Do I need to decarb?
The role of decarboxylation for edibles, topicals, and smoking.
Though making edibles and topicals at home is an easy process, there’s always a temptation to cut out steps to make it easier. But before you skip ahead and throw raw herb into a batch of brownies – WAIT!
If you remove a necessary step, you may end up with a whole batch of edibles that don't work!
One of the most common steps people try to eliminate is decarbing. It’s a short process that creates an invisible chemical change, so it’s easy to overlook, but decarbing can be absolutely crucial to whether you get high or not. To find out if it’s right for you, take a closer look at the process and consider how you’re planning on using your herb.
Is decarbing necessary?
If you want to get a strong mental high from edibles, yes, decarbing is necessary. If you’re making topicals, have a low tolerance level, or are primarily looking for other benefits from your herb, a separate decarbing step might be unnecessary.
- For strong edibles, decarbing is necessary.
- For topicals, decarbing is optional.
- If you’re smoking your herb, you don’t need to decarb in advance.
If you’re looking for a way to make the process of making edibles easier without cutting decarbing, we suggest using a MagicalButter machine. It automates the heating and mixing process, removing steps from the process while improving the potency of your infusions.
You have to decarb in order to get high from edibles, so why don’t you have to decarb before smoking?
Smoking still involves decarbing, it’s just not a separate step. When you light your bud on fire or vape, the heat causes decarbing as you smoke.
To get a better understanding of whether you need to decarb or not, let’s look at what it is.
Decarbing or decarboxylation is the process of using heat to activate the pharmacological chemicals in your herb. In recreational use, it is necessary to get the desired mental effects. For therapeutic uses, the question is more complicated because herb has many a wide variety of active components, some of which are available in raw herb – some only in decarbed herb.
Decarbing activates the chemicals that get you high, enabling them to pass through your blood/brain barrier and have an effect on your brain.
Because the compounds that get you high are volatile, natural decarboxylation takes place over time. You can actually decarb by just waiting, but this process is imprecise and can take months before you experience noticeable changes and years to complete the process. To get more confidence in the strength of your decarboxylation, speed up the process by heating your herb in a home oven.
Decarbing for edibles
Minimally processed forms of herb such as fresh buds, cured buds, kief, wax, shatter, or hash, are typically NOT decarboxylated, so you will need to decarb them before adding to edibles for maximum potency. More processed forms of herb are typically decarboxylated as part of the solvent extraction process including RSO and CO2 distillate. If you’re unsure if your herb is decarbed, ask the person you’re getting it from.
Decarbing isn’t the only necessary step to ensure a high from edibles. Active compounds are further boosted by extraction into oil which increases their bioavailability, helping your body absorb it into your bloodstream. Leave off this step, and you might not be satisfied with your results.
For people new to edibles, skipping decarbing may be advisable because it will result in a less intense experience. The curing, the heating of extraction, and baking will increase the amount of psychoactive components, so you can have some effects if you don’t decarb. You just won’t experience the maximum potential power of your herb, which might actually be attractive to beginners.
Aside from the therapeutic qualities of herb, there are a couple of practical pros and cons to decarbing.
- Pro- Decarbing enables you to store herb for longer because it releases virtually all the moisture.
- Con - Decarbing kills off the terpenes, decreases the flavor in the process. The flavorful terpenes in your herb start denaturing at temperatures that are lower than the optimal decarboxylation temperatures. If you want more fresh green herbal flavor in a recipe for edibles, add some raw herb in addition to decarbed herb.
Why is decarbing optional for topicals?
The main reason for decarbing is to increase the mental effects of your herb – its effects in topicals are less notable. Since your body is unable to absorb enough active components through your skin to get high, decarbing topicals won’t increase the effects on your brain unless you end up eating some of your lip balm.
Mental effects aside, when it comes to body benefits, there are a range of potential effects of decarboxylation. Recent studies are finding more perks for raw, non-decarbed herb, but there are also some that only come from long periods of decarbing.
It is important to note that the modern research on the active components in bud is rapidly expanding with the recent legalization push and the number of possible applications continues to grow as more research is done.
The entourage effect
Not only are herbal compounds under-researched, they are also complex and known to enhance the potency of each other. When used therapeutically, it’s not just about having a certain compound for a certain effect, but it can be about having the right combination.
The phenomenon of one compound strengthening the effects of others is called the entourage effect. When users are given an herbal extract containing multiple compounds they experience more pain relief than if they are given a single compound.
There are also terpenes which are oil-based compounds that may additionally affect the effects of herb and can be denatured by decarbing.
By decarbing your herb partially, you can take advantage of the entourage effect to create a product that has a stronger pain reducing and psychoactive effects. Mix decarbed herb with some raw herb which contains more terpenes and you’ll boost potency.
Is decarbing necessary for smoking?
So if decarbing makes edibles stronger, why don’t people decarb their herb before smoking to get super high?
You might expect a boost in potency from decarbing before smoking, but it could backfire. Adding an extra decarb step will convert some of the high-inducing compounds into sleep-inducing compounds, making for a very different sleepy experience. There are also practical disadvantages to decarbing before lighting up.
Decarbed herb will be harder to handle. When dried it will crumble and be harder to pack into a pipe or vaporizer. It’s dryness will make it more harsh to smoke. Cured herb is more moist and more pleasant than decarbed herb. For most people smoking without decarbing will work just fine - it provides the best combination of adequacy potency and convenience.
Choosing whether to decarb or not
Whether to decarb or not is a judgement call based on your tolerance and your intended usage of your edibles or topicals. If you absolutely want to have a mental high, you should decarb. If you want to get the general benefits from your herb and are more indifferent about the high, you don’t have to. Either way, decarbing is fast and easy to include if you want. Whatever you choose, don’t neglect it because you think it’s too hard. Any beginner can do it at home.
It doesn’t take much to decarb – just an oven and a baking sheet. See how easy it is by checking out our guide to decarboxylation. Then do it for your next batch to enhance your edibles experience!