Activated Cannabis Oil? THC Acid? What’s that?
Noel Palmer, Ph.D., Chief Scientist, Evolab
Some cannabis consumers believe that a raw extract, with as little disruption to the natural oils as possible, is most desirable. A good example of a product along these lines is ‘live rosin’ – in which the cannabis is essentially squeezed in a press – and the oils are concentrated and collected. In this method, little to no heat is applied in the process – so the physical nature of the cannabinoids and terpenes is retained as they were in the fresh plant.
While raw extracts and live rosin have their fans, consumer that are looking to get the most potency and ‘bang for their buck’ might want to take into account some other considerations when determining what types of preparations of extract to purchase. Most importantly, research suggests that having a properly prepared cannabis extract allows for the consumer to get significantly more ‘deliverable’ THC. What does this mean?
In fresh cannabis – cannabinoids are initially produced as acidic cannabinoids – meaning there is a carboxylic acid functional group on the molecule’s backbone. When heat is applied to an acidic cannabinoid – this carboxylic acid functional group is driven off – and the molecule is converted to its ‘neutral’ counterpart in a process known as decarboxylation.
One way to think about decarboxylation is akin to the evaporation of water. If you think of a pot of water sitting on your countertop - at room temperature, the water is evaporating - albeit very slowly. It might take a few days for all of the water to evaporate, but it will eventually evaporate. If you raise the temperature of the water to 50C - for example, you will see some stem emanating from the solution, and it might all evaporate in a few hours. Then raise the temperature of the water to the boiling point - 100C. It will evaporate very rapidly. Decarboxylation is very similar. It’s always happening - but it happens slowly at room temperature.
In the case of THCA-a (THC-acid) – heat converts THC-a to delta-9 THC. It should be noted that acidic cannabinoids are not physiologically active in the same way their neutral counterparts are active. In other words, THC is psychotropic and 'gets you really high' whereas THC-a, while full of benefits, is not considered psychotropic, and thus, does not 'get you high.'
Research by Dussy et.al. has shown that there is not a full conversion of the acidic cannabinoids to neutral cannabinoids. Instead, there is a loss in the conversion in which unexpected and undesired by-products are formed. Dussy’s research group did this work on a Gas Chromatograph – which isn’t technically the same type of vaporization device used in the cannabis industry – but the same physical transformations hold true. In this work, Dussy found that under the most optimized conditions, only 65% of the THCA-a was converted into delta-9 THC. Suggesting that 35% of the THCA-a was lost due to unpredictable side reactions. In less than optimal lab conditions, consumers can expect an even greater loss of THC during the conversion process.
With an understanding of this principle, it is reasonable to conceive that if acidic cannabinoids dominate a concentrate – there will be significant loss when the material is vaporized or smoked. This is one reason why Evolab prepares cannabis extracts that are fully decarboxylated into active cannabinoids. Since all of our cannabinoids are already converted before the customer takes their first puff, each Evolab product provides the highest potency for the best experience and value. Furthermore, these active cannabinoids can be used without further preparation for inclusion in food, drinks or other formulations. Learn more about the science behind Evolab products at evolab.com/science.