How to dab cannabis concentrates: oil, shatter, wax, and more
L earning how to smoke dabs may seem daunting at first, but it’ll comes easily once you read about it. To help ensure your first time goes smoothly, this resource will teach you how to take a dab.
Essentially, dabbing is the flash vaporization of cannabis concentrates, once they are applied to a hot surface and inhaled. These concentrates (you’ve maybe heard of shatter, wax, BHO, oil, etc.) are a lot more potent than flower, so a little bit goes a long way.
While bud tends to test between 15-25% THC, concentrates typically range between 50-80% THC, depending on the extract type and quality. You can even dab non-intoxicating CBD extracts for quick therapeutic effects with little to no cerebral euphoria, but in some regions these oils can be difficult to find.
Dabbing isn’t for everyone, especially if you’re new to cannabis entirely. The dosing process is more delicate, but once you’ve gotten the hang of it, concentrates can offer you new heights of physical relief and unique cerebral effects. Extracts also contain a lot less plant material than flower, so you’re inhaling more cannabinoids (e.g. THC, CBD) and less combusted resin. Check out our tips for dabbing.
What dab tools are needed?
When learning how to use a dab rig, keep in mind that dabbing technology is evolving. The traditional setup includes the following items:
- Dab rig. This water pipe is like a bong except it will have a fitting for a nail.
- Nail. This is like the bowl for your bong and where you will put the concentrate. The standard today is a quartz banger, which has a bucket shape. Ceramic and titanium are other options, and e-nails are becoming more common. Be sure to get the correct joint size, where the nail slides into the dab rig: If your rig has a 14mm stem, you need a 14mm nail. Nails can be male and female as well—you need a male nail for a female rig, and vice versa.
- Dabber. Use this tool to apply the concentrate to the nail. They can be metal, glass, or ceramic, and have many shapes: ballpoint, needlepoint, scoop, spoon, paddle, etc. Pick a shape depending on the texture and consistency of the concentrate you’re dabbing.
- Carb cap. Although not necessary, we highly recommend one of these to help regulate airflow. Combination dabber/carb caps are increasingly popular.
- Torch. Mini-torches used for crème brulee are commonly used, but you’ll have to stock up on propane for them. Again, e-nails are increasingly common (but expensive) and cut out the need for a torch.
- Cannabis extract. These come in a variety of forms, but the most common ones used for dabbing are shatter, wax, BHO, and solventless extracts like rosin.
- (Optional):Dab mat. To keep your dabbing surface clean and not sticky.
- (Optional): Timer. To ensure you heat your nail up consistently dab after dab.
How to dose cannabis oils and concentrates
Measuring a dab can be daunting as well. Different extracts have different THC concentrations, so it’s helpful to know how potent your concentrate is before dabbing it. It’s generally recommended to start small and increase the dose if you feel comfortable doing so.
A small dose is no bigger than a crumb. It may not look like much, but that’s a lot of THC going straight to the dome at once. Dabbing can feel a lot more intense to those accustomed to flower, but as your tolerance adjusts, the effects become less jarring.
Legal markets are required to add cannabinoid information on their concentrate packaging. Potency is broken down into a percentage. Most solvent-based hash oils will land in the range of 60-90% total cannabinoids, with a few special examples exceeding 90%. The potency of some solventless concentrates may fall below 50% total cannabinoids.
For example, if you have one gram of hash that contains 80% total THC, that one gram will contain 800mg of total cannabinoids. For reference, the recommended starting dosage for an edible is between 5-10mg. This should be an indicator that dabbing is generally for more experience cannabis consumers. Obtaining a 5mg dab from a piece of hash is difficult.
If you split that gram of hash into eight equal portions, each portion will have 100mg of cannabinoids. It’s easier for the naked eye to split the concentrate into eight pieces than pulling a 25mg dab off of an 800mg slab. For reference, a 25mg dab at the ratio of 80% total THC typically comes in about the size of a couple grains of couscous. This will change depending on the potency of your sample, which is why reading the label is important.
Always start small
Don’t be afraid to take the smallest dab that your tool will allow and use that as a reference point. Micro-dabbing offers many benefits, and you can always take another dab. Find a dab size that works for you.
