How To Decarb Cannabis Flower For Cooking
Cannabis edibles are rapidly becoming a popular way to achieve the effects of THC or CBD. However, if you’re interested in creating edible cannabis treats at home, it’s important to recognize that decarbing is the vital first step to creating any kind of edible or ingestible cannabis product. Neither tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) nor cannabidiol (CBD) in their natural forms (CBDa and THCa) produce a psychoactive effect. If you want to obtain sufficient levels of either cannabinoid in its active form from your cannabis flower, there are a few necessary steps before you can begin cooking.
Because the CBD and THC you and I think of don’t occur naturally in sufficient levels in the cannabis flower, a process known as decarboxylation must take place first to release these cannabinoids in their usable forms. While decarboxylation seems like a daunting word at first, it’s actually a fairly straightforward process, necessary for creating the most effective edibles.
What is Decarbing?
In simplest terms, decarbing is the process of administering heat to cannabis flower to prompt a chemical reaction. This reaction affects the CBD and THC precursors and releases the active forms of CBD and THC the body can access for psychoactive or medicinal purposes. In general, most strains of cannabis contain very little of these active substances in the raw cannabis flower. Once the flower is heated, the compounds are converted to their “activated” states, with THC’s providing the psychoactive effects associated with cannabis.
The two main components of the cannabis decarboxylation process are heat and time. For example, when cannabis flower is being smoked or vaporized, the decarbing process happens when heat is applied from a flame or vaporizer, even without you realizing it. However, simply burning the flower releases the cannabinoids in smoke, so decarbing must take place via a much more precise process before you can use cannabis to create edibles. To decarb cannabis flower for edibles, it is important to retain the active THC and CBD in the flower material by paying close attention to temperature and time, most often with an oven, stove, or microwave.
Why Decarb Cannabis?
As mentioned, before decarbing, cannabinoids like THC and CBD are not present in their accessible forms, but instead exist as acidic compounds: THCa (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) and CBDa (cannabidiolic acid). THCa and CBDa are precursors to the highly sought-after CBD and THC used for tinctures, edibles, capsules, and oils, and themselves do not appear to have psychoactive effects. Without decarbing to release THC or CBD, you’ll have raw cannabis flower, and your edibles will lack most of the desired effects.
However, when the raw cannabis flower is heated, a chemical reaction occurs, which releases the carboxyl chemical group from the larger THCa and CBDa molecules. By dropping the carboxylic acid (the origin of the term decarboxylation), THC and CBD are now present in their active forms.
When you use these active forms, whether by inhaling smoke or vapor, applying a salve, administering a tincture, or ingesting edibles, the desired cannabinoids make their way into your bloodstream and eventually to the brain and body before interacting with dedicated cannabinoid receptor cells. These receptors are part of a larger endocannabinoid system that regulates mood, sleep, appetite, and much more.
So why is the decarboxylation process necessary? Without heat, the THCa and CBDa in cannabis flower cannot become THC and CBD, which then cannot have their desired psychoactive or medicinal effects. For example, if someone is consuming edibles for pain relief, they wouldn’t experience the full pain-relieving effects if the cannabis flower wasn’t decarbed.
It is worth mentioning, however, that both CBDa and THCa may have benefits as a part of the entourage effect. While research is ongoing, these cannabinoids along with other cannabinoids and terpenes, may help ease pain, inflammation, and nausea.
Cannabis Decarboxylation Process
The main goal of the cannabis decarboxylation process is to release the carboxyl group so that active CBD and THC are present in the compound. Heat and time are the primary requirements for the chemical process to take place, and the precise temperature and length of time used to decarb is very important. The decarb reaction begins around 220 degrees Fahrenheit, and the target length of time is 30 to 45 minutes, depending on preference.
When the female cannabis flower is heated, the CBD and THC are released and can be used for creating edibles. Often, the product is diffused in butter or other oil-based liquid. The leftover plant matter can then be thrown out. It is important to note that the marijuana decarb process can also occur while the plant is drying and aging, but most at-home decarbing involves heat and a relatively short time. There are several ways to decarb at home. The most popular utilize an oven, a stovetop, or a microwave.
