Dabbing & Concentrates Guide 101
Concentrates are a popular form of cannabis and dabbing is an easy and smokeless way to consume them. Dabbing cannabis is a great alternative when smoking isn’t an option and you have the patience and time to learn the techniques that lead to success with dabbing, there’s nothing better than concentrates to deliver exactly what you’re seeking from your marijuana experience. They’re an excellent option for both recreational cannabis users as well as medicinal marijuana patients since their THC concentration is lab-verified and consistency is the aim.
A Brief Introduction to Concentrates
There’s some confusion about exactly what a concentrate is, but it may help to realize that hashish (or hash) could be considered an early form of a concentrate.
Like weed, it contains the exact same active ingredients as regular marijuana flower, but without all the extra plant materials. Hash is made by rubbing the flowers aggressively until the resin forms a gummy ball, so there was no real refinement involved in that process, but it was the beginning of what has become a highly technical trade.
Today there is a dazzling array of concentrates available to both recreational and medicinal marijuana users, many of which got their start in someone’s basement. The processes have been improved and made much safer for both manufacturers and dabbers, and the tools have grown way up. Instead of heating up butter knives to vaporize hash, today’s dabbers have advanced equipment to help them bring their concentrates to exact temperatures to achieve highly controlled results.
Dabbing with Caution
Dabbing is a lot different than smoking because of how much more of the active ingredient in marijuana you’re concentrating in one place.
Instead of taking a single hit like you would with a herb-packed pipe, when you do a dab, you might be inhaling the equivalent of four or even 10 or 12 hits. It’s powerful stuff, so you must take caution when you’re trying a concentrate for the first time. And if it’s your first time doing dabs, you definitely want to have a clear-headed friend nearby just in case you overestimate yourself and your capacity for THC.
Your dispensary will have the lab test results on the THC and other cannabinoid content of each concentrate offering they keep in stock, making it possible for you to make an informed decision about the product that will work best for your needs. You don’t want to blindly choose a concentrate. Although some are less powerful than others, the most concentrated can have upwards of 80 percent THC content, versus about 15 percent in the more potent hybrid buds.
Under Washington State statute RCW 69.50.360, you can possess up to seven grams of concentrate at any one time, but if this is your first time trying a particular concentrate, that’s probably a lot more than you’ll want to purchase. When it comes to concentrate, a little can go a very long way. If it’s your first time trying it, you’ll likely need no more than a piece the size of a grain of rice to give it a shot—a fraction of an ounce will be plenty for you and your friends.
Different Types of Concentrates
We’ve already discussed hash as a concentrate, but it’s not alone in that category, not by a long shot.
There are many different types, some that you’ll see much more often than others. Concentrates aren’t always used exclusively for dabbing, either—some can also be used for cooking or for smoking, depending on how they’re designed. These are the ones that you’re most likely to find on the commercial market:
Also known as dry sieve or dry sift, kief is the simplest of the concentrates. It’s composed solely of the crystalline structures coating the outside of the marijuana flower, called trichomes. These trichomes are broken away from the dried plant material with special filters and hard work. Although you will see kief at some shops, it’s much more likely to be used as an ingredient in other concentrates.
Plain, old-fashioned hash is still available, and it’s basically the same that it’s always been. Hash is what you get when you take the kief, then heat and press it together. It can range in consistency from powdery to sticky, with the sticky types preferred for smoking or dabbing and the powdery for cooking.
This less common concentrate nonetheless appears in some shops, sold in forms like bubble hash, solventless wax, and ice wax. Cold water and ice are used to make the trichome heads brittle so they easily separate from the plant, then filtered repeatedly until the desired consistency is achieved. Water hash often has a granular consistency, but newer, higher quality processes can result in a taffy or shatter-like appearance.
Butane Hash Oil (BHO)
Probably the most common concentrate available today, BHO, oil, or honey is made using butane as a solvent to transform raw plant material into a honey-colored oil concentrate. Heat is applied during the process to remove as much of the butane as possible, but many fear that the residual butane may have unknown long-term effects on dabbers.
There are several products made from further refining BHO, the wax is the first step in refinement. It’s sticky and not well-formed, so you’ll need a tool to handle and dab it.
The next step in BHO refinement creates budder. This soft, buttery-textured paste won’t crumble under pressure when pressure is applied, making it a dabber favorite. It’s also known as “super melt” for its ability to burn clean.
If you continue to refining budder, you’ll get a more crumbly textured product appropriately dubbed crumble. When dabbing crumble, you have to be careful to allow the concentrate to mold completely to the coil first or risk losing some of your load.
Believed to be the most potent form of concentrate available, shatter’s glass-like appearance is the final stage in BHO refinement. To use, simply snap off an appropriately sized piece and place it in your dab rig—it’s not messy or fussy.
