Getting high is one of those things that felt as though we as a species had perfected. For the past few thousand years, the concept has remained more or less the same. You take dried cannabis flower or hash, light it on fire, and inhale the smoke — three simple steps that anyone could do.
But in recent years a new way of processing and consuming cannabis has appeared onto the scene and taken the hearts of stoners everywhere by storm: dabbing. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 years, or simply outgrew your teenage stoner years and are just now getting back into getting high, you may be wondering what dabbing even is.
Isn’t that some annoying dance that obnoxious people do when they do something they think is great? While the answer to that question is yes, in the stoner community dabbing means something entirely different.
So what is dabbing? Dabbing is all about highly potent cannabis concentrates and getting as high as humanly possible. Ok, not really.
For the uninitiated, the following lines will be an in-depth guide to all things dabbing. If you’ve ever wondered, “What is Dabbing?” Or “How to dab,” this guide is a good place to start. We’ll also cover the risks and benefits of dabbing and the tools you’ll need to get started. Welcome to Dabbing: 101 — class is in session.
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The basics — what is a dab?
If you want a one-sentence explanation, it would be this: A dab is a single dose of highly-concentrated cannabis extraction that is heated to a very high temperature and inhaled.
This handy guide goes into a bit more depth about what dabs actually are. Typically a user will pre-form their dab into a single dose based on personal preference, and “dab” it on to the head of a super-heated tool called a nail.
The term may have originated from people actually using metal construction nails to heat the concentrate. Today, the tools used for dabbing have become much more refined and nails are specially crafted pieces of equipment. There are many different types of nails available today, but more on that later. With the help of the nail, the concentrate gets heated to its boiling temperature and the resulting vapor is then inhaled through a dab rig. Dab rigs, like dab nails, are also getting increasingly more complex as dabbing culture evolves.
Most dabs (remember, that’s the cannabis concentrate) are a type of butane hash oil (BHO), a concentrate created by using a petrochemical solvent. There are seemingly 1,001 names for the various types of BHO concentrates, including oil, honey, shatter, budder, wax, and more. The consistency varies from a hard, glass-like substance that can literally shatter, to a spreadable, honey-like consistency.
If you prefer a cleaner dabbing experience, look for solventless cannabis extracts such as budder, rosin, or solventless shatter, all of which create a highly-potent concentration of cannabinoids — perfect for a clean dab.
What’s the difference between dabbing and smoking cannabis flower?
If you’ve been smoking joints your entire life, you should approach dabbing with caution. Dabbing is not for the faint of heart and can easily send a novice over the edge. Many first-time users have ended up greening out, expecting the dabbing experience to be just like a massive rip from a bong.
While you can definitely shoot your brain into another dimension with dabs, using concentrates rather than flower or hash can actually give you a lot more control over your high. Depending on the type of concentrate you dab you also get to taste the full flavor profile of the strain used to produce the dab. At the same time, it can actually be a lot cheaper than smoking flower.
While most dab rigs look like elaborate bongs and the basic consumption principle is pretty much the same, the material you’re inhaling is far more potent than even the most potent pull from a bubbler or bong. If you’re about to try dabbing for the first time, take only what you feel is a small amount, and then half that. It’s probably still stronger than you expect. Try to go for about half a grain of rice for the first time. Remember, you can always take another dab.
Cannabis flower typically contains between 10 to 30 percent THC, depending on the strain. Even the most potent flower pales in comparison to cannabis concentrates. Most concentrates reach a THC content of between 60 to 90 percent and can even surpass that. That’s approximately three to nine times more potent than what you’d get from a joint or a bong rip, if you’d smoke the same amount. Think of it this way, you can get the same amount of THC you’d find in one gram of strong weed from about a quarter of a gram of concentrates.
Because dabs are highly concentrated, they deliver a far bigger punch than smoking buds. When you’re dabbing you’re not actually inhaling smoke but vapor, thereby reducing a significant level of organic particulate matter going straight into your lungs. On top of that, since a dab is a delicious reduction of the cannabinoids and terpenes found in the raw cannabis flower many people find dabbing a cleaner and tastier experience.
