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Decarboxylation – Converting THCA and CBDA to THC and CBD

Decarboxylation – Converting THCA and CBDA to THC and CBD

Time for a little chemistry, however not too much (promise).  But it’s important to understand decarboxylation since there is a lot of misinformation on the market today.  So here goes…


Decarboxylation is one of the oldest known organic reactions.  It’s a chemical reaction that removes a carboxyl group and releases carbon dioxide. Usually, decarboxylation refers to a reaction of carboxylic acids, removing a carbon atom from a carbon chain.

That’s the chemistry.  Now, here’s why it’s important to understand with respect to cannabis.

Decarboxylation in Cannabis

Raw cannabis, hemp or marijuana, includes phytocannabinoids which exist in an acidic form.  For instance, CBDA and THCA are the two acids which are precursors to CBD and THC.  Consuming raw cannabis will not get you high or will not have the psychoactive effects because the THC is still in its acidic form, THCA.  THCA needs to be converted into THC, and that is done through decarboxylation.

Decarboxylation can take place by two very simple things. Heat and time.

Smoking and vaporizing can instantly decarboxylate cannabinoids as a result of the extremely high temperatures that are present, and this makes them immediately available for absorption via inhalation. Heat is also used during the oil extraction process or decarboxylation may occur after extraction using liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry (LC / MS).  Once the oil is extracted, it is typically then blended with a carrier oil (e.g., MCT, hemp seed oil) before being consumed as a sublingual product or formulated into an edible / softgel. 

Decarboxylation occurs at temperatures of 320 to 356 degrees Fahrenheit (160 to 180 degree Celsius) for extended periods.  Decarboxylation can however occur without high temperatures by curing and drying cannabis over time.  This time based decarboxylation takes a long time and typically does not fully convert all of the acids over 

Decarboxylation and Terpenes

When going through the decarboxylation process, the temperature that used is important. Lower temperatures will cause the process to take longer, however delaying the process can actually be a good thing, as lower temperatures will allow you to retain more terpenes. The terpenes are the oils that give cannabis its unique smell and flavor, and they offer a variety of benefits.

Besides the fact that retaining as many terpenes as possible will allow for some of these benefits, there is another important reason you’ll want to keep them around in your CBD oil products – terpenes can actually boost the power of CBD and other cannabinoids, if they are present. Full plant extract oils, or full spectrum oils, are known to have a synergistic benefit called the Entourage Effect.

Consumer Insight

So, next time you are reviewing the Certificates of Analysis, CofAs, for the products you are consuming, review the cannabinoid profiles of those products.  Some brands use extraction processes which fully convert THCA and CBDA into THC and CBD.  Other brands will not show full conversion and you’ll see some products including some percentage of THCA and CBDA.

Many people feel converting the cannabinoids into their non-acidic elements is essential, however there is research which is showing that CBDA has some valuable health benefits.  The more research which is performed, the better.  Keep staying current as this industry continues to mature.

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