Decarboxylation. How to decarb concentrates?

Decarboxylation. How to decarb concentrates?

A chemical reaction that results from heating a cannabinoid to the point of removing a carboxyl group, thus enhancing the cannabinoid’s ability to interact with the body’s receptors. Decarboxylation is dependent upon time and temperature. For example, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) will naturally decarboxylate into tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) over time, or immediately after being exposed to heat.

How to decarb concentrates

What Is Decarboxylation?

Cannabis as a raw plant is non-intoxicating and cannot produce strong psychoactive effects. Pop-culture references to eating a bag of cannabis to hide one’s stash and getting super-high afterward just aren’t true. THCA is the compound found in the raw cannabis plant, and in order to have intoxicating properties, it must first be transformed into THC.

 THCA will naturally decarboxylate into THC over a long period of time, but many times you want to speed up the process. To do so, you must activate the THC by heating it. The THCA in cannabis is converted to THC when it is smoked or vaporized to absorb via inhalation, or cooked over a period of time to absorb via digestion. 

 For edible and topical applications, decarboxylation, or decarbing, allows for faster absorption of the cannabinoid. And with edibles, if you don’t decarboxylate your weed, it’s likely it will not reach maximum potency.

 Interestingly, when you decarboxylate weed, it also helps reduce the risk of botulism and other microbiological contaminants by removing the moisture from the cannabinoids and decreasing the chance of bacteria growth.

Why is Decarboxylation Important?

Decarboxylating your weed is critical because it’s the process will allow you to get high. As mentioned previously, weed that has not been decarboxylated does not contain active THC, the chemical compound that produces intoxicating effects. Instead, raw cannabis has the inert compound THCA. However, once you apply heat, you transform that THCA into THC — and that’s what gets you stoned.

Does Decarboxylation Destroy CBD?

No, decarboxylation does not ruin cannabidiol (CBD). On the contrary, decarboxylation is actually necessary to ensure that the CBD is activated. As with THC, the raw cannabis plant does not contain CBD molecules. 

 Instead, it contains cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), which does not interact with your body the same way that CBD does. To convert that CBDA into CBD, the compound that gives consumers a number of positive therapeutic effects, you need to decarboxylate your weed first.

 The bottom line: to convert THCA and CBDA into THC and CBD, respectively, you need to apply heat for a period of time. 

How to Decarboxylate Weed at Home

Decarboxylation of THCA at home takes some trial and error and may take a few attempts to perfect. That’s because hitting the precise decarboxylation temperature is critical to the entire process. If you don’t get the temperature right, you won’t be able to decarboxylate weed properly. 

 Heating cannabinoids at too high of a temperature —  hotter than 300 degrees Fahrenheit, or 148.9 degrees Celsius — will cause degradation. Terpenes may evaporate, and the smell and flavor may be unsavory. However, degradation of THC can cause the formation of cannabinol (CBN), which has its own health properties.

What is the Best Method to Decarboxylate Cannabis?

There are a variety of ways to decarboxylate weed at home. There really is not one method that’s any better than the other. Instead, it’s all about what you are hoping to accomplish by decarboxylating your weed, and how you intend to consume your decarbed weed. 

For example, if you want to bake edibles, you’ll probably be best served by making cannabis-infused butter or cannabis oil. Alternatively if you plan on simply adding dried plant matter to foods, drinks, or some other application, and you want to avoid the weed releasing a strong odor, you may be better served by going with the sous-vide method below. Whatever your needs, here are a few of the most common ways to decarboxylate weed.

How Long to Decarboxylate

The length of time you must expose your cannabis to heat in order to achieve decarboxylation depends on the temperature you’re using. In general, the lower the heat, the longer the process will take. But at the same time, you don’t want to use such a high temperature that you end up scorching or combusting the plant material.

In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Molecular Structure, researchers identified the ideal conditions for optimal cannabis decarboxylation. Here’s what they found: “Under the experimental conditions, the highest yield [of active THC] was obtained at 110 degrees Celsius and 110 minutes.”

