An outdated dance move that involves sneezing into your shoulder while holding up the sky? Yes, but not today.
This increasingly popular method of getting high might seem intimidating at first — with its searing flames and unfamiliar substances that look more like Play-Doh than weed. But once we’re finished, you’ll see that dabbing is a surprisingly simple and wildly satisfying way to enjoy the versatility of marijuana.
If you’re ready to try something new or even just understand what the kids these days are talking about, then take a seat, open your textbooks, and get ready to… concentrate.
You can dab any form of concentrated cannabis, which is made by extracting the plant’s cannabinoids (THC, CBD, etc.) and terpenes as a sticky oil. These concentrates vary in consistency and potency, from the dense shards of shatter to the transparent silkiness of distillates, but they’re all incredibly strong substances that should be enjoyed in moderation. Like any new substance, you should always start small and work your way up once you know how it affects you.
Here’s a breakdown of the most popular forms of concentrates for dabbing:
Wax is a yellowy-brown gob of concentrate that requires a special dabber tool to manage its stickiness.
With more body and less stickiness than wax, budder can be spread like cake icing or balled up into a perfect dab size. This form also retains more terpenes than most concentrates, making for a delectable dabbing experience.
Considered the purest form of concentrate, shatter is smooth, clear, and much less sticky than other forms. It tends to have higher levels of THC, making it a powerful choice for both medicinal benefits and cerebral effects.
Halfway between shatter and budder, crumble can be broken apart like brown sugar or pressed together to form a loose honeycomb texture.
Hash oil is a thin, runny substance that’s usually sold in syringes or cartridges for easy dosing.
Live resin is made from full plant material that’s frozen immediately after harvesting, resulting in the richest terpene profile. It can also be condensed into a clumpier form called “live sugar.”
This form undergoes the most complex process, resulting in an oil that’s almost completely odorless and tasteless – just pure, unadulterated cannabinoids.
There are tons of ways to use concentrates — from sprinkling a little crumble on the top of a bowl to wrapping a joint in wax — but “dabbing” refers to using just concentrates in their own full glory.
As the name suggests, you’ll take a “dab” (you know — a morsel, a pinch, a smidgen) of concentrate and heat it up until it vaporizes. Then you inhale that vapor, get high, and repeat as necessary.
Here are a couple ways to do it:
The easiest and most convenient method is to use a portable dab pen. These specialized devices come in two main types: (1) the kind that accepts prefilled concentrate cartridges and (2) the kind with a filament tip that you heat up and dip straight into your concentrate.
Different brands work in different ways, but the benefits of a dab pen remain the same: portability, discretion, sturdiness, and the safety of not having to wield a blowtorch. Check out your local dispensary or head shop to learn more about dab pens and find one in your price range!
The rig method is bulkier and more complex than using a pen, but it remains a classic because the actual dabbing experience can’t be beat. With a glass dab rig, you can achieve massive clouds of vapor that could never fit into a tiny pen. Here’s how it works:
The rig itself looks a lot like a bong, with a water chamber, a mouthpiece, and a downstem that looks like it would fit a bowl. But in this case, you’ll be using a “nail” — a high-heat-tolerant surface typically made out of metal, quartz, or ceramic.
Once the nail has been fitted into the downstem, you’ll heat it up with a mini butane torch, like the kind used on crème brûlée. For a more reliable and consistent (but more expensive) option, use an e-nail, which comes with its own power source and pre-set temperatures.
When the nail is at the right temperature (which will vary depending on which concentrate you’re using and what kind of high you’re looking for), dab a small bit of concentrate directly onto it and start inhaling through the mouthpiece. Immediately cover the nail with a “carb cap” to keep the vapor from escaping. Then, once you’ve built up enough vapor inside the rig, lift up the carb to break the seal and retrieve your hit.
First of all, concentrates give you access to a much richer terpene profile than flower. Not only does this make the hits taste better, but the well-documented “entourage effect” between cannabinoids and terpenes makes for a more complex and precise high.
On top of that, dabs are much stronger than regular weed — three to ten times more potent, according to some sources. This makes a session way more efficient, which is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you don’t have to take as many hits to get where you’re trying to go. But on the other, it’s easy to overdo it and find yourself in the grips of a more intense high than you’d bargained for. As always, the trick is to start slow and ease yourself into it, especially if it’s your first time. You can always take another hit, but you can’t cough it back out.
Finally, when you dab, you’re vaporizing the plant material rather than combusting it. That means you’re avoiding all the tar, carcinogens, and other combustion by-products that make smoking harmful to your lungs. While neither method is 100% risk-free, most experts agree that vaping is by far the safer option. But if you’re looking to avoid the inhalation risks altogether, why not try an edible?
Before we go, we should dispel some of the lingering rumors around concentrates and dabbing. Here are the top three myths and why they’re wrong:
We get it – the torch looks intimidating. It can bring to mind harder drugs, and it’s certainly a safety hazard in the wrong hands. But as long as you practice using it ahead of time, and you implement safety precautions like always turning it off after use, you’ve got nothing to worry about.
The concentrates themselves, however, are just as safe as flower. In fact, since you’re inhaling vapor rather than smoke, dabbing is in many ways safer than a traditional smoke sesh.
Although most concentrates are made by using solvents like butane, they can’t be sold by dispensaries without going through rigorous multi-layered safety testing. Once the extraction process is properly done, all that’s left is a concentrated version of what you’d find in pure flower.
But that’s only true when the extraction process is left to professionals. That’s why you should never try extracting concentrates on your own — just make a trip to your local dispensary and let the experts do their job.
Scientists agree that you can’t overdose on any form of THC. While you should always go slowly and know your limits, you can rest easy knowing you won’t OD from smoking concentrates.
That said, there’s still such a thing as too much. Overdoing it with THC can cause severe paranoia, nausea, dizziness, and more. You can even dab or smoke so much that you pass out, which could be dangerous in the wrong setting.
The short answer is — even though you can’t technically overdose from THC, you can still overdo it and have a miserable time. Nobody likes to be too high, and you can avoid it altogether by starting slow and setting limits.
By now you know that dabbing is a fun and flavorful way to enjoy the versatility of marijuana, with many benefits and very few drawbacks. If you’re interested in trying it for yourself, stop by a dispensary and ask your friendly neighborhood budtender to recommend the best product to start with.