By / March 29, 2024

THC Degradation – What Is It and How to Manage It?

THC degradation, the natural process of tetrahydrocannabinol breaking down, is a key element in understanding the behavior and transformations occurring in the cannabis plant after harvest. THC, being the main psychoactive component of cannabis, accounts for most of the experiences associated with its use. The degradation process not only affects the strength and type of psychoactive effects but also the medicinal and utility value of cannabis.

As THC transforms into other cannabinoids, such as CBN (cannabinol), cannabis loses its original potency, which can have both positive and negative effects for consumers and producers alike. Understanding this process is essential for everyone involved in the cannabis industry – from growers and processors to end users. This article aims to explore the mechanisms of THC degradation and ways to manage this process to maximize the benefits derived from cannabis use.

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What Is THC and What Causes THC Degradation?

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive component of cannabis responsible for most of the euphoric sensations associated with its consumption. After harvest, the cannabis plant begins a natural aging process during which THC gradually transforms into other compounds, including CBN (cannabinol), which has different properties and effects on the user’s body. THC degradation is an inevitable process influenced by various external factors such as light, temperature, humidity, and air exposure.

Factors Influencing THC Degradation:

  • Light: The strongest factor accelerating degradation is light, especially UV radiation. Exposure to light causes THC to break down into CBN more quickly, reducing its psychoactivity.
  • Temperature: High temperatures accelerate chemical reactions leading to THC degradation. Conversely, very low temperatures can slow down this process, but too low a temperature can also negatively affect the quality of cannabis.
  • Humidity: Too high or too low humidity levels can affect the rate of THC degradation. An optimal humidity level helps preserve cannabis properties for longer.
  • Air Exposure: Oxygen is another factor that can contribute to faster THC degradation. Contact with air accelerates the oxidation process, leading to the conversion of THC into other compounds.

CBN – What Is It and How Is It Formed?

The Formation Process of CBN:

  • As cannabis ages and is exposed to external factors, THC undergoes gradual oxidation.
  • This oxidation process converts THC into CBN, leading to a change in the plant’s cannabinoid properties.
  • The amount of CBN in cannabis increases over time and with the degree of THC degradation, becoming more pronounced in older or improperly stored samples.

Properties and Uses of CBN:

  • Sedative Properties: CBN is often promoted as a natural sleep aid, although research on this topic is still in its early stages.
  • Potential Medical Use: Like other cannabinoids, CBN may offer various therapeutic benefits, including anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. Further research is needed to fully understand its effectiveness and applications.
  • Industrial Interest: CBN is gaining interest among cannabis product manufacturers, especially those focused on improving sleep quality and reducing stress.

How to Recognize THC Degradation?

THC degradation affects not only the chemical composition of cannabis but also its appearance, smell, and overall quality. There are certain visual and sensory indicators that can help assess the degree of THC degradation in cannabis:

  • Change in Trichome Color: Trichomes are microscopic glands that produce cannabinoids and terpenes, giving the cannabis plant its characteristic smell and taste. As THC degrades, trichomes can change color from clear to milky and then to amber. The darker the trichomes, the greater the degradation.
  • Changes in Scent: Terpenes, responsible for cannabis’s aroma, also degrade under the same factors as THC. This can lead to a weakening or change in the scent of stored cannabis.
  • Dryness and Brittleness: Improper storage of cannabis, especially in too dry an environment, can cause it to become dry and brittle, another sign of THC degradation.

To minimize the risk of THC degradation, it is important to store cannabis under proper conditions, limiting its exposure to light, air, high temperature, and humidity. A well-chosen storage method can significantly extend freshness and maintain cannabis properties for longer.

Methods to Slow Down THC Degradation

To preserve the quality of cannabis and minimize THC degradation, it is crucial to control the conditions in which cannabis is stored. The following best practices for cannabis storage can help slow down the THC degradation process:

Temperature Control:

  • Store cannabis in a cool, but not cold, place, ideally at temperatures below 70°F (21°C). High temperatures can accelerate THC degradation and increase the risk of mold and bacteria growth.

Humidity Management:

  • Maintain air humidity levels between 59-63% to prevent cannabis from drying out and losing terpenes, as well as to reduce the risk of mold development. Using controlled containers with humidors can be helpful in maintaining optimal humidity levels.

Limiting Light Exposure:

  • Store cannabis in a dark place, away from direct sunlight. Light, especially UV, can significantly accelerate THC degradation. Opaque, airtight containers are the optimal solution.

Minimizing Air Exposure:

  • Use airtight containers to store cannabis to limit its exposure to oxygen. Excess oxygen can accelerate THC oxidation. Vacuum sealing is one method that can further extend cannabis freshness.

The Impact of THC Degradation on the Cannabis Industry

THC degradation affects not only individual consumers but also has significant consequences for the entire cannabis industry. For producers, distributors, and retailers, managing degradation is key to maintaining product quality, customer satisfaction, and brand value.

Consequences for Producers and Sellers:

  • Quality Loss: Cannabis that has undergone significant THC degradation may be perceived as a lower-quality product, affecting its market appeal.
  • Product Turnover Rate: It is important for cannabis products to be sold and consumed as soon as possible after harvest to prevent significant THC degradation.
  • Brand Reputation: Selling outdated or improperly stored products can negatively impact consumers’ perception of the brand.

Strategies to Minimize Losses:

  • Optimizing Storage Processes: Implementing best storage practices at every stage of the supply chain, from harvest to retail sale.
  • Consumer Education: Informing customers about proper home cannabis storage can help preserve its quality after purchase.


THC degradation in cannabis is a natural process that significantly impacts the quality, efficacy, and value of cannabis products for both consumers and the industry. Although inevitable, understanding and managing this process can significantly extend the lifespan and preserve the desired properties of cannabis. By controlling factors such as light, temperature, humidity, and air exposure, THC degradation can be minimized, maximizing the benefits of cannabis consumption.

For the cannabis industry, managing THC degradation is crucial in maintaining quality standards and customer satisfaction. Improper storage can lead to faster THC degradation, reducing product value and potentially harming brand reputation. At the same time, controlled THC degradation offers unique opportunities for extract producers, enabling the creation of specialized products with high CBN concentrations that may offer additional therapeutic benefits.

Educating consumers about proper cannabis storage and the industry’s investment in research on THC degradation and its management can help maximize the potential of cannabis as a medical and recreational product. By understanding and accepting the natural process of THC degradation, both consumers and producers can better utilize the full range of benefits offered by this plant.

In the context of growing interest in cannabis products and their legalization in many regions of the world, understanding processes such as THC degradation is becoming increasingly important. With the right knowledge and technology, the cannabis industry can continue to develop, providing consumers with high-quality products that meet their expectations and needs.

(Featured image by Elsa Olofsson via Pexels)

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First published in Fakty Konopne, a third-party contributor translated and adapted the article from the original. In case of discrepancy, the original will prevail.

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