Following this guidance, to decarb weed as effectively as possible, shoot for 110 minutes at 110 degrees C, or 230 degrees Fahrenheit.

Baking

Cannabis can be baked in a preheated oven on a sheet of parchment paper. To start, first break your buds into small pieces and spread the cannabis in a thin, even layer. Cover the paper with aluminum foil, set the timer for 25 to 30 minutes, and bake at 230 degrees Fahrenheit, or 110 degrees Celsius.

Once done, let your newly decarbed cannabis cool before using it for any consumption application. You may want to place it in a food processor to give it an even consistency for ease of use in mixing and baking. And yes, you should decarboxylate weed before using it in an edible recipe. The body can’t convert THCA to THC on its own, so ensuring you’ve decarboxylated your weed before using it in edibles will ensure you get maximum potency out of the flower. 

Sous-Vide Method

Sometimes the safest way to cook without burning cannabis is with water, and sous vide decarboxylation may be favored among some cannabis users, and those who may be foodies, too. To decarboxylate weed using sous-vide, a preparation method using water or steam heated to a precise and consistent temperature, requires a vacuum sealer, heat-safe plastic packaging, a sous-vide precision cooker, a grinder, and a large pot.

 Once you’re done grinding your cannabis, seal it in heat-safe plastic packaging using your vacuum sealer. Fill your large pot with water and place on the stovetop. Place the precision cooker in the pot and set the temperature to 230 degrees Fahrenheit, or 110 degrees Celsius. Once the sous-vide reaches the desired temperature, place your sealed cannabis in the precision cooker and cook for about 1 ½ hours.

Slow Cooker

You also can decarboxylate cannabis using a slow cooker and cooking oil, such as coconut or olive oil. This is a common practice when cannabis users want to make cannabis-infused oils. 

 One sample recipe calls for 64 ounces, or 1.8 kilograms, of dry-weight cannabis to 1 pint, or 433 milliliters, of olive oil, covered and cooked on high in a slow cooker for 1 hour, then turned to low and cooked for an additional 2-3 hours. The mixture is then cooled and strained through a cheesecloth, with each tablespoon (about 14 milliliters) of oil containing about 2 grams of cannabis.

 Cannabis butters, meanwhile, are often made on the stovetop.

Boiling

Simmering cannabis in a tea bag immersed in water and butter is another common way to decarboxylate weed and extract THC at the same time. Only a small amount of butter is needed to help draw out the cannabinoids. The temperature of the boiling water bath should be around 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Making teas using this method is a common way of accomplishing two goals at once.

Can you Decarb Cannabutter?

You do not need to worry about putting canna-butter through its own separate decarboxylation process. That’s because properly made cannabutter has already been decarbed. More specifically, the process of making canna-butter involves heating a mixture of butter and cannabis together and letting it simmer to the point that two things happen:

  1. The cannabis material gets fully decarboxylated.
  2. Cannabinoids get pulled out of the plant matter and bind to the fats in the butter.

The end result of this process is a final product, known as cannabutter, that is full of decarboxylated and activated THC ready to consume and give you the intoxicating high you’re looking for.

Decarboxylation in Concentrates

Concentrates are made using a number of processes including physical agitation, pressure, or use of a solvent. Most processes do not include heat, which means that concentrates contain mostly THCA rather than THC. That’s why you need to combust or vaporize your concentrates to get high.

Hash oil is one of the most classic forms of concentrate. Typically, hash oil is derived by soaking cannabis in some sort of solvent that pulls out most of the cannabinoids from the plant matter. Then, when the solvent is evaporated, it leaves behind a thick, tarlike or oil-like substance that is full of concentrated cannabinoids. However, because the final product was never exposed to heat, it does not yet contain active THC. 

Technically speaking, decarboxylated hash oil is only created at the moment of consumption, when you combust it for smoking or vaporize it for dabbing.

