Dabs are concentrated doses of cannabis that are made by extracting THC and other cannabinoids using a solvent like butane or carbon dioxide, resulting in sticky oils. Depending on their consistency, these marijuana concentrates are also commonly referred to as wax, shatter, budder, and butane hash oil (BHO). Marijuana wax and other dabs are typically heated on a hot surface, usually a nail, and then inhaled through a dab rig. Smoking dabs as a method of consumption has been around for at least a decade, but the advent of more advanced extraction methods have led to a flood of cannabis concentrates that have boosted dabbing’s popularity.
While it’s possible to extract non-intoxicating compounds like CBD, THC is what’s behind the potent effects of marijuana wax and other forms of dabs, making them the fastest and most efficient way to get really, really stoned. Terpenes, or the aromatic oils that give cannabis flavor, can also be extracted, although it can be difficult to preserve these volatile compounds in the extraction process.
What are the perceived dangers of dabbing?
Let’s start with the bad news first: dabbing can be dangerous. Mainly, it’s the extraction that can be dangerous. The process can be tricky, but thanks to online forums and videos, many amateur “scientists” think they have mastered the technique enough to try it on their own. Worst case scenario, a combination of flammable gases and poor ventilation can result in explosion. Even when home extraction goes well, there’s no way to know the quality or purity of your finished product. “Dirty” oil may contain chemical contaminants or excessive amounts of residual solvents that could present health hazards to consumers.
Eliminating these production issues typically requires:
- Lab testing (to measure the purity and potency of concentrates)
- High-grade solvents
- Closed loop extraction equipment (to prevent accidents)
- Trained extraction professionals
But is dabbing cannabis extracts dangerous from a consumer standpoint? It can be, but dabbing safely is easy with the proper precautions.
Many new dabbers investing in their first setup will take the inexpensive route and purchase the bare minimum: a nail attachment and a handheld blow torch. To the uninitiated, heating a metal or glass nail with a tiny flamethrower may look fundamentally dangerous. However, the demand for torch-less methods of dabbing marijuana has given rise to products like electronic nails (enails). These tools eliminate the torch and offer precise temperature control for consumers dabbing cannabis concentrates like marijuana wax, shatter, and oil.
Can you overdose on dabs?
One factor all unseasoned dabbers should consider is the potency of THC extracts. Cannabis extracts often test between 60-90% THC, which means it doesn’t take much to become profoundly high. Exceed your personal limit and you may find the effects to be uncomfortable and overwhelmingly intense. And while it’s impossible to die from a cannabis overdose, it’s never a bad idea to start with a small dab of cannabis concentrate to ensure a positive and comfortable experience.
Lastly, it’s important to note that the long-term effects of dabbing cannabis wax and other concentrates are not well-known. Until research thoroughly examines the long-term risks of dabbed extracts (with individual consideration of residual solvents, pesticides, and cannabinoids), it’s not possible to characterize any dangers associated with prolonged use.
More About Dabbing
Dabbing has quickly become one of the most popular consumption methods among cannabis users, offering a potent high and flavor-packed experience. Consumption is usually done with a dab rig — a glass chamber similar to a bong.
Rigs typically require a titanium, ceramic, quartz or glass nail, also known as a banger. Think of them as the bowl, but made for a rig. Consumers use a butane torch or e-nail to bring the banger to a temperature that almost instantly vaporizes the concentrates.
Dabbing typically offers a more potent high and more immediate effects than smoking flower. It will typically produce a strong flavor and terpene-rich aroma. If you’re concerned about odor, you might be wondering, do dabs smell?
To some extent, yes, but the scent of marijuana concentrates do not linger for very long at all. Moreover, dabbing arguably offers even more discretion when handheld vaporizers and portable e-rigs are used.
The overt disadvantages to this consumption method are the necessity for tools and accessories, and the learning curve involved in achieving the perfect vaporization temperature. The temperature of the nail at the moment that you take the dab will affect the flavor, ability to clean your nail, and according to recent studies, it could alter the desired effects of the concentrate.
High-temperature dabs — 340-700 degrees Fahrenheit, or 170-370 degrees Celsius — will scorch your concentrates, giving off an astringent and harsh flavor. Those temperatures also tend to leave behind residue that is very hard to clean. At low temperatures — below 340 degrees Fahrenheit, or 170 degrees Celsius — also known as “low-temp dabs,” the concentrate is not fully vaporized, leaving behind a small amount of oil that can be easily removed with a cotton swab.
A study from Portland State University published in September 2017 has also found that vaporizing terpenes at the high temperatures required for dabbing may produce the toxicants methacrolein and benzene. In other words, if you dab weed concentrates at high temperatures, it may turn terpenes toxic.
How to Dab Weed Concentrates
The technique, upfront cost, and the number of accessories involved in dabbing may be overwhelming to newcomers. But once you get the process down, using a rig can be easy and efficient. The key steps are simple:
- Step 1: Heat up the nail with the torch. If it is your first time and you are using a quartz nail or banger, heat it up until it is glowing red. This will ensure that any small particles are burned off and you are starting with the hottest possible surface.
- Step 2: Wait for the nail to cool down. It may sound counterintuitive, but when you dab weed concentrates, you want to let your nail cool down so you don’t scorch your dab. The amount of time you need to wait is dependent on the thickness and material of your nail or banger. Your target temperature should be around 300-450 degrees Fahrenheit, or 149-232 degrees Celsius, to get the most flavor out of your concentrates.
- As a general rule, it usually takes 30 to 60 seconds for a nail to cool, depending on the material and thickness of the nail and how hot you have heated up the nail.
- To dial it in even further, you need to figure out exactly how long it takes for your nail to cool to your desired temperature. To do this, you’ll need an infrared thermometer and some sort of dab timer — you can use either a stopwatch or you can download a specialized app for your smartphone.
- Step 3: Place the concentrate on the surface of the nail and slowly start to inhale the vapor. Unlike a typical bong hit of flower, dabs require a long, slow inhale as the majority of the concentrate does not vaporize instantly.
- Step 4: If available, place a carb cap on the nail or banger to better vaporize the dab while inhaling. The carb cap will act as an oven and trap all of the heat in the nail to ensure you get the most out of your experience.
- Step 5: Exhale the vapor immediately.
- Step 6: Clean your nail. To prevent residue from possibly changing the flavor, always keep your nail clean. To clean, allow the nail to cool down a bit and then swipe the inside of the warm nail with a cotton swab. For more deep cleaning, dip a cotton swab in isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol and rub it along the interior of your warm nail.
It may take some time and repetition before you really feel you know how to take a dab. But once you get an intuitive sense of the simple steps involved, it’s an incredibly efficient way to consume cannabis concentrates and use them to their full potential.
The most effective dabbing alternative to a traditional dab rig is arguably using an e-rig or e-nail. The main benefit of the e-rig is the ability to precisely control the temperature.
Unlike a traditional rig, in which you’re at the mercy of the flame and your timer, with an e-rig, you can dial in the precise temperature you prefer and rest easy knowing the nail will remain within a narrow range of your desired temperature. And because they’re heated electronically, e-rigs don’t require a torch.