Decarboxylation: What Do Medical Marijuana Patients Need to Know?
Medical marijuana is frequently used to treat chronic pain, providing relief from the pain itself, as well as the nausea associated with opioid drugs. Decarboxylation is a chemical process that unlocks the full medicinal and psychoactive effects of marijuana. As we’ll see in this article, vaporizers can play an important role in the process of effectively using medical marijuana for pain management.
What is Decarboxylation?
Decarboxylation is the chemical process of removing a hydroxyl group (COOH) from a compound, releasing carbon dioxide. Decarboxylating, or activating, marijuana converts THCA, which is found in raw cannabis, to THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid associated with marijuana’s high.
Most commonly, decarboxylation requires high heat to trigger the chemical process. The heat source should be greater than 221°F, which is hotter than the boiling point of water. This means anytime medical marijuana is heated, for example through vaporizers like the Pax Era battery, decarboxylation occurs.
However, some decarboxylation does occur over time and from different sources. Decarboxylation can also occur from sunlight and at room temperature. Cannabis leaves that are directly exposed to sunlight will decarboxylate over time. Room temperature conversion occurs with carrier oils, like olive oil, or ethanol. Over time, cannabis stored at room temperature will convert approximately 20% of THCA to THC.
THC vs. THCA
Both THC and THCA are cannabinoids in marijuana. Tetrahydrocannabinol, aka THC, is the psychoactive cannabinoid that gives the characteristic high associated with marijuana. Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, aka THCA, is the acidic form of THC. In the raw marijuana flower, only THCA is present. Marijuana must decarboxylate to produce THC, however, it is impossible to convert all THCA into THC.
THCA has a host of medicinal benefits and is regarded as a superfood by some. Some even add raw marijuana to smoothies and juices to holistically address chronic pain associated with arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other conditions. Studies suggest that THCA could:
- Reduce inflammation associated with chronic pain
- Reduce the spread of cancer cells
- Protect against neurodegenerative diseases
- Increase appetite and decrease nausea and/or vomiting for those undergoing chemotherapy treatments
Those who look to marijuana as a superfood use the plant prior to decarboxylation. This means that heat is not introduced during the preparation of any smoothie or juice or related item. This means that there are not any psychoactive effects, since it is decarboxylation that converts THCA to THC. And we know it is THC that produces the psychoactive effects. Even though some decarboxylation may occur naturally over time, raw marijuana generally does not contain enough THC to produce a high.
Vape Pens and Decarboxylation
For those seeking the full effects of medical marijuana including the associated high, the following may surprise you. Smoking medical marijuana may be the most common way to decarboxylate THC, but it is not the most effective. The flame from smoking applies a high degree of heat in a short period of time, rapidly converting THCA to THC. This leaves a greater amount of THCA.
Vaporizing and vape pens are the two most efficient ways to decarboxylate ground cannabis.
- Vaporizing heats the ground cannabis at a low temperature allowing the THCA to be converted to THC. Gradually increasing the heat ensures an optimal amount of THCA is converted to THC.
- Vape pens are loaded with decarboxylated cannabis distillate. This means the distillate already contains THC. Applying heat to decarboxylated cannabis triggers decarboxylation again, which then yields the maximum amount of THC. This is considered the most effective way to release the maximum amount of THC.
Depending on your specific condition and treatment plan, it may be worth considering a medical marijuana treatment plan that either does, or does not, feature the psychoactive effects of decarboxylated THC. The licensed pharmacists at Solevo Wellness can help you determine the right medical marijuana product for your needs.