Decarboxylation in Biochemistry

Decarboxylation has many other applications in biochemistry aside from cannabis use. While the decarb process changes the ability of THC and CBD to bind to our body’s cannabinoid receptors, decarboxylation happens with other amino acids, too. L-tryptophan, for example, is an essential amino acid that is necessary for us to make serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine), which occurs through decarboxylation. Histidine also is converted to histamine, our body’s allergy response, in this way.

Plants and insects decarboxylate differently than humans, as well. The reverse process of decarboxylation is carboxylation, or adding carbon dioxide to a compound, which is the first step of photosynthesis. Another popular term today is ketonic decarboxylation. This process forms the ketones that are produced by the body during fasting or low carbohydrate intake, such as with the ketogenic diet.

Unintended Decarboxylation

When exposed to light and heat, both cannabis flower and concentrates that contain THCA will eventually decarboxylate all on their own. And as mentioned before, further degradation can transform THC into CBN.

That means that if you want to maintain both the freshness of your cannabis and the cannabinoid content of your cannabis, it’s important to store both cannabis buds and concentrates in a cool, dark place with minimal exposure to light and heat.

Can you use a microwave to decarboxylate weed?

Using a microwave is sometimes espoused as a quick and easy way to decarb weed. Though some who have tried this method report successful outcomes, decarbing weed in a microwave can be much more volatile than using an oven, potentially resulting in burnt weed with lost potency and a degraded smell and taste. In short, decarbing with a microwave is possible, but ultimately riskier and not always worth the shorter timeframe it offers. 

No matter what product you choose or which decarboxylation method you prefer, remember: A cannabis nug can only get you high if you heat it up.

BASIC SCIENCE OF DECARB

Being familiar with the basic science involved with decarboxylation can be very helpful in sorting through all the internet noise surrounding the topic.  Let’s start at the beginning with the natural form of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that develops in the trichomes of the cannabis plant as it grows and matures, THC-A.  You will hear many people refer to THC-A as the “acid form of THC”, meaning it has an extra carboxyl group that differentiates it from THC.  Notice that the word ‘carboxyl’ is the root of “decarboxylation”, which simply means to remove the carbolic acid group.  When the carboxyl group breaks away carbon dioxide (CO2) is given off and the molecular mass of THC-A reduces by about 12% becoming the smaller molecule known as THC. This size relationship can be seen in one of the most common equations used for measuring total potential THC in a cannabis sample [THCtotal = (THCA x 0.877) + THC].

How to decarb concentrates

The change from THC-A to THC is a natural process that begins immediately when the plant is harvested and continues very slowly over years depending on how well the cannabis is prepared and stored.  The process can be accelerated by soaking cannabis in a solvent like ethanol, completing the conversion in just 6-8 months, or hyper-accelerated with the application of heat.  Decarb is influenced by three specific variables: temperature, time, and environment.  Changing any one of the three variables will affect the extent of decarb achieved.  By applying varying degrees of heat you can fully decarb cannabis at different rates. Low heat will take longer, high heat works faster, and the temperatures used for smoking or vaping cause instantaneous conversion. As time passes decarb continues, so with the comparison of any two periods of time, with everything else equal, the longer time period will always result in a higher degree of decarb. Environment is a more opaque and less concise consideration but very important.  Open air, ambient temperature, and exposure to sunlight will cause oxidation, conversion and degradation of both THC-A and THC.  The environmental influence on the cannabis I used in this exercise had already taken place prior to it coming into my possession, making it a fixed variable across all the samples used for each method.  Therefore, I will treat environment as a constant and remove it from the discussion in comparing the different methods in this exercise and concentrate on temperature and time.

