Dabbing is a new, exciting, and potent way to reap the maximum amount of therapeutic chemical compounds, cannabinoids, as possible from the cannabis plant. While many users will shy away from this seemingly complex consumption method for a variety of reasons, others are enjoying the versatility and high-strength of cannabis extracts, or dabs. When cannabis flower doesn’t get the job done or you need increasingly higher amounts of THC to reach your desired effects, it’s time to bring in the dabs.
What are Dabs?
Dabs, or cannabis extracts/concentrates, are concentrated forms of cannabis chemical compounds including cannabinoids and terpenes or a combination of both. Usually, extractors will focus on extracting one or two of the major cannabinoids: cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Some dabs will have cannabinoid-derived terpenes, while other manufacturers will infuse botanically-derived terpenes after extraction. Most dabs will contain a high concentration of THC, the intoxicating compound known to elicit euphoria, sensory enhancement, the munchies, and more. More importantly, medicinal marijuana users have reported treating their aches and pains with high-concentration dabs. Here’s a quick rundown of the most common types of dabs you’ll find:
- Shatter – A glass-like texture and translucent finish that can be easy to break apart, but very sticky. It breaks apart in shards using a dabber tool.
- Live Resin – Differs from other extracts because it’s made using cryogenically-frozen cannabis flower buds. These freshly harvested nugs contain a high level of terpenes compared with traditional dried cannabis flower and other extracts.
- Wax – Like many of its dab counterparts, gets its name from its wax-like consistency that falls somewhere between a oily and buttery texture, like peanut butter.
- Budder or Butter – A different type of wax that has a (you guessed it) buttery consistency. Budder isn’t quite completely a liquid or a solid. It can range from being runny to solid like a shatter.
- Crumble – Also referred to as “honeycomb” due to its crumbly consistency. This extract tends to run drier than any other dab extract.
- Snap-and-pull – Similar to shatter, but has a taffy-like consistency that makes it very sticky.
- Hash Oil or Honey Oil – Runnier than shatter and features a deep amber color.
- Rosin – The only type of cannabis extract that doesn’t require an external solvent to strip away the plant material. Instead, equipment like a hair straightener or a rosin press use heat and pressure to squeeze out the resinous trichome glands from the starting material.
- Bubble hash (full-melt hash or ice wax) – A crumbly texture. Made from frozen flower buds and soaked in ice water and filtered through a bag. The cold temperatures separate the trichomes from the flower buds, although it may contain a bit of plant material.
What is Dabbing?
Dabbing is the process of vaporizing cannabis extracts using a dab rig or portable dab pen. Similar to a bong, a dab rig features a mouthpiece and, sometimes, multiple chambers filled with water to filter the vapor. Unlike a bong, a dab rig has a nail or banger instead of a bowl. Dab rigs usually have a 90-degree joint connecting the nail to the rest of the rig. Dabbers heat the nail with a small blow torch and wait until the nail reaches their desired temperature to drop in the small amount of extract on the nail. Once inside, the extract will begin to bubble up and vaporize before your very eyes. Dabbers then inhale the flavorful and potent vapor.
How are Dabs Made?
Dabs are made using a variety of extraction methods to separate chemical compounds found in the plant’s trichomes from the plant’s waxes, lipids, and other organic material. Cannabis plants have a higher concentration of trichomes on their flower buds than their leaves or stalks, which contain trace amounts of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other chemical compounds. In order to get trichomes out of raw cannabis material, extractors will use state-of-the-art equipment to concentrate specific cannabinoids (THC, CBD). The following extraction methods are used to make a variety of dab types:
- Carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction – uses carbon dioxide at different pressures and temperatures to convert it into a supercritical state. In this state, CO2 features characteristics of a liquid and a gas. CO2 extraction is seen as one of the cleanest and safest methods to extract concentrates.
- Butane – used to make extracts called butane hash oil (BHO), which includes shatter, oil, wax, and more. Cannabis material and butane are loaded into a tube or column through a closed-loop system that eliminates dangerous leaks during the process. The solvent strips the cannabinoids from the starting plant material.
- Ethanol and alcohol extraction – uses high-quality grain alcohol, for example, to remove plant waxes from the desired chemical compounds. After extraction, the alcohol is evaporated leaving behind pure cannabis extract.
- Rosin press method – A non-solvent process that can be much more affordable for amateur dabbers. A simple flat iron will suffice for the high heat and pressure process. Home rosin makers put cannabis flower between a piece of parchment paper and the flat iron to squeeze out resin.
