A brief history of decarboxylation techniques

In the rapidly evolving environment of cannabis technology, there is always a lot to catch up on. Decarbitation stands out as a unique technique for uniform heating and highly efficient decarboxylation, but what makes it any better than the traditional techniques? To answer that question, we’ll need to dive into a little history of cannabis decarboxylation.

Decarboxylation is actually one of the oldest known organic chemistry reactions [1]. It involves the conversion of a carboxylic acid group (-COOH) into CO2 and an H atom, and typically requires the simple application of heat to proceed. When Grandma spent 5 hours in the kitchen making her “special brownies”, that’s probably because she was ensuring her weed butter was sufficiently “decarboxylated” first!

The general approach involves low slow heating of the flower, but not whole trimmed buds. People have historically decarboxylated cannabis flower by first breaking it apart. This step alone draws controversy, as some say it’s better to grind the flower while others claim it’s best to pick it apart by hand (speaking from experience, use gloves!). Even further down the rabbit hole are those that advocate for wooden grinders as opposed to metal. Regardless, the flower is then laid on a baking sheet and set to cook in the oven for about 45 minutes to an hour at 225-240 °F [2]. A variation of this is done with a mason jar in an attempt to better capture terpenes during the process. The plant material that’s in contact with the walls of the mason jar will ultimately be the hottest, so every fifteen minutes or so the mason jar is removed from the oven and shaken to redistribute the material to avoid “hot spots”.

A similar general approach involves the method of “sous vide” or vacuum sealed immersion in warm water. The water should act as a more stable temperature bath than the oven, especially when heated with something like an immersion circulator. However unlike when using a mason jar, the plant matter cannot be easily stirred or redistributed if it’s in a vacuum sealed bag during decarboxylation, leading to potential “hot spots”.

Then the method we’re probably most familiar with is decarboxylation in a homemade extraction, such as in butter (cannabutter), olive oil, or any other fatty, edible, and delicious medium. This can be done stove top or in a slow cooker for about 2-3 hours on heat low enough that the mixture doesn’t exceed 200°F [3]. Some folks will also decarboxylate in the oven as described above prior to making cannabutter for their cooking.

Generally speaking, the heating methods for decarboxylation of flower have been directly transplanted into the decarboxylation of cannabis crude oil, with some slight modifications and moderate success. In a cannabis extraction and post processing lab, what you may find for decarboxylation is much like an oven but in the form of a heated jacket. Similar to the mason jar and sous vide techniques, heated jackets holding the cannabis crude oil are likely to develop “hot spots”, where crude oil along the walls of the container will be hotter than the oil in the center. This leads to the inevitable and unfortunate degradation of those valuable compounds we’re after, the cannabinoids and the terpenes. Traditionally, losses at the decarboxylation step for cannabis crude oil are over 10%. These losses are widely accepted as the industry standard, as there have not been any major upgrades to heating and decarboxylation technology, until now.

Decarbitation relies on controlled cavitation to uniformly heat and decarboxylate cannabis crude oil. Cavitation is the process of tiny bubbles forming and popping in solution, which generates microscopic shockwaves. These shockwaves actually very gently and uniformly catalyze decarboxylation throughout the entire solution with precision temperature control. We’ve seen efficiencies higher than 99% in just 30 minutes of decarboxylation. What can you achieve with a 10% increase in efficiency?


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