While edibles are not currently sold in retail locations, they will be legally sold in Canada starting mid-December, 2019. Decarboxylation is the first step in making an edible item that uses cannabis. It is done by heating the product over a long period of time at a low temperature.
Read on for more about decarboxylation!
Decarboxylation Chemistry Explained for Students Who Want to Start a Cannabis Retail Business
Decarboxylation converts THCA, which is not intoxicating, into THC, which is intoxicating. The chemical reaction changes it into an ingredient that has potency when added to food.
Decarboxylation creates a chemical reaction that:
- Applies heat to release a carboxyl group from each cannabinoid molecule in THCA.
- Carboxyl groups are acidic structures.
- When a carboxyl group is released, hydrogen replaces it.
- This creates a new molecular structure and converts the THCA into THC.
This method requires carefully calculating temperature and time, the manipulation of which helps to achieve the appropriate level of THC. The cannabis must be dried out slowly, taking care to avoid burning it. While your cannabis retailer licence doesn’t currently allow you to sell or make edibles, this is a process that some of your customers may use with the cannabis that they buy at your location. It also provides interesting insight into the molecular structure of cannabis.
Cannabis Retail Business Owners Should Understand the Role of Heat
Through the decarboxylation process, you can see what a significant role heat plays in the activation of cannabis. This effect can occur to a small degree before the decarboxylation step has been initiated, through:
- Curing and drying: A very small amount of decarboxylation occurs in the process of curing and drying cannabis. This is due to the application of heat, and is likely the earliest method of decarboxylation. However, it doesn’t activate the cannabis to its full potential.
- Storage temperatures: Plants can also begin to decarboxylate if left at high temperatures over a long period of time, emphasizing the importance of monitoring heat and light (which carries heat) when storing product.
Furthermore, cannabis is significantly affected by the level of heat that is applied to it. For example, attempting to decarboxylate by applying very high heat for a few minutes will convert the THCA molecules, but will also affect terpenes, the oils in cannabis that contribute aroma and flavour. Terpenes are necessary for quality and can decompose at high temperatures. To avoid this, the process is done at low temperatures over a long period of time.
Why Is Decarboxylation Necessary for Edibles and not Vapor?
When cannabis is consumed through smoking or vaporizing, the heat applied to the cannabis decarboxylates it. The vapor, when inhaled, will be potent.
Conversely, when consuming edibles, cannabinoids like THC need to be already present in the product, in order for the body to absorb them. If you open a cannabis dispensary, the products that your customers buy to consume through smoke or vapour are not potent when sitting on the shelf. The chemical reaction is needed for it to have effects.
Fast, high heat is effective for decarboxylation of smoked or vaporized products and not for food products because in a recipe cannabis needs to maintain its integrity, whereas a product that is consumed as a vapor doesn’t.
Are you hoping to open a cannabis retail business?
Contact AAPS for more information.