What Is Dabbing? And Should You Do It?
The First Time I Tried It, I Couldn’t Believe How High I Got
I have never seen someone smoke crack, but the first time I saw someone smoking a dab, I definitely thought that’s what they were doing. The process involved a blowtorch, a metal piece, and some kind of waxy substance. The smoker took a huge hit and was immediately knocked into the kind of stuttering high usually reserved for drugs more illicit than pot.
After being assured it was really just cannabis, I decided to try it. My friend put the bong in front of me, lit his blowtorch, and started heating up the metal piece that had replaced the bong’s normal glass bowl. Once it got red hot, he turned the torch off, let the metal cool for a bit, and then told me to inhale as he used a scalpel to put a small drop of honey-colored concentrate onto the metal piece.
The concentrate immediately turned to vapor and, as the bong bubbled away, I inhaled a surprisingly clean hit with an herbal and piney aroma. It tasted like that beautiful smell you inhale when you open a fresh package of weed, a smell that is often compromised during smoking because of the butane in your lighter or the ash from your joint’s rolling paper.
And it got me high as fuck.
I really didn’t understand what a dab was at the time, but I definitely enjoyed it. That was a couple years ago in Colorado, just after they legalized cannabis. Since then, dabs have gotten only more popular, both in states where it’s legal, like Washington and Colorado, and in the parts of the country that haven’t come around the corner yet.
Dabs are being demonized as a dangerously powerful drug in those states where cannabis is still illegal, while many smokers in legal states just scoff at dabbing as a sophomoric way to get higher than you need to, akin to shotgunning a beer.
But dabs are actually more interesting than they get credit for.
Most evidence points to them being far healthier than the standard way of smoking weed (but until the DEA reschedules pot, it’s very difficult to make definitive health claims about cannabis). The high you get off a dab is quicker and cleaner than conventional smoking methods, and cannabis concentrates (the substance that makes dabbing possible) promise more innovation than any other sector of the legal industry.
To the ho-humming pot smoker from the 1960s claiming weed doesn’t need innovation, well, those foot-long joints of Cheech & Chong are all the evidence necessary that your weed needed improvement. Thanks to modern strains that are 30 times more powerful than 1960s weed, and modern concentrates that can be 90 times more powerful, we no longer need to inhale a quarter of an ounce of burning plant material to get really high. That is a good thing.
Walk into any of Washington’s recreational weed stores, and you’ll see a few display cases dedicated to products that look like a mix between honey, hard candy, and hash. This is the world of concentrates, which is attracting people of all ages, according to Sarah Bukantz, the store manager for Uncle Ike’s in White Center.
“More experienced smokers who reach a higher tolerance see that smoking flower doesn’t get them as high,” Bukantz said. “They are looking for ways to smoke less and get higher.”
So what do you need to dab?
The traditional dab rig setup includes a water pipe with a metal piece, called a nail, replacing the normal glass bowl. The metal allows the nail to go over 500 degrees Fahrenheit without cracking. You’ll also need a metal utensil to collect your concentrate and put it on that heated nail. The traditional setup requires a blowtorch to heat up the nail, but there are two ways to get around having an open flame in your living room.
First, you can buy an electronic nail, which plugs into your wall and heats itself to a specified temperature. These can be pricey, starting around $100 and getting more expensive if you want more control over the temperature. Dustin Choi, an extract specialist at Suncliff in Sodo, said regular dabbers should look into electronic nails.
“E-nail kits are a good investment. I have one at home, and you can really dial it down,” Choi said. “You can do a low-temp dab on the e-nail so you’re not burning your throat.”
The other option is to buy a dab pen. They are similar to e-cigarettes or vape pens but have been modified to take single hits of solid concentrates. Dab pens will run you $60 to $80 and will replicate most aspects of the traditional dab rig while also being portable and far more discreet.
So now that you have your dab setup, what are you going to put into it? That’s where things get a little bit more complicated.
The Future of Cannabis
Circanna, a cannabis processor in one of the many unassuming warehouses in Sodo, feels like a mix between a craft brewery and the research department of a pharmaceutical company. A friendly pit bull mutt wanders around the front half of the building, where young office workers type away at desks. Behind a keypad-locked door sits Circanna’s lab, where technicians in blue jeans and lab coats quietly work next to humming stainless-steel lab equipment.
Andrew Sorkin, the owner of Circanna, gave me a tour of the facility and tried to convince me to stop asking questions about THC.
“THC is the least interesting part of the plant, and it contributes the least to your experience being unique,” Sorkin said. “The difference between an exhilarating and uplifting experience or a sedating and relaxing experience is the stuff besides the THC.”
