Dabbing, a process in which is heat is applied to certain cannabis concentrates to create an inhale-able vapor, has ballooned in popularity over the past several years, in large part because of its capacity to produce an extra-powerful high.
There are a few different ways to dab. In some ways, dabbing is like a cross between vaporization and smoking. Low temperatures can vaporize cannabis concentrates while high temperatures will combust the oils.
It’s not uncommon for plant and animal oils to become rancid when heated to high temperatures. Even oils commonly considered safe, like coconut oil, can release very small amounts of the toxin acetaldehyde when heated to 446℉ (220℃). Acetaldehyde is a class-one carcinogen, meaning that it has been shown to cause cancer in the body.
New research suggests that an increasingly popular hot method of cannabis consumption may pose more health risks than other methods on a chemical level.
A study published in the American Chemical Society’s ACS Omega found that a method of using cannabis known as dabbing may expose users to elevated toxin levels as compared to other methods. In a study of how the chemicals in concentrated cannabis break down under heat, Portland State University researchers Jiries Meehan-Atrash, Wentai Luo, and Robert M. Strongin discovered that concentrates exposed to the high heat common to dab setups produced elevated levels of carcinogenic and toxic compounds.
As the study noted, the principal product used in dabbing is butane hash oil (BHO), which is extracted from cannabis by adding and removing butane, and can resultingly have an active THC content of up to 90%–easily several times the amount you might find in regular dispensary-quality cannabis flower, a.k.a bud.
The process of making hash oil also is dangerous because it uses highly flammable and potentially explosive butane as a solvent to extract active ingredients from marijuana leaves and flowers.
“The higher temperatures go, the more risk that (users) will be inhaling things that could be harmful”
The team also explained, “Different nuances in its processing can lead to slightly different consistencies, which take on terms such as shatter, budder, crumble, pull-and-snap, wax, and so on.”
How to make sure your dab occurs at a safe temperature
If you’re using an e-nail, it’s as simple as setting your temperature in the safe zone. If you’re using a torch, you can dial in the target time for a quartz banger using a watch or digital timer. Heat up the surface of the banger evenly until the bottom of it just starts to glow orange, but do not let the entire thing get glowing hot. Wait for 60 seconds and then take a test dab. Chances are it will be a little too cold, unless the heating element is very thick. Now you can dial down the cooling time to 45 seconds, then 30, and maybe even 15 seconds for smaller ones — whatever gets you a full, flavorful dab without leaving burn marks on the glass is just about right.
And if you happen to have a “heat gun” laying around, feel free to use that for extra precision, but it’s not strictly necessary.
Even the study mentions the availability of technology and techniques — e-nails and low temp timers — but insists most people are still taking hot dabs.
Use of an electrically controlled nail (“e-nail”) allows temperature control; but, more commonly, users heat the nail (made of titanium, ceramic, or quartz) with a crème brulee torch and have no temperature control. A minority of dabbers use lower temperatures to preserve flavor, whereas a majority use higher temperatures to assure complete vaporization with no wasted material. E-nail users posting online cite a preferred temperature around 710 degrees.
You should embrace low temp dabs. There are several benefits to low-temperature dabbing. While low-temp dabbing may not leave you as elevated as quickly, low-temperature dabs are more flavorful, less irritating to the tissues of the lungs and throat, and offer little risk of burning your cannabis oil.
Low-temperature dabbing also reduces the risk of inhaling toxic compounds that become present when cannabis oils are heated to high temperatures. Low-temp dabbing is more akin to vaporization, which is considered the safest way to inhale cannabis.
At low temperatures, you get a truer sense of the taste and overall effects of an individual strain. Some terpenes burn off closer to the 300℉ (148℃) mark. The higher the temperature, the fewer flavors will be present in your concentrate.