There’s a reason people don’t just eat dried cannabis bud. Whether fresh or dried, cannabis won’t get you high unless it’s heated. The act of transforming a sticky herb into a mind-bending medicinal plant relies on a process called decarboxylation. In chemistry terms, decarboxylation is the process of removing an acid (carboxyl) group from a fatty molecule. But, what is decarboxylation in simple terms? This article tells you everything you need to know about decarboxylation and how to decarb weed properly.

What is Decarboxylation?

One way to think about decarboxylation is as an activation. In order to “activate” your herb, you’ll need to break down the components of cannabis resin from fatty acids into their more potent and medicinal formats. Marijuana causes a psychoactive “high” thanks to a compound called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This THC, however, is not found on fresh cannabis plants. In fact, the psychoactive only shows up on fresh plants in trace amounts. Instead, trichome-coated flowers are rich in THCA, the acid form of THC.

Believe it or not, THC is actually a breakdown product of THC-Acid. As THCA ages, it loses some of its chemical bonds. When cannabis flowers are dried and cured, small amounts of THCA are converted to THC. Yet, the trace amounts of THC present in dried buds are not quite enough to produce a substantial psychoactive effect. To speed up the process and ensure that more THCA is converted into its more psychoactive relative, you need heat. Smoking, vaporizing, and otherwise heating the herb unlocks the plant’s psychoactive potential.

The process of converting THC-Acid into psychoactive THC is called decarboxylation. Often abbreviated to “decarbing”, understanding this simple science is useful for herb smokers and culinary artists alike. Not only does decarboxylation explain why smoking is one of the most popular ways to consume the cannabis plant, but decarbing your herb and concentrates prior to cooking is a surefire way to make for potent and effective edibles.

Knowing When to Decarb Weed

If you’re hoping to get the most from your cannabis, decarbing is essential. Decarboxylation is the only way to achieve a strong psychoactive effect from your herb. Yet, apart from simply taking a lighter to a bowl, where’s when it’s useful to decarb:

  • Prior to making infused oils, edibles, drinks and foods.
  • Prior to making tinctures.
  • Prior to adding cannabis concentrates to edibles and drinks.
  • After making full-extract extractions at home.

While decarbing is necessary to tap into the cannabis plant’s mind-altering nature, a psychoactive experience isn’t always appropriate for everyone. Fortunately, for those hoping to tap into the healing potential of cannabis without the high, there is some benefit to keeping things raw. The cannabinoid acids found in uncured and unheated cannabis plants may not be as well-researched as THC, but they are not without their benefit.

Early research in the lab suggests that THCA may be useful as an anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory aid. Virtually no human trials, however, examine just how effective THC-acid can be. Though, many medical patients use fresh cannabis in juices and smoothies to take full advantage of the potential benefits cannabinoid acids may provide.