It’s important to understand that different sizes of dabs—and different ratios of cannabinoids—will affect everyone uniquely. A 25mg dab of THC is not guaranteed to give you the same psychoactive effects as your friend; our endocannabinoid systems all operate differently. The best way to find out what dose works for you is to start small and work your way up.
How do you dab?
Once the rig is set up and your dab is prepared on the dabber, you’re ready to get started. We advise sitting down while taking a dab, since it might be intense.
- Step 1: Turn on your torch and aim the flame directly at the nail. Most people will heat the nail until it begins turning red hot. If you’re using an electronic nail, refer to the section below for more information on heating.
- Step 2: Once the nail is hot, turn off your torch. It’s recommended to let quartz nails cool for about 45 seconds (and about 10 seconds for titanium) so the surface temperature isn’t too hot—this is where a timer can come in handy. Check out this article for more tips on how to get the right temperature.
- Step 3: Apply the dab directly onto the nail with your dabber and begin inhaling slowly. Rotating the dabber tip on the nail can help prevent wasting any oil stuck to the dabber.
- Step 4: Cover the dab with a carb cap and finish inhaling—a cap will help regulate the airflow. Always cap your dabs.
- Step 5: Exhale and enjoy!
Safety note: Nails become extremely hot when dabbing. Take caution when handling them, and always wait for all pieces to cool down before you even think of touching them.
How to clean your nail
After a dab, carbon, reclaimed oil, and particulates can build up in the nail. A lot of people will clean their nail after each hit, but you should at least do it at the end of each session. Here are some ways to clean your nail:
- Torch. The easiest way to clean your dab nail is to heat it with your torch to burn off any residual carbon or reclaim on your nail. When applying this method to ceramic and quartz nails, be careful not to expose your red hot nail to a rapid change in temperature or you may risk a stress fracture. After your nail becomes red hot and the residue dissipates, let it cool down completely before finishing off with a final scrape.
- Scrape. For minor buildup, use a sharp dabber tool to lightly scrape your nail. Be careful not to chip any glass.
- Wash. Try soaking your nail in 91% isopropyl alcohol for 10 minutes.
What are e-nails?
The above explains how you take a dab using the common torch-and-nail method, but e-nails are becoming increasing popular.
E-nails, or electronic nails, are significantly more expensive than standard nails, but the investment is often worth it for serious dabbers. They cut out the need for a nail and a torch, which is easily the most dangerous element of dabbing. Furthermore, you will have full control over your nail’s temperature. This is a fantastic feature if you care about making the most out of flavors and terpenes when you dab.
Dabbing technology is constantly improving and expanding, so watch out for the latest trends and products if you’re interested in leveling up your dabbing game!
Patrick Bennett also contributed to this article.
This post was originally published on December 9, 2015. It was most recently updated on June 30, 2020.First time dabbing? Learn how to safely smoke wax, shatter, and other cannabis concentrates with this step by step guide.
Dabbing: A Beginner’s Guide
You never really knew how many different shades of gold you can make out of green until you’ve seen the cannabis concentrates section of a dispensary or a cannabis convention.
Seeing and smelling well-made marijuana concentrates for the first time may make you crave sushi if you happen to love it since wasabi is one of the only other things on this planet that resembles the texture of wax….besides ear wax of course.
You may have to remind yourself that shatter or cannabis dab oil is for vaping, and of course dabbing, but not licking raw with your tongue given how it comes in virtually as many light and dark golden shades and grades as does honey .
Seeing the strange exotic dab tools covered in bright, sweet, and aromatic substances may send your mind flashing back to memories of eating with chopsticks for the first time. The blow torch may make you crave creme brulee, cherries jubilee, or gourmet smores if the space you’re having your first dab in is clean and pleasant enough.
But enough waxing poetic (can you tell we love dabbing?), let’s get to the good stuff.
What Is Dabbing?
Dabbing is similar to smoking your cannabis through a bong. But instead of packing a bowl with dried bud, you burn a special form of cannabis (an extract or concentrate) instead.
After that, it’s just like hitting a bong: you inhale the vapor and fly away.
Dabbing gets its name from the small blobs (or dabs) of concentrate that, when combined with a special rig (a dab rig), get you thoroughly and completely high.
