Decarboxylation: How Cannabis Becomes Psychoactive

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Decarboxylation, which is an essential action in enjoying cannabis flowers and edibles, is a process in which carbon dioxide (CO2) leaves a stable molecule and floats off as a gas. Atoms in a molecule can be thought of like billiard balls, with each one having a size, weight, and exact position. As these atoms float away, the substance left behind will become lighter, like a dry towel being lighter than that same towel soaking wet. The idea is that as the CO2 leaves, the weight left behind is reduced. Decarboxylation typically occurs by heating, but can also be caused by exposure to certain frequencies of light, and certain substances like molecular oxygen in the air. If the weight of the molecule before and after its decarboxylation is known, then a percent of mass lost in decarboxylation can be calculated. If the CO2 contributes 10 percent of the weight of a molecule, than 90 percent of the mass remains after decarboxylation. This would mean that continuously heating 100 grams of this substance would eventually yield 90 grams of the decarboxylated substance, as the remaining 10 grams represent the weight of CO2 which gassed off. How Does Decarboxylation Affect Cannabinoids? Decarboxylation of cannabinoids and cannabis products is very crucial to understanding the power of cannabis as medicine. The cannabis plant only has the ability to produce cannabinoid acids, like THCA, and THC is only created by decarboxylation outside the plant. This decarboxylation is usually done by fire when smoking, or by baking in edibles. Most cannabinoids lose approximately 87.7 percent of their mass upon decarboxylation. This means that if you had 100 grams of crystalline isolate of a cannabinoid acid, such as THCA, after decarboxylation you would have 87.7 grams left of THC. This is important for people decarboxylating their cannabinoids themselves,…

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