Cannabis edibles and creams are incredibly useful and popular as medicines, but there’s a catch. Edibles and topicals are currently illegal to sell or buy within Canada’s cannabis regulations, but thankfully, you can make your own!
The first step to baking, extracting or making topicals with cannabis is decarboxylation or “decarb” for short. We’re going to break this down so, by the end of this read, you will know what decarb means, how to decarb your cannabis, and what some of your options are to use your decarbed cannabis.
Decarboxylation is the process of releasing carbon from the end of a carbon chain, the carbon atom drops off of the carbon chain, changing the structure of the molecule. In cannabis, THCA and CBDA are the cannabinoids that after decarboxylation turns into the active cannabinoids THC and CBD. Without decarboxylation, cannabis does not have the same effects because THCA and CBDA do not interact with our endocannabinoid systems (more about the endocannabinoid system).
There are two causes of decarboxylation, the first is what we are most familiar with, heat. The second occurs before most of us even get our cannabis, right after harvesting it from the plant, a curing process happens. Curing cannabis is a fancy way to say drying it. This takes time, time is the second cause of decarboxylation.
When you dry cannabis, the cannabinoids inside like THCA and CBDA naturally start to break down and change. As this change occurs, the levels of THCA and CBDA start deteriorate as they change into THC and CBD. THCA and CBDA are often more present (even after drying cannabis) than THC and CBD, which means that the curing process only partially decarboxylates cannabis, leaving lots of those good cannabinoids unused in the plant. This is where the heat comes in.
Dried cannabis, while more decarboxylated than fresh cannabis, still needs to undergo “heat activation” to change the remaining cannabinoids into THC and CBD. Decarboxylation by heat can happen in a variety of ways, and in some cases quite quickly.
Combustion methods all involve heating up or burning of the cannabis: vaporizing, smoking a joint, or using a bong or hand pipe all count as combustion methods. When heat is applied via fire or the heating up of a vape coil or chamber, decarboxylation occurs, and you inhale the active components of cannabis.
Before cannabis can be used in any kind of oil, baked good, candy, or drink, it must first undergo decarboxylation. This is done by “baking” the cannabis in an oven, prior to infusing it into any type of carriers like butter or oil.
To infuse lotions, bath bombs or skin care products decarboxylation is still the first step. This can be done in the same decarboxylation method as edibles, baking the cannabis in an oven until complete decarboxylation occurs and then infusing an oil.
Now that we have explained the science behind it, actually decarboxylating cannabis is quite easy. Because decarboxylation is the first step in creating any type of cannabis product we suggest getting really familiar with the process so you feel free and comfortable to create whatever you’d like, it’s also cheaper than trying to buy decarboxylated cannabis.
In order to choose an appropriate temperature for your desired cannabinoid activation, use the cheat sheet below. It shows the time, and temperatures needed to activate different levels of THC and CBD. The far left shows lower temperatures and shorter time allowing THC to be properly decarboxylated, the further right you travel, the higher CBD levels become with less THC.
Grinding your cannabis evenly. This is important because it creates more surface area, meaning more THCA and CBDA can be heated and activated. For the same reason, making sure you spread your cannabis out on the cookie sheet evenly in one layer allows for the heat to penetrate and reach all of the cannabis. You want your cannabis to decarboxylate evenly.
Place your cookie sheet of cannabis into your preheated oven and DO NOT FORGET TO SET A TIMER. Cannabinoids convert and decarboxylate at different temperatures and times, it’s important to know how hot, and how long you’re wanting to leave your cannabis in for. If you leave your cannabis in the oven for too long, you can potentially over decarboxylate the bud, removing or over processing the cannabinoids. Once you hit the sweet spot of THC concentration, the THC will slowly begin to convert into CBN, a much more sedative cannabinoid. Depending on your desired experience, this can be good or bad.
Once your cannabis is done decarboxylating, it is ready to be used in any recipe you’d like. You can sprinkle it on a salad, add it into coconut oil or butter and infuse creams or massage oils!
We hope that this has answered some questions around the world of topical and edible cannabis creations, and explained some of the big questions around cannabis and at home recipes. If you are interested in learning more ways to use recipes we are working hard to keep a steady stream of new creations like our Eczema Pain Cream or the Anti-inflammatory Greek Salad Recipes coming your way. Sign up for our newsletter and you’ll have a cookbook full in no time!