To get these benefits though, you need to be careful about the temperature of your dab nail. A common rookie mistake is to get the nail way too hot and then pretty much burning the crap out of your concentrate. Not only does that ruin the flavor of your dab, but it can also release carcinogens and other harmful compounds. Try to stay below 365 degrees Fahrenheit (185 degrees Celsius) to keep your dab as healthy as possible.
Another huge difference between dabbing and smoking bud is the tools required. You can’t just roll up a blunt filled with concentrate, or pack a bowl of BHO. There is a certain upfront investment into dabbing but once you have all the needed hardware, it’s pretty straightforward. In the last few years, a small but growing number of brands have also released portable dab rigs that you can take with you to dab on the go. In addition, most higher-quality vaporizers can also vaporize concentrates now.
What tools do you need to dab?
Dabbing is not as complicated as some completely over-the-top setups might make it seem. Once you understand the basic build of a rig and the tools needed, it’s actually pretty simple. Sure, you can get a crazy rig with several levels of percolators, ash catchers, and smoke coolers, but aside from the expensive setups dabbing isn’t that complex. Here are the basic tools of the trade.
A dab rig
The dab rig is the heart of your entire dabbing operation. Your rig can be as simple or as complicated as you want and can range from simple budget models at around $20 to well over $1,000 custom rigs. The rig itself is basically the body to which you attach your dab nail (see below) and through which the vapor from your dab gets filtered and brought to your lungs.
How a dab rig is designed can vary greatly, but in their most basic version, they include a mouthpiece, a chamber that you fill with water, and a stem and a dab nail. From that basic design, the sky’s the limit, and more advanced rigs can include additional filtration chambers, recyclers, percolators, or even be fully modular.
A dab nail
The dab nail is probably the part that confuses people the most, so let’s clear this one up. The dab nail, whatever type you choose, is the part of the dab rig that you heat up, and place the dab on to. There are two (very) general categories of dab nails: regular ones that you heat with a blow torch, and e-nails, which are electrically self-heating nails. Nails can be made from many different materials such as glass, quartz, titanium, and ceramic.
In addition to a vast offering of different materials, there are also many different shapes and forms, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. The most popular type of dab nail are quartz bucket nails, also known as bangers, due to their durability and ability to evenly cook concentrate. To find out which material and shape you prefer you’ll have to try out different ones until you find the one that gives you the taste and dabbing experience you prefer.
A carb cap
The cap traps the vapor released from the dab back into the rig. Instead of rising straight up and going to waste, a cap captures the vapor, which you then inhale through the rig. Carb caps come in all shapes and sizes and can be just a literal simple cap, or an intricately shaped piece of art that allows you to precisely steer the airflow inside the dab nail. Again, they can be as basic or as lavish as you want. When all else fails, use a spoon to cover your nail if you’ve got nothing else handy.
A blow torch
If you didn’t get an e-rig or an e-nail, you’ll have to rely on the good old fashioned blow torch to heat your nail. There are many discrete and more aesthetically pleasing varieties available at your dispensary, but a small handheld blow torch from your local hardware store also works. It’s likely much cheaper as well.
Do you really need all of that?
Yes, and no. A complete dab kit looks a bit more involved than a pack of papers and a filter, but, again, it doesn’t have to be. If dealing with this entire setup sounds too daunting to you, there are many portable and one-handed devices available that take dealing with a nail, banger, and cap out of the equation. They are small, aesthetically pleasing, and battery operated. And unless you know what an e-rig is, you wouldn’t even recognize them for what they are. If that sounds like it would be your thing, take a look at the Puffco Peak, for example.
How to prepare for your first time dabbing?
Alright, you’ve made it this far. You’ve got yourself a dab rig and you are ready to try your hands at dabbing for the first time. Here’s how to go about it.
- Lay out everything you plan on using for your first time dabbing in front of you, preferably on a silicone mat. Don’t forget the blow torch.
- If you are using a banger, attach it to the dab rig.
- With the help of your dab tool, form a small ball of wax, the smaller the better, for your first experience. Remember, it’s much easier to take another hit than it is to undo one. First-time dabbing? Don’t overdo it; take it easy.