Sorkin was speaking about the hundreds of other active chemicals in cannabis, including cannabinoids and terpenes. Cannabinoids, like THC, interact with receptors in our brains that can give them psychoactive properties. Terpenes are aromatic compounds created by all plants, and the ones in cannabis are thought to have a profound effect on how our brain’s cannabinoid receptors process THC.
Growers have been breeding cannabis to increase specific cannabinoids and terpenes for decades. Think of the high-CBD medical strains that won’t really get you high, or strains like Lemon Skunk, a heavy sativa bud that has such high limonene terpene content that it could easily be mistaken for smelling like fresh lemon zest. But it’s the world of concentrates that offers a future of manipulating what cannabinoids and terpenes we consume.
Labs like Sorkin’s—there are 75 across the state, according to 502 Data—use machines that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to extract and then refine all of those active chemicals, allowing them to separate specific compounds and make new ratios and combinations to create certain types of recreational highs or specific medical uses. The techniques behind these concentrates are still in the early stages—extraction specialists have been able to work legally for only the last two years—but the concentrate market is already being differentiated based on quality. Unfortunately, there’s little standardization of names or labels in the concentrate industry, making it harder for newer consumers to know which concentrates are better.
Go dab shopping and you’ll hear words like honeycomb, shatter, pull ‘n’ snap, Rick Simpson Oil, butane oil, CO2 wax, water hash, live resin, rosin, the clear, and hash oil, to name a few. An experienced budtender will be able to walk you through what is going on with each concentrate, but not all budtenders know the products they’re selling.
Concentrates, by definition, are heavily processed goods, so you should be shopping with as much knowledge as possible. Ask your budtender these basic questions to navigate through their selection. If they can’t answer them confidently, don’t buy their products.
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“What strain was used for this concentrate?”
The only way to produce a top-shelf concentrate is to start with good weed. It doesn’t need to be a picturesque nug—it’s all going to be ground up and shot into a pressurized machine—but the starting bud will determine a lot of the final product.
“What solvent was used on this concentrate?”
Almost all concentrates use some kind of solvent to separate the cannabinoids and terpenes from the rest of the bud’s plant material. The classic example is butter—heat crushed up cannabis in butter, strain out the plant material, and you have THC-laced butter ready to be baked or spread on anything. Butter is effective for the home concentrate maker, but the chemists working on modern concentrates opt for more efficient solvents like butane, propane, ethyl alcohol, or carbon dioxide.
Rosin is one of the solvent-free concentrates available on the market. It is made by heating and squeezing the resinous sap out of flower buds (often with a hair straightener on the black market). This solvent-free process eliminates any need for more refining (see below). Don’t confuse rosin with “live resin” or “loud resin,” which do use solvents (see about that naming thing?).
“Was this concentrate refined or distilled?”
Extraction is usually the first of multiple steps when creating concentrates. If a petroleum-based solvent was used, like butane or propane, the lab will need to further refine that solvent out of the concentrate. Further refining or distilling of the concentrate will also increase its strength and certain flavor profiles.
“When you look at the difference between your bottom shelf and your single barrel whiskey alcohol, it’s the preparation that went into it. So when you’re looking at your distilled concentrates, they’re taking more time for the experience of the smoothness of your concentrate smoke,” said David Desroches, a manager at Vela Cannabis in Sodo.
Don’t Get Too High
There’s some irony in dabbing—it’s a clinical way to administer massive amounts of THC extremely quickly, but most of the people who dab regularly do so moderately. It’s common to see people taking small dabs, say .05 gram or about the size of a cannabis seed. If you’re using a 70 percent THC concentrate, you’re getting 35 milligrams of THC per .05 gram hit, or about three average dose edible candies. Frequent dabbers will likely take multiple dabs of this size, so they could ultimately be ingesting more than 100 milligrams of THC.
If you are trying dabs for the first time, you should certainly use restraint. A smaller dab will let you enjoy the smoothness and flavors without getting too high. “A lot of dabs that people get the first time are too big, so start small,” Sorkin said.
But once you have a feel for dabs, I’d recommend finding a time when you have absolutely nothing you need to do and nowhere to go. Sit down on the couch and rip a good-size dab of top-shelf concentrate—and you’ll be as high as you’ve ever been.
I have never seen someone smoke crack, but the first time I saw someone smoking a dab, I definitely thought that's what they were doing. The process involved a blowtorch, a metal piece, and some kind of waxy substance. The smoker took a huge hit and was immediately knocked into the kind of stuttering high usually reserved for drugs more illicit than pot. After being assured it was really just cannabis, I decided to try…
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