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The Process of Decarboxylation

Updated: May 9, 2022

The species Cannabis spp. produces a distinctive group of molecules called phytocannabinoids, among which a total of 568 have been counted.

Among these, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabinol (CBN) and cannabinodiol (CBND) have been found to have psychoactive properties. Other cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol (CBD) do not have psychoactive properties. All these compounds are present in the plant, however, to extract them for medicinal purposes is necessary to perform a process, called decarboxylation.

The raw material for the production of the medicinal extracts of the Cannabis spp. are the inflorescences found in the pistiled individuals (females), which are rich in neutral forms like the cannabinoid acids, such as the tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) or the cannabidiolic acid (CBDA). When these acids are subjected to heat, the process of decarboxylation occurs and from these neutral forms the active principles that are THC and CBD are extracted. Also, depending on the temperature and time of decarboxylation, a degradation product of THC can be obtained which is CBN. These five cannabinoids are the markers used in the quality control process of medicinal products.

In conclusion, the Cannabis spp. plant has a diversity of compounds with medicinal potential, however, the studies to improve the extraction of these molecules, as well as the clinical trials to know if the effects on human health are or not significant are still in process.

References Carvalho, Virgínia M., Aguiar, Andrey F. L., Baratto, Leopoldo C., Souza, Fábio L. C., & Rocha, Ernesto D.. (2020). QUANTIFICAÇÃO DE CANABINOIDES EM EXTRATOS MEDICINAIS DE Cannabis POR CROMATOGRAFIA LÍQUIDA DE ALTA EFICIÊNCIA. Química Nova, 43(1), 90-97. Epub March 16, 2020.

Lewis MM, Yang Y, Wasilewski E, Clarke HA, Kotra LP. CHEMICAL PROFILING OF MEDICAL CANNABIS EXTRACTS. ACS Omega. 2017 Sep 30;2(9):6091-6103. doi: 10.1021/acsomega.7b00996. Epub 2017 Sep 22. PMID: 30023762; PMCID: PMC6044620.

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