The direct answer to concerns about the health effects of BHO, CO2 oil uses carbon dioxide as a solvent to perform the same processes that butane does for BHO. The result is a thin, orange-tinted oil that’s typically sold in a syringe. CO2 oil is non-flammable and contains no solvents, making many dabbers feel much safer about using it, but it’s still in limited production due to the high cost of entry for manufacturers.
When dried buds, trim or lower-grade hash or kief is placed between sheets of parchment paper, heated with a hair straightener and smashed, rosin comes out. The sticky, sap-like substance contains some of the essential oils from the marijuana plant and looks a lot like high-quality water hash. It’s a fairly new product, but it’s gaining popularity so expect to see it more often in your favorite marijuana dispensary.
Your local dispensary is likely to carry most of these concentrates, though it might not have them all. We’re undergoing a concentrate revolution, so keep your eyes open for new and exciting stuff on this front.
Dabbing Equipment Overview
You can buy all the concentrate you want, but it’s completely useless without something to dab it with.
Fortunately, you have lots of options. For some, a basic vaporizer will do, for others, it’s a specialty rig, but for concentrate enthusiasts, people who are interested in more than pain management or simply getting high, the oil rig can’t be beat. We’ll cover all your options right here.
Vaping is wildly popular for smoking nicotine and cannabis cartridges, but you can also use your vape to dab if it’s a good one. Vaporizers with high-quality elements and easy access to them make the very best dabbing tools for BHO style concentrates. Wax is a popular choice, but really nice vapes can also handle shatter. You can dab directly onto your vape’s heating element and draw from it like normal, or take advantage of one of the many pre-filled cannabis vaporizer cartridges.
Vapes are a good choice for beginning dabbers, people who are just trying out dabbing for the first time and dabbers on a budget. Although a good vape will set you back a couple of hundred dollars, a full dabbing outfit can cost considerably more and is good for only one thing.
As long as you clean your vape well, you can continue to use it for nicotine as well as dabbing. Remember, even though dabbing is quickly becoming socially acceptable nearly everywhere, it is still illegal to consume cannabis products in public places in the state of Washington—that includes using your vape for marijuana products.
Specialty Dabbing Tools
Although they’re not necessary to enjoy concentrates, there are a number of specialty tools out there for dabbing.
Most are designed to work with vaporizers, either as additional capacity vapor chambers or to help smooth out a vaporizer hit—and sometimes both. Percolators and recyclers on desktop vaporizers can really change your dabbing experience for the better, but bubbler attachments on a really good vape pen can also help even out those harsher hits.
Standard Dabbing Rig Components
Getting into glass dabbing rigs is a little more complicated than just buying a vape and some attachments, but the experience can be incredibly rewarding if you take the time to learn to use the equipment properly.
To get started you’ll need:
- Glass piece. There are lots of different configurations for the glass chamber of a dab rig, but the most important thing is that you choose a sturdy piece you can control.
Smaller glass pieces deliver a more concentrated hit, which can be hard for some people to inhale, but that also means that you can better taste individual terpene profiles. Larger pieces, on the other hand, allow you to use automated tools like eNails.
- Nail. The dab nail is a piece that fits into the glass piece and is heated up and used to vaporize the concentrate. They come in a variety of materials, including glass, ceramic, quartz and titanium.
You can also purchase electronic nails that work much like a vape, they cost a bit more but give you very precise control over your concentrate’s temperature so you avoid scorching it.
- Torch. If you have an eNail, you won’t need a torch, but for everyone else it’s a must. Both propane and butane torches will work for this job, but propane burns up to 1000 degrees hotter, increasing the chances you’ll overheat your nail or create other safety issues. Depending on the type of concentrate you intend to use, a butane torch may be all you really need.
Dabbing equipment can be very costly, but when it comes to this stuff, it’s often a situation where you really do get what you pay for. Look for glass pieces that are designed to be easy to clean and torches that are simple to refill. If there’s a pre-built dabbing kit available, so much the better. You can always switch out pieces as you get more comfortable with the process.
Perhaps the most important part of any dabbing rig is the dabbing nail.
It’s such a small thing to be such a big deal, but its ability to maintain a constant temperature across the entire surface is vital to your dabbing success. You don’t want a nail that heats up too quickly, resulting in burned concentrate, nor do you want one that will heat unevenly and only vaporize part of your dab.
Types of Nails
As you shop for nails, you’ll notice there are basically three different options: domed, domeless and the eNail.
The eNail is an ideal option if you have deep pockets and are willing to invest heavily in your dabbing experience. Instead of guessing and hoping you’re getting your nail to the exact temperature necessary for your concentrate, you simply set it and wait for the display to show the correct temperature. eNails bring the ease of a vaporizer to the dabbing rig, marrying the best features of the two. Unfortunately, many eNails are too big for smaller rigs, so you’ll need to have a pretty good sized setup for success with them.
