Cannabis can be consumed in a number of ways and more creative forms of consumption have been surfacing as states continue to legalize industries. But they all have one important step in common:
It’s the process of transforming Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid or THCA to just Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC by removing a carboxyl group.
The process is necessary for humans to enjoy the psychoactive qualities of cannabis consumption, according to Keenan Hollister, owner of Pakalolo Supply Co. in Fairbanks.
“You’re not going to feel high with just THCA,” Hollister said.
Trichomes of raw cannabis flowers possess cannabinoids with an extra carboxyl group, a group of molecules consisting of a carbon atom double-bonded to an oxygen atom and single-bonded to a hydroxyl group.
The decarboxylation process uses heat to remove the carboxyl group from the molecular structure and release carbon dioxide, transforming the THCA into THC, according to Seth Hawkins at Good Titrations, a cannabis concentrate business in Fairbanks.
“That’s why you can’t just eat a bud and get high,” he said. “You need to heat THC up to a point to where it’s activated, changing molecular structure, so it can be more palatable to humans.”
According to Makaela Fish, edibles production expert at GOOD Cannabis in Fairbanks, the body cannot properly absorb the THC until it is activated through the heating process. In the conventional smoking of cannabis, the lighting of the joint or pipe quickly activates the THC through the burning process.
“If you were to eat some of our wax, you wouldn’t get high, you have to smoke it to activate the THC, it’s that heat element,” Fish said.
With additional research coming out of legal industries across the country, the process of decarboxylation has recently become more prevalent in the making of homemade edibles, Hollister said.
While other health benefits like cannabis’ anti-inflammatory properties can be absorbed without activated THC, none of the psychoactive qualities that produce a high can be absorbed without the heating process.
The heating can be done in a number of ways, Hollister said.
“Some people use an oven, some people use a crock pot,” he said. “The trick is to heat the weed so it’s almost toasted.”
Fish noted that GOOD Cannabis chooses the oven route. “We basically just bake it in the oven for like 45 more minutes,” she said.
In your kitchen
For those interested in upping their edibles game, here is how to decarboxylate your cannabis at home.
All you need are some basic household items and your favorite strain. Take a cookie sheet and line it with parchment paper. Then grind your favorite cannabis until it can be spread evenly on the cookie sheet. Bake at 220 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 to 45 minutes. Heat should not exceed 300 degrees. A higher temperature will damage the cannabinoids.
After the process is complete, continue with your oil or butter recipe as planned.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at