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.
How to smoke wax
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- What is wax?
- What are the different ways to smoke wax?
- Consistency matters: Choosing the right tool
- Step-by-step: How to smoke wax
- Step-by-step: How to take a knife dab
What is wax?
“Wax” is a type of cannabis concentrate named primarily for its appearance and texture. Somewhere between gooey, liquid concentrates like hash oil and solid, brittle concentrates like shatter, wax has an opaque appearance and a thick but malleable, wax-like texture.
“Wax” is a type of cannabis concentrate named primarily for its appearance and texture. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Depending on variables such as extraction technique, moisture, and temperature, wax can take on a number of different forms ranging from more liquid, runny wax to more solid, brittle wax. The runny end of the wax spectrum includes products like “budder,” which is known for being very malleable and squishy, almost to the point of being a very thick oil. The solid end of the wax spectrum includes things like “crumble” and “honeycomb,” which are starting to approach the texture and consistency of something like shatter.
Regardless of these differences, all wax concentrates fall somewhere in between oil and shatter. For many consumers, this middle ground makes wax especially easy to work with—not so fragile that you run the risk of breaking it into tons of small and hard to use pieces while also not being so runny that it’s difficult to scoop up and maneuver onto a dab nail.
What are the different ways to smoke wax?
Wax’s unique and easy-to-use consistency makes it a very versatile concentrate. You can smoke wax in numerous ways, including:
- On a dab rig.
You can smoke wax by using a dab rig. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
- Using a nectar collector.
- In a wax vape pen or another concentrate vaporizer.
- Added to a joint, spliff, or blunt.
You can add wax to a joint, spliff, or blunt. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
- Combined with flower in a bowl.
- Using a rudimentary knife dab.
Consistency matters: Choosing the right tool
Within the world of concentrates, there are numerous consumption methods, like taking a dab or vaping. While you can always find a way to make any of these methods work for virtually any type of concentrate, certain consumption methods tend to work better for certain types of concentrates. For example, hard and brittle concentrates like shatter can be easier to drop onto a hot nail than super runny oils, while oils can sometimes be much easier to use in a vape pen than a solid chunk of shatter. As much as possible, try to match your concentrate with whatever consumption method makes it easy to vaporize.
Step-by-step: How to smoke wax
Use your blow torch to heat the nail to the desired temperature. Remember, hotter temperatures produce harder-hitting vapors that also tend to be a bit harsh on the flavor, while lower temperatures tend to give you gentler clouds of vapor with much purer flavors.
Spread the wax around the hot nail and start drawing in through the mouthpiece. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Once you’ve got the nail heated to the right temperature, use a dabber to scoop up a small blob of wax. Spread the wax around the hot nail and start drawing in through the mouthpiece. If you’re using a carb cap, place it over the top of the nail while continuing to draw in with your lungs. When you’re ready to take your hit, lift the carb cap and clear the vapor from the rig.
To consume wax with a nectar collector, be sure you’ve got a clean surface on which to spread the wax. Since you’ll be dealing with high temperatures, be sure it’s also a heat resistant surface. The best options are trays or dishes designed specifically for this type of dabbing. Typically, these products are made out of quartz, glass, silicone, or other similar material.
Start by placing a small dab of wax onto the tray or dish. Now use a blowtorch to heat the nail of your nectar collector to the desired temperature. When it’s hot, put your lips to the mouthpiece, begin to inhale, and drag the hot nail across the wax. As soon as the nail touches the wax, it will instantly vaporize. Be sure you’re pulling in with your lungs the entire time so you inhale all the vapor without letting any escape.
The process of dabbing with an e-nail is almost the same as consuming wax with a regular dab rig. The key difference is, instead of manually heating your nail with a blow torch, you’ll use an e-nail to electronically heat your nail.
Once your rig is set up and ready to go, use your e-nail’s interface to input the temperature you want. As soon as the nail is hot enough, scoop up a dab of wax and spread it onto the nail as you begin to inhale. If you’re using a carb cap, place it over the nail. When you’re ready to take a hit, remove the carb cap and clear the chamber.
There are numerous different concentrate vaporizers currently on the market, and the specific steps for using them varies slightly depending on the vaporizer you’re using. So be sure you familiarize yourself with your vaporizer before using it.
The process of smoking wax with a vaporizer involves dropping a dab of wax into a heating chamber or spreading it onto heating coils. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
In general, though, the process of smoking wax with a vaporizer involves dropping a dab of wax into a heating chamber or spreading it onto heating coils. From there, you’ll turn the vaporizer on, input the temperature you want, let the device heat up, and then use the mouthpiece to inhale the vapor being produced inside the device.
Step-by-step: How to take a knife dab
What are knife dabs?
Knife dabs are a rudimentary method for consuming concentrates. In general, this should be considered a last ditch effort if you have no other way to dab. The process involves heating metal knives on a stove or with a blow torch until they’re red hot, using those knives to vaporize wax, and then inhaling the vapor.
What you need
Here’s what you need to take a knife dab:
- Two metal knives.
- Stove or blow torch.
- Plastic bottle.
- Scissors or knife for cutting the plastic bottle.
Step 1: Make your mouthpiece
Before doing anything else, you need to make a mouthpiece. The simplest way to do this is to cut a plastic bottle in half. Discard the bottom half but keep the top half. This will serve as a funnel for capturing and inhaling the vapor as soon as it comes off the knives.
Step 2: Get your dab ready
Scoop up a small chunk of wax and place it on the end of one of your knives.
Step 3: Heat your knife
Heat the tip of the other knife by either placing it on a hot stovetop or by hitting it with a blow torch. Either way, heat it until it’s glowing red. Once it’s there, remove it from the heat and let it cool slightly—you don’t want it to be too hot or you’ll scorch the wax.
Step 4: Vaporize the wax
Put the mouthpiece in your mouth and hold it there with your lips or teeth. Now, in one hand, hold the knife with the wax on it. In your other hand, hold the hot knife. With the mouthpiece hovering above the knives, carefully place the tip of the hot knife on top of the other knife, sandwiching the wax in between them. The hot knife will instantly vaporize the wax. As the vapor rises, use the mouthpiece to suck up all the vapor. Repeat the process as much as you like. If the hot knife cools down too much, simply reheat it and start over again.
How to smoke wax Copy article link to clipboard. Link copied to clipboard. Contents What is wax? What are the different ways to smoke wax? Consistency matters: Choosing