Online CBD Communities Worth Joining for the Beginner Consumer
by Bethan Rose
With its own set of terms and practices distinct from other forms of cannabis, the intricate world of cannabis concentrates—sometimes called extracts—can be overwhelming. A concentrate is a highly potent cannabis product made by extracting terpenes and cannabinoids (think THC) from cannabis plant material. While there are multiple ways to consume concentrates, the most popular is a process known as dabbing.
Dabbing involves inhaling vaporized cannabis concentrate through a dab rig (also known as an oil rig) or similar device. When it comes to dabbing, BHO (butane hash oil) concentrates, or any concentrate made using the solvent butane, are the gold standard due to their potency and long-lasting effects. Concentrates can also be consumed using vape pens and dab pens for a less intense version of the full dabbing experience.
So why do some cannabis users like to dab or consume concentrates in general? Many people find smoking cannabis flower to be too smelly or harsh on the lungs. Others have developed a tolerance to THC in flower and are in need of something stronger. With higher THC content and rich terpene profiles, concentrates can deliver smoother, tastier, more potent hits compared to combusted (smoked) flower. Those who are new to cannabis or sensitive to THC should approach dabbing with caution.
Interested in dipping your toes into concentrates but unsure of where to start? In this guide, we’ll give you the rundown on all things dabbing, from tools to methods to dosing. Plus, we’ll touch on some alternative concentrate consumption methods for users who aren’t quite ready to wield a dab torch. For more information on concentrate products and the different types available, check out our guide to cannabis concentrates.
Many cannabis consumers safely dab concentrates on a regular basis, and regulation has helped improve the quality and consistency of products. Thanks to the legal cannabis market, consumers can rest assured that the cannabis products they purchase from dispensaries have endured intensive safety protocols and lab testing. Some question the safety of solvent concentrates, but proper chemical extraction leaves behind little to no harmful by-product.
The only time consumers should be worried about the safety of their concentrates is if they were bought on the illegal market. There’s no way to ensure these concentrates weren’t extracted using dangerous chemicals or know if they contain substances like vitamin E acetate, a thickening agent that’s been linked to lung injury and death, or phytol, a flavor-boosting terpene that studies have found to be harmful when inhaled. Make sure to only purchase concentrates from reputable companies that include the product’s full cannabinoid profile. This will also verify that the concentrate was extracted from quality cannabis.
We’ve already touched on the fact that dabbing is easier on the lungs than smoking, but is it actually a safer consumption method? Unfortunately, dabbing is still very new, so little controlled research has been conducted to properly compare the effects of these methods on the body. A 2006 study found vaping cannabis flower to be better for the respiratory system than smoking it, but the finding reveals little about vaping or dabbing concentrate.
Still, some experts lean toward dabbing as a better option. Cannabis clinician Laura Lagano told GreenState, “If a patient was in extreme pain and needed the immediate relief those methods provide, I think I would choose dabbing because it doesn’t do as much damage to the lungs as smoking.” Many cannabis users stick to flower purely for its naturality, but no existing research suggests that dabbing concentrates is any less safe. As long as you’re careful with that sizzling torch, dabbing shouldn’t cause you any problems.
Now that you know the basics, let’s dive into what you’ll need to get your first dabbing session started.
When choosing your concentrate, or extract, it’s important to pick a wax rather than an oil. While THC and CBD oils are great for handheld vaporizers, most will not be able to handle the heat needed for dabs like a wax concentrate can.
Many cannabis consumers are familiar with the instruments used to smoke flower, such as joints and bongs. However, dabs must be consumed using a glass device known as a dab rig that heats cannabis concentrates to the point of vaporization. Similarly to how bongs have a bowl that holds cannabis flower, rigs have a piece called a nail or banger that holds concentrate.
The nail is the detachable component on the body of an oil rig that is heated to vaporize the extract. A banger, which is similar but slightly larger, can also be used for this purpose depending on the rig and personal preference. Typically made of quartz, the nail or banger is heated with a torch either before or after the extract is placed into it depending on the dabbing method.
To prevent the buildup of carbon and oil, you should clean your nail or banger after every dabbing session. The easiest and most common method is to torch the nail until the buildup burns off or can be easily scraped off—just remember not to scrape the residue off of the nail while it’s still red-hot, as this can damage it. Minor buildup can also be wiped off with an alcohol-soaked cotton swab. Lastly, the nail can be soaked in rubbing alcohol for 10 minutes to loosen the buildup.
Most users also recommend getting a dome or carb cap for your nail since it will improve airflow control and help you get the most out of your dab. Usually made of glass or metal, domes and carb caps prevent the loss of vapor when the concentrate is being heated, leading to a stronger, better-tasting dab.
The main functional difference between a dome and a carb cap is the size of the air intake hole: A dome’s is much larger than a carb cap’s. Many dabbers have upgraded from domes to carb caps because of their heat-retaining ability that allows for low-temperature dabbing, a popular form of dabbing that preserves the terpene-fueled flavor profile of the concentrate.
Next you will need a dab tool, also called a dabber. One of the most common cannabis accessories, a dabber has a pointy or scooped end that you use to place the concentrate onto the nail or banger.
