Dabbing Cannabis 101: Pros, Cons, & How-Tos

Dabbing is, for all intents and purposes, a more efficient way to consume cannabis. It is the vaporization of extremely concentrated cannabis concentrates using a special device called a dabbing rig. Some people wonder – does dabbing take cannabis consumption a little too far?

Dabbing has been around for more than 10 years as a method of cannabis consumption, but since early 2013, its popularity has steadily increased. Sensi Seeds would like to take a closer look at this method to assess the benefits and risks of dabbing for cannabis consumers.

Dabbing is a way to use cannabis concentrates such as oil, wax (a honey like substance), ‘budder’ (sticky substance) or shatter (hard, glass like substance). The dabbing device is heated, the concentrate is added to the device, and subsequently turned into vapour for inhalation. This method is very similar to vaporization in principle, although it looks very different when seen live.

Dabbing versus cannabis smoking

The big difference between smoking cannabis and using a concentrate is its purity. Even the most potent cannabis flowers rarely reach cannabinoid concentrations higher than 30%. In addition, the flowers contain inactive components such as chlorophyll and other inactive metabolites. These compounds have very little medicinal value, do not promote the health of the body and are stressful for the lungs. Finally, tobacco is often used when smoking cannabis and those health risks are well known.

These can be considered some of the cons of cannabis smoking when compared to dabbing. Dabbing does not require the combustion of any plant material, and typically is made up of cannabinoids and terpenes. This minimizes the need to inhale inactive compounds. However, dabbing has its own risks, although most of these risks are associated with the production technique of the concentrates.

Butane and CO2 concentration

Butane concentration is now an outdated method of concentration, or is only used at home by those who do not have access to advanced equipment. Most concentrate manufacturers use technology such as CO2 extraction.

The problem with butane extraction is that it often leaves trace amounts of butane in the final product. This is a flammable gas that is highly toxic to the human body. Even trace amounts can lead to health issues.

However, CO2 extraction is far cleaner, and yields a higher quality product. CO2 is pumped under high pressures through cannabis plant material. At high pressures, CO2 becomes a liquid. After the extraction has occurred, CO2 is returned to its normal pressure, at which it just returns to a gas again and evaporates.

There is no residual solvent when CO2 is the technique used for extraction. The resultant concentrate is highly pure and refined. In general, concentrates made without butane are not called BHO, but rather called cannabis concentrates.

Dabbing itself isn’t a risky way to consume cannabis concentrates. The risks are linked with BHO extraction, but choosing a product made with a different concentration technique can mitigate them.

How to dab?

The dabbing method includes the use of the aforementioned substances; cannabis oil, budder, wax or shatter. These are all concentrates of the active ingredients in cannabis, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), plus the terpenes that supply flavour.

If the concentrate is produced correctly, the result is a literal concentrate of the properties of the plant. This means that the specific smell, taste, and effect will be retained in the concentrate, but are available in a much higher concentration. Good concentrates can reach up to 80% THC rates.

When dabbing was originally invented, it was called “hot knives”. Cannabis was rolled up into small balls and put on the tip of a red-hot knife. Vapour comes rushing off the tip of the knife, which was inhaled using a straw or other cylindrical, pipe-like device.

Nowadays dabbing involves the use of specific equipment, such as a special dabbing rig (a sort of water pipe). On this bong is a small element in the form of a tube that is called the “nail”. This element is usually made of titanium, ceramic or glass.

A powerful torch lighter heats up the nail. Then the user places a dose of concentrate on a metal pin (known as a skillet) and dabs this on the heated nail. The vapour that is released is then inhaled through the dabbing rig.

The method prevents the concentrate from burning at once, but it takes practice to ascertain the ideal temperature and dabbing duration for optimum vapour.

Benefits of dabbing

For most dabbers, the biggest advantage of dabbing is that the effect is much cleaner and stronger than a joint or vaporizer. Though dabbing is not typically used by medicinal cannabis users, it theoretically could be an effective route for acute symptoms because it is fast acting and effective. Other inhalation methods would not deliver as high a dose of cannabinoids in a single inhalation.

With the rising popularity of dabbing, the Albany University, State University of New York, performed a study on dabbing. The researchers concluded that there were no more problems or accidents from cannabis dabbing compared to smoking cannabis flowers.

The investigators have also suggested that the high cannabinoid concentrations of concentrates can lead to a higher tolerance and therefore more pronounced withdrawal symptoms. “This isn’t surprising given the higher dose concentration with dabs,” Mallory Loflin, Ph.D., one of the authors of this study explains.

Explaining her interpretation of the study, Loflin had the following to say: “The results suggest dabs might lead more readily to a dependency-related syndrome than flower cannabis, but there’s no evidence that its use is interfering in people’s major domains of life more than what we see with the use of flower cannabis.” Unfortunately, there are no results yet on the long-term use of dabbing.

Disadvantages of dabbing

The administration of cannabinoids by dabbing is not dangerous in itself although caution should be exercised. Some find dabbing scary because the act is reminiscent of smoking crack — the device is made out of glass and a blow torch is required to heat the nail. As a result, there are people who claim that it does not contribute to a positive image of cannabis.

The concentrate itself, however, can be a problem. Making a cannabis concentrate is a painstaking job which involves chemical solvents such as ethanol, alcohol, propane or butane. A pure concentrate devoid of residual solvents is difficult to achieve without the correct knowledge and expertise. This leads to a lot of people to YouTube-style self-tuition, which often ends in a contaminated product. If customers purchase professionally-made cannabis concentrates however, there are far fewer risks of residual solvent.

Another danger is overdosing. Although it is still not possible to die from a cannabis overdose, the effects can be very unpleasant if too large a dose is inhaled. Caution is therefore advised.

The method of cannabis administration is a personal choice, and finding the best one requires time, patience and an openness to try multiple methods. What works well for one may not work as well for others. Cannabis concentrates have much potency to offer, and for many users, dabbing is a good consumption method because it is strong and effective. All users are urged to exercise caution with respect to the quality of the concentrate to ensure an enjoyable and safe experience.

  • Disclaimer:
    Laws and regulations regarding cannabis use differ from country to country. Sensi Seeds therefore strongly advises you to check your local laws and regulations. Do not act in conflict with the law.


6 thoughts on “Dabbing Cannabis 101: Pros, Cons, & How-Tos”

  1. it is here for now but my opinion it is way to powerful . it can leave you drunk in a few hits where weed i think you get more of what nature intended sort of like coca leaves and coke or poppy tar and heroin . in edibles i like to use it because mixed with oil and cooked you can regulate the dose much more than old fasioned budder. 1 gran equals 1000 mg thc

  2. Cannabis N.I.

    Nice write up. Next time I visit Barcelona I’m gonna be giving the dabbing a proper try :-).

    The last line about tolerance reminds me of this write up: “Cannabis Orthodoxies” by a friend

  3. Dabbing is the act of consuming (vaporising off a hot surface) a cannabis concentrate.
    Bubble hash is made by incremental filtration using water and often ice. The highest quality bubble hash can be called ‘dabs’ because it can be consumed in this way. Other viable concentrates can be made with many non-polar organic solvents (short chain alkanes such as butane, hexane, isopropanol, ethanol, acetone etc…) to dissolve the desired compounds. Thanks.

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    The Sensi Seeds Editorial team has been built throughout our more than 30 years of existence. Our writers and editors include botanists, medical and legal experts as well as renown activists the world over including Lester Grinspoon, Micha Knodt, Robert Connell Clarke, Maurice Veldman, Sebastian Maríncolo, James Burton and Seshata.
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