What Are Dabs? Ultimate Guide to Dabs

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Cannabis culture marches forward yearly and with legalization and medical marijuana laws changing constantly, the march forward comes more quickly. No recent innovation in cannabis culture has been more impactful than dabs, or cannabis concentrates. This has left a lot of people asking, just what are dabs?

While many hardcore cannabis enthusiasts are saying right now, “what, dabs aren’t new,” there are still so many people that don’t understand what dabs even are. Even within the weed smoking community, there is still a lot of misinformation and confusion about dabs, wax, and other cannabis concentrates. Dabs are a decade old at this point but are still not necessarily in the mainstream quite yet.

Here at Red Eye Chronicle, we’re helping you understand everything there is to know about dabs so that you are more educated in your next session.

Dabsnoun – a highly concentrated form of cannabis. Extracted in some way from traditional cannabis nugs or plant matter. Dabs can reach THC levels ranging from 50%, all the way to even 95%.

Dabverb – to smoke cannabis concentrates, usually through a specialized bong, called a rig or vape.

Overview of Dabs

First things first, cannabis concentrates can have names such as; dabs, wax, shatter, oil, crumble, hash oil, and a whole host of other terms. These usually refer to the consistency of the concentrates, which can vary greatly across strains and extraction methods.

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Different type of cannabis concentrates (shatter, oil, crumble, and waxes)

The main benefit to smoking dabs is that they are much higher in THC than traditional cannabis. Some of the best nugs can clock in around 20% THC and some, like Girl Scout Cookies, have been tested as high as 28% THC! Your average sample of wax is coming in around 70%, give or take a bit. Whereas the most potent concentrates, like The Clear, have been said to reach up to 96%

Depending on the consistency of the dabs, certain methods may work better than others for smoking. For example, crumble or oil may work better than shatter in certain styles of weed vapes (make an article about this) and shatter is usually best to smoke out of a dab rig.

Dabs Vs Weed

While both are cannabis and contain THC, dabs and weed can provide somewhat different experiences from every angle. Cannabis concentrates are derived completely from the cannabis plant, so essentially you are getting a very similar high when dabbing.

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One of the initial differences can be handling and storing cannabis concentrates, which can be more complicated for the new wax consumer. Cannabis concentrates are extremely sticky and volatile in terms of reacting to heat. If you leave your concentrate in the hot car, you will most likely know it when you open it back up. The wax won’t break down necessarily, but it can melt and become nearly like a sticky liquid like honey. This can vary greatly by the type of concentrate and may not happen for crumble or even some shatter.

I mentioned containers, the best thing to store wax and concentrates is between a specific parchment paper, PTFE, which is inert and will not leach into your wax. While many people use silicone containers, there has been some recent research that shows this is not necessarily the safest option. While 

Another key difference is the smell itself. While concentrate definitely tastes and smell like weed, they do not necessarily hang around in the same way weed does. Many people who smoke vapes find that people around them have no idea they are smoking weed unless it’s blown directly at them.

Also, as you can imagine, it takes far less shatter or wax to get you high, due to the high THC content in concentrates. This allows for the conservative smoker to be able to stretch wax far further than the average bag of weed. Granted, wax can cost significantly more than traditional nug.

The price of weed vs the price of wax is different, although similar in their variance depending on location. An average price of a gram of wax in a non-legal state is 50-70 dollars, with some being less or more depending on the strain, strength, region, and other factors.

Benefits of Smoking Dabs

The benefits of dabs can vary depending on the user. But, some overall benefits have been discussed previously. Portability, stealth, and high THC content. The high THC content is usually the main reason that people tend toward dabs.

For users who require cannabis as medicine, it can be a much more effective delivery system because of the densely concentrated nature of it. The patient is able to ingest less cannabis and have it act more potently, quicker.

How to Smoke Dabs

Taking a dab is at the core the most fun part of smoking dabs with your buddy. There are a few ways to accomplish it, the most popular being either a dab rig or wax vape. Both have their benefits and we are going to show you in detail how they work and help you increase your weed knowledge.

