Emma Stone

If there’s one thing that often overwhelms new cannabis users, it’s the sheer breadth of ways in which the plant can be consumed and used. Cannabis users can inhale the plant, eat and drink the plant, and even topically apply cannabis to the body.

One inhalation method that’s rapidly growing in popularity is dabbing, due to its ability to deliver intense effects in a very short amount of time

colored dab rig
Brian\Adobe Stock

In this article, we’ll demystify dabbing so you can understand how dabbing works; why weed users love it; and the potential risks associated with this method of cannabis consumption.

What is dabbing and how does it work

Dabbing is a cannabis slang word that refers to the inhalation of vaporized cannabis concentrates.

Dabbing is unique from other types of cannabis inhalation because it utilizes concentrated cannabis products that contain the highest THC levels. THC, or delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, is the cannabinoid that’s responsible for the plant’s intoxicating, euphoric effects. Dabbing is most popular among seasoned cannabis users who are seeking an intense high that lands in a short time.

dabbing use

People who dab select their preferred form of cannabis concentrate or dab, such as cannabis oil, budder, live resin, sauce shatter, wax, sugar wax, crumble, taffy, terp sauce, or honeycomb

Sugar Wax
dab suger
Martin\Adobe Stock
dabbing shatter
Jonathan\Adobe Stock
dab crumble
Jonathan\Adobe Stock
dabbing honeycomb
Mark\Adobe Stock

The chosen dab is then heated using a device specifically designed for dabbing, like a dab rig (which is a type of bong), an e-rig (a type of electronic bong that can control temperature), or a vaporizer. Due to the rapid way in which vapor passes from the lungs into the bloodstream, dabbing can produce effects almost instantaneously.

When did dabbing become popular?

Like many elements of cannabis pop culture, the origin of dabbing is contested

Some purists argue that the true origins of dabbing can be dated back to hashish, which is a type of compressed, concentrated resinous cannabis block rich in trichomes. Hashish is hundreds of years old, hailing from Northern Africa and the Middle East, and could be fairly considered one of the earliest forms of cannabis concentrate.

dabbing popular
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However, more modern forms of cannabis concentrates emerged in the 1970s, due to the innovations of a man named Ronald Stark. Stark was the chief chemist of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, an Orange County-based collective of drug users and distributors who were also called the Hippie Mafia by the police. During his time in the Brotherhood, Stark developed BHO (butane hash oil), which could be considered the foundation of modern cannabis concentrate.

BHO was developed to concentrate hashish, so it would be easier and more efficient to traffic the substance from Afghanistan to the US. Following Stark, other intrepid innovators experimented with cannabis concentrates, many of which were developed using at-home chemistry that sometimes resulted in fire or even explosions. The first informal dab rigs were cannabis concentrates placed on knives that had been heated until red hot, following which the user would lean over and inhale.

Dabbing has steadily grown in popularity in recent years and there’s now an incredible array of cannabis concentrates ideal for dabbing. There’s also a diverse range of devices that make it easier than ever to dab, though some people still use hot knives!

Dabbing Benefits

For dabbing enthusiasts, the rapid onset of effects (or in simpler terms, getting seriously high super quickly) represents the main benefit of dabbing. Inhalation has long been recognized as the fastest way to experience the effects of weed, and dabbing accelerates that process further as the cannabis is extra potent when in concentrated form. For users of medical cannabis, dabbing can enable the rapid targeting of symptoms.

Another unique advantage of dabbing is that it is arguably less toxic than smoking weed.

Dabbing involves the vaporization of cannabis concentrate. Vaporized cannabis is heated to a lower temperature than smoking, which uses combustion. Research tells us that inhaling vaporized cannabinoids creates significantly less carbon monoxide and other harmful by-products than smoking weed.

Finally, another benefit of dabbing is the enhanced flavor profile. Dabbing boasts more intense flavors and aromas than other forms of cannabis consumption because the active components of the plant are concentrated. Concentrates that are rich in terpenes, for example, deliver particularly aromatic profiles. Some dabbing enthusiasts dab specifically because they enjoy savoring the intense, distinctive flavor profiles of cannabis concentrates.

Dabbing Drawbacks

Ironically, the factor that represents one of the major benefits of dabbing also symbolizes one of its major drawbacks. The intense and rapid high associated with dabbing can be overwhelming. As such, dabbing can trigger issues such as a racing heart, myocardial injury, temporary psychosis, severe anxiety, confusion, paranoia, and even seizures that may last for weeks. Anecdotal evidence suggests that more potent weed can linger in the body for longer.

A study published in Addictive Behaviors also found that dabbing may also lead to higher tolerance of cannabis, as well as possibly increasing the likelihood of addiction, dependence and withdrawal symptoms.

Another risk associated with dabbing is the process used to create cannabis concentrates.

While recent technological advances have seen the production of concentrates become cleaner, there’s a possibility of residual chemical contamination when cannabis is processed and solvents are used to refine the product. Homemade concentrates or those sourced from sketchy suppliers may harbor the residue of solvents, pesticides, or other harmful toxins. For this reason, it’s super important to purchase concentrates from trustworthy brands that carry out third-party testing.

Three common ways to dab

As dabbing has evolved, so too have the ways users can dab. It’s important to note that all of these devices can reach extremely high temperatures. Many people choose to dab within the moderate temperature range of 500 to 600F, as this allows the onset of a relatively quick high with the release of some flavors and aromas. Hotter dabs deliver immediate and more intense effects, while cooler dabs offer a more flavorful, gradual experience

Here are three most popular methods of dabbing.

1. Dab rigs

The most common way to dab is using a dab rig, or a water pipe that heats the concentrate then cools and filters the subsequent vapor through water, similar to a bong. Dab rigs are typically made of glass, with the dab (or concentrate) heated on a “nail”.

Photo Courtesy of Pulsar
2. E-rig or electric dab rig

An e-rig works in the same way as a standard dab rig, but boasts one major point of difference – an electronic heating system is used to heat the nail. This allows greater control over temperature, which enables cannabis connoisseurs to exercise more precision with heating their concentrates and preserving flavor (terpenes in concentrates are notoriously volatile, becoming damaged at high heats). E-rigs are ideal for flavor-rich concentrates such as live resin.

ERig Pulsar
Photo Courtesy of Pulsar
3. Vaping

Vaping represents a simple, straightforward and efficient way to enjoy cannabis concentrates.

Certain vaping devices have been specially designed for dabs and don’t use cartridges, so you can load the dab directly onto the heating coil. Like e-rigs, vaporizers also allow temperature control, which is ideal for more sensitive concentrates that you don’t want to burn. Vaporizers also enable you to dab discreetly on the go.

dab vape
Ayehab\Adobe Stock
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