Dabs: What Are They & How Do They Work?
Medical cannabis is now available in a variety of forms and routes. Patients have the option of choosing what works best for them based on effectiveness, strength, and preference. Dabbing, or smoking concentrated cannabis, is a relative newcomer on the scene. If you think you might benefit from using medical cannabis, take our short eligibility survey to see if you pre-qualify. At your first appointment, talk to one of our Florida medical marijuana doctors to see what products, doses, and routes would work best for you.
What are Dabs?
Cannabis users have been making and smoking concentrates for thousands of years, with historians believing they originated in eastern Asia as early as 100 A.D. before spreading to Nepal and India. In the 1960s, a group in California called the “Brotherhood of Eternal Love” utilized a butane hash oil process that led to an extract called Honey Oil.(1) Early forms were often contaminated by the solvents used to extract THC from plant matter, and the chemicals themselves created additional hazards for those using them. Modern methods of extraction are believed to have developed around 2009-2010 in Northern California or Colorado, and they became popular in these states as a way to smoke “high octane concentrates” rich in THC; these include waxes, oils, and budders — a form of cannabis honey oil processed until it looks and feels like amber. (2)
Most concentrates are made using solvents. In this process the cannabis is first put into a stainless steel closed loop system to keep it self-contained and safe. Propane, butane, or another hydrocarbon is then pumped into the system, where it binds to the cannabinoids and drips down into a collection pan. This pan goes into an oven where the concentrate is vacuum-heated to remove any remaining solvent.
Solventless dabs or concentrates are created using heat and pressure. The resulting product is chemical-free. These types of dabs include rosin, dry-sift, and ice-wax. (3)
Today’s dabs come in several varieties:
- Shatter – thin, with an amber-like appearance, shatter breaks easily below room temperature.
- Wax – coarse, crumbly appearance, often looks like brown sugar; can also resemble ear wax in consistency and color.
- Butter – dough-like and easy to shape, this may look an awful lot like peanut butter.
- Oil – a thick amber or dark gold liquid also known as 710 or honey oil. This is most often vaped or smoked, but some varieties can be eaten.
- Live Resin – not as easy to find as the other options, this is made from plants that have not been dried. It usually comes in oil form. (1)
Dabbing involves quickly vaporizing a cannabis concentrate without getting it so hot it burns. There are several methods available for doing this. What tools you use depends on the type of product being used as well as personal preference. There are two different types of equipment you will need: one for handling or moving the concentrate, and one for smoking it.
Do I Need Special Equipment for Dabs?
Concentrate-specific tools include the following:
- A ballpoint or needlepoint tool will come in handy for breaking off a small piece of shatter. This form of concentrate is brittle, so having the proper equipment to obtain the amount you need is important.
- Ballpoint tools also work well with non-crumbling waxes as well as being useful to move partially melted solvent-less dabs to a nail or screen.
- A spoon- or paddle-shaped dabbing utensil is great for handling crumbly or sugary waxes, CO2 distillates, and live resins.
- Dab nails are used to vaporize cannabis concentrates. They are available in quartz, ceramic, and titanium as well as some less well-known options. Many dab rigs also include a carb cap, which limits air flow to help maintain the best possible temperature while the concentrate turns into a vapor. These are often specific to the dab rig and are not interchangeable. (4)
- Dab rigs are specialized setups for vaporizing and smoking concentrates. A glass dab rig is usually smaller than a bong; this provide a shorter path for the vapor so that it reaches your lungs more quickly. Because the goal in dabbing is to avoid combustion, distance is important to decrease the chances of losing the potency or flavor of your product. Rigs require the use of butane or an electric nail to heat the concentrate so it will vaporize. Using a rig will provide a higher dose of phytocannabinoids than a portable device as well as the ability to take a larger puff of vapor, leading to a more intense high.
- Dab pens include an atomizer and coils inside an outer case. They can be much less expensive and easier to use than dab rigs. These devices are portable, rechargeable, and don’t require the use of an e-nail or blow torch. They are more discreet and the cases are sturdier than glass rigs. The two main concerns with dab pens is the inability to get a nice clean puff like you can with a rig, and as the atomizers get old, the flavor of the concentrate can change. The coils will need to be changed with time in order to keep the taste fresh.
- Bongs can be fitted with a nail instead of a bowl to allow you to use it for dabbing, but there are a few important differences. When smoking flower in a bong, bigger is better; it provides increased filtration and cooling before the vapor reaches you. It is recommended to use two different setups if you will be both smoking flower and dabbing because concentrates and flower have different flavors; using one setup for both processes can result in flower or concentrate that tastes bad, leading to an unpleasant experience. (5,6)
How to Use a Dab Rig
Using a dab rig is a learning process. Here are some basic instructions:
- Turn on your torch and aim the flame directly at the nail. Most people will heat the nail until it begins turning red-hot. If you’re using an electronic nail, refer to the section below for more information on heating.
- Once the nail is hot, turn off your torch and place the glass dome over the nail. It’s recommended to let titanium nails cool for about 10 seconds and quartz nails about 45 seconds so the surface temperature isn’t too hot.
- Take your dabber, apply the dab directly on the nail inside the dome, and inhale slowly. Rotating the dabber tip on the nail can help you prevent wasting any oil stuck to the dabber.
- Exhale and enjoy!
Safety notice: nails and glass domes become extremely hot in the dabbing process. Take caution when handling them, and always wait for all pieces to cool down before you even think of touching them. (7)
Start Low, Go Slow
While most cannabis flower THC content ranges from around 2.49% to 25%, concentrates usually contain 60 – 90% THC (California actually has a strain or two with 96% THC). Dabbing can be a quick and effective way to combat pain, anxiety, and stress when used properly. New users need to be careful with dosing, starting with the smallest amount possible (a piece the size of a grain of rice or even less is good) and building up from there as needed to achieve positive and comfortable effects.