Everyday I see people seriously obsessing over the simple science of decarbing and meticulously analyzing every factor for fear of ruining their cannabis if they make an error.  Simple decarb questions in some groups often break out into internet brawls.  If you take a step back and think about it, you can see there is very little precision happening in your kitchen compared to a lab, so it might be best to treat the decarb process less like a lab procedure and more like a kitchen activity. If the starting material came from a source other than your own grow, you have no real idea how it was stored, how long it’s been out, how much sunlight it’s taken on, and the real state of decarb that’s already taken place (environment factor).  Even if you did grow, cure, and store it yourself, in most cases it would be difficult to know precisely.  Furthermore, controlling the temperature of your appliances, especially cheap appliances, will be far from laboratory specifications but they will be good enough to do what we need them to.  So, my general advice is to relax a little bit, take what I’ve written here under advisement, give it a little thought, take your best shot, believe in chaos theory, stay lifted, and move on.

COSTS ASSOCIATED WITH DECARB

The quality of terpenes and amount of decarb present in the cannabis you consume are both dependent on the same three variables (temp, time, environment) but are at odds and inversely correlated.  Meaning, any factor that furthers decarb comes at the expense terpenes.  The loss of terpenes during decarb is a concern for most people, but it’s not an easy problem to solve since anything that facilitates decarb degrades terpene quality.  Maintaining low processing temperatures can help preserve some of the most volatile terpenes to a minor degree and decarbing with a containment that can trap them can also provide a small degree of salvation, but for the most part you have to accept the fact that when you choose to decarb you will have substantial terpene conversion and loss.  Luckily, one of the most exciting recent developments in the cannabis industry is the availability of isolated terpenes and terpene profiles that can be reintroduced to a decarbed concentrate to make up for any loss and in some cases make the concentrate better than it would have been originally.

Another cost of decarb that causes concern is the conversion of THC to CBN.  Only a small amount of elevated CBN can cause a difference in the psychoactive effects of cannabis.  CBN conversion takes a bit of effort, and you have to over process a decarb by a decent margin, but the good news is, even if it happens it’s not the end of the world.  People often mistake the effects of CBN to an elevated degree of being ‘high’, when in reality it’s not more ‘high’ but more sedated.  In fact, many people who need a very strong ‘chill’ factor or heavy sleep aid seek the help of the CBN component.

This study is incredibly well done and interesting in many ways, if you have a chance to chew on it a bit I highly recommend it.  It discusses the science of many aspects of the process, including nullification of CBN development under vacuum, temp/time combinations for both THC and CBD, and other interesting stuff.  Decarboxylation Study of Acidic Cannabinoids: A Novel Approach Using Ultra-High-Performance Supercritical Fluid Chromatography/Photodiode Array-Mass Spectrometry.

WHY DO PEOPLE DECARB, DO I NEED TO?

To determine if decarbing is necessary for your intended use and needs decide if you require the benefits of THC-A, THC, or both.  To begin exploring this, let’s look at the difference in the psychotropic effects and the potential benefits of using THC-A and THC.  The most obvious difference between the two is that THC-A does not induce psychotropic effects, the feeling of being “high”, while THC does when ingested orally or inhaled.  THC-A has become very important as an anticonvulsive, controlling and stopping many forms of seizures, anti-inflammation, pain relief, nausea, depression, overall well-being, and has shown positive signs in the treatment of prostate-cancer. It can do all of this without making people feel high.

On the other hand, THC has strong psychotropic effects that some people love and others have difficulty with.  The difference in psychotropic effect is a result of the smaller relative molecular size of THC compared to THC-A.  The smaller molecular size allows THC to pass through the blood-brain barrier and attach to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain, creating the ‘high.’  The smaller THC molecule has been demonstrated to have an increased ability to kill cancer cells, work as an anticonvulsant, bronchodilator, appetite stimulant, strong pain reliever, sooth nausea, help with PTSD, induces sleep when nothing else works, along with a number other general health benefits.

The choice between using THC-A or THC is generally pretty clear-cut, as already discussed, but a couple of brief comments on how that choice relates to the various modes of consumption like oral ingestion, suppositories, topicals, smoking and vaping might be helpful. The decision to decarb for oral ingestion typically hinges on two considerations, desired benefits and one’s tolerance for psychotropic effects. Suppositories are typically understood to have no psychotropic effects if used properly so either THC-A or THC can be used.  Having said that, suppository effectiveness is hotly debated and I would recommend reading my post “The Cannabis Oil Suppository Debate: Personal Testing & Results”for more information.  Topicals are not directly ingested into the body orally nor through the lungs so either THC-A or THC can be used, without psychotropic effects.

