Cannabis concentrates have come under scrutiny over the past few years, mainly due to their rapid increase in popularity among enthusiasts. What was once a relatively unknown niche in an ever-growing legal market has since become a cultural phenomenon, generating an entire subculture in its wake. Many believe that concentrates will soon surpass the sales volume of traditional cannabis flower marketwide.
Compare Cannabis Concentrates
Unfortunately, the mainstream media has taken a click-bait approach to coverage of dabbing, focusing less on discussion of the practice and far more on hysterical descriptions of its alleged dangers. Some outlets have gone so far as to deem dabs “the crack of marijuana.” Yet even with dozens of articles addressing the topic, the question of whether dabbing is safe has yet to be answered in full.
Are Dabs Dangerous or Safe?
“Dabbing” is used as a catchall term to refer to the practice of melting a cannabis concentrate over a heat source and inhaling the subsequent vapor. The question of its safety can be broken down and answered by addressing five major misconceptions.
The first misconception is the most frustrating, because it confuses the dangers of illegal amateur extraction with the dangers of extracts themselves. Cannabis extracts that are manufactured with light hydrocarbons such as butane or propane require the use of closed-loop systems and extreme safety measures. Manufacturing concentrates illegally by resorting to the use of open-source extraction techniques is highly dangerous and potentially lethal.
The fact that amateurs have attempted to undertake this process at home has resulted in explosions, serious injury, and occasionally death. This has led to news articles stigmatizing this entire culture, with headlines such as “Dabbing: A New Explosive Trend.” Professionally made concentrates are neither explosive nor lethal, and there is never an excuse for extracts to be made otherwise.
The second misconception with dabbing is that the practice necessitates dangerous tools, most notably blow torches. There are numerous ways to heat a dab, including e-nails, which omit the necessity of using a torch and help prevent injury.
That said, when using a standard nail (one of the most popular surfaces to dab on), a torch is generally used to heat the nail. Torches do require a degree of mindfulness and can be mildly dangerous if used irresponsibly. However, any person who is capable of using a cooking stove should be able to use a torch without harming themselves. Hot nails can cause burns, but the same can be said of any stovetop burner in a kitchen. In this way, torches and nails are no more or less dangerous than cooking dinner.
Are Some Cannabis Concentrates Safer Than Others?
The third misconception lies in the idea that all concentrates are created equal. “Dabs,” an umbrella term for all cannabis concentrates, can refer to a number of cannabis-derived substances that have been mechanically separated (such as kief or dry sift, cold water hash, and rosin), as well as cannabis extracts, which use a chemical solvent (such as butane, propane, CO2, or even ethanol winterization) to strip active biomolecules and essential oils from cannabis.
In short, not all concentrates are extracts, and not all extracts contain meaningful amounts of potentially dangerous chemicals. To understand dabbing safety, it’s essential to recognize that the only concentrates that pose a health threat are those that not only employ chemicals for the purpose of extraction, but that also retain high levels of those chemical compounds when the extraction process is complete. Generally speaking, the only concentrates that fall into this category are those that are made cheaply, improperly, or by amateur extractors.
Is Dabbing Safe?
Proponents of dabbing believe that it provides a safer and cleaner experience over smoking marijuana, because they’re breathing in a vapor rather than the smoke of burning leaves. However, it is not necessarily safe. Research has found that the vapor created by dabbing with butane hash oil included significant amounts of the cancer-causing chemical benzene, as well as the noxious irritant methacrolein.
Also, dabs are often homemade or have uncertain origins and are extracted with other potentially harmful solvents such as pesticides. Research found that more than 80 percent of cannabis concentrates included solvent or pesticide contaminants. This research also discovered significantly high concentrations of THC in the samples, which they noted had the potential for toxicity. Researchers explained that the THC levels, CBD levels and contaminants found in the study have the ability to cause multiple symptoms that could signify poisoning.
It’s worth noting that some of the contamination risks are associated with the butane and other solvents used for extracting. Not all of the forms of concentrated cannabis use these methods, so some forms may be safer than others. Also, low temperature dabbing is associated with a less intense, slower high that may not come with the same risks from high levels of THC and CBD.
With any dab that contains THC, addiction is a risk. THC comes with the potential for dependence and can contribute to addictive behaviors, such as continuing to use marijuana even though it’s causing financial, family or other problems. Addiction treatment can help people who are dependent get past withdrawal symptoms and address addictive behaviors. It can also provide methods of coping with life without turning to psychoactive substances.
Dabbing has become a popular way for people to use marijuana recreationally. Many people like the intensity of the high offered by concentrated cannabis, which they can achieve through varying concentrate forms and tools. Nonetheless, research has realized certain risks of dabbing, which should be considered by those who use this method. Also, when THC use becomes a problem in a person’s life, addiction treatment professionals can help.
Side effects may include explosions
Because the THC and other chemicals are more concentrated in marijuana extracts than in regular marijuana, the side effects of dabbing—like poor judgment and coordination—are likely to be more powerful than those from smoking weed. Since dabbing is so new, there are not many studies on this yet, unfortunately.
Marijuana extracts can also be very dangerous to make. One method for extracting the concentrated drug from regular marijuana involves forcing butane (a flammable chemical often found in lighter fluid) through a marijuana-packed pipe. Sometimes it works; sometimes it blows the house up, landing the maker in a burn unit (or worse).