The first thought to pop into peoples minds upon hearing the word “cannabis” is a joint – go figure. Not surprising because, after all, a joint is the most common way to consume cannabis and the one we’ve all seen repeatedly in movies or on TV.
Doobies aside, there is a myriad of different ways cannabis can be consumed in the modern age and dabs is one of them. We want to offer some insight into the world of dabbing, but we need to preface that by saying dabs are still illegal (unless you make your own) but expected to be included in legalization in the future.
What Are Dabs?
Dabs are a form of cannabis concentrate or extract that is typically vaped (dabbing) in a specialized bong called a ‘dab rig’. Technically, a ‘dab’ is the term used for a small portion (or hit) of a chosen concentrate that is about to be vaped by the user.
Concentrates like shatter, waxes, budders, rosins, or cannabis oils are typically used to make dabs. While you could dab hashish or kief, the purity of a product is what will determine how enjoyable the process is, so anything containing some plant material isn’t really ideal.
To make the concentrates used for dabbing, THC and other cannabinoids are extracted from fresh, frozen or dried cannabis flower using solvents like butane, CO2, ethanol or isopropyl alcohol. If done properly, the result is a soupy mix containing all the valuable cannabinoids without the unwanted plant material and chlorophyll. The solvents are then purged, and a sticky cannabis concentrate commonly known as wax, budder, shatter, or butane hash oil (BHO) is left over.
Depending on how the solvent mix was purged, the consistency of the end product (concentrate or extract) can be anything from a sticky oil or wax to a brittle, glass-like slab of ‘shatter’. There are also what is known as “THC distillates”, a cannabis concentrate oil that offers unprecedented purity and is produced without using solvents. It’s what you’ll typically find in vape pens or cannabis e-juice.
Dabbing presents a consumption method that has been around for more than a decade but has recently become popular due in part to the increased availability and popularity of high-quality cannabis concentrates. Dabs offer heavy-handed effects due to the potency of the cannabis concentrates.
How to dab
Before you get down to business, you’ll want to make sure you have all your gear and accessories in order.
What you’ll need:
Cannabis extract: Concentrates include budder, wax, shatter, rosin, or distillate
Dab rig: This is a specialized water pipe or bong meant for dabbing concentrates
Nail or E-nail: This is the part of your dab rig that you’ll heat up and then apply your chosen concentrate to for vaporization. Nails can be made from ceramic, quartz or titanium. There are also expensive ‘e-nails’ available that keep your nail heated to a chosen temperature
Dome: This is a glass hood that you place around the nail to trap vapour and help funnel it into the dab rig. ‘Dome-less nails’ are also available and very common. E-nails are almost always dome-less
Dab tool (dabber): This is a slim, often pointed tool used to separate, pick up and apply an individual dab to the heated nail. Usually made from glass, metal, ceramic or titanium
Carb Cap: Used to trap heat and improve convection as your concentrate vaporizes. Especially important for dome-less nails
Torch: You’ll want something to quickly heat up your nail and a lighter just won’t do it. Crème Brulee torches work fine, but a larger, more powerful butane torch will heat up your nail faster
Now that you’re ready to dab – here’s how to do it
Step 1: Ensure you have all your materials ready to go, there’s water in your dab rig and that your torch is working.
Step 2: Once you have everything you need in place, you’ll start by portioning out a small piece of extract – your ‘dab’. This is done with the dab tool, with which you’ll also pick up your dab when you’re ready to apply it to the heated nail.
Start with a small dab, no bigger than the size of a grain of rice and increase the dose as you see fit. It’s better to take a small dab then to cough your lungs out because it was too big.
Step 3: Fire up your torch and touch the flame to your nail to begin heating it. Heat evenly and pay attention which way the flame is pointing so you don’t torch something you didn’t intend. As you continue to apply heat, you’ll begin to see a reddish-orange glow coming from the nail as it gets hot. Once the nail has a uniform glow, shut off the torch and let the nail cool.
Step 4: It’s a good idea to let the hot nail lose some temperature so you don’t burn your dab. The rate at which your nail cools depends largely on its size or thickness and whether it’s made from quartz, ceramic or titanium.
Step 5: Get comfortable in front of your dab rig, put your lips to the mouthpiece of your dab rig and apply the dab directly to the nail inside the dome. Then immediately begin to inhale slowly as you swirl the tip of your dab tool on the nail to ensure you get all of your dab vaping.
Step 6: As you’re inhaling the dab, grab your carb cap and place it over top of the nail or opening in the dome to slow the airflow and keep the convection going. You’ll want to periodically (and quickly) lift the carb cap to allow a bit of air into the chamber. You’ll notice your dab puff up and provide more vapour for you to inhale. A carb cap is extremely important for low temp dabbing to ensure you get the most out of a dab.
The temperature at which you take dabs should be viewed as a spectrum. That’s because the cannabinoids and terpenes all begin to decarboxylate and burn off at different temperatures. Too low a temp and you don’t vaporize properly, but too high and you’re burning your dab. There’s no real right or wrong dabbing temperature as a lot of it comes down to personal preference.
315-450°F is low temp dabbing territory and will keep you in the sweet spot for vaping all the cannabinoids and terpenes while providing maximum flavour. You won’t be getting a ton of vapour at this temp but hits will be smooth. Your dab will also be vaping, with no combustion (burning) happening.
A medium temp dab at around 450-600°F is a good midway point for dabbing. In this temperature range, your dab will be both combusting and vaping, so you’ll get a heavy hit of both vapour and smoke. Your hit will be a bit harder on the lungs, so go easy if you’re prone to coughing, but the high will go straight to your head. The flavour of your hit will still be strong as well.
Dabbing at 600-900°F puts you into high temp dabbing territory. At this temp, you’ll be more combusting your concentrate than vaping it, and while you will get a satisfying hit, it can often be very harsh on your lungs with heavy coughing almost inevitable. A lot of the flavour will also be lost, so while your dab will be effective, it won’t be very smooth or taste as good as it could.
Anything higher than 900°F and you’re burning your dab. There’s no need to dab this hot so just don’t do it.
An e-nail is the best way to precisely set your dabbing temperature, but if you don’t have the funds for one of those, you can purchase a far cheaper laser thermometer to check the temp of your heated nail before you take a hit.
Worth considering as well is the potency of the extracts or concentrates used in dabbing. Often testing between 60-90% THC, dabs will get you really stoned, really fast. This makes it easy to exceed your tolerance and cause you to feel rather uncomfortable. You can’t die from a cannabis overdose, but it’s still best to start with small dabs and build up slowly as you get comfortable with how they affect you.
It’s important to note that dabbing extracts is still a relatively new thing, meaning that there is no real research data available into the effects of long-term dabbing so please use responsibly.