A Brief History of Dabbing
Today, dispensary retail shelves are filled with a wide selection of cannabis concentrates, but that wasn’t always the case. Historians have traced cannabis resins back thousands of years. Ancient civilizations would rub or press the plants together to remove the sticky trichomes forming them into a ball or hash. Hash oil, in particular, was big in the 1970s. Back then, cannabis extracts contained anywhere from 10 to 30% THC according to samples seized by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). It wasn’t until the 2010s that the popularity of dabbing skyrocketed. Extractors adopted automated equipment to make versatile and varied extracts in many textures and potencies. Dabbing as a vaporizing method evolved drastically from the rudimentary hot-knife method. To perform the hot-knife method, users simply have to heat a couple of knives on a stovetop until they’re hot enough to vaporize a cannabis extract. Users will press both heated knife ends together with a bit of dab in the middle and inhale the vapor through some sort of downstem or funneling device. Eventually, the dab rig came into play with its nail-and-dome set-up. Users would heat the bottom of the nail, apply the extract onto it, and inhale the resulting vapor through the glass rig. The guessing game is taken out with electronically-controlled devices that maintain an even temperature to vaporize your extract.
First-time users may be put off by the array of equipment needed and the use of a blowtorch which requires careful use. Despite your hesitations, many people have been able to dab weed safely and feel a new kind of cannabis experience. Because of their high THC concentration, dabs can provide you with a fast-acting and potent psychoactive effect. As far as potency goes, dabs give you more THC in one inhale than almost any other cannabis consumption method. Dabs are a popular choice among users that have built up a tolerance for traditional cannabis flower. Dabbing can literally take you to a new high. Smoking cannabis flower is favored by many purists, but the fact is that many cannabis smokers are consuming organic plant matter as well. Dabbing vaporizes cannabis instead of combusting it and creating heavy and harsh smoke. Not only does dabbing produce a cleaner hit, but it can also bring out your cannabis strain’s original flavor profile. Dabs can provide users with quick-acting effects. Medical users have reported feeling instant relief when treating their medical conditions. Patients that require an immediate and heavy dose will often turn to cannabis extract vaporization.
How Strong are Dabs?
Compared to cannabis flower, dabs are a dramatic step up in terms of potency. For example, some of the highest-strength strains out there contain anywhere between 25 to 35% THC. Cannabis extracts, however, can feature over 90% THC. 60% THC is the lowest end of cannabis extract concentrations. The fact that dabs can be overwhelming for the uninitiated should not deter anyone away from dabbing. Start off by dabbing very small amounts (smaller than half a grain of rice) to gauge how you feel and wait a few hours to determine the effects. Although the effects can subside, THC can remain in your system for days. A dab’s strength, ultimately, depends on the type and size of the dab. When you think of a dab, what size comes to mind? In reality, a dab can be as small or as big as you want. There’s plenty of videos on social media of high-tolerance users dabbing footlong dabs, while others faint at the sight of that. Dabbing depends on your personal preference.
Dabbing Tool Essentials
Before you can start dabbing, you must first gather all of the necessary materials. Depending on your preference, you may use a traditional glass rig or a portable vape pen to consume your concentrates. Here are a few of the items you may need to dab weed efficiently:
- Cannabis extract – shatter, wax, and live resin are ideal for dabbing.
- Dab rig – A water/bong-style pipe used to vaporize concentrates. A dab rig consists of a heating surface (a nail, banger, or another heating chamber) and the dab rig.
- Vaporizer (desktop or portable) – takes away the guesswork and reduces the clean-up time compared to dab rig dabbing.
- A mini blowtorch – used to heat the bottom of the nail. You can choose from a variety of blowtorches that hold varying amounts of butane. Some run quieter than others and feature safety locks and even more safety features.
- A dabber – tool used to break apart and drop a dab into the heating chamber. They can be spoon shaped or come with a carb cap attachment.
- Quartz inserts – tiny bucket-like containers used to keep dab rigs cleaner and control temperatures better. Dab connoisseurs use these to take low temp dabs, although you will need to experiment to find the right technique.
- Terp pearls – small spherical beads made out of quartz that go in the bottom of your nail or banger to evenly distribute oil and improve vaporization.
- Carb cap – applied over domeless nails to create a dome-like effect capturing the vapor more efficiently and, some say, a more flavorful dab. Flat carb caps act like a lid on a boiling pot. Directional carb caps or bubble carb caps give users maximum air flow control to push the oil in the nail around.
- Dab Mat – Any pad that protects a surface and secures a dab rig in place.
