‘Activating’ Cannabis With Heat

Cannabis has a rich cultural and spiritual history, of ritual and ceremonial use, often tightly linked to ‘activation’ via heat. ‘Passing the Peace Pipe’ has its roots in solid scientific reasoning – heat treating the cannabis plant causes important molecular transformations to occur, that make its health properties even more potent. The main changes at the core of cannabis pharmacology are degradation of cannabinoid acids by decarboxylation and oxidation. The need for heat and processing is the main reason why there is little medical benefit to eating raw hemp flowers on their own. However this process is widely misunderstood, with critics claiming that smoking or eating baked goods doesn’t count as ‘real’ medicine. Here’s the science behind why you should Wake & Bake:

Decarboxylation Of Cannabis: This is the process that activates compounds in cannabis such as THC, it occurs naturally during the cannabis curing process (drying cannabis out over time causes a slow and partial decarboxylation to occur), however most decarboxylation occurs when smoking or vaping cannabis using heat. All cannabinoids from the cannabis flower contain an extra carboxyl ring (COOH) group, in the process of decarboxylation, this is lost and converts the molecule to a different form. For example THCA in the cannabis flower is not intoxicating and won’t get you high, however when decarboxylated, it is converted to its psychoactive counterpart, THC. The two main catalysts for decarboxylation are heat and time. The flower can either be slowly dried at room temperature, or instantly decarboxylated using a heating device. This makes the compounds instantly available for absorption through inhalation.

The trick is to heat cannabinoids at a lower temperature over time, which allows for decarboxylation to occur whilst still preserving the integrity of the material – Terpenes in particular are preserved at lower temperatures, this is why making things like ‘Cannabutter’ can be a difficult process to get right. The integrity of many cannabinoids and terpenoids are compromised by using temperatures over 300 degrees F. THCA begins to decarboxylate around 220 degrees F, after around 30-45 minutes of exposure.

Heat + Time + Control: Heat and time can cause other types of cannabinoid degradation and transformation to occur, for example CBN is formed through the degradation and oxidation of THC. This is a process that can occur alongside decarboxylation. CBN has its own beneficial properties, including a more sedative and less psychoactive experience. If you’re buying oils, tinctures and topicals, you will not need to heat these as you’ve already purchased the refined end result. Extraction will already have taken place using heat or solvent. One of the cleanest methods of extraction is CO2, which is more environmentally friendly and avoids the need for fossil fuels. This is the process we use at Yūgenial.  

“As you can see from the two charts, 30 minutes was not quite enough to completely decarboxylate either the kief or the trim. At 30 minutes the kief was about 90% decarboxylated but the trim was only about 60% decarboxylated. This difference is likely because the trim had a higher starting moisture content. After 60 minutes however, both keif and trim samples were close enough to 100% decarboxylation for my satisfaction. So there you have it. 240° F for 60 minutes should be enough to decarboxylate any cannabis with a reasonably low moisture content. For material with higher moisture content, the time can be extended but the temperature should not be increased. If you are concerned about losing organic compounds, lower heat can be used but the time should be extended to compensate.”

However this is a delicate process, cooking cannabis in the oven ineffectively will actually burn off THC. That’s 1/3 of the active compound in your expensive cannabis lost due to temperature fluctuations. Controlled temperatures are key. Controlled temperatures are also very hard to consistently achieve in an oven or crockpot or toaster oven. The solution to this is either to buy the finished product, professionally produced, or if you prefer to home-bake, then invest in a fancy decarboxylator, some of which boast a 100% THCA to THC conversion and no THC loss.

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