Cannabis Extraction Industry Blog

How Decarboxylation Activates Cannabinoids

July 15, 2020

How decarboxylation activates cannabinoids

While research into the pharmacology of specific cannabinoids began in the 1940s1, it wasn't until 1964, when organic chemist and professor of Medicinal Chemistry Dr. Raphael Mechoulam first isolated tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and its specific molecular structure2 from tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, that cannabis researchers started to understand its potentially therapeutic effects. One year earlier, Dr. Mechoulam, commonly recognized in the cannabis community as the "Godfather of Cannabis Research", isolated cannabidiol (CBD)3, THC’s non-intoxicating cousin. These groundbreaking discoveries were achieved through one very important and essential catalyst – decarboxylation.  

What is cannabis decarboxylation?

Simply put, decarboxylation is a chemical decomposition reaction, activated through a heating mechanism, that removes a carboxylic acid. When heated, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) decarboxylates, resulting in the psychoactive compound THC. Similarly, when cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) decarboxylates, the resulting compound is CBD. The loss of carboxylic acid, in both instances, activates the chemical compounds that are responsible for intoxicating effects and/or potentially therapeutic effects, respectively. In essence, decarboxylation is essential in creating the active ingredients found in high quality cannabis products like cannabis oil, soft gel capsules and inhalables.

What does this mean for consumers and patients?

Decarboxylation activates organic compounds present in cannabis material, making them far more effective from a medicinal or recreational perspective. Without this crucial step, the potency of the cannabinoids remains inert and, ultimately, the desired effects are not fully experienced by the user.

What is the MediPharm Labs decarboxylation process?

When a consumer lights a pre-roll, the heat produced by a lighter or match acts as the catalyst to start the decarboxylation process, ultimately activating the cannabinoids present in cannabis flower. In the development of high quality cannabis oil, MediPharm Labs uses a different process. Fully activating THC and CBD without compromising or destroying valuable cannabinoids is a precise and scientific process. At MediPharm Labs, trained production technicians use vacuum and convection ovens to decarboxylate cannabis material. This process includes:

  • All cannabis material being weighed prior to entering the ovens;
  • Heating in the vacuum or convection ovens, at a slow and steady pace, to the ideal temperature.
  • Recording of essential data, including temperature, time and other important parameters; and
  • All decarboxylated cannabis material being re-weighed for mass reconciliation with original weight counts.

How decarboxylation activates cannabinoids

Through a heating process, MediPharm Labs’ convection ovens apply heat to cannabis material and this heat is enough to break the bonds holding the carboxylic acid in THCA and CBDA. Our team has performed performance qualification studies of our decarboxylation process in order to optimize the temperature profile.

“MediPharm Labs has conducted temperature mapping of its decarboxylation ovens in order to precisely control conditions to maximize conversion of acidic cannabinoids while minimizing CBN formation,” says Dr. Chris Talpas, Vice President of Quality and Scientific Affairs at MediPharm Labs.

After this phase, decarboxylated cannabis material proceeds to the supercritical CO2 extraction phase. Later, heat applied through temperature manipulation in the distillation phase further activates cannabinoids in cannabis distillate. MediPharm Labs’ high internal standards for decarboxylation ultimately result in a predictable, consistent, purified, and reliable experience for patients and consumers.

To learn about the next phase of the MediPharm Labs extraction process please read “Supercritical CO2 Extraction Explained”.


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