When it comes to smoking or vaping there’s an interesting consideration concerning conversion efficiency and bioavailability.  In most cases, the rule of thumb for cannabis that will be smoked or vaped is that decarbing prior to consuming is not necessary because it occurs automatically when combusted or vaped.  With combustion and smoking of flower high temps are easily achieved and all the desired constituents will be consumed, making prior decarbing unnecessary.  Vaping and dabbing with quality equipment allows for precise temperature control to target cannabinoid and terpene components, attain very high conversion and dial in desired effects, using temps to control the intensity of the high delivered. With higher quality controllable vaping equipment decarbing is also usually considered unnecessary because you can preserve all the terpenes in your concentrate with high cannabinoid conversion efficiency.  On the other hand, there are people who like to do low-temp dabs to enjoy rich flavors and avoid the possible adverse health issues associated with high-temp dabbing. In this case, it’s possible to lose a good percentage of cannabinoids to low conversion.  The low conversion problem can be solved by decarbing the material, and adding back any terps that were lost in the process, creating a high cannabinoid conversion and high terpene dab.  Likewise, there are many people using vape cartridges with low power batteries that operate at low temps that don’t provide reliable THC conversion, hence much weaker effects than desired.  To insure a more potent delivery of THC some people choose to use decarbed oil and added terpenes to make vape cartridges.

To recap, when deciding if you need decarb or not there are just a few considerations.  First, determine if you desire THC-A, THC, or a combination.  Second, consider your form of consumption and if higher conversion is necessary.  Third, for your use, are the costs of decarbing worth the benefit?  Lastly, can the risk of potential terpene loss be mitigated by adding terpenes back later?

METHOD COMPARISONS

 PREPARATION

For this exercise I prepared some outdoor GSC flower broken up by hand and separated into 7g bags for a control sample and for each test.  I chose a 7g sample size because it’s representative of what many people may decarb at home for personal use and the results will be consistent with the larger volumes when executed properly.  When processing larger amounts you must make sure the cannabis is not in a thick or compressed layer that would hinder heat transfer and cause unequal and incomplete decarb.

NOTES ON USING AN OVEN FOR DECARBING

Ovens are notoriously unreliable for temperature accuracy, and to my disbelief, during this exercise I found my Across International vacuum oven was actually off nearly 30°F whereas the oven in my kitchen was spot on.  Here are some things you can do to make using the oven more reliable for decarbing:

  • Before using an oven for decarbing, determine if the internal temperature of the oven matches the temperature you intend to base your decarbing.
  • To measure the accuracy of your oven temp you can put a measuring cup of water in the oven with a thermometer or use an inferred temperature gun to see what the oven temp measures.
  • Remember the areas of the oven that deliver heat will read much higher than the rest of the oven, if possible measure the temperature of the rack, grate, or pre-heated cookie sheet.
  • When checking the internal temperature of the oven or preparing for decarbing, before measuring the temp or beginning a decarb, allow the oven to settle for about 20 minutes after it indicates it’s up to temp.
  • If the observed temp in the oven differs from the actual setting you can either note the difference and adjust the setting accordingly to achieve the desired temperature. For example if your target temp is 240°F but the oven only measures 220°F, try setting 260°F and see if it settles at 240°F and if it does use that correction going forward.  The other option is to use the measured oven temp as is and adjust the decarb time accordingly.
  • If a cookie sheet is being used, make sure it’s preheated with the oven and up to temp before putting anything on it to process.

