Anyone who has ever made space cakes will know that you can’t just chuck a load of bud into your mix and eat it raw, as cannabis needs to be heated before it can get you stoned. Increasing the temperature sparks a chemical reaction known as decarboxylation, resulting in the formation of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) and other cannabinoids.
For this reason, most recipes for cannabis edibles will require some form of cooking, such as baking in the oven or the heating of weed in oil. However, what many people don’t know is that non-decarboxylated marijuana actually contains a number of highly beneficial compounds that aren’t present in cooked, smoked or vaped cannabis. As such, its medicinal properties differ from those of decarboxylated weed, and research suggests that the raw stuff may in fact be much more effective at treating certain conditions.
What Is Non-Decarboxylated Cannabis?
Despite the fact that marijuana is pretty much synonymous with THC and CBD, it doesn’t actually contain very much of these cannabinoids at all in its raw form. Instead, natural bud is loaded with plant acids such as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA). It is the application of high temperatures during smoking, vaping or baking that converts these compounds into THC and CBD, by facilitating the removal of a carboxylic acid group.
This means that eating raw cannabis won’t get you high, but it will give you a chance to experience the effects of cannabinoid plant acids – and you may be surprised by just how therapeutic these can be.
Medical cannabis patient and activist Sarah Godfrey, for example, has managed to survive a terminal Crohn’s disease diagnosis thanks to marijuana, and told Seedsman that “I personally believe that cannabinoid plant acids are a more powerful anti-inflammatory [than decarboxylated cannabinoids].”
“I’m always trying to make oil that contains CBDA, THCA and CBGA, as well as any other plant acids I can get in there. So I don’t decarboxylate my weed when I make oil, which a lot of people do.”
This view is backed up by numerous scientific studies, including one which found that THCA effectively treats rheumatoid arthritis in mice by preventing inflammation and cartilage damage[i]. Another, meanwhile, revealed that THCA is more effective than THC at binding to a receptor called PPARγ, which is known to regulate important neuroprotective processes by inhibiting inflammation in the brain[ii].
Unique Health Benefits
John Green founded the Medical Marijuana Genetics seed bank and is one of the most prominent medical cannabis activists in the UK. He told Seedsman that he believes cannabis-infused olive oil is considerably more therapeutic than smoked or vaped weed.
“I don’t bring the olive oil beyond 45 degrees,” he explains. “That way you’ll burn off some of the acids in those early temperatures and will end up with half decarboxylated and half non-decarboxylated [cannabis]. It’s my belief that you get a much more effective medicine with both of them in there rather than just one or the other.”
Green certainly has the experience to back up this claim, having used olive oil infusions to treat a number of severely ill patients. “The most incredible results I’ve ever seen were with a four-year-old with leukaemia who I gave medication to,” he says. “That kid completely came back from myeloid leukaemia with a solution I’d made by decarboxylating about a third of the material – and I don’t think I even fully decarboxylated it.”
While research into the anti-cancer properties of cannabinoid plant acids is very much in its infancy, evidence for their potential as a treatment is beginning to grow. For instance, one study found that CBDA inhibits the migration of breast cancer cells while also downregulating certain genes that are associated with cancer[iii].
How To Use Raw Cannabis
Godfrey says she regularly juices her raw cannabis or puts it into smoothies, and insists that “the mental effects of raw juicing bud are second to none, and if I had the choice I would drink raw juiced bud or a raw bud smoothie every single day because it just makes me feel great mentally and physically.”
“It’s energising and calming, although it wouldn’t treat severe pain.”
By her own admission, Godfrey is not the typical medical cannabis patient, which explains her preference for raw cannabis. “Most people make their edibles by decarboxylating in cakes and other types of food, to help with pain or sleep problems. Obviously this has much more of a sedative effect, but I suffer from severe fatigue and tend to pass out from exhaustion if I don’t ingest THCA.”
“I find that raw bud is fantastic for fatigue and immune boosting.”
Juicing is a particularly great way to consume raw cannabis as it eliminates most of the plant fibre, which the body can struggle to digest if it’s not cooked. If you have a juicer then the process is obviously pretty straightforward, so the only thing you really need to think about is which cultivars to throw into your liquid breakfast.
Generally, strains that are high in THC will be high in THCA when consumed raw, while those that are known for their CBD content will contain lots of CBDA. Godfrey says she likes to mix different cultivars in order to obtain the maximum amount of both of these plant acids.
The picture above shows the ingredients of Sarah’s breakfast juice, which contains a healthy mix of fruit, vegetables and raw cannabis flowers. By selecting and mixing the right chemovars, she is able to create a medicinal juice that meets all her needs.
“One plant in the picture is Super Silver Haze which is approximately 16-20 percent THC and less than one percent CBD, and the other flowers in the picture are Candida, which is 20 percent CBD and zero percent THC,” she says. “So I’m mixing those two strains in my juice to get the highest THC and the highest CBD I can, in roughly equal quantities.”
“The plan is to have as many plant acids as possible.”
[ii] Nadal X, del Río C, Casano S, Palomares B, Ferreiro‐Vera C, Navarrete C, Sánchez‐Carnerero C, Cantarero I, Bellido ML, Meyer S, Morello G. Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid is a potent PPARγ agonist with neuroprotective activity. British journal of pharmacology. 2017 Dec;174(23):4263-76. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5731255/
[iii] Pellati F, Borgonetti V, Brighenti V, Biagi M, Benvenuti S, Corsi L. Cannabis sativa L. and nonpsychoactive cannabinoids: their chemistry and role against oxidative stress, inflammation, and cancer. BioMed research international. 2018 Dec 4;2018. – https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2018/1691428/