What You Need to Know About Dabbing
John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE is board-certified in addiction medicine and preventative medicine. He is the medical director at Alcohol Recovery Medicine. For over 20 years Dr. Umhau was a senior clinical investigator at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
When people hear the term “dabbing,” they might initially think of the dance move that is believed to have originated in the Atlanta rap scene and was later popularized by football star, Cam Newton, who made “the dab” his signature touchdown celebration. But the word dabbing also has a darker side.
In marijuana culture, dabbing refers to the dangerous process of consuming high concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana. And yet despite the dangers associated with the practice, it is growing in popularity, especially among teens.
What Are Dabs?
Dabs—also referred to as wax, shatter, amber, honeycomb, or budder—are concentrated versions of butane hash oil (BHO) which contains highly-concentrated levels of THC. This concentrated substance is produced through a chemical process using butane oil to extract the oils from the cannabis.
Research suggests that dabs or BHO can have a THC concentration of 80% in comparison to traditional cannabis, which has a concentration of about 10-15% THC. In fact, at a minimum dabs are as much as four times as strong as a joint. Plus, people who dab experience an intense high all at once rather than it gradually building over time.
Dabs are made by pouring butane over marijuana. This process allows the THC to leave the marijuana plant and dissolve into the butane leaving a gummy, somewhat solid product that contains high amounts of THC.
How Dabbing Works
Although marijuana is usually consumed by smoking joints and sometimes through vape pens, dabs are heated to an extremely high temperature and then inhaled. A specifically-designed glass bong commonly called an “oil rig” is used.
The dab is placed on an attached “nail” and a blow torch is used to heat the wax, which produces a vapor that can be inhaled. This type of ingestion means the effects of dabbing are felt immediately.
Many times people will dab by placing hash oil in vaping devices. Teens especially, use this method because it allows them to use hash oil with a very low chance that they will be caught because there is no smoke or distinct smell. Consequently, they often dab in public places, including at school.
Although the process of dabbing is not new, it is growing in popularity in the United States. Scientists attribute this growth to the commercial production of medical marijuana and the legalization of it in numerous states. Both of these factors have led to an increase in instructional videos online as well as a greater social media presence. Consequently, it is becoming more and more popular.
Why Dabbing Is Dangerous
Although some people believe that dabbing is a safer method of ingesting cannabis because it is so highly concentrated and the user only has to take one hit to get high, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Simply put, there is no safe level of drug use. Any drug—regardless of its purpose—carries some risk. And, dabs are no exception.
Dabbing Is Not the Same as Smoking
In fact, one study found that dabbing can lead to higher tolerance and worse withdrawal symptoms. What’s more, it is dangerous for users to assume that dabbing carries the same risks as smoking marijuana. Instead, most researchers say that dabbing is to marijuana what crack is to cocaine. There is simply no comparison between dabbing and smoking joints.
Harmful Side Effects
Dabbing also includes a number of dangerous side effects like a rapid heartbeat, blackouts, crawling sensations on the skin, loss of consciousness, and psychotic symptoms such as paranoia and hallucinations.
Meanwhile, a study conducted by researchers at Portland State University, found that dabbing also may expose users to elevated levels of toxins including carcinogenic compounds. What the scientists found is that the higher the temperature the substance is exposed to, the more carcinogens, toxins, and potential irritants that are produced.
This fact, in turn, puts users at a greater risk than other methods of getting high because there is a challenge in controlling the nail temperature. As a result, people who dab are being exposed to harmful chemicals including methacrolein and benzene. Likewise, another study found that more than 80% of marijuana extracts are contaminated with poisonous solvents and pesticides.
Dangers of Production
Another danger with dabbing is the fact that making hash oil is one of the riskiest aspects of dabbing. Keep in mind that dabs are made by blasting butane (or lighter fluid) through the marijuana plant. It is highly flammable and unstable. So, adding heat to a substance like this is extremely dangerous.
What’s more, after the process has been completed, any remaining butane is now in the form of gas in the room. As a result, the smallest spark—even one produced by static electricity—can cause an explosion. The risks are similar to that of a meth lab.
Consequently, there have been increasing reports of houses, apartment buildings, and other structures exploding during the extraction process. When this happens, the people involved are either killed or become burn victims with broken bones who need skin grafts and reconstructive surgery.
A Word From Verywell
The bottom line is that dabbing is a potentially dangerous process that comes with real risks to a person’s health and overall well-being. It also is very appealing to teens and young adults.
For this reason, parents and educators need to talk to young people about the risks associated with dabbing while stressing that just one hit can not only put them at risk for lifelong addiction but also can kill them if they take in too much.Dabbing releases dangerous levels of THC into the body producing an extreme high, but the process is very dangerous. Find out why.