- Heat the nail using the blow torch for between 30 to 40 seconds. Make sure the flame of the torch touches only the nail and not the rig itself. The intense heat can easily damage your rig.
- Let the nail cool down for 15 to 30 seconds (this depends on the material of the nail and the type of concentrate).
- Place your mouth over the mouthpiece, and slowly start inhaling as you place the dab into the nail.
- Gently swirl around the dab with your dab tool to evaporate as much as possible in a short period of time.
- Cap the nail with your carb cap, and continue to inhale.
- Release and breathe out once all vapors have been inhaled or you’ve reached the end of your lung capacity.
- Sit back, hold on tight, and get ready for liftoff.
What are the benefits of dabbing?
Although your parents will never admit it, and the news makes it out to be detrimental, there are many benefits to dabbing. Especially if you approach your first few experiences carefully, they will be enjoyable. There’s a good reason dabbing is quickly becoming the preferred method for getting high. Here are five reasons to get into dabbing.
- It’s a cleaner smoking experience: Smoking dried flower remains one of the most popular ways to consume cannabis, but it isn’t always the cleanest. To smoke flower, you need to burn it first. The incinerated organic plant material produces thick smoke, filled with tiny particles in addition to the compounds you are trying to get out of the plant. While smoking cannabis is definitely healthier than smoking cigarettes, you’re still burning plant matter and inhaling it. Smoking a concentrate, on the other hand, especially one produced in a modern facility capable of preserving the plant’s terpene content, is a much cleaner experience. There is less material to burn, and less smoke inhaled. In fact, if you dab at the right temperature, you’re only inhaling vapor, not smoke. The terpenes shine through much more than when smoking raw flower.
- More flavor: As mentioned, if your concentrate is a full-plant extract rather than pure THC or CBD, it preserves the delicate flavor profile of the terpenes. If you smoke the same strain of cannabis in a joint and in a dab, you’ll suddenly pick up many underlying flavors that you might have missed in the joint. Some concentrates remove much of the terpenes, but a CO2, rosin, or other low-temperature extraction guarantees full flavor from start to finish.
- A different kind of high: People who dab do it for the high. The high from dabbing is crisper than one from an edible or a bong rip. It’s cleaner, clearer, and generally better overall. Dabbing full-plant concentrates like rosin or live resin is a way to truly experience the differences in strains because the experience is not clouded by smoke. If you dab crystals or other isolates you don’t get that benefit, obviously.
- Speed and efficiency: Once you’ve got your dab rig set up, taking a dab is a much faster way of getting high than rolling a joint or packing a bowl. It’s also efficient. No need to grind, pack, or roll your way into euphoria. One dab, and you are done. The speed and efficiency of dabbing are especially apparent when you use a vape pen or nectar collector. The ‘dab’ isn’t even required.
Is dabbing dangerous?
A wise man once said, “all things in moderation.” That is a good rule to live by with all intoxicants, including when it comes to dabbing weed. Is dabbing dangerous? It depends on who you ask, as the media and many parents have painted the dabbing phenomena with a dark and dangerous brush stroke. But are their concerns legitimate?
Many of the concerns around dabbing are about the high amounts of THC and the possible long-term health effects. While there hasn’t been much research into dabbing, the same concerns that are valid for smoking cannabis probably also hold true for dabbing cannabis.
Because dabbing is that much more powerful than a regular joint or blunt, anyone with a history of schizophrenia and psychosis may want to avoid dabbing altogether. Even if you have a history of schizophrenia in your family, it may be best to refrain from the activity. If you do choose to smoke weed despite your history, aim for lower THC strains, with high levels of CBD to counteract psychoactive characteristics.
So what’s the moral of the story?
Dabbing, in short, has developed from a niche phenomenon into a popular and potent method of getting high. It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you can handle the heady experience, it delivers a clean, tasty high. Whether you choose to stick with the essential equipment or decide to go all out on a $1,000 rig, the dabbing experience is a novel way to make the most of your stash of concentrate.
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