Understanding Decarboxylation: How to Fine Tune Your Smoking or Vaping Experience
By Margo Amala
Thinking deeply about decarboxylation leads me to a deeper understanding of how to fine-tune your experience when smoking or vaping marijuana. Bear with me here as you need to understand the decarboxylation process to dive deeper into how to dial in your experience.
Anytime you consume THC or CBD, you decarboxylate these cannabinoids in one way or another. Raw cannabis contains only the carboxylic acid forms of cannabinoids. For example, in the raw cannabis plant there is no THC; only THCA is present. THCA, while it has many health benefits, will not induce the high or euphoria of THC. In order to turn THCA into THC decarboxylation must happen. Decarboxylation is a scientific term for a chemical reaction that removes a carboxyl group and releases carbon dioxide.
Time and temperature are the most common catalysts for decarboxylation. As cannabis flowers dry, decarboxylation occurs slowly. This process accelerates with the addition of heat: the more heat you add, the faster the reaction takes place. As a matter of fact: when you smoke or vaporize cannabis you are rapidly decarboxylating your cannabis! When you ingest edibles, the cannabis concentrate or extract used to make the edible is also decarboxylated.
There have been a number of scientific studies done on cannabis decarboxylation. The following graph from the European Industrial Hemp Association shows a combination of results from various studies on the decarboxylation of THCA into THC:
The y-axis of the graph shows the temperature the THCA was heated to, and the x-axis of the graph shows the time somebody heated the THCA. There will be different results on decarboxylation because THCA will convert to THC at different rates depending on whether whole cannabis flowers are used vs. cannabis concentrates or extracts. Additionally, methods of decarboxylation make a difference as well. For example, it will take a different amount of time for cannabis flower to decarboxylate in an oven, vs. if you put a cannabis flower in your pipe and hold a flame directly to it.
Here’s the thing: the reason we don’t want to over decarboxylate cannabis is because during the process not only is THCA converted to THC but THC also converts into CBN. THC converts to CBN rapidly when heat is applied. CBN makes your cannabis more sedative. Therefore, optimal decarboxylation involves exposing your cannabis to a limited amount of heat over a specific amount of time to activate the most THC and minimize the amount of THC converted into CBN. This is applicable to both making edibles and extracts, as well as to your smoking or vaping experience.
All this information brings me to the epiphany about how to create a more precise experience for yourself. The honorary green hit of a bowl will contain the least amount of CBN compared to any further hit off the bowl. This well known green hit, will be the most uplifting hit off the bowl since we know that CBN is sedative. Once you torch the bowl of cannabis for the first time with a flame, every consecutive hit after that will continue to contain more and more CBN. If you wish to increase or decrease the sedative experience of smoking cannabis, you can make your bowl smaller or larger depending on how much CBN you would like to intake.
All this also creates an excellent excuse for using a variable voltage battery when vaping cannabis extracts. Extracts in a cartridge are a little bit tricky, because you have to have the appropriate temperature to burn the oil. That said, it is very common to use too high of a setting, thereby turning more of your THC into CBN. I suggest experimenting with your variable voltage battery to see what setting is right for each different cartridge. Keeping in mind your awareness of how you feel after vaping with the different settings. The goal isn’t simply just to get a hit off the cartridge.
If you are interested in more information about how to decarboxylate your own cannabis at home to make edibles see the Cannabis Education: Edibles page. Hopefully, you will be able to heighten your cannabis experiences by acquiring more information and applying it!
Decarboxylation of Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) to active THC