How to Decarb Cannabis in Oven
One of the most common decarbing methods, and possibly the easiest, involves using an oven. Both temperature and time are easily monitored and controlled with this method. Better yet, you likely have all the necessary tools at home. All you’ll need is your cannabis flower, a meat thermometer, parchment paper, and a cookie sheet.
Preheat your oven to 240 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point, the biggest challenge involved with your residential oven is the potential for temperature variance. Having a reliable temperature gauge like an electronic meat thermometer probe available to make sure the oven maintains temperature is vital. Remember that the minimum temperature required for the decarboxylation process to occur is 220 degrees Fahrenheit.
Make sure the cannabis flower of choice is roughly broken up. Using a grinder for flower is not recommended when decarbing, as it can easily create a very fine grind. Too fine of a powder will burn and make for a cloudy cannabutter or tincture.
Cover a cookie sheet or oven tray with parchment paper. Then, spread out your ground or broken up cannabis. Make sure it’s in a single layer, without too much space between each piece.
Put the tray into the oven. The amount of time you’ll bake will depend on your desired compound. Generally speaking, the longer cannabis flower stays at or above decarb temperature, the higher the CBD content will be. Less time will encourage a higher THC content. Roughly 60 minutes should help you maximize THC, and roughly 90 minutes will maximize CBD.
Bake for the desired time, until the cannabis flower is golden brown in color. If it’s still green, leave it in the oven a little bit longer, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Remove the flower from the oven and let cool. Once the bud has cooled, it can now be ground further or left as-is for conversion to cannabutter or tinctures.
As mentioned, one of the main challenges with using an oven is making sure you maintain the correct temperature. Even if you use a thermometer to monitor temperature, be sure not to open the oven frequently, as a major temperature loss happens each time the oven door is opened. A frequent variance in temperature may impede your intended outcome.
Also, keep in mind that baking cannabis flower will likely create a strong smell. While not all strains will do this, many will.
How to Decarb Cannabis in Microwave
A microwave can also be an effective tool for cannabis decarboxylation, but keep in mind that, in many cases, using a microwave isn’t be the preferred method. A microwave’s high temperatures and uncontrollable temperature variances can potentially ruin terpenes and cannabinoids.
Still, decarbing with a microwave is extremely simple and requires few tools. All you’ll need is your cannabis flower, a microwave-safe plate, and a microwave. Here’s how to do it.
Break up your cannabis flower of choice. Again, avoid using a grinder, which can result in too fine a grind. Use your hands or utensils to roughly crumble the flower.
Place on a microwave safe plate. This step is important because ceramics and certain plastics absorb heat and can negatively affect your cannabis. Arrange the cannabis in a single layer.
Put the plate into the microwave and microwave on high. Start with a minute and a half and continue microwaving for up to 3 minutes. The final product should be golden brown.
Remove cannabis from the microwave and let it cool. Use in cannabutter or tinctures.
This method has become popular because it is extremely simple and takes very little time. With some practice, it can be an extremely effective way to decarb your flower.
Using Water to Decarb Cannabis
While this is definitely the most involved method, it’s also one preferred by top cannabis chefs. If you’ve ever heard of the sous vide method of cooking steaks and other meats, it’s a very similar experience. You can easily precision-control the temperature, and time management is fairly simple, as well. Also, the bud has less opportunity to dry out.
This method does require some special equipment, such as a sous vide system or immersion circulator and a vacuum sealing machine. However, temperature-safe zip-top bags will also do the job, and an immersion circulator can be found for as little as $30. A 10-quart container is also necessary for this process. Once you have the necessary equipment, here’s how to decarb.
Break up or grind the chosen raw cannabis flower. Note: When using this method you can grind your flower a little finer than with most other decarb methods. In fact, this may be the most effective way to decarb your kief as to not burn it.
