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Does THCA Become THC When Heated? The Science of Decarboxylation

For quite a while now, cannabis enthusiasts and medical marijuana patients have been very interested in the array of compounds within the cannabis plant. Two of the most popularly sought-after and discussed cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, known as THCA, and tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. While these compounds are closely related to one another, they each offer something very different in regard to their properties and physiologic effects on the human body. Here, we will dive into the relationship between THCA and THC, answering the burning question: does THCA become THC when heated?

Chris Dorcey
Inheal Editor
Post date
Time to read
3 mins 29 secs
THCA to THC The Decarboxylation Process

Key Takeaways

  • THCA is non-psychoactive and exists in raw cannabis plants as a precursor molecule to THC
  • THC is the main psychoactive component in cannabis, responsible for euphoric and intoxicating effects
  • THCA naturally converts to THC through decarboxylation, which occurs when cannabis is heated
  • Decarboxylation is a chemical reaction that removes a carboxyl group from THCA to form THC
  • The optimal temperature for decarboxylation is around 300°F, with the process occurring rapidly at about 220°F
  • Temperatures exceeding 400°F may lead to THC degradation

How THCA is Converted to THC: Understanding the Difference

It’s useful to first consider both THCA and THC independently before explaining the whole process of conversion.

Psychoactive EffectsNoYes
Found in Raw CannabisYesNo
Therapeutic ValueYesYes

THCA: The Precursor

THCA is an acidic precursor of THC that abounds in raw cannabis plants. It represents the non-psychoactive structure, potently not causing a “high.” Studies with regards to the possible remedial traits of THCA reveal certain knowledge of what it can do.

THC: The Psychoactive Powerhouse

THC, on the other hand, is the primary psychoactive component of the cannabis plant. It accounts for the ‘highness’, feelings of euphoria, and all other intoxicating effects one feels when consuming marijuana. THC works by interacting with the endocannabinoid system of the body and binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, thus altering neurotransmitter release.

The Decarboxylation Process

Now, it basically decarboxylates itself into THC. Decarboxylation, per se, is a chemical reaction wherein the removal of carboxyl (COOH) from the THCA molecule actually converts it into THC. This process just naturally occurs over time as cannabis ages, or it is induced with heat.

This, in turn, strips the THCA of its carboxyl group when cannabis is heated, as in smoking, vaporizing, or cooking, thus enabling creation of THC. Although exact temperatures differ, decarboxylation mostly takes place at around 220°F or 104°C.

TemperatureDecarboxylation Effect
Room TemperatureSlow, very minimal conversion
220°FRapid decarboxylation begins
300°FOptimal decarboxylation temperature
400°F (204°C)Risk of THC degradation

One should be mindful that decarboxylation itself doesn’t occur in a second and may consume some time, depending on the temperature and duration of heating.

Decarboxylation Methods

Below are various ways to decarboxylate cannabis, eventually turning THCA into THC. Each of them has its own merits and considerations.

  • Smoking: When cannabis is smoked, the heat from the combustion process quickly decarboxylates THCA into THC. However, there are also some by-products created with smoking that could be harmful and might not represent the most effective way to decarboxylate.
  • Vaporizing: Vaporizers heating cannabis to a temperature that allows for decarboxylation to take place without harmful combustion products allows for much cleaner and more effective ways to turn THCA into THC.
  • Oven baking: Many people decarboxylate cannabis in the oven before making edibles or other infused products. Ground cannabis can be decarboxylated quite effectively simply by using a low temperature, say, around 220-250°F for 30-40 minutes.
  • Slow Cooker: This method involves the use of a slow cooker or crockpot to decarboxylate for some hours at a lower temperature. This allows that the decarboxylation of cannabis takes place more progressively and with better control.

The Importance of Decarboxylation

One such step that one has to take before he consumes the cannabis plant, be it for purposes of recreation or medication, is decarboxylation. Unless the plant material is properly decarboxylated, a full psychoactive effect might not be established by the THC, and the therapeutic potential of this plant also becomes less productive.

Decarboxylation is particularly critical for medical marijuana users. Most patients are applying the cannabis either in edibles or oils; both are of importance to decarboxylation for the activation of THC and other health beneficial compounds. Generally poor decarboxylation can cause variability and dose inconsistency in products, which notoriously reduces the effectiveness of the drug.


In short, THCA is decarboxlated to THC when heated. This heat-activated reaction transforms the non-psychoactive THCA into psychoactive THC and allows the user to truly feel the elation and other therapeutic effects of the cannabis.

Understanding decarboxylation is important to both recreational and medical cannabis consumers. Such decarboxylation methods, when appropriately applied to vaporizing or baking, make up the benefits expected in a cannabis-using experience.

As with any cannabis consumption, it is very critical to start low and go slow, and most importantly, be careful of the potency of the decarboxylated product at hand. Always be responsible with cannabis in regard to the local laws and regulations.

Remember this: although THCA and THC are structurally very close to one another, their properties and effects on the body differ significantly. Understanding the science of decarboxylation will help cannabis connoisseurs and patients alike tailor their consumption methods and get the most out of this amazing plant.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What's the difference between THCA and THC?

    THCA is a non-psychoactive precursor of THC found naturally in raw cannabis. It does not induce the "high" sensation caused by the consumption of cannabis. THC, however, is the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis and represents the euphoric and intoxicating properties of this herb.

  • How is THCA converted to THC?

    THCA becomes THC through decarboxylation. This reaction happens whenever cannabis gets exposed to heat, such as during smoking, vaporizing, or when cooking food. Heat causes the THCA to drop its carboxyl group—COOH—to become THC.

  • What is the decarboxylation temperature?

    Decarboxylation typically starts occurring at a rapid rate around 220°F or 104°C, although effects may start showing at an optimal temperature of about 300°F. However, temperatures higher than 400°F are known to degrade THC.

  • Is decarboxylation instant?

    No, decarboxylation does not occur instantaneously. The conversion of THCA into THC takes some time and is dependent on the temperature and duration of heating. Higher temperatures tend to make the decarboxylation happen faster, while lower temperatures need longer exposure times.

  • What are common methods for decarboxylating cannabis?

    Common methods of cannabis decarboxylation include smoking, vaporizing, oven baking, and slow cooker/crockpot methods. Each method has its advantages and considerations, such as the production of harmful by-products or the amount of control exerted over the decarboxylation process.


The statements on this blog are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent any disease. FDA has not evaluated statements contained within the blog. Information on this website or in any materials or communications from Inheal is for educational/informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult your healthcare provider before making any healthcare decisions, correct dosage or for guidance about a specific medical condition.

by Chris Dorcey

A connoisseur of cannabis creativity and true contemplation with more than 20 years of experience, Chris extracts deep thoughts from getting lightly baked and shares his wandering mind. He blends cuisine and cannabis culture into nutritious, delicious recipes and insights for other hemp lovers.

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