A Beginner’s Guide To Cannabis Dabs And Dabbing

Concentrates and extracts — popularly known as “dabs” — were once solely the domain of heavy cannabis users. These days, they are heating up the marketplace (no pun intended), but have yet to fully cross into mainstream use.

Simply defined, dabs, or hash, or any other nickname is an umbrella term for any cannabis product produced through an extraction process, which often involves butane, other solvents, or simply water, heat, or pressure. Technically, the term “concentrate” is reserved for solventless substances, while “extracts” refers to the use of solvents in their creation. Either way, it all refers to the yellow-hued goopy and waxy substance that is formed from the sticky stuff on weed flowers, regardless of the process involved in separating it from the plant.

The result is a smaller amount of product that looks nothing like a plant and packs a much higher punch with the resulting level of THC, CBD, or any other cannabinoid concentrated. Finally, high heat — whether via a blow torch or an electronic method — is used to vaporize it. It’s exactly that ingestion method that has kept dabs somewhat of a niche segment in weed.

Up until the last few years, when e-rigs like the Puffco Peak came into existence and became popular, using a blow torch was the move for many dabs. Basically, it’s freebasing weed. Understandably, using a blow torch is intimidating for a lot of people, not to mention it is also high-maintenance. Combined with a much higher THC concentration than people are used to, many people are either turned off by dabbing from the outset or have a bad first experience where they get too high, then swear it off altogether. Add to that a dictionary’s worth of nicknames and technical terms, including an alphabet soup of different product terms named for different extraction methods, and dabbing can seem very daunting to newcomers.

“I feel like people can be so deterred from dabbing because people always give others globs on a hot ass nail that just fucks them up completely,” says Dean Rochford, the head lab technician for San Diego-based live rosin brand Clsics. Rochford is right. When using any kind of drug, however legal or safe to do so, a comfortable first exposure is crucial to building a fun and healthy relationship with the substance going forward.

Though I like dabbing, I save it for special occasions because I am concerned that routinely ingesting high-percentage THC products will up my tolerance too quickly. I am also a flower romanticist, and the thought of smoking a nearly unadulterated plant bud is just too much for me to shrug off. Still, many think that cannabis extracts and concentrates are the purest distillation of the plant experience, owing to its strong intoxicating effects, tastes, and smells, and they are not incorrect on that point.

But many look the other way from dabbing mostly because they don’t know much about it. It’s precisely that lack of knowledge and know-how that creates a gatekeeping culture in dabbing among the hardcore, consistent stoners and those who imbibe from time to time. It doesn’t have to be that way. So, in the spirit of democratization when it comes to cannabis intake methods, I asked industry experts to help create a helpful list of suggestions for the dab-curious, whether it’s their first time indulging in concentrates and extracts or not.

Try A Small Amount First

Almost everyone said the same thing regarding the first tip: “Start small. You can always add more, but you can’t take away,” says Rob Gale of Humboldt Terp Council.

“Start with small dabs. There’s no point taking a massive dab and not being able to hold it in,” says Rochford of Clsics, who also mentioned he knows people who feel pressured into taking large dabs to start because it’s become somewhat romanticized.

Start Low And Go Slow

“Use lower temperatures to start,” says Gale. Rochford agrees, saying to do so because it’s “way more tasty and enjoyable when it’s a low temperature.” This is due to the fact that terpenes — which are the compounds that give cannabis specific tastes and flavors — burn off as the temperature climbs.

Gale suggests using a Dab Rite or other gauge to hit the right temperature. He says 440-480F is good for solventless concentrates, like live rosin, whereas 440-500F is good for those extracts using BHO, or butane.

A Blow Torch Is Not Necessary

Puffco is your friend,” Gale says. He adds, “It’s the iPod click wheel of vape devices.” By that, he means the Puffco suite of electronic dabbing products is a well-designed and simple alternative to firing up a blow torch, both when considering aesthetics and use. E-rigs are definitely what got me hooked into regularly dabbing. Over traditional rigs, they are easier to clean, much easier to turn on, and more intuitive to use. Flipping a switch over firing up a torch is probably the single technological advancement responsible for bringing more dabbing to the masses.

In addition to e-rigs like the Puffco Peak and the G Pen Roam (which is basically a portable e-rig), there are also smaller portable dab pens, like the Puffco Plus and G Pen Gio, as well as concentrates “add-ons” to portable vaporizers like those made by Pax.

You Get What You Pay For

“Good hash isn’t cheap. Cheap hash isn’t good,” Gale says. That pretty much says it all.

Research Is Your Friend

Certain makers in the industry, like the folks at Clsics, believe that only solventless dabs are worth customers’ time and claim they are “purer” products because they don’t include so-called harsh chemical processes like those that involve butane extractions.

“Always look for live rosin over any other dabs such as live ‘resin,’ crumble, or diamonds, which are all products extracted through gas solvent processes,” Rochford says.

Of course, a company making solventless products will say this, but there is some truth in the fact that a concentrate made without added chemicals or gasses is a beautiful thing to behold, romantically speaking, as well as from a quality standpoint.

But high quality and safe products using solvents do exist — just as low-quality solventless products do. Per point number four, price is usually a good indicator of whether or not what you’re getting is legit, which is especially true if you are blindly choosing what to vaporize from, say, an unfamiliar selection at a dispensary. It’s not a hard and fast rule, though, and different extraction methods require different upfront costs, which end up on the final price tag.

“Good solventless extraction is extremely expensive. Great BHO is very affordable,” says Gale, referring to the initialism for a solvent-based extraction referred to as butane honey oil. “The average working person can’t really afford top-shelf solventless. They can afford our live resin, though. The state sets strict limits on residual solvents. Our products are well below those limits,” he adds, referring to the safety and purity of the resulting products found in quality producers like Humboldt Terp Council.

At the end of the day, it really comes down to preference. To decide figure that our, personal sampling and researching is necessary.