Hang around experienced medical cannabis users long enough and you will start hearing terms that sound like Greek to you. One such term is ‘decarboxylation’. This scientific term denotes a particular process critical to making cannabis use as a medical product. If it were not for decarboxylation, cannabis would offer very few medical benefits.
Raw marijuana flower is only beneficial after decarboxylation. Prior to that, you could eat it straight up and you would not feel any of the effects normally associated with THC. However, smoke it and you change the game. Why? Because heat induces decarboxylation. Note that there are a number of chemical means for doing the same thing.
What Decarboxylation Accomplishes
When raw marijuana or hemp is first harvested, its many desirable cannabinoids are present as cannabinoid acids. They are inactive thanks to an excess carboxyl ring within the molecular structure. You have to get rid of that carboxyl ring before the cannabinoids will be good for anything. Again, heat is the most effective way to do this.
For purposes of illustration, the THC in raw marijuana flowers is actually THCA – or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid if you prefer the scientific name. It doesn’t become the active ingredient in marijuana until you get rid of the acid. Apply heat and the cannabinoids in question release CO2, thereby releasing the extra carboxyl ring in the process. You have just converted THCA into THC.
All of this also applies to CBD too. Prior to decarboxylation, cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) is readily available in harvested plants. But it is inactive. You could consume those plants all day long and they would not provide any medicinal benefits. But subject those plans to decarboxylation and you transform CBDA into CBD, an active cannabinoid with demonstrable health benefits.
It is possible to activate cannabinoids simply by letting raw plant cure on its own. Over time, harvested plants naturally convert carbolic acid into active cannabinoids through decay. However, doing so is a tricky endeavor. Not letting plants cure long enough minimizes natural decarboxylation. Letting them go for too long leads to plant degradation and loss of cannabinoid effectiveness.
Natural curing is not a wise choice for making your own cannabis edibles. It is too unreliable to know how much active compound you are really getting. It’s also unlikely that you’ll achieve full decarboxylation just by adding raw flowers to your recipes. The temperatures achieved in the oven, for the short amount of time required to cook, probably won’t complete the process.
Experts recommend decarboxylating raw flour before using it in edible recipes. A pressure cooker will do the trick. If you are interested in learning how it’s done, there are plenty of online videos that can tell you everything you need to know.
Buying Cannabis at a Pharmacy
Buying medical cannabis at a pharmacy comes with the expectation that your product will be ready to use without any further processing. Let’s say you visit Payson, Utah’s Pure Utah cannabis pharmacy. The only non-decarboxylated product you’ll find there is a raw flowers. Everything else is made with extracts taken from decarboxylated plant material.
Should you choose raw cannabis flower, you can decarboxylate it at home. You cannot decarboxylate it by smoking. In Utah, smoking cannabis is still illegal.
You now know what decarboxylation is and why it is so important to medical cannabis users. The process of decarboxylation is that which turns inactive cannabinoid compounds into active cannabinoids. Whether through heating or chemical means, both hemp and marijuana become medically useful because the process changes the molecular structure of the desired compounds. That’s really it in a nutshell.