Finally, you’ll need a heating element. The most popular tool to heat nails with is a butane torch (think mini creme brûlée torch) for its high heating point, and propane torches work as well. You can also use an electronic nail, or e-nail, which consists of a nail wrapped in an electronic coil connected to a power source. Some consumers opt for e-nails for their ability to heat dabs to specific temperatures and function without a torch.
The growing popularity of dabbing means that you can now find a perfect dab rig for just about any lifestyle.
This list covers a few of the basic dab rig options, but there are tons of variations in size and design. Dab rigs can also be outfitted with various accessories depending on user preference. Always take into consideration how much you are willing to spend, how often you’ll be dabbing, and which features are essential to you before making a final decision.
Figuring out your dab dose can be a nerve-racking task, especially if it’s your first time dabbing. After all, concentrates contain exceptionally high quantities of THC compared to flower and edibles. Unfortunately, there’s no one optimal amount of wax a person should dab. It depends entirely on a user’s tolerance to THC and desired effects. A general rule of thumb is to start with the smallest amount of wax your dab tool will hold, working up to your ideal dab as you feel comfortable.
If you prefer a more measured approach, a good place to start is by looking at the potency percentage on your concentrate’s packaging. Measuring that percentage against the total weight of your concentrate will give you a better idea of how to portion out your dabs. For example, a gram of concentrate with a potency of 80% will contain 800 milligrams of cannabinoids. From there, you can break the slab into eight pieces for 100 milligrams per dab or 16 pieces for 50 milligrams per dab.
Believe it or not, there are multiple ways to dab concentrates with a rig. The differences between the methods are relatively minor, and the one you choose is ultimately up to you. Let’s explore the differences between the traditional and cold start dabbing techniques and go over the steps for each.
This tried-and-true method is a great place to start if you’re new to dabbing. It essentially involves torching your rig’s nail or banger before putting the concentrate on it and inhaling. Here are the steps to follow for the traditional method:
The traditional method of dabbing is a good starting point, but it definitely has its downsides. If you’re not well-practiced at heating your nail or banger to the proper temperature, it’s easy to overdo it. This can lead to throat and chest pain and/or intense coughing. To avoid these discomforts, many dabbers have switched to a relatively new method called cold start dabbing, a low-temperature form of dabbing that brings out the terpene profile of the concentrate to create a tastier and smoother dabbing experience. Here’s how it’s done:
Not ready for dabbing just yet? Luckily, there are other methods of consuming concentrates that don’t involve rigs and torches. Let’s look at a couple of other ways that you can get your concentrate fill.
Vape pens have quickly become the top choice for users looking for a portable, discrete way to consume concentrates. These devices are a common starting point for those new to the world of cannabis as they can be easily operated with the click of a button. The anatomy of a vape pen typically includes a mouthpiece, a battery that can be charged, an atomizer that heats and vaporizes the concentrate, and a cartridge of concentrate that can be replaced once it’s empty. You can also find disposable vape pens.
Vaping concentrates is considerably different from dabbing concentrates. One of the largest disparities is the type of concentrate used: Dab rigs use wax and vape pens use oil. While many waxes used for dabbing have full cannabinoid profiles, vape pens typically use an oil called distillate that contains only or primarily THC. For this reason, vape pens do not produce nearly as potent or as flavorful of a high as dabbing devices.
For those looking for a step up from the average vape pen, dab pens are a great option. Just like vape pens, dab pens are small and discreet—but the similarities end there. Dab pens are slightly larger than vape pens because they use a heated coil to vaporize rather than a slim atomizer. When it comes to the concentrate, dab pens use the same wax used in dab rigs. While dab pens are slightly messier than vape pens—the chamber must be manually refilled with wax—the effects are much stronger.
Believe it or not, you can mix concentrates with cannabis flower in joints or bowls to amplify the effects of the flower! The easiest concentrate to smoke is kief, a fine powder of trichome material collected at the bottom of a three-chamber grinder as a by-product of grinding flower. Because a cannabis plant’s trichomes contain the majority of the cannabinoids and terpenes, kief is highly potent and flavorful. Unlike concentrates that are dabbed, like wax and shatter, kief is an all-natural, solventless concentrate.
To add kief to the bowl of a bong or pipe, simply sprinkle a small layer of kief on top of the bowl after it’s been packed with ground flower. For joints, a wax concentrate is recommended. To smoke wax in a joint, sometimes called “twaxing,” just roll a small amount of wax into a thin, snake-like line and place it on top of the flower before rolling. You can also wrap a line of wax around the outside of a pre-rolled joint. If you’re looking to keep it natural with a solventless concentrate, consider putting rosin in your joint.
Now that you know the basics of cannabis concentrates, you can decide for yourself if they are right for you. Depending on the consumption method, concentrates can lead to a more discreet, customized, and/or intense cannabis experience for users than cannabis flower. If you’re ready to dive in headfirst, this guide should have everything you need to get started with dabbing. If dab rigs are out of your price range or seem too intimidating, you can ease your way into concentrates with vape pens or kief bowls.
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