Raw cannabis does not naturally contain high amounts of CBD or THC, it actually contains what is known as cannabinoid acids, for example CBDA and THCA. In the case of THCA, cannabis plants produce THCA naturally, a non-psychoactive compound, and decarboxylation turns that THCA into THC, a psychoactive compound.
Decarboxylation occurs when cannabis is heated—either with a lighter when smoking or a heat source when vaping, or through other heating methods. Cannabis decarboxylation must occur before cooking, baking, or extracting oil from the dried flower buds of the cannabis plant in order to reap the benefits of activated CBD or THC.
Want to learn more about decarbing? Check out Stephanie Boucher’s Cannakitchen column, The Great Decarb Debate, on decarboxylation.