We’ll talk about the cool equipment in just a bit. But first, let’s learn about dabs specifically.
What Are Dabs?
Dabs are single-serving hits of cannabis concentrate that are usually no bigger than your pinky nail. And before you say, “I need more than that tiny dab,” let us assure you, that’s plenty. Dabs are concentrated cannabinoids, and even that small amount can get you well and truly effed up.
Dabs usually come in two different forms:
Wax and shatter are pretty much the same thing. The only real difference is how they look: wax is waxy, while shatter is solid (like a piece of hard candy).
That said, there are some significant use and storage differences between the two.
- Wax dabs are easy to produce, while shatter is finicky and requires a lot of attention and care during the extraction process.
- Wax dabs degrade faster, while shatter lasts a long time.
- Wax is easier to handle, measure, and use because of its consistency, while shatter is hard to handle because it’s so brittle.
Other types of dabs do exist, but they are usually variations on wax or shatter. These alternatives include:
For the rest of this article, we’ll focus on wax and shatter.
The History Of Dabbing
Our Hero’s Origin Story
The contemporary art of dabbing concentrated cannabis owes its origins to the dubious method of getting high known by hippies as “ hot knifing ,” in which a desperate stoner who is broke (or who just can’t find someone to buy weed from) heats up two butter knives until they’re red hot on a stove top in order to combust nasty old resin built up and scraped off of pipes and bongs.
This butane laden resin was and is still often ironically mixed with fine-grade high-quality kief crystals that accumulate at the bottom of a three-chambered grinder before it is hot-knifed.
Traditional Moroccan style hash, which is essentially kief heated and pressurized into a concentrated sticky green substance, was also hot-knifed by stoners in the 60s and 70s when they’d lose their hash pipes. Such resin fumes are typically inhaled through a plastic soda-pop bottle cut in half.
Dabbing culture is far and away the most controversial corner of the cannabis community, and dabs themselves are often known as the crack of cannabis due to the associations that the blow torch can conjure up for many initiate as well as veteran users of cannabis.
The controversy around dabbing isn’t based on groundless hearsay. Butane hash oil (BHO), an often misunderstood method of creating marijuana concentrate, has the potential to create powerful explosions when made by amateurs and is why you should never attempt to make your own BHO at home.
Amateur BHO makers have become a PR nightmare for cannabis legalization activists and legit dispensaries.
Dabbing didn’t passively rise above its dubious origins to become a favorite celebrity pastime and a lucrative business with its own unique culture within the global cannabis community by a bunch of stereotypically couch locked stoners.
The dab scene grew in tandem not only with industry events such as the Cannabis Cup, but also with successful marijuana legalization efforts across the country.
“Most popular among consumers in their twenties, dabs are under the same legislative crackdown as other forms of cannabis, and more activists are starting to get involved.”
Veteran cannabis smokers typically discover concentrates from dab evangelicals such as Laura Notini, the great state organizer of the NYC Cannabis Parade, a board member of Empire State NORML and a regional coordinator for the NORML Women’s Alliance, who specifically enjoys educating, sharing, and impressing other hard-working cannaseur activists with the joys of dabbing.
Dab aficionados across the country use the numbers 710 which looks like the word OIL if you flip it upside down.
This is why 710 symbolizes the culture of dabbing and vaping concentrated cannabis commonly extracted with high pressurized butane oil or with ice water the same way the numbers 420 symbolize raw cannabis flower smoking culture.
Essential Dabbing Equipment
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to blast yourself off into a whole new dimension with a good dab!
First, heat up your specially made titanium, quartz or ceramic nail with your creme brulee blowtorch in a slow circular manner. Then use your titanium or glass dab tool to literally dab or apply a dab from your concentrate container onto the heated nail.
Place your dome and/or oil rig over the heated nail in order to inhale the vapor of the concentrate you just dabbed on it.
The technology involved in the production process of extracting terpenes from cannabis has evolved a long way from the old hot knifing method used by hippies into a cutting edge billion dollar industry.
Why Dabble With Dabbing?
Terpenes are the cream of the cannabis crop with a diverse array of health benefits . Terpenes are naturally found in fruits, veggies, herbs, and spices. Cannabis terpenes are oils secreted from the plant’s glands saturating it’s flower tops.