- Electronic nail (e-nail) – Does not require the use of a blowtorch. Instead, temperatures are controlled electronically by a small unit that powers the nail. Users can control temperature delivered through a coil to the nail.
- Dab pen or portable dab rig – a stealthy option for users who are out and about.
How to Dab
Now that you’ve assembled all of your dabbing essentials, it’s time to answer the looming question: “How do I dab?”. You can remain seated or standing when you take a dab, but these are the recommended steps to taking a perfect hit every time. Keep in mind, these steps are meant for individuals with a dab rig, not an e-nail:
- Light your butane torch and aim it at the bottom of the nail until it becomes slightly red. Avoid pointing the flame to other parts of the dab rig to avoid burning yourself. The amount of time you heat the nail is up to you, but many users have recommended heating the nail between 30 to 60 seconds depending on the type of nail you have.
- Once you think you’ve heated the nail enough, let it cool down for a few seconds( about 10 seconds or more) so the extract doesn’t burn off when applied to the nail. You’ll need to experiment with your nail to find out what is the proper cooldown time.
- While your nail is cooling, use your dabber to break away a small, pea-sized portion of your cannabis extract and drop it directly inside your heating chamber.
- You’ll see vapor start to form. Cover the nail with a carb cap to contain the vapor. If needed, use a directional or bubble carb cap to move the oil around so it doesn’t stick to the edges.
- Inhale slowly.
- Exhale and wait for at least an hour to see if you need more dabs. This tip applies to first-timers.
- After finishing off your dab, you can clean up the nail by dipping and rubbing an alcohol-soaked cotton swab and using it to clean the inside of the heating chamber (nail, banger, etc). Do this regularly to avoid smoking charred material and to keep your glass piece looking like new.
Insert-Drop and Cold-Start Dabbing Technique
Dabbing has come a long way from its original roots. New dabbing techniques are being used for a variety of purposes. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, it just depends on your dabbing preference. The insert-drop technique requires you to add a small dab into a quartz insert at room temperature. Next, you should heat your nail with a torch as you would when you’re taking a normal dab. After about 30 seconds of heating, you can drop the insert into the banger or nail and wait a few seconds to let the insert heat up before you begin inhaling. A cold-start technique removes the insert from the equation. Instead, you load up your nail with a dab at room temperature. Then, you turn on your torch and point the tip of the flame to the bottom of the banger until the dab begins to bubble up. Next, you place a carb cap over the banger and inhale.
Dab Cartridges and Dab Pens
Dabbing has reached a high user-friendly level with the advent of dab cartridges and pens. Cartridges contain pre-filled THC or CBD concentrates, typically distillates that are as strong as a dab. They attach to a battery that heats the cartridge releasing an aerosol vapor. Some cartridges include additives like vegetable glycerin which alters the taste and may be harmful. Dab pens use coils to heat dabs you can load into a chamber. Although they don’t hold as much cannabis extract as dab rigs or e-nails, dab pens provide the convenience of puffing on-the-go. Compared to a cartridge, however, dab pens require you to load material more often.
Low-Temperature vs. High-Temperature Dabs
Many dabbing enthusiasts are torn between using high or low temperatures to achieve the perfect dab. Back in the old-days, higher temperature dabs were the norm because users lacked temperature control. High-temperature dabs are usually between 600 and 900 degrees Fahrenheit. In high temperatures, dabs burn rather quickly and vaporize nearly all of the material. The quick fix nature of high temp dabs can end up burning off a lot of the cannabinoids and terpenes. The hits also be extremely harsh and alter the original flavor. Lastly, high-temp dabs can scorch your rig leaving behind a hazy and damaged glass piece. Low-temperature dabs, on the other hand, fall between 300 and 500 degrees Fahrenheit. These can be achieved by letting the nail cool down for longer after heating or using a temperature-controlled device to zero in on a specific temperature. Many users love low-temp dabs because of the improved flavor and cleaner draw.
How Much to Use?
One of the biggest disadvantages against dabbing is the inconsistency of dosages. It’s hard to measure out or predict how much THC you are consuming. THC content depends on the type of cannabis extract, the way you heat it, and how much you inhale. As mentioned before, novice users should use the smallest amount of dabs as possible and build their way up, if needed. Users are not recommended to start off with dabs if it’s their first time trying cannabis. It’s important to understand how cannabis affects you personally and then proceed if you want a newer and stronger experience. Although there are no standard dosage instructions to refer to, taking the right amount of dabs can be easier with the following tips:
- Check the label to see how much THC is present. Some dabs may have more cannabinoids and terpenes that can contribute to the overall effect of the dab.
