The World of Dabs, Shatter, THC Oil: A Guide to Cannabis Concentrates
What are cannabis concentrates?
All concentrates are made by extracting the most effective compounds from the cannabis plant to make a ‘concentrated’ form of the cannabinoids and terpenes responsible for the high associated with marijuana use.
Using solvents, professionals extract these concentrated chemicals by separating the most important compounds from the plant matter itself. The resulting mixture consists almost entirely of these psychoactive chemicals, distilled into their purest and most potent form.
Depending on the extraction method used to distill these, concentrates can take the form of a solid or a liquid. Their effects can also be drastically different to those produced from standard cannabis flowers, especially if vaporized. This is largely due to concentrates’ higher THC levels, which can range from 50 to 90 percent – far higher than the typical 10 to 25 percent levels of marijuana buds.
Rising in popularity in the 2010s, the three most commonly used cannabis concentrates are now dab wax, shatter, and THC oil. But how are they made?
How to make cannabis concentrates
Cannabis concentrates are extracts, which are made by using chemicals or solvents to separate the cannabinoids and terpenes from the original cannabis plant. The result is a concentrated mixture almost purely comprised of psychoactive cannabinoids and terpenes.
These cannabinoids and terpenes are naturally concentrated in resinous glands called trichomes, which cover the outside of the plant. During the extraction process used to make concentrates, the trichomes and their psychoactive compounds are separated from the vegetative material of full cannabis plants using a solvent or extraction chemical.
To make dabs or shatter, extractors often saturate their picked marijuana buds with butane to separate the trichomes from the plant matter. The mixture of cannabinoids and terpenes is then subjected to temperature and pressure changes to determine the physical texture that it obtains when it solidifies.
THC oil is often produced using CO2 extraction, which is widely considered the safest extraction method. By placing the carbon dioxide under extremely low temperatures and high pressures, the natural gas can strip the terpenes and cannabinoids from the plant’s trichomes.
The resulting THC oil is commonly used in vaporizer cartridges for convenient, odorless, and discreet consumption. The supercritical CO2 extraction method used to make THC oil is known to better preserve terpenes than the butane extraction used to create shatter and dabs. So, what are the different types of cannabis concentrates?
How to make dab wax
Dabs are a form of butane hash oil (BHO), a term that refers to the solvent first poured over the cannabis buds. The soaked buds are then ‘purged’ in an oven or vacuum at room temperature to remove the butane. The subsequent temperatures, handling, and pressure levels applied will determine whether the BHO solidifies into malleable dab wax or shatter. As the temperatures used in this process aren’t hot enough to decarboxylate the delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) into active THC, the BHO isn’t orally active and so must be vaporized to experience the desired effects.
These vaporizer s, or nails, are often electric, which can allow temperature control. But certain consumers are known to use a ceramic/titanium/quartz nail heated with a crème brûlée torch, which is unlikely to produce a consistent temperature.
How to make shatter
Like dab wax, shatter is a BHO extracted from the cannabis plant. The differences come after the initial extraction process, when the BHO is cooled to induce solidification. Unlike dabs, which are left undisturbed while solidifying, the BHO is shaken and stirred as it’s left to cool. This results in a solid cannabis concentrate with an entirely different appearance, one that’s translucent and glasslike. Despite these differences, though, the effects of dabs and shatter are more or less identical, as they’re both derived from BHO.
On the molecular level, the differences between dabs and shatter are the result of differing molecular alignments, which is determined by heating versus cooling, pressure applied, and handling (whether the mixture is shaken or left undisturbed). Dab wax has a relatively disorganized molecular composition, while the molecular alignment shatter is organized into neat, parallel rows.
Like dab wax, shatter can be vaporized with a dab rig. A small pinch of shatter is applied to the dab nail, which is subsequently ignited to heat the concentrate and produce a potent vapor that delivers powerful, instant effects.
How to make THC oil
Unlike dab wax and shatter, THC oil is a liquid cannabis concentrate and not a BHO. And whereas wax and shatter are extracted using butane, THC oil is usually derived using CO2. Except this CO2 isn’t a gas, like it is at room temperature. To act as a solvent, this CO2 is first heated and pressurized until it morphs into a supercritical liquid. Only then can it strip the psychoactive compounds from the trichomes of the original plant matter. The resulting liquid THC oil is rich in cannabinoids and terpenes and commonly used to create vaporizer cartridges to attach to battery-operated vape pens.
Cannabis concentrates are often preferred by consumers who are after a more powerful high, or those who suffer from ailments that require instant relief, such as chronic pain, migraines, and other common conditions. As cannabis concentrates continue to grow in popularity, more innovation and research on these potent delivery methods is sure to follow.
Mell Green is a writer who advocates for the cannabis plant in more ways than one. Catch more of her work here.
The World of Dabs, Shatter, THC Oil: A Guide to Cannabis Concentrates What are cannabis concentrates? All concentrates are made by extracting the most effective compounds from the cannabis
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.