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Dab Rig with Quartz Banger. Torch for heating and container for storage

How to Take a Dab with a Dab Rig

Dab rigs can be a little confusing at first for the first time dabber. While they look mostly like a normal bong, the heating method is a little more advanced than just putting the lighter to a bowl. Dab rigs are also slightly different than normal bongs because they tend to be a little smaller and have more percolation features. These elements are because you don’t want a dab’s smoke to be as drawn out and aerated, like a traditional bong hit. If you need to figure out how to smoke wax without a rig, check out this guide.

The heating method for dabs are called nails and there is a variety of them that differ in materials and how they work. Most dab nails these days tend to be quartz, as it is the material that transfers the least taste. Quartz is a crystal that looks like glass, but it actually able to withstand higher temperatures and being heated and cooled many times. These nails are heated with a torch, as a lighter does not reach high enough temperatures consistently enough to heat the nail effectively.

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A quartz banger nail

Traditional nails were made of titanium and while they are the most durable nails, many people complain of altered flavor profiles with these nails. Ceramic is another popular nail material, although not quite as common as quartz and titanium and can vary in quality.

One of the newer advancements in dab nail design has been the banger style nails, which are more like a bucket that you heat up and are able to drop your dab into and get a nice even dab. These nails don’t require a dome and have the added benefit of being able to do much larger dabs from them.

How to Take a Dab with a Vaporizer

Vaporizers have become nearly ubiquitous at this point, due to their stealthy nature and portability. They look basically the same as normal nicotine vaporizers and therefore hard for anyone not in the know to realize you are smoking cannabis concentrates.

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Left: How a Vape Works. Right: Styles of cannabis vape coils and pens

Taking a dab with a vape is actually very easy. You load your concentrates into the cartridge, make sure the battery is turned on, press a button and start inhaling. How hard you need to inhale and how big a cloud you get can vary greatly depending on your wax and your vape.

There are a wide variety of styles and types of cannabis vaporizers, but at their core, they are all a battery and a heating element. The heating element is usually referred to as a cartridge or an atomizer. These heat the concentrates up to the right temperatures as to turn it into vapor, which can then be inhaled.

Many new wax smokers will get into dabs by way of vaporizers, as they tend to be easier to acquire and have less barrier to entry. That being said, it can still be very confusing when first starting out. There are a lot of types, styles, and brands that can lead to many new people spending a lot more than they necessarily need to on a weed vape. We will be working on a more comprehensive guide here at REC that should help answer these questions.

How to Take a Dab with a Nectar Collector

Another new innovation in portable dabbing has been the nectar collector. These tools are a straight piece of glass that have a titanium or quartz tip that is heated, similar to a normal dab nail. You then touch the tip directly to some wax and it vaporizes the concentrate that can then be inhaled.

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Nectar collectors can vary in size and portability but are great for dabbers on the go who may be going to an event like a music festival. You can carry a container of shatter, the small glass tube, and a mini torch and you have dabs with you at all time.

How to Take a Dab with an E-Nail

E Nails are not the most common tool and are mostly for the hardcore dabber. If you are around an enail, chances are the owner will show you how to use it. That being said, we are happy to offer some information about what they are and how they work.

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An Enail kit on a dab rig

An enail are an electric heating element that attaches to a banger or nail on a dab rig, allowing you to get the temperature extremely specific and consistent. An electronic box with a digital readout is used to control the temperature of the heating element and keep you in the perfect range. These tools are fantastic for sessions with friends and also getting the perfect low temp dabs that have great flavor but don’t waste wax.

Cannabis Concentrate Extraction Methods

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We have talked a lot about wax and shatter and how these concentrates are smoked. Let’s cover now how these cannabis concentrates come to be in the first place. Cannabis extraction is a deep and interesting topic that is hard to cover fully, even in a large guide. We plan to write many articles that dive into specific methods and types in the future as well.

Extraction is the process by which the THC and other cannabinoids are removed from the organic plant matter, producing a sticky substance that is denser in THC and other cannabinoids than normal buds.

There are multiple types of extraction processes and we strive to provide a significant amount of information for each method. If you are aware of any new, cutting edge extraction methods, please shoot us a message!

