What Is Dabbing & How Do Dabs Work?

Thanks to constantly evolving cannabinoid extraction techniques, dabbing has become a favorite pastime of many Americans searching for a strong hit of cannabis. Dabbing is the action or practice of inhaling small quantities of a concentrated and vaporized drug, typically cannabis oil or resin.

It is a method of consumption for strong cannabis extracts which usually take the form of a waxy, oily or shatter-like substance that is inhaled with a dabbing tool. Generally preferred by the younger cannabis community, taking a dab is committing to an extremely powerful hit of cannabinoids. For the most part, these extracts are purified forms of THC, although some CBD extracts are sometimes dabbed and recently consumers started dabbing CBD only extracts with the belief of getting benefits from this compound.

While some prefer inhaling vapors to smoking regular plant material, others are reluctant because of perceived dangers. Overall, dabbing is not for the THC-sensitive or “one hit wonder” kind of smoker. It is generally recommended for experienced users who are ready to handle such a concentrated hit of cannabinoids.

What are cannabis extracts?

Humans have been extracting cannabinoids for a very long time – much before the days of prohibition. Hand rubbing to make hashish is one form of extracting the potent trichomes off the plant material. Even steeping buds in alcohol is a form of solvent extraction, where cannabinoids are dissolved in alcohol. However, in light of recent new technologies, we have become much more efficient at the extraction process, producing much stronger and purer extracts.

Dabbing happens only with cannabis extracts. These extracts are created using a variety of different methods, all resulting in more or less the same kind of product. The final extract is usually yellowish in color, takes on a waxy or shatter-like form and is made almost purely out of cannabinoids and terpenes.

Common forms of cannabis extraction include:

  • CO2 extraction: Carbon dioxide is used as a solvent and is pumped at high pressure through plant material. The resulting product is rich with cannabinoids, terpenes and other compounds present in the cannabis plant.
  • BHO: Stands for Butane Hash Oil, and is an extraction method that uses butane. Like CO2 extraction, butane is pumped at high pressure through plant material, releasing a waxy, oily-like substance that is full of cannabinoids.
  • Rosin: Rosin is a form of solventless extraction, using only heat. By heating the buds, the trichomes (which are the most potent, THC rich parts of the bud) melt off the plant material. THey are absorbed into something like parchment paper and then left to try, after which they are removed from the parchment. The final product is wax-like and is a potent form of consuming cannabis.

Every extraction method has its pros and cons. While some are more expensive to perform, others are cheaper but result in a contaminated final product. BHO, for example, often contains trace amounts of butane in the final extract. CO2 extraction (which is one of the most common and clean processes to extract cannabinoids), on the other hand, results in a fine and purified product, but is one of the more expensive methods of extraction.

How to do a dab

All dabbing takes place with some form of cannabis extract. The maneuver is performed on something called a dabbing rig, which for all intents and purposes, looks a lot like a bong. The dabbing rig contains a chamber full of water, through which the vapor is “filtered” and cooled down.

Doing a dab goes something like this:

  1. The wax is put on the end of a “dabbing nail”, which is a piece of glass, crystal or metal on which a piece of wax can be attached at the end.
  2. The bowl of the dabbing rig is then heated with a blow torch, allowing it to get extremely hot.
  3. The pen is then inserted into the bowl, where the wax or shatter can make contact with the heat.
  4. Vapor is immediately produced, at which point the user can inhale through the mouthpiece.

Are there any benefits to dabbing?

There are plenty of people out there who prefer dabbing to conventional smoking. Aside from the fact that a dab hit is much stronger than a regular hit of weed, it has other benefits too. Dabbing is probably a healthier form of consuming cannabis than smoking because nothing is combusted in the process. What is finally inhaled is vapor rather than smoke, making it a lot easier on the lungs.

People also prefer dabbing because it’s a way of consuming pure cannabinoids without all the other stuff. Essentially, consuming an extract means eliminating the consumption of most of the unwanted material in cannabis.

Finally, dabbing is one of the most immediate and effective forms of consuming cannabis. Extracts themselves are extremely powerful, delivering a high dose of cannabinoids in a single inhale. Although there probably aren’t many doctors who would recommend this form of consumption, for medical patients it would provide one of the strongest hits available and in the fastest possible time.

What are the dangers of dabbing?

There are a lot of people and media that warn against dabbing because of its dangers. This is not actually true. There is no danger in dabbing. However, the danger lies in the extracts themselves. When shortcuts are taken in the extraction process, it is very easy for the final product to be adulterated. When this is consumed, contaminants make their way directly into the lungs of the user, causing potential harm.

It is unsafe to consume any kind of contaminated cannabis product, whether it is an extract, an oil or simply buds. However, because of the solvents required in extracting cannabis, there is a bigger chance of industrial contaminants ending up in the final product.

These dangers can be mitigated, of course, by making good decisions when purchasing an extract. Living in a legal state means having access to good quality products that come with full laboratory testing. The certificate will state the concentration of cannabinoids as well as the presence of any contaminants such as butane or contaminants present from the cultivation process. It might cost a little more money for a cleaner product, but it ensures that you won’t be inhaling any harmful chemicals.

Then there is always the danger of just how powerful modern extracts are. Some waxes and shatters are over 80% THC, making them nearly pure. For the inexperienced user, this hit of weed can be completely overwhelming. It’s not dangerous in the sense that it can cause long-term health risks, but it could make the immediate experience completely unpleasant. Most dabbers don’t consider the strength of extracts as a danger, though. Rather, it’s the reason they choose dabbing in the first place. But always exercise caution in dosage when dabbing!

Some sound advice for first time dabbers

If you’re dabbing for the first time, it’s really best to start off small. If you’ve never dabbed before, you literally have no idea how powerful cannabis extracts can be, especially when consumed from a dabbing rig. It’s not uncommon for first timers to accidentally take too much, leaving themselves hot, sweaty, confused and coughing up a lung.

Start small – really small. You can always go for another hit if you feel it’s not enough, but there’s no going back from an “I took too much” experience. So before getting over excited, remember these words and this sound advice.

Dabbing has really taken off in the last few years, especially because of the potency and purity of modern day extracts. It may not be the most glamorous way to consume weed, but dabbing concentrates could really offer a lot to people who need immediate and strong relief from cannabis.

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