Vaping, Smoking, or Eating Marijuana
The safety and long-term health effects of using e-cigarettes or other vaping products still aren’t well known. In September 2019, federal and state health authorities began investigating an outbreak of a severe lung disease associated with e-cigarettes and other vaping products . We’re closely monitoring the situation and will update our content as soon as more information is available.
Over the past decade, marijuana laws have continued to change across the United States.
What was once vilified as a potentially dangerous “gateway drug” is now being recognized by many states (33 plus Washington, D.C., to be exact) as having medicinal properties that can help manage a range of health conditions, from anxiety and cancer to chronic pain and more.
Marijuana is now also recreationally legal in 11 of those 33 states. (Note that marijuana is still classified as illegal by the U.S. federal government.)
In states where marijuana is legal, it’s being sold mostly in three different ways:
- to be smoked
- to be eaten
- to be vaped
If you live in a state where marijuana is legal, you might be wondering how best to consume it, especially in light of recent federal investigations into the safety of vaping .
Here’s what we know.
For decades, health experts warned the public about the dangers of inhaling tobacco smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes.
For marijuana, some research suggests some compounds in it, known as cannabinoids, may have a few benefits.
One of the more well-known cannabinoids is called CBD. For this reason, some people believe smoking marijuana is less dangerous than smoking tobacco.
Cannabinoids, such as CBD, are different from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical in marijuana that gets a person “high.”
What about smoking?
Inhaling smoke of any kind — whether it’s cannabinoid-containing weed or tobacco or another substance — is bad for lung health, according to the American Lung Association.
Most marijuana users hold smoke in their lungs longer than tobacco smokers, putting them at greater risk for exposure to tar — which is harmful to the lungs.
Some negative health effects associated with chronic weed smoking include:
- air pockets between the lungs and lungs and chest wall
- chronic bronchitis
- excessive mucus production
- possible increased risk of infection in immunocompromised people, such as those with HIV
- possible increased risk of lower respiratory tract infections
- weakened immune system
What about vaping?
Vaping marijuana involves inhaling heated oil through a vaporizing device, often referred to as an e-cigarette. Vaping marijuana can also refer to using a vaporizer, such as a Volcano , to produce vapor from dried plant material.
Some people believe vaping is safer than smoking because it doesn’t involve inhaling smoke. But the reality is, when it comes to vaping marijuana, there’s much less known about the negative health effects.
The most recent research suggests vaping THC oil could be quite harmful to lung health. The greatest concern at the moment is the severe effects of inhaling vitamin E acetate. This additive chemical has been found in many vaping products that contain THC.
As of Dec. 27, 2019, nearly 2,561 cases of lung injury (EVALI) caused by inhalation of vitamin E acetate, or “popcorn lung,” have been reported in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories (Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands) and have led to 55 deaths during that time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) .
Some of the people affected by vaping illnesses include children.
The CDC recommends people avoid using e-cigarettes and vaping products, particularly those containing THC oil, because they’re likely to contain vitamin E acetate.
Early research shows vaping liquids and oils — even once — can harm your lungs. Because vaping is new and hasn’t been well studied, there could be harmful effects of vaping that aren’t yet known.
Some states with legal marijuana are proactively warning marijuana users that vaping liquids has been known to cause severe lung injuries and death.
To stay up to date on the latest vaping-related illness news, check the CDC website for regular updates.
Smoking uses dried plant parts or concentrates
There are several ways to smoke marijuana:
- One way is to roll dried parts of the flower into a joint using cigarette paper.
- Some people mix their marijuana with tobacco, so it’s a bit less potent (this is called a spliff).
- Some people use bongs or pipes to smoke.
- Sometimes people smoke more potent forms of marijuana than the flower, called concentrates. These include hash and kief.
Vaping uses concentrated extracts or ground dry herb
When people vape, they consume concentrated marijuana. It seems to be a much more potent delivery system than smoking. In other words, you’ll get more high from vaping than from smoking.
Vaping can be more intense
Researchers have determined that the effects of vaping marijuana are much stronger than smoking.
In one study , researchers found that first-time and infrequent marijuana users were more likely to experience adverse reactions from the enhanced delivery of THC caused by vaping when compared to smoking.
Both take effect fast
Both smoking and vaping have an almost immediate effect on the body. Their effects peak within 10 to 15 minutes.
Most experts recommend starting vaping or smoking very slowly, taking in a small amount at first and waiting 20 to 30 minutes before having more.
A note about marijuana strains
There are many strains of marijuana, each having slightly different effects on the body. Sativa strains are thought to be more stimulating. Others, called indica, are more relaxing. It’s worth noting marijuana strains can affect people quite differently. Just because a certain strain has purported properties doesn’t mean you’ll get those exact effects.If you’re trying to untangle the sticky subject of marijuana today, let’s look at what’s known about vaping versus smoking weed. ]]>