Decarboxylation: How Cannabis Becomes Psychoactive

Decarb Cannabis Now Magazine

Removing water molecules in cannabis activates THC.


Decarboxylation, which is an essential action in enjoying cannabis flowers and edibles, is a process in which carbon dioxide (CO2) leaves a stable molecule and floats off as a gas. Atoms in a molecule can be thought of like billiard balls, with each one having a size, weight, and exact position. As these atoms float away, the substance left behind will become lighter, like a dry towel being lighter than that same towel soaking wet. The idea is that as the CO2 leaves, the weight left behind is reduced.

Decarboxylation typically occurs by heating, but can also be caused by exposure to certain frequencies of light, and certain substances like molecular oxygen in the air.

If the weight of the molecule before and after its decarboxylation is known, then a percent of mass lost in decarboxylation can be calculated. If the CO2 contributes 10 percent of the weight of a molecule, than 90 percent of the mass remains after decarboxylation. This would mean that continuously heating 100 grams of this substance would eventually yield 90 grams of the decarboxylated substance, as the remaining 10 grams represent the weight of CO2 which gassed off.

How Does Decarboxylation Effect Cannabinoids?

Decarboxylation of cannabinoids and cannabis products is very crucial to understanding the power of cannabis as medicine. The cannabis plant only has the ability to produce cannabinoid acids, like THCA, and THC is only created by decarboxylation outside the plant. This decarboxylation is usually done by fire when smoking, or by baking in edibles. Most cannabinoids lose approximately 87.7 percent of their mass upon decarboxylation. This means that if you had 100 grams of crystalline isolate of a cannabinoid acid, such as THCA, after decarboxylation you would have 87.7 grams left of THC.

This is important for people decarboxylating their cannabinoids themselves, such as producers of cannabis infused edible products and hash oil producer that wish to sell decarboxylated oil. This is also important for advertisers of raw cannabis products such as cured cannabis flower, who must either report the value of the cannabinoid acid directly observed by the testing lab, use the theoretical conversion, or display both.

This labeling issue with raw flower is not as easy as it seems at first glance. Let’s consider a typical example of THC-dominant cannabis. The lab will test the flower and find 26 percent THCA and 3 percent THC. This is because some of the cannabinoid acids produced by the plant are decarboxylated by air and sun before harvesting and curing. The smaller the amount of THC observed directly by the lab typically indicates that the cultivator has submitted fresh cannabis that has been protected from light and exposure. A very high THC content indicates that the cannabis flower is not as fresh and been more exposed.

Now the dispensary has to either advertise two numbers, 26 percent and 3 percent, or advertise one theoretically calculated number, 25.8 percent, or both. Both allows the patient to access the greatest amount of information and be the best informed, while also reducing liability on the cannabis business involved in label making.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a well known cannabinoid for being the primary intoxicant and euphoriant of cannabis. THC is also one of the most practical and safe treatments for neuropathic, chronic, and other types of pain. THC is effective in addressing both the immunological and symptom component of multiple sclerosis (MS).

Despite the fact that THCA is not an intoxicant, it is a powerful medicine. THCA is one of the strongest anti-inflammatory agents in cannabis. Smokers receive very little to none of this cannabinoid, due to its decomposition in the smoking process. THCA is an anti-inflammatory agent, and according to one study, a more powerful neuroprotective agent than THC. THCA is a powerful COX-1 and COX-2 antagonist, similar to aspirin and ibuprofen, but with far less toxicity to the liver.

The effects of THCA and THC reflect the diversity of action on the human body a cannabinoid and its precursor acid can have. The other cannabinoids, CBD, CBG, CBC, and THCV all have acid forms which have distinct effects on human health.

Cannabidiol (CBD) has been shown to be an effective medicine for people suffering from anxiety. What CBD has also been shown to be effective at fighting is breast cancer cells. Many of these studies find that CBD promotes apoptosis, or cell suicide, in breast cancer cells while leaving the healthy cells unaffected.

Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) is CBD’s acid precursor from raw cannabis flower. CBDA has also been shown to fight human breast cancer, but in a different way. Whereas CBD causes apoptosis in breast cancer cells, CBDA has been shown to slow or stop metastasis of breast cancer cells by arresting their motility, or ability to move throughout the body. This evidence would indicate that a breast cancer patient may want to talk to their doctor about dual CBD/CBDA therapy, taking both decarboxylated CBD and raw CBDA together.

Cannabigerol (CBG) has been shown to have some potent anti-inflammatory properties that are particularly applicable in inflammatory bowel disease (IBS). Additionally, CBG has been shown to have some properties not known among many other cannabinoids, such as an ability to interact with human adrenal receptors and serotonin receptors. Currently, more studies need to be done on cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) in isolation from CBG to get an understanding what, if any, difference there are between the cannabinoid and its precursor acid on human health.

It is important to note that the mass loss is not a conversion rate. Mass loss assumes that all of a substance will decarboxylate and calculates how the mass will change. An accurate answer must account for how much of the cannabinoid will decarboxylate. Studies indicate that 30-70 percent of cannabinoids undergo decarboxylation under standard smoking conditions. This is why our calculations are only a theoretical maximum, and are not a result with the same standing as those directly observed in the plant. This is also why it can be very important to label your theoretical calculations as such, and provide all original values provided by lab results, as a means of reducing liability upon your business.

TELL US, have you ever heard of decarboxylation?

Marco Troiani was the laboratory manager of DB Labs from its founding 2015-2016 and lab technician at Steep Hill Labs before 2013. His responsibilities included developing methods for the detection of terpenes and solvents (GC-MS), heavy metals (ICP-MS), pesticides (GC-MS-MS), and Total Yeast and Mold, Total Aerobic Bacteria, Total Coliform Bacteria, and Salmonella spp. in cannabis and associated products, as well as hiring, training and managing lab employees. Mr. Troiani worked with representatives from the state governments as a consultant regarding the legalization of cannabis in California, Nevada, New York, and Maine. Mr. Troiani has lectured on the science of cannabis in various contexts: American Chemical Society Fall 2016, Pesticide extraction and detection in cannabis; CannMed Conference 2017, Medical benefits of terpenes in cannabis; American Chemical Society Fall 2017, Terpenes in cannabis and statistical variation between strains.

