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Dabbing 101: What is cannabis dabbing and how do dabs work?

D abs are concentrated doses of cannabis that are made by extracting THC and other cannabinoids using a solvent like butane or carbon dioxide, resulting in sticky oils. Depending on their consistency, these marijuana concentrates are also commonly referred to as wax, shatter, budder, and butane hash oil (BHO). Marijuana wax and other dabs are typically heated on a hot surface, usually a nail, and then inhaled through a dab rig. Smoking dabs as a method of consumption has been around for at least a decade, but the advent of more advanced extraction methods have led to a flood of cannabis concentrates that have boosted dabbing’s popularity.

While it’s possible to extract non-intoxicating compounds like CBD, THC is what’s behind the potent effects of marijuana wax and other forms of dabs, making them the fastest and most efficient way to get really, really stoned. Terpenes, or the aromatic oils that give cannabis flavor, can also be extracted, although it can be difficult to preserve these volatile compounds in the extraction process.

What are the perceived dangers of dabbing?

Let’s start with the bad news first: dabbing can be dangerous. Mainly, it’s the extraction that can be dangerous. The process can be tricky, but thanks to online forums and videos, many amateur “scientists” think they have mastered the technique enough to try it on their own. Worst case scenario, a combination of flammable gases and poor ventilation can result in explosion. Even when home extraction goes well, there’s no way to know the quality or purity of your finished product. “Dirty” oil may contain chemical contaminants or excessive amounts of residual solvents that could present health hazards to consumers.

Eliminating these production issues typically requires:

  • Lab testing (to measure the purity and potency of concentrates)
  • High-grade solvents
  • Closed loop extraction equipment (to prevent accidents)
  • Trained extraction professionals

But is dabbing cannabis extracts dangerous from a consumer standpoint? It can be, but dabbing safely is easy with the proper precautions.

Many new dabbers investing in their first setup will take the inexpensive route and purchase the bare minimum: a nail attachment and a handheld blow torch. To the uninitiated, heating a metal or glass nail with a tiny flamethrower may look fundamentally dangerous. However, the demand for torch-less methods of dabbing marijuana has given rise to products like electronic nails (enails). These tools eliminate the torch and offer precise temperature control for consumers dabbing cannabis concentrates like marijuana wax, shatter, and oil.

Can you overdose on dabs?

One factor all unseasoned dabbers should consider is the potency of THC extracts. Cannabis extracts often test between 60-90% THC, which means it doesn’t take much to become profoundly high. Exceed your personal limit and you may find the effects to be uncomfortable and overwhelmingly intense. And while it’s impossible to die from a cannabis overdose, it’s never a bad idea to start with a small dab of cannabis concentrate to ensure a positive and comfortable experience.

Lastly, it’s important to note that the long-term effects of dabbing cannabis wax and other concentrates are not well-known. Until research thoroughly examines the long-term risks of dabbed extracts (with individual consideration of residual solvents, pesticides, and cannabinoids), it’s not possible to characterize any dangers associated with prolonged use.

What are the benefits of dabbing?

When done safely with clean, tested products, patients and adult consumers find several advantages to dabbing as a delivery method, primarily in its swift onset and powerful effects. Patients dealing with severe or chronic pain or extreme nausea report that dabbing cannabis concentrates can be one of the best ways to get immediate and effective relief. However, you’d likely be hard-pressed finding a doctor who recommends dabbing as the first course of action.

Cannabis extracts that have been properly manufactured can also present consumers with a clean, pure product that’s easier on the lungs. When smoking cannabis, burned plant matter produces resin and hot smoke, but extracts eliminate most of this unwanted material while still delivering essential cannabinoids and other compounds like terpenes.

Another commonly overlooked benefit of dabbing marijuana wax and similar cannabis concentrates is the scientific and technological curiosity it has helped spur in recent years. The rise of dabbing has coincided with a boom in extraction and consumption technologies: cannabis distillates, terpene infusion, hi-tech dabbing tools, oil cartridges, full-spectrum extraction–and the list goes on. While not everyone will come to embrace dabbing as a method of consumption, the enthusiasm around cannabis wax and other extracts that has cropped up recently has pushed the limits of innovation within the industry as a whole.

One of the more surprising side effects of the dabbing trend is that it has created an interest in activism in the community’s younger members. Most popular among consumers in their twenties, extracts are under the same legislative crackdown as other forms of cannabis, and more activists are starting to get involved.

While dabbing may still be experiencing some growing pains, overall, concentrates have much to offer patients and cannabis consumers in the future, and dabs are just one option among many.

Learn all about dabbing, including what cannabis dabs are and how they're made. Plus, find out how dabs might be good for the legalization movement.

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