COMPARED METHODS

I chose to compare methods that range from the traditional use of an oven, a couple of gadgets, and a couple of methods I worked up myself.  First we’ll look at using the oven with foil tents, sealed canning jars and, vacuum packs, then the sous vide, steaming, and the Ardent Nova.  In comparing each method and the respective results I was looking for high THC conversion, low CBN conversion, possible terpene preservation advantages, ease of use, odor, and general advantages or disadvantages of each.

Oven – Foil Tent

  • 240°F for 60 minutes – 100% THC conversion, no CBN conversion
  • 260°F for 40 minutes – 99.6% THC conversion, no CBN conversion

This is a simple method, just put the cannabis on some foil and fold it loosely like a tent then fold over the ends to completely seal.  The folded shape doesn’t help control the odor much, but it does prevent the cannabis getting overly toasted as it would without the foil protection.  This was the easiest of all methods and both samples were effectively fully decarbed.  The only real downside to this method is there is a decent amount of odor, there will be no secrets about what you are doing.

Oven – Vacuum sealed pack

  • 240°F for 60 minutes – 100% THC conversion, no CBN conversion
  • 260°F for 40 minutes – 100% THC conversion, no CBN conversion

After doing the foil tent, I thought a vacuum sealed pack would perform the same function but better. I had never seen nor heard of this being done so I wasn’t sure if the plastic would melt and ruin the cannabis or not, but I only had one way to find out!  I used a Food Saver unit to vacuum seal the cannabis and planned to place it on a cookie sheet for decarbing.  I preheated the cookie sheet in the oven so it was up to temp along with the oven when the vacuum packed cannabis went in.  After the time was complete removing the samples showed that the CO2 release from the process made the bag puff up a little and there was moisture in the pack that wasn’t there to start.  The pack worked as planned and trapped anything that had evaporated then it re-condensed on the cannabis or the surface of the pack as it cooled.  It wasn’t odor proof but it was a lot less than the foil tent.

A great advantage of this method is being able to capture the vapor and everything remained in the pack. When making butter, an infusion or extraction I would be sure to gather whatever was collected on the surface of the bag by using the pack to do part of the infusion or ethanol wash for extraction. I liked this method, it seemed to work very well, and achieved full decarb.

Oven – Mason Jar

  • 240°F for 60 minutes – 100% THC conversion, no CBN conversion
  • 260°F for 40 minutes – 99.5% THC conversion, no CBN conversion

I’ve been developing a feel for working with sealed mason jars for decarbing for a while.  Like the vacuum pack test, evaporated terpenes are trapped in the jar and re-condense on the glass surface as long as you don’t open the jar until it’s fully cooled.  Then, you can use the jar to do your infusion or extraction and collect all the desirables that would have otherwise been lost.  After the jar cools I put it into the freezer, and use the same jar for doing frozen qwet (Cannabis Oil QWET Extraction Battle of the Wash: Dry Ice vs. Freezer).  The big bonus to this method is there is no smell at all, it’s all contained in the jar.

This process has a couple operational considerations that require attention.  First, a cool jar will require ramping time and uncertain heating, so it’s important to pre-heat the jar.  The jar can be brought up to temp along with preheating the oven.  When it’s time to put the cannabis in the oven, remove the pre-heated jar from the oven, quickly load the cannabis into the jar, secure the lid on the jar, and place it back in the oven.  This process also provides the added advantage of creating a natural vacuum seal later when it cools and before going into the freezer.  Second, the jar shouldn’t be filled too much, it’s best to leave quite a bit of head room to allow even heating of the material.  I usually don’t fill the jar more than 1/3 full at most.  If I do put more in I rotate the jar half way through the process to ensure even heating and add a few minutes to the total time to make up for opening the oven and losing some heat.  Third, I lay the jar on its side to expose as much surface area as possible.  Lastly, glass in a dry heat environment requires caution and you must use your own judgement on if it is safe or not.  I have not had a single failure to this point, but it’s important to understand the possible risks of breaking glass due to temperature changes before trying for yourself.