Solvent-Based Cannabinoid Extraction

Some of the most traditional methods of extracting cannabinoids from the cannabis plant are solvent-based extractions. These methods use a solvent, like butane or propane, to pass through the cannabis and absorb the THC and other cannabinoids. The solvent is then removed from the resulting liquid and you are left with dabs. As a warning; these methods can be extremely dangerous if performed improperly. Flammable solvent based extractions should be left to the professionals or highly skilled. Do not try this at home.

One of the top companies at the forefront of solvent-based cannabis extraction is Connoisseur Concentrates and their closed-loops system, Mr. Extractor. Their website is a wealth of information about high-level cannabis extraction.

Butane Hash Oil (BHO)

BHO is the real OG of the dabs space and is still the most common type of extraction process and much of the wax you will come in contact with is BHO unless otherwise stated. The process relies on passing butane through weed, which soaks up all the THC and CBD in the plant matter. You then purge the butane from the resulting mixture and are left with delicious dabs.

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BHO Extraction Process Diagram

The process may seem simple by that description, although it is anything but. There is certainly some caution for anyone buying and smoking wax, as well as trying to produce it themselves. Butane is a highly flammable liquid (it’s what’s in lighters”) and can be extremely dangerous if handled improperly or inhaled because of incorrect purging.

CO2 Hash Oil

CO2 extraction is an advanced method using a process called supercritical fluid extraction (SFD). With CO2-extracted cannabis concentrates, while it is still a type of solvent extraction, it is less dangerous than butane and requires less purging.

The SFD process and the science behind it are highly technical and scientific, so explaining should be left to the scientists, of which we certainly hope to have contribute to our site in the future. There is a very interesting and in-depth article on the real deal science behind it on High Times, which we highly recommend.

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CO2 Cannabis Extraction Setup

CO2 and the SFD process are able to not only create a cleaner concentrate but also preserve more of the natural flavor compounds found in cannabis. These flavor compounds are known as terpenes and they are essential oils that exist in many plants. These terpene hydrocarbons also give traditional cannabis the lovely smell and taste diversity among strains that most smokers are familiar with. This allows for CO2 extracted dabs to retain more of the specific flavor profile of the strain being concentrated.

Propane Hash Oil (PHO)

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Propane extraction is another form of producing cannabis concentrates with higher terpene density than traditional BHO. That being said, this method does still use a toxic and flammable solvent, propane, which is similar to butane and needs to be purged off completely and carefully.

Propane extraction is similar to CO2 in that it produces extremely flavorful concentrates. The science behind it has to do with the ability to purge at much lower temperature and therefore keeping more of the fragile terpene hydrocarbons intact. For this same reason, it’s also easier to get the wax more fully purged, keeping a low final PPM of the solvent in the final product.

Ethanol Hash Oil

Rounding out the solvent-based extraction methods is ethanol, which many extraction outfits believe to be one of the best. This advanced tactic utilizes ethanol, which is less combustible in this form than butane and yet still as efficient at pulling the cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant matter.

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Ethanol-extracted cannabis concentrate

Another benefit of ethanolic extraction is that the solvent is generally considered safe by the FDA and is commonly used as a food preservative in a wide range of applications. Butane does not share this same safety, which means that the residual butane is far more dangerous for consumption.

The ethanol extraction process is a little more involved and technical than some of the other methods, due to the polarity of the solvent. If you are looking to get into ethanol extraction, it would be wise to consult some of the companies pioneering these methods and glean advice from them or some of the resources online.

Solventless Cannabinoid Extraction

As dabs and cannabis concentrates began to take off, more people sought to find a way to produce them in a cleaner way, without relying on potentially dangerous petroleum products like butane. The solventless methods range in highly sophisticated to ingenious and have a wide breadth of potencies and flavor profiles.

Rosin Pressing

Rosin is one of the latest innovations in cannabis concentrates and sometimes seems almost too simple to be real. The rosin is produced by pressing 2 heated surfaces together around nugs of weed to flatten them out so tight that they produced a waxy substance.