- Dab pens enable you to load them up with your favorite dab and then take single and smaller pulls. Some vape pens brand will even dispense pre-determined doses for easy consumption.
Everything You Wanted to Know About Dab Nails
Dab nails range from high-quality borosilicate glass to electronic rigs with digital temperature displays. Dab nails are heat-resistant pieces made out of glass, ceramic, quartz, and titanium. Domed nails are perfect for beginners because their dome captures the vapor efficiently, albeit, at smaller amounts due to the reduced heating surface area. A domeless nail, however, is used by more experienced cannabis connoisseurs. Although they can be more expensive than domed nails, domeless nails make it easier to heat your dab. You can even buy a carb cap to contain the vapors and keep your nail hotter for longer. E-nails are the most expensive nail option on the list. The high cost can be justified by its ability to maintain an even heating temperature. Not only do you reduce the risk of burning the oil, but you can choose to take lower-temperature dabs and experience the true flavor of the strain.
Dabbing vs Other Consumption Methods
Typically, dabbing is geared toward high-tolerance consumers. Its high THC content elicits strong mental and physical effects compared to other consumption methods. For one, dabbing produces nearly instant effects compared to an edible that may take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours to kick in. Dabbing effects can last anywhere between 1 to 3 hours or more depending on the dosage. Smoking cannabis can provide just as quick-acting effects as dabbing, but at a lower potency. Edibles don’t provide immediate effects for severe cases but do provide hours on end of relief according to many medical marijuana patients. Sublingual tinctures can also be fast-acting (15-30 minute onset) and reduce smoke or vapor exposure. Topicals and transdermals provide no intoxicating effects like dabbing. While dabbing can’t target one specific part of the body, topicals can absorb into the skin. Consumers have noted that THC topicals provide localized relief for their skin condition. Dabbing takes a more pronounced whole-body approach.
Is Dabbing Bad For You?
Some preliminary studies have shown that high-temperature dabbing, specifically, releases toxic chemicals. Users increase the risk of inhaling methacrolein, a noxious chemical, when dabbing at temperatures above 600 degrees Fahrenheit. Even when users dabbed under 600 degrees, researchers still found small amounts of methacrolein. At temperatures under 500 degrees Fahrenheit, methacrolein levels dropped dramatically to the point that the main measuring device couldn’t detect any more, but the second testing device could. The tests were performed with terpenes instead of cannabis, due to the federal ban on cannabis, so the results aren’t quite clear and applicable. Individuals with compromised immune systems have turned to low-temperature dabs to reduce any possible negative consequence. Dabbing can only become dangerous when novice users attempt to make their own extraction at home without taking the proper precautions. Additionally, low-quality dabs can contain harmful contaminants like heavy metals, pesticides, and more. Always ensure your dabs are lab tested for contaminants.
The Future of Dabs
Dabs have generally contained high concentrations of THC. Manufacturers are using the same approach of extracting THC from the cannabis plant and extracting other cannabinoids like CBD and Delta-8 THC. CBD dabs come in all shapes and textures with none of the high. Delta-8 THC is a less strong (compared to THC), but quite potent cannabinoid made into a thick distillate liquid. Newer dab methods have allowed extractors to create high-terpene full spectrum extracts (HTFSE) that feature more than THC and CBD. These whole-plant extracts contain most of the diversity of compounds found in the original strain and provides a more balanced experience, according to many consumers.
Final Tips For First-Time Dabbers
Dabbing is growing more in popularity and reaching mainstream cannabis consumers. With its growing popularity, consumers should do their research when purchasing cannabis extracts. For one, you should always look for concentrates that have been lab tested by an independent, third-party laboratory. Some fancy dispensaries even spring for terpene testing so you know what smell you’re getting. Secondly, dabs taste so much better on freshly cleaned dab rigs or vape pens. Over time, dab rigs can accumulate sticky resin on the heating chamber and inside the rig itself. Vape pens also experience this. Cleaning your equipment regularly enables you to truly taste the intended flavors of the extract. Finally, dabs should be stored in a cool, dry, and dark place. Like most cannabis-infused products, dabs can degrade over time with exposure to heat, light, or oxygen. Properly stored dabs in an airtight and UV-protected container can last for months enabling you to keep a fresh dose on hand. Avoid freezing your extracts to prevent excess humidity from developing in the container. Dabbing can be a quick and efficient way to consume cannabis extracts. Not only are they jam-packed with THC and other terpenes, but they often feature the original aromas of the cannabis strain. Dabbing does require a bit more equipment and knowledge to function than lighting up a pre-rolled joint, but it’s all worth the effort.
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