Sous Vide (gadget) – Vacuum Pack

  • 191°F-194°F for 120 minutes – 93.3% THC conversion, no CBN conversion

I was really looking forward to using the sous vide, regrettably it ended up being a fail, but not by fault of the process.  I believe the process is sound and will work great at lower elevations.  The sous vide I purchased claimed a range up to 199°F which I thought achievable because water here at 5,000 feet boils at 203°F, however, it failed to heat above 191°F on its own.  I added boiling water and it was then able to maintain about 194°F for the remaining time.  The original plan was to perform both 90 minute and 120 minute tests, but with the low temperature limitation I opted to do only the 120 minute.  I’ve heard numerous great reports about this technique and I believe if I were at a lower elevation where water boiled at a higher temperature it would have achieved full decarb.  I think this assumption is supported by the results of the next method, steaming, and the temperatures used there.

The operational considerations are limited with this method.  The only difficulty comes from keeping the pack submerged in the water, especially as it begins to bloat.  I used magnets to hold it down, but any form of weight will do.  One word of caution that gives me a little concern with this method, I didn’t clean this material meticulously so there were some very small but tough stems in the sample.  When the packs vacuum sealed the small stems must have punctured some of the packs because the vacuum seal was lost.  The leaks don’t appear immediately but slowly over time, so if you are going to use this method prepare the vacuum sealed packs in advance and let it set overnight to confirm the vacuum seal is sound or you may end up with water in your pack. Lastly, I have been cautioned by chefs that use these often that the cheaper consumer models are not very reliable or durable, and that can be upsetting when you consider the cost of this gadget.

Steaming – Vacuum Pack

  • 203°F for 90 minutes – 97.3% THC conversion, no CBN conversion
  • 203°F for 120 minutes – 98.1% THC conversion, no CBN conversion

When I started seeing the sous vide being used for decarb I thought, why not just steam a vacuum sealed pack?  The temperature of steam is at least that of boiling water, and maybe just a degree or two higher with the lid in place to create a minor amount of back pressure.  As already mentioned, at 5,000 feet elevation water boils at about 203°F so I hoped this temperature would perform better and overcome the difficulties I had with the low sous vide temps.  I was very happy with this process, there was a very slight odor, and it was no more hassle than the sous vide but required no costly gadget.  Like the sous vide, if I lived at a lower elevation where water boiled around 212°F, I’m sure this would have been a blinding success.

I’m guessing this same process can be used in an Instapot. I have not tried it yet, but there is a consideration that makes this even more interesting.  While decarb isn’t effected by pressure the boiling point of terpenes are, so if you decarb in an Instapot under positive pressure can you preserve more terpenes?  This is a great question I am looking forward to answering at a later date (in the meantime, if someone else can try it, test it, and let us know, that would be outstanding!).

Ardent Nova (gadget)

1 cycle – 100% THC conversion, slight elevation of CBN .09 to 0.15

I’ve been experimenting with the Ardent Nova trying to understand all the claims of this gadget for over a year now.  I’ve run it with many samples, and I’ve even taken it apart to examine the components and structure, and it seems to be pretty much the same tech as a rice cooker.  It has two temperature sensors that run against a timed algorithm and that appears to be the extent of it.  It’s simply a heated cylinder however the claims I’ve seen are extensive: 1) decarb THC with precision, 2) decarb CBD with precision by running two full cycles, 3) decarb plant material as well as oil, 4) use it for infusion.