If eNails aren’t for you, there are still many manually heated nails to choose between. The domed nails are paired with a glass dome that’s designed to capture as much of the concentrate vapor as possible. The domeless versions have a small hole inside the nail that allows the vapor to enter the glass chamber. Both are fine for a beginner, though the domed pieces can be a bit more challenging for the uncoordinated dabber. Ultimately, most experts still recommend domed nails for beginners because the risk of injury is much lower if you suddenly develop the urge to reach down and try to pull the nail out like you were taking a bong hit.
Dabbing nails are made from a variety of materials and although many magazines and websites have their preferences, there’s no such thing as a one size fits all nail.
These are the most common nail materials available today:
- Glass. If you’re buying your first dabbing rig, you may get a free glass nail. They’re not total junk, in fact some people really like the flavor they produce. However, if you want to see success with your glass nail, you’re going to have to heat it slow and always be mindful of rapid temperature changes that can cause it to bust.
- Ceramic. Like glass, ceramic can have incredible flavor potential, but is very fragile and must be handled with care. Because of ceramics’ increased heat-holding capacity, they can be burn hazards. With careful handling, ceramic nails can provide a great dabbing experience, but once there’s a fracture or a crack, they’re done.
- Titanium. Titanium nails are considered the workhorses of the dabbing world. They get the job done, even if it’s not always pretty. You can overheat them, drop them, kick them, beat them and they keep coming back for more.
Some people have complained about a slightly metallic taste with titanium nails, but if you look for a higher grade nail (grades 2 or 3 titanium are recommended), season your nail properly and keep it oxidation-free, it’ll perform time and again without complaint.
- Quartz. While these nails are really hard to overheat, they are really easy to break. Even so, quartz nails are among the most popular with dabbing enthusiasts because of their ability to be more precisely heated and their quick cool down times. They provide clean hits, encourage low-temperature dabs and heat evenly.
There’s nothing that will make as big a difference to your dabbing experience as the choice and proper use of your nail. If your glass piece can support a quartz nail, they’re probably your best bet, but you’ll have to dab quickly because of their tendency to lose heat rapidly. Otherwise, titanium is a good place to start since their kind of a foolproof option. If your friends are dabbers, give their nails a try to see what you like best.
Using a Dabbing Rig
Even with the perfect glass, the best nail and a dead-on torch, your dabs won’t be much unless you know how to use the rig.
There are lots of videos on YouTube that show people doing some really stupid things, but there are also some that demonstrate correct techniques. Over time, you’ll figure out what works best for you and your favorite concentrates, but here’s a great place to start.
Heating the Nail
Using a propane or butane torch is a pretty simple process, but heating your nail requires a careful hand and a delicate touch. In fact, if you’re looking to do really good dabs, you’ll probably want to practice a few times without a load so you know just how much heat needs to be applied to reach a suitable temperature.
A handheld infrared thermometer can be used to scan the surface of the nail after you heat it to check its status. If it’s too cool, you know to heat longer the next try—too warm and you should cut back on the heat the next time.
Flaming the nail is an easy process, just approach the nail with torch in hand and heat it evenly in the middle of the flame. Count out the seconds (and watch for visible signs of heating with titanium nails), then remove the heat once you’ve reached the set amount of time you’ve previously determined corresponds to a temperature slightly above what’s needed for your concentrate. You can check it with your thermometer, but at this point you need to be moving into position to take the hit.
Taking a Hit
If you’re using a domed nail, now’s the time to put the dome in place.
Prepare to place your concentrate on the nail, while in position to draw from the glass mouthpiece. Simultaneously begin to drawn in as you drop the concentrate on the nail (as close to the center as possible). Rotating the dabber while you’re inhaling can help clean any extra concentrate off your tool. When no more vapor is coming up from the nail, you can exhale.
Whatever you do during your hit, don’t even think about touching your dabbing rig. Not if you value your flesh, anyway. Dabbing rigs get extremely hot and you can’t grow your skin back fast enough for the damage you will incur from touching one without letting it cool down first. This is another great time to use that infrared thermometer.
Use Caution When Dabbing
Although dabbing itself isn’t a dangerous practice, if you’ve never dabbed before, you can quickly overwhelm your system. Concentrates are just that—concentrated THC—which means that a rice-sized piece of shatter can pack a lot bigger punch than a bowl full of the strongest weed you’ve ever smoked. Take it easy, especially when you’re getting started.
An excess of THC can induce feelings of panic or paranoia, as well as anxiety and suicidal ideations if you have enough in your system. Have a written plan for what to do if your high gets out of control. Always dab with a friend and drink lots of water during your high.
Dabbing can be a great way to relieve a little stress, have a new experience or treat chronic pain. Although you’ll need some special gear and have a lot of decisions to make about which concentrates to use, with a little bit of experimentation you’ll find a combination that works perfectly for you.