3 Comments

  1. Richard Owl-Mirror

    October 12, 2017 at 11:31 pm

    TELL US, have you ever heard of decarboxylation?
    Yes & it is a very important step in cultivating Cannabis for the Sole Purpose of Treating Yourself with Cannabis. I created a Strain which I named: TRIUNE of M.E.N. Through very selective Breeding & Cross/Backcross of Three specific Landrace strains, Mazar, Ethiopian Highland, Nepalese Highland, this strain contains THCA, THCV, CBDA in as close to Equal proportions as possible. This allows the Patient to determine at what stage the CBD, CBG & CBC are at their optimum levels. Knowing when to Harvest & what method of decarboxylation to undertake. They are able to obtain a proper proportion of THC to CBD ratio which is best for what ails them. Knowing the proper time to harvest, method of decarboxylation, Curing & method of consumption, allows them to produce a proper End Product from the same strain. Back when I functioned as a Caregiver, My method differed from those who were in it for the Huge Profits to be made off Patients by supplying them with ‘grass’ of unknown origins for High Prices, without ever knowing if what the Patient was purchasing would even help them with their particular ailment. I took on Patients who were willing to learn how to supply themselves with Medicine, tailored to their specific needs. I would teach them from Seed (seedling/clone) through the entire process. I never charged my Patients & left it up to them, if they desired & could afford to leave a donation at the end of the course. I consulted each patient & determined when & how they would complete the decarboxylation/curing process on their own. I never did this work for my patients but, rather allowed them to take their Live Plant home with them. (The Whole Plant, not divvied up by the ounce) With the detailed instructions on how to finish the process. That way, I never had to deal with the Legally specified amounts allowed to transfer between Caregiver & Patient. We also, as a group would have chat sessions, either discussing the various techniques or spoke about their particular ailments, how their choice to use Cannabis affected their Family/Friendship relationships. Or how the Strain was working for them, or not. In this way, we could tailor their treatment along the way. When each Patient felt they were confident enough to go it on their own, they graduated & I would take on a new patient. My caregiver Days came to an abrupt end when both, the local Drug Dealers & Police made three attempts on my life, as well as trying to entrap me by making proposals to sell them Large quantities. I always screened my Patients as carefully as possible but, once in a while one would slip in, trying to take advantage of my system.
    I had one woman, who I had a feeling was wired & wanting to purchase a 1/4 pound from me. She gave a really sad story, trying to gain my trust. I agreed to meet with her, with the pretext that she would be leaving with a 1/4 pound. Once we sat down at the table & began talking. I presented her with a ‘Cigarette Tube Box’ packed so tight with Cannabis that I had a hard time taping it shut. Her eyes lit up when she saw it. Then I explained to her, I am giving you this for Free, on the condition that she take the money she normally spent buying her Cannabis & putting it away to be used to buy her children Christmas Gifts.
    She broke down crying, I assume out of guilt & shame that she was working with the police to entrap me. She took the box & I never heard from her again. Although I learned she was buying more Cannabis the very next week from one of the drug dealers in town. I truly wish my system would have been franchised out by other like-minded Honest Caregivers but, unfortunately I don’t believe such a person, besides myself exists in this new Wild-west Business World.
    I wrote an article which was published in Treating Yourself Magazine Issue 18#
    https://www.scribd.com/document/22078791/Treating-Yourself-Magazine-18#
    Entitled: The HIGH cost of Medical Marijuana for LOW Income Patients By Richard Owl Mirror (Page 29) if anyone may be interested in reading it.
    I’ve given up Teaching & caregiving, mostly due to realizing the vast majority of People are not interested in utilizing Cannabis for it’s Medicinal benefits but, rather to get Stoned or take my Stock & turn it in to a Cash-making venture.
    Every so often I will meet a True Patient who wishes to learn to provide for themselves or sometimes they are in need of Cannabis but, simply can’t afford the Black-market Prices. So, I’ll give them enough to last a month or two. I’m sure I get taken advantage of from time to time, once one person tells another of my generosity. Anyways, with a proper understanding of the many cycles of the Cannabis Plant, if a Patient or their Caregiver wishes to simply supply themselves & is willing to do the work. They can remove themselves from perpetuating the Drug Marketer’s & supply themselves for a whole year for under $500. BTW, if the link I provided in this posting doesn’t work for some reason, clicking on my name should take you to the article. Either that or do a simple search for the Title. Good Luck to you All, Best wishes to those who are truly ill & don’t want to keep taking those Damn Pills. Sincerely, Richard Owl Mirror

  2. Vincent Miller

    October 11, 2017 at 11:35 am

    A loss of 87.7% would leave just 12.3 grams when starting with 100 grams.

    • Richard Owl-Mirror

      October 12, 2017 at 10:06 pm

      It’s unfortunate Cannabis doesn’t aid in correcting Dyslexia.
      The amount of loss is 12.3%, which leaves you with a total dry weight of 87.7 grams. It’s understandable how one could reverse the data provided.
      It is a complex issue for those who are not well-versed in the cultivation of Cannabis. Especially those who actually apply science in to the equation, rather than buying lights etc. & pouring on nutrients, fertilizers as a means of generating a large crop for Capitalistic intent. I believe if you take your time & reread the article slowly. Perhaps one paragraph at a time, soaking in what you’ve read before reading the next phase, you’ll come to a better understanding of this issue. I wish you Wellness & Peace.
      LINK = The HIGH cost of Medical Marijuana for LOW Income Patients By Richard Owl Mirror (Page 29) Treating Yourself Magazine – Issue #18

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