation reaction occurs spontaneously, cannabinoid acids are a non-permanent structure so the process occurs spontaneously. The decarboxylation process stops under vacuum or extremely low temperatures. Heating does not determine the decarboxylation process, but can only speed it up.
Why is there so much misinformation about decarboxylation?
First of all, one thing should be said - the range of information related to the cannabis plant is unheard of. Therefore, misinformation is not the only issue. The biggest problem in this matter is the simplest lack of thinking on the part of those who continue to pass off false information as fact. The lack of thinking and verification of information is acceptable for the casual web user. However, when such information is given by sites/portals/blogs that are concerned with cannabis education it is already a problem. This says a lot about the authors of false content themselves - they are people who do not verify information, but only blindly trust the sources.
Well, sources, this is probably where the problem arose. An example: on the website/blog of one of the world's largest seed producers there is an article saying that raw flowers contain only acid forms of cannabinoids, a layman after reading such revelations on the website of a company that should know about cannabis - takes this information as fact. And it is very often the case that it is marketing agencies that write these "articles" in order to better position the company/seed store. Such content, although posted on sites where one would expect reliable information, is not educational content, but only marketing content. To our editorial email, more than once we have received proposals to publish some content for money, unfortunately, the materials sent for publication are so far at a very low level, they always contain countless errors making them unsuitable for posting on the portal. But a lot of mistakes are also made by people who want to educate about cannabis, very worrying for me is the fact that the articles sent to our mailbox at one time, which due to the fact that they contain false information could not be posted here - ended up on another hemp portal.
When writing this text, I didn't rely on what other cannabis portals wrote about decarboxylation, I looked for information where it was needed, that is on websites dedicated to biology and chemistry, I had several conversations with chemists and molecular biologists - all in order to understand what I was writing about enough to be able to pass it on.
Hemp decarboxylation - facts and myths