Whether you use cannabis recreationally, medically, or not at all, chances are you’ve heard of dabbing or dabs. What was once a relatively unknown niche in an ever-growing legal market has since become a cultural phenomenon, generating an entire subculture in its wake. Many believe that concentrates will soon surpass the sales volume of traditional cannabis flower marketwide.
Dabs have become extremely popular because they allow cannabis users to get an extremely potent hit of cannabis almost instantly. While this is great news for many, it can be extremely helpful for medical users who need a strong dose of cannabis quickly. For example, patients suffering from extreme pain may need a strong dose of THC or CBD very quickly to control their symptoms, and dabbing offers them a fast acting alternative which smoking, vaping, or eating cannabis simply don’t provide.
Dabbing has gotten a lot of negative attention from the media, especially across the US.
One of the biggest concerns with dabbing is the safety of their production. The first misconception is the most frustrating, because it confuses the dangers of illegal amateur extraction with the dangers of extracts themselves. Cannabis extracts that are manufactured with light hydrocarbons such as butane or propane require the use of closed-loop systems and extreme safety measures. Manufacturing concentrates illegally by resorting to the use of open-source extraction techniques (i.e. “open blasting”) is highly dangerous and potentially lethal.
The fact that amateurs have attempted to undertake this process at home has resulted in explosions, serious injury, and occasionally death. This has led to news articles stigmatizing this entire culture, with headlines such as “Dabbing: A New Explosive Trend.” Professionally made concentrates are neither explosive nor lethal, and there is never an excuse for extracts to be made otherwise.
The second misconception with dabbing is that the practice necessitates dangerous tools, most notably blow torches. There are numerous ways to heat a dab, including e-nails, which omit the necessity of using a torch and help prevent injury.
That said, when using a standard nail (one of the most popular surfaces to dab on), a torch is generally used to heat the nail. Torches do require a degree of mindfulness and can be mildly dangerous if used irresponsibly. However, any person who is capable of using a cooking stove should be able to use a torch without harming themselves. Hot nails can cause burns, but the same can be said of any stovetop burner in a kitchen. In this way, torches and nails are no more or less dangerous than cooking dinner.
The third misconception lies in the idea that all concentrates are created equal. “Dabs,” an umbrella term for all cannabis concentrates, can refer to a number of cannabis-derived substances that have been mechanically separated (such as kief or dry sift, cold water hash, and rosin), as well as cannabis extracts, which use a chemical solvent (such as butane, propane, CO2, or even ethanol winterization) to strip active biomolecules and essential oils from cannabis.
In short, not all concentrates are extracts, and not all extracts contain meaningful amounts of potentially dangerous chemicals. To understand dabbing safety, it’s essential to recognize that the only concentrates that pose a health threat are those that not only employ chemicals for the purpose of extraction, but that also retain high levels of those chemical compounds when the extraction process is complete. Generally speaking, the only concentrates that fall into this category are those that are made cheaply, improperly, or by amateur extractors.
The fourth misconception surrounding dabbing revolves around the safety of inhaling the vapor from the cannabis concentrates themselves. The question of whether or not dabs are harmful to one’s health has been heavily scrutinized, yet it’s still frustratingly difficult for newcomers to find accurate information.
In order to address concerns like “is dabbing bad for my lungs” or “is dabbing bad for my brain,” a few things must be noted. First and foremost, all concentrates contain cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes. These have never been proven to negatively impact brain or lung function in adult users.
The final concern around dabbing is that concentrates are significantly stronger than cannabis flowers. This is absolutely true. Alleviating this concern is as easy as understanding that inexperienced dabbers should dose much smaller amounts when trying concentrates for the first time; cannabis concentrates are to dry herb as hard liquor is to beer.
That said, the side effects of dabbing overconsumption are far less dire than those linked to overconsumption of hard alcohol. In fact, they’re not so different from the effects of eating too much sugar – lethargy and mild nausea, occasionally accompanied by a brief period of paranoia.
On the other hand, it is also good to realise that the arrival of cannabis concentrates such as dabs have given many patients a better medicine. Whatever you think and do, when trying your hands on dabbing, make sure to be well informed. Be careful, but enjoy!