Terpenes are what give cannabis its aroma as well as much of its character in terms of the high it gives you. Certain kinds of terpenes are good for certain conditions such as asthma, memory function, muscle relaxation, gallstones, heartburn, breast cancer, stress, depression.
As marijuana legalization expands across the US, the medical advantages of dabbing concentrates are becoming increasingly accepted. The quick-acting and potent nature of dabbing can provide more powerful, faster acting relief than combusting traditional cannabis flower or ingesting tinctures or edibles .
Doing a dab saves time for people who use marijuana to function in their daily lives. Dab vapor doesn’t linger and stick to hair and clothes as much as traditional cannabis flower which is why dabs are often viewed as a stealthier option for many stoners.
The potency and taste of terpenes concentrated into dabs are great for veteran recreational cannabis consumers who have higher than average tolerances in addition to being ideal medicine for people experiencing debilitating pain.
If you love the taste of marijuana as much as you enjoy feeling the effects of marijuana than dabs are definitely for you! “Well-made concentrates provide concentrated flavor instead of being muddied up by the taste of burning plant material.”
The comedian Kat Williams was wary of dabs in part because “You are not supposed to have five hundred types of deliciousness in the same place at the same time!”
The legal dab scene is a source of so much innovation in the cannabis community in terms of flavor, experience and the technology underneath the art of getting high that choosing the right dab rig for yourself alone can be a bit intimidating…and costly.
The Cannabist reports that dab rigs can run anywhere between $50 and $50,000 for custom rigs made by artisanal glassblowers.
One thing to remember when enjoying dabs is that all dabs are concentrates but not all concentrates are dabs. More specifically, wax , budder, and butane hash “ shatter ” oil will be the primary forms of dabs that you are likely to encounter.
How Will The Hit Hit Me?
The main reason why dabs may be considered dangerous is because they are so much damn fun!
And fun, of course, is the most addictive drug of all, which is why it’s best to always enjoy all forms of fun in moderation just like dabs because dabs will do you in and you will love it no matter how seasoned a marijuana enthusiast you may be! Comedian Kat Williams said “my high got high!” the first time he dabbed.
He thought there was no way such a tiny, sticky, icky little amount of weed would do anything to someone who smoked as much weed as he did but he said it was “like hitting 300 blunts at the same time!”
Make sure you start with a small amount of wax, shatter, or budder the first time you dab. The other key to controlling the level of consciousness you want to keep, or obliterate, when dabbing has to do with how deeply and how long you hold the vapor in before exhaling the dab hit.
You don’t need to inhale your dab hits anywhere near as deeply or as long as you would ordinarily inhale traditional combusted cannabis flower, especially for your first time dabbing.
The rapper B Real from Cypress Hill also advises not to stand up on your feet too fast after doing a dab, especially if you’ve been sitting down on a chair hunched up over your rig setting it up.
How Are Dabs Normally Made?
All dab making starts with removing the cannabinoids and terpenes from the cannabis plant matter. You can do this in a number of ways, but the most common method is butane extraction.
In butane extraction, you force butane through a container of cannabis flowers. Butane, by nature, is a solvent, so when it comes in contact with the plant matter, it separates the essential oils ( cannabinoids , terpenes , trichomes , and flavonoids) from the leaves, stems, and stalks.
After you remove the plant matter, the essential oils stay in solution (dissolved in the butane) until the butane evaporates. Once the butane is gone, you’re left with butane hash oil (or BHO for short), a highly concentrated oil that dries into shatter or wax.
A Warning About Butane Extraction
Butane extraction sounds simple enough, but it’s not. Butane is extremely flammable and can explode with the smallest spark.
And you may not think there’s anything sparking in your kitchen, but refrigerator compressors and fans of any kind create sparks you never see. You can even cause a spark just by walking over the carpet and touching something metal (or someone else).
Do NOT use butane extraction at home in your kitchen to make dabs. Dab manufacturers spend thousands of dollars on fancy, specialized equipment that makes butane extraction safe and easy. There’s no reason to risk life and living space for a few measly dabs.
