Medical Cannabis and The Importance of Decarboxylation

If you were to consume (by eating), a bag of medicinal marijuana, would you feel the full-blown effects of the drug?

Have you ever wondered what makes cannabis, the cannabis flower (buds), cannabis edibles and tinctures, and medicinal cannabis effective?

Well, the answer to the first question is “no”. The answer to the second question will be explained as you read along!

“Decarboxylation” isn’t a commonly heard word to most people, but it’s supremely important in the processing of cannabis into effective medicine to treat the wide range of medical conditions that cannabis has been legalized to treat.

Decarboxylation is the process that literally “turns on” the marijuana plant’s active compounds either by exposure of the plant material to heat or by the plant’s natural drying and aging process. Cannabinoid acids are present in the fresh, unheated flower (or buds) of marijuana, but they’re essentially ineffective while they’re in an inactive state.

Heating, or decarboxylation, takes the non-psychoactive cannabinoid acid known as tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (or THCA) and converts it into THC, which is typically linked to medicinal cannabis as the compound that gives you the blissful “high” you expect from cannabis. CBD, an acid in the plant known as cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) is also converted by the decarboxylation process. CBD is a cannabinoid that has become very in-demand in the past few years.

You can consume raw cannabis and get the benefits of the vitamins, nutrients, and cannabinoid acids it contains, but you will not experience psychoactive effects that decarboxylation makes possible.

Since only activated cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) are the compounds that affect the brain’s neurotransmitters when they interact with each other, decarboxylation is vitally important to patients that need to benefit from the psychoactive effects of medicinal cannabis.


So how is Decarboxylation accomplished?

There are two ways that decarboxylation occurs. One is by natural drying and aging (curing). Marijuana material left in the open dries over time, which helps to convert the cannabinoid acids into active compounds. The drying and curing of the buds will additionally stimulate some limited decarboxylation.   

The other is through heat exposure. When the plant material of cannabis is heated to at least a 220-degree temperature, it will be fully decarboxylated after almost half an hour. However, since baked edibles with cannabis don’t reach temperatures that high, the cannabis material requires decarboxylation before it’s added to food to be cooked.

What instantly results in decarboxylated cannabis material is smoking, vaporizing or dabbing the material. The decarboxylated cannabinoids are then in a state to work faster after they’ve been absorbed into your system by inhaling.


Do-it-Yourself Decarboxylation

As intimidating as the word sounds, decarboxylating cannabis is pretty fairly easily with the cannabis flower you may have purchased at your local dispensary. All you need is a baking sheet and an oven. From the courtesy of Medical Marijuana News, here’s the step by step “recipe”:  

You’ll need:

  • Marijuana flower
  • Baking sheet
  • Parchment paper
  • Grinder
  • Oven

How to decarboxylate your marijuana, step-by-step:

  1. Preheat your oven to 250 degrees F and line your baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. While the oven heats, break your marijuana flower into smaller pieces
  3. Spread the flower out on the parchment paper so that it’s in a single layer.
  4. Place the baking sheet in the oven. Cook for 30-45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so.
  5. Once the marijuana is darker in color, remove the baking sheet from the oven and set aside to let the activated flower cool.
  6. Use the grinder or a food processor to coarsely grind the flower. Store the cannabis in an airtight container.

Avoid cooking the flower at temperatures higher than 250 degrees, as it will diminish the compounds of the plant and burn off the cannabis terpenes.


Now You Know

For consumers of cannabis, and particularly medicinal cannabis, the full effects, and benefits of using cannabis in the treatment of medical conditions can only be realized if the plant has first been decarboxylated.

If you’re taking medical cannabis by way of infused edibles, tinctures, oils, smoking, or vaporizing, you owe it to yourself to get the most potent effects of the cannabis for the benefit of your health and the maximum relief of your medical condition.

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