Add the broken-up cannabis to a zip-top bag or vacuum-seal bag. With a zip-top bag, you can slowly place the bag in the water, allowing water to displace the air inside of the bag; when the air has been pushed out of the bag, seal at the top. Or, simply vacuum seal the bag. Be sure that the bag used is fully watertight.
Fill a 10-quart container with water. Place the sous vide machine or immersion circulator in the pot of water. Set the temperature to roughly 230 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the appropriate temperature is reached, add the watertight bag with the cannabis.
Allow to heat for 1 hour 20 minutes to 1 ½ hours.
Once the desired time is reached, remove the bag. Let the contents fully cool before opening. Then, use your decarbed cannabis ground, or use it to infuse butter or oil.
You can accomplish the above steps with a simple pot of boiling pot of water as well, but monitoring temperature is much more difficult without an immersion circulator. However, the final result will be an evenly cooked product.
Other Marijuana Decarb Methods
Aside from the above-mentioned methods, which tend to be the most widely used, there are also a few other ways to decarb raw cannabis. The Ardent Nova decarboxylator is perhaps the simplest of all methods to use. It looks a bit like a coffee thermos—with just the press of a button and a brief time, your chosen bud can be decarbed. The drawback is that this decarboxylator presents an up-front cost that you can’t use for other purposes, unlike an oven, microwave, or immersion circulator.
Using a toaster oven may also be an effective method if you don’t have access to a full-sized oven for decarbing. This would work in a very similar way to using any other oven. However, it is essential to carefully monitor the temperature with a thermometer.
Making Cannabutter from Decarbed Cannabis Flower
As we’ve demonstrated, in order to make edibles, decarboxylating cannabis flower is the important first step. Then, you’ll need a product you can easily incorporate into your cannabis infused recipes. For most cannachefs, this involves infusing decarbed cannabis into some sort of oil or fat. While dressings and certain foods can easily benefit from cannabis-infused oils like olive oil or coconut oil, cannabutter is a great way to add THC or CBD to baked goods and many other foods.
Making cannabutter is as simple as following these steps.
Using low heat, melt 1 cup of good quality butter in a saucepan. When the butter is fully melted, add a small amount of water. Then, add 7-10 grams of your decarboxylated cannabis flower. If you’re new to cannabis or cannabutter, consider staying at the lower end of this recommendation.
Over two to three hours, keep the butter and added ingredients at a slight simmer. Do not let your butter reach a full, rolling boil. The best thing you can do is monitor the temperature and keep it under 190 degrees Fahrenheit.
After the prescribed time has passed, remove from heat. Let cool briefly. Before the mixture has fully solidified, but has cooled to the touch, strain through a cheesecloth to remove plant matter.
Transfer to a food-safe container that seals. Put the container of strained butter into a refrigerator to fully cool and solidify. As the butter solidifies and cools, excess water will form. Be sure to pour this off regularly so it doesn’t pool.
If you prefer, you can use a slow cooker or a double boiler to make your cannabutter. Whichever method you choose, after your butter has solidified, you can use it to make a variety of cannabis treats. Check out our cannabutter resource for dosing information and other tips.
Decarbing Cannabis Flower Before Cooking is Essential
While it’s a common assumption that simply adding raw cannabis flower to a batch of brownies is enough to fully activate the THC and CBD, that’s not the case. Knowing how to cook with cannabis is equal parts science and practice.
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Digital Content Manager for MÜV Florida and Zen Leaf Dispensaries. A cannabis connoisseur with a passion for explaining the miraculous possibility of the plant, Swan began her journey with cannabis as a recreational user and quickly realized its positive impact on her depression and severe anxiety. She joined the cannabis industry as Receptionist and MedTender and witnessed first-hand the immense potential of the plant for a wide variety of ailments, deepening her passion for alternative medicine. Swan is dedicated to self-education on the plant and sharing its potential with all. She holds a Journalism degree from the University of Iowa.
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