There are much easier and safer ways to make dabs. Try this non-toxic, non-explosive method instead.
How To Make Dabs At Home (A.K.A. DIY Dabs)
One of the best ways to make dabs at home without resorting to mega-dangerous butane extraction is through the QWISO process. QWISO stands for:
Quick Wash Of Isopropyl Alcohol
So as you can see, we’re going to use alcohol instead of butane to separate the canna-good-stuff from the buds. But we’re not going to use just any alcohol — no, a can of beer won’t do — we’re going to use pure alcohol (99 to 100-percent pure)
And lest you wonder where in the heck you’re going to find 100-percent pure alcohol, rest easy. You can buy it at your local drug store or grocery store — it’s called isopropyl alcohol (that’s the “ISO” in QWISO).
A Warning About Isopropyl Alcohol
Isopropyl alcohol is very different than the liquor you buy at the cash and carry. Even some of the strongest drinkable alcohols (like vodka and Everclear) are nowhere near as potent as Isopropyl alcohol,
In fact, isopropyl alcohol is not meant for human consumption . That means don’t put it in your mouth , boys and girls. We know it’s hard, but just don’t.
And if you’re worried about alcohol left behind when you’re done, don’t fret. The vast majority of it will evaporate during the “cooking” process.
Isopropyl alcohol is flammable. It’s nowhere near as flammable as butane, but you still shouldn’t handle it around an open flame. So don’t try this recipe if all you have available is a gas stove.
The Recipe For DIY Dabs
Stuff You’ll Need
- Isopropyl alcohol
- 2.5 grams of your favorite ganja
- Four or more containers that pour well and are freezer- and heat-safe
- Glass container with a lid for storage
- Metal mesh screen
- Unbleached coffee filters
- Hot water
- Heat source (NOT gas)
- Break your bud into small pieces.
- Place your bud in an oven-safe container (a cookie sheet works well) and dry it in an oven set to 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes.
- Once the cannabis is dry (looks and feels brittle), put it and your container of isopropyl alcohol in the freezer for four hours (don’t worry, the alcohol won’t freeze solid).
- Now comes the hardest part — the waiting.
- After four hours, pour enough isopropyl alcohol over the bud to cover it by at least one inch.
- Gently swish for 20 seconds.
- Let the solution sit for a few minutes.
- Gently swish for another 20 seconds.
- Pour the solution through a mesh screen to separate the bud from the alcohol.
- All we need is the liquid from here on out so set the plant matter aside.
- Pour the alcohol through an unbleached coffee filter into another container.
- Wring out the coffee filter to extract as much of the alcohol as possible (remember, it also contains a whole bunch of cannabinoids so really wring that sucker).
- Allow the alcohol to evaporate in one of three ways:
- Use a warm water bath to speed the process.
- Put the water bath on the stove at low to medium heat (don’t boil) until you see the liquid start to evaporate.
- When all the alcohol is gone, you’ll see a waxy/oily substance in the bottom of the container. These are your dabs!
- Scrape the material out and place in a glass container with a lid for storage.
- Enjoy your fresh dabs or store in a cool, dry, and dark space until you’re ready.
Remember the plant matter you set aside at the beginning of the process? You can run it through another isopropyl alcohol wash to get every single drop of canna-goodness.
This time through, swish for a minute and let the solution sit for up to five minutes to dissolve all the remaining cannabinoids.
Then proceed from step nine in the list above.
The Best Way To Experiment With Dabbing
The best way to experiment with dabbing — or any new marijuana endeavor for that matter — is to start small and take it slow. Remember, dabs are concentrated cannabinoids (the minimum is usually 70% THC or CBD!), so it doesn’t take a lot to get really high.
If this is your first time dabbing, try one hit and wait five minutes to see how your body reacts. You’ll typically feel an effect immediately, but those effects won’t reach their peak until five or 10 minutes in.
Be patient. You don’t want to overdo it on your first hit. If you don’t feel anything or you need more to be satisfied, hit the dab rig again. At your next dabbing session, increase the amount of dab per hit until you find the ideal amount.New to dabbing? No worries. In this comprehensive beginner’s guide, the experts at Honest Marijuana introduce you to this fun form of cannabis consumption. ]]>