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Dabbing For Dummies

A definitive guide for those curious about smoking concentrates and how to do so properly.

By: Gazette Staff

Dabs are by far one of the most popular trends in the world of cannabis right now. As opposed to smoking cannabis flowers, dabbing lets you quickly vaporize cannabis concentrates. Sometimes called extracts, concentrates are made through a process of stripping out all the cannabinoids from cannabis plants. And because concentrates can have THC levels as high as 80%, dabbing can be one of the best ways to get an ultra-intense high or a powerful dose of medicine.

To tap into the power of dabbing you’ve got to have the right equipment and you’ve got to know what you’re doing. Just like our other beginner’s guides, this will walk you through everything you need to know about dabbing so you can see firsthand what all the hype is about.

What You’ll Need…

1. Cannabis concentrate: Wax, Shatter, oil, BHO, CO2, or solventless extracts like rosin will all work.

2. Water pipe: For dabbing, you’ll remove the glass bowl you usually use when you’re smoking and replace it with the nail.

3. Dabbing nail: Nails are typically ceramic, quartz, or titanium. Be sure you use one that fits your water pipe. Some nails require the use of a dome to trap the vapor before you inhale it. Other nails have holes in them that allow the vapor to move directly into the pipe.

4. Dome: Depending on how you’re dabbing, you might need a dome. This is usually a glass piece that slides over the top of the nail.

5. Blowtorch: A regular kitchen torch should do the job, but there’s nothing wrong with using a bigger, more powerful torch either.

6. Dabber or Wand: This is the tool that you use to actually pick up your concentrate and place it on the hot nail. They’re typically either glass, metal, or ceramic.

Shatter is what is referred to as very stable and glass like concentrates that more than likely will break into many pieces when dropped on a hard surface. Some shatter has some adhesive properties to it, while other kinds will be smooth to the touch.

Crumble has the driest consistency of all concentrates. Depending on how much it has been broken down, crumble should be able to break into desirable sized dabs before a session. Try to avoid using parchment paper and instead keep your crumble in a silicone or glass container with a lid.

Budder takes on the space between wax and crumble with a consistency that resembles peanut butter. Shatter eventually breaks down into budder with time and a little bit of heat. Budder can represent an abundance of terpenes, but can also mean that the material wasn’t purged enough.

Sometimes you’ll get concentrates that are are made with CO2 instead of Butane. This usually gives way to a slightly runny oil that tends to come in a syringe to guarantee practical application. You’ll probably want to keep oil in the syringe or a silicone container that you have lying around.

“We have been seeing an emergence of dabs over the last three years,” said John Stogner, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who co-authored a paper on the subject. He added, “At a minimum, dabs are four times as strong as a joint, and the high is administered all at once.”

Most marijuana joints have about 15 percent THC, while most hash oils have a concentration of 60 to 90 percent. In November 2014, the Los Angeles Division of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reported 49 explosions related to marijuana administration processes like dabbing.

One of the biggest concerns regarding BHO is that inhaling butane might be unhealthy but the fact is, Butane is used in so many things we buy. From hairspray, cooking spray, e-cigarettes, flavor extracts … so it’s everywhere. Even so, the fact that butane is present in a number of consumer products doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s safe.

Bob Melamede, Ph.D. An associate professor of biology at the University of Colorado and the president/CEO of Cannabis Science Inc., Dr. Melamede is one of the world’s few experts on the human endocannabinoid system. “I looked through the National Library of Medicine database on this, and there isn’t any evidence that inhaling residual hydrocarbons like butane are dangerous – at least in small amounts,” says Dr. Melamede. “It’s an irritant, but that’s about it.”

But if we eliminate butane as a risk, are there other dangers involved in using BHO? “There’s very good evidence that smoking marijuana doesn’t harm the lungs, and I’m quite sure that smoking concentrates doesn’t either,” says Dr. Shackelford, Amarimed of Colorado, MD,. “The only real negative would be overdosing, which might make you uncomfortable for a while, maybe a little anxious or paranoid … but as far as a long-lasting physiological danger? I don’t think so.”

But, in fact, we know of at least one serious problem that has been reported: Last year, a young woman named Jessi was “blowing nails” of BHO when her throat suddenly swelled up, making it difficult to breathe. She was rushed to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with chemical epiglottitis, a condition in which the epiglott – the flap of skin that separates the esophagus from your trachea – becomes inflamed by an irritant (i.e. infection, heat, chemicals) and blocks off the windpipe. Luckily, Jessi was treated in time; if she hadn’t been, the condition could have been fatal. So if this is a possible consequence of dabbing – even one experienced by only a tiny percentage of users –
people need to be aware of it. But what actually caused this reaction?

“I very much doubt it was the butane or concentrate at all, but some other factor,” Dr. Shackelford says. “The volatile evaporative temperature of butane is extremely low – so if you’re heating it up, that butane is pretty much gone; any residual wouldn’t be a problem. There are a lot of different things it could’ve been … maybe it was just the temperature. You can actually get epiglottitis from hot coffee if you swallow it incorrectly.”

“I’d say the least likely of all was that it had anything to do with the butane,” Dr. Melamede concurs. “It could’ve been contaminants in the product … she might’ve had an allergy to something else that was concentrated.”