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Rosin pressed from weed nugs

At first, this was accomplished by people at home using hair straighteners, much to their girlfriend’s dismay. But, in recent months, the industry has become more sophisticated with industrial-style presses that exert tons of pressure and produce much more efficient rosin.

Rosin is desirable because there is literally no processing, the nug is directly squeezed and the outcome is cleaned up right on the spot. This process leads to some of the cleanest and best-tasting wax that you can feel confident about ingesting without peril. One of the drawbacks to this method is yield, even when using a high powered industrial rosin press.

Water and Dry Ice Hash Dabs

Dry Ice and water extracted cannabis sound crazy, but it’s quite real and produces a high-quality hash product that also has no dangerous solvents. This hash creation method has been around for a long time, but a new wrinkle is turning into a waxy product that you can dab.

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Big pile of Dry Ice Hash

The way this extraction works is to cool the cannabis down and cause the trichomes to become more brittle, making them easier to separate from the rest of the plant matter. Once this is separated, you can turn it into wax by sifter through a much finer screen. When you filter properly, your yields will be lower but when lightly pressed, the hash will react like full melt wax that you can dab.

The water process can take longer, due to a long dry time from soaking the cannabis, this produces some of the cleanest concentrates out there. There is no danger of toxic or flammable solvent, there is simply water. A drawback to this process can also hurt some water soluble compounds within the cannabis and alter the end product.

Due to the long drying time of water and solubility issues, many of the extractors using this method have opted for dry ice. Dry ice is solid CO2 and brings the temperature of the cannabis much lower than frozen water ever could. This makes the separation of the trichomes and cannabis extremely easy and results in a better product.

Dangers of Dabs

Many new users of dabs, wax, shatter or any other cannabis concentrate will usually ask before, “is smoking dabs safe?”. At this point and the information that is out there, it is a totally justified question. But, much of what’s out there is misinformation, meant to influence teenagers again pot use.

The majority of misinformation around cannabis concentrates are from police and news agencies that have no idea about the substance or the high obtained from THC use. Any weed smoker knows that the “Reefer Madness” type of warnings about wax are probably just as true as they were for regular weed.

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But, that is not to say that there aren’t actual dangers of creating or ingesting cannabis concentrates. The first of which is not ingesting it, but extracting the cannabis itself. We spoke earlier about these dangers but will reiterate that here. When using highly combustible solvents, such as butane and propane, you will need to have a closed-loop system and take real precautions. These can be highly dangerous to you and anyone near it if these materials are not handled properly. Both solvents are odorless and invisible to the eye, so it’s very easy to make mistakes if you don’t know what you are doing.

As far as smoking wax, the dangers are similar to cannabis. If you need to accomplish a task and not a seasoned smoker, there may be an inability to focus or get motivated. If you can do this in your normal life with regular weed, chances are wax won’t be different. Additionally, the dangers of smoking any substance can do damage to your lungs and esophagus. While the long term effects of smoking cannabis concentrates have not been studied, it is still assumed that these are safer than inhaling cigarettes for example. The concentrated nature and smoking less can mean less total volume of smoke than normal cannabis, which can be beneficial also.

There are some dangers that have recently been brought to light as well, specifically relating to leftover pesticides in cannabis and the extracts. Some recent studies have shown that the unregulated nature of the industry has lead to a potentially dangerous outcome, as many of the pesticides could be harmful if heated and inhaled. There is a very good article in LA Weekly that covers this topic more in depth

Another point to consider is bad wax. If the concentrate is extracted by an amateur, the solvent may not be fully purged and you could be ingesting toxic chemicals. Most likely these will not harm you in the short term, but long term exposure in this way has yet to be studied.

Get Out and Dab!

Overall, any weed enthusiast who has not tried cannabis concentrates should absolutely take the opportunity if presented. As more states legalize and implement medical programs, concentrates have spread across the country. This should make it easier to come by for people in more remote places where concentrates may not have taken hold yet. Use some basic common sense and happy dabbing!

And once you have dirtied up that rig, go check out our guide on how to clean a dab rig!

Since you made it this far, here is a fun video of some comedians taking their first dabs from All Def Digital’s Youtube Channel