To me these claims seem overstated and mislead the average consumer to believe it actually does more than I believe it does.  I mentioned earlier that decarbing with precision in the kitchen is quite difficult for a number of reasons, but I see the Ardent solving one of the difficulties by providing a reliable and consistent heat, and if that is what they mean by ‘precision’ then that’s great.  However, decarbing THC, CBD, plant material and oil all precisely, in terms of the different requirements for each of those it’s just not a reasonable claim in my opinion. Looking back at this study Decarboxylation Study of Acidic Cannabinoids: A Novel Approach Using Ultra-High-Performance Supercritical Fluid Chromatography/Photodiode Array-Mass Spectrometry you can see the difference in the curves used at low temp decarbing.  The Ardent uses a low temp for a very long time which as you can see from the graphs flatten with longer times at lower temps.  While it might be a ‘good enough’ I don’t consider it to be precision, and it’s certainly a result that can be replicated for free using other methods. The other precision problem is the inability to differentiate between the amount of mass or density of material loaded into it, meaning it can’t tell if there is a little or a lot loaded, which should be accounted for by the temp ramping algorithm but doesn’t seem to change in the operation when I run a ¼ ounce or more.  On that same point, the inability to distinguish between plant material and oil mass has its own problems for precision, the inability to observe the oil or stir the oil during the process builds in decarb inefficiency and ignores the fact that the oil may have already sustained ample decarb during the extraction process depending on what equipment was used.  So, my impression is that this gadget can be used for all of the claimed applications, but I’m not buying the ‘precision’ argument outside of possibly holding a constant temp and following its own algorithm. Lastly, the suggestion to user the appliance as an infusion appliance as well as for decarb is kind of funny, it’s obviously not designed to be both.

The processing time for 7g was about 2 hours. It was 2 hours where I didn’t have to worry about monitoring it and paying attention to it, that was very easy and worry free.  In fact, after about an 1 hour 45 minutes I just went to bed because I was tired of waiting for it to finish.  This method provided the most toasted sample in this whole exercise and showed signs of being over processed with a not so pleasant aroma.  This was the only method I tested here that had a small volume capacity limitation.

Some people really love this gadget for the ability to simply push the button and walk away without having to monitor or think about if they are getting the best result possible.  With a little bit of thought and minimal effort you can achieve the best possible result without spending this kind of money and having the volume restriction.  I’ve tested this gadget thoroughly and it’s my least favorite of all the methods presented here.

APPENDIX:  DECARBING OIL

I feel it necessary to include a short comment on decarbing oil and concentrates.  The chemical action of decarbing and converting THC-A to THC is the same with cannabis plant material and concentrates.  Applying heat for an amount of time to instigate the breaking off of the carboxyl group is the same for both.  In this exercise my focus was on decarbing plant material, but I often decarb concentrates and oil as well.  If you want to give this process a try, simply place the oil or concentrate in an appropriate container and apply heat between 220°F-260°F until the bubbles stop forming.  There are a few important points and cautions to be aware of with this process.  First, when a concentrate is heated up to decarbing temperatures it will be the viscosity of a runny liquid, so it must be contained or it will run off any mat or flat surface and make a terrible mess. Second, as it comes up to temperature tiny CO2 bubbles will appear and they can expand rapidly so make sure you leave lots of room for expansion because it can expand enormously.  Third, it’s very important to stir the oil throughout the process to facilitate an even decarb.  Lastly, once the very small CO2 bubbles stop forming you know the decarb is complete.  My preferred method for this is to use a heated magnetic stir plate with a thermal couple.

CONCLUSION

I’m so happy to have had the opportunity do all of these tests side-by-side and present them together, I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time.  It’s clear to me that every one of these methods provides nearly the same outcome with some minor differences, and I think this shows that at home decarb is a lot more forgiving and robust of a process than it’s usually recognized as.  I’m confident that all of these techniques can easily provide full decarb and require very little effort.  Having said that, the methods employing water for the heat source do not appear to be suitable for higher elevations.

To choose the method that best suits your needs think about what tools you already have at your disposal, processing volume needs, how much time you have, if the odor is a factor, if you want to try to recover what terpenes may be present, your value of convenience, and your budget for unnecessary but convenient gadgets.  For me the pre-heated jar method was a clear winner, but everyone will have their own favorite process and I’m confident that whichever one you choose you will achieve great results, so stop worrying about it and just enjoy a stress free decarb.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Kara Rudy

    This a very good primer on converting THC to edibles. Imagine a few vape pens with THC inside them. Some have built in batteries that have gone dead and other seem to have dried up. Can you extract and prepare the THC for edibles. How is it done?

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