Dabbing can seem daunting. But it doesn’t have to be. In this article, we’ll walk you through the basics of dabbing to ensure you have a great experience every time—even if you’ve never dabbed before.
“Dabs” is a colloquial name given to cannabis extracts such as butane hash oil (BHO), which is sold under many different names, such as shatter, wax, budder, rosin, and hash. These extracts are made by separating the trichomes from cannabis plants (usually using a solvent like butane, propane, CO₂, or ice water) and concentrating them to create a product rich in cannabinoids and terpenes.
The process of vaporizing and inhaling these concentrates is known as “dabbing”. There are two main ways to dab: either by using a handheld or portable device, or a larger, specialised bong known as a "dab rig".
Dabbing has many benefits. First and foremost, by offering such high concentrations of terpenes and cannabinoids, dabs have completely changed the way we experience cannabis. The high heat used when smoking a joint, blunt, or pipe combusts and destroys many of the compounds found in cannabis, altering its aroma, flavours, and effects.
When properly vaporizing dabs, you’ll be using lower temperatures and won’t be putting your dabs into direct contact with a naked flame. This means you’ll consume more terpenes and cannabinoids, rather than literally letting them go up in smoke.
Another major benefit of dabbing is that it exposes you to fewer toxic compounds. Cannabis smoke, just like the smoke from a cigarette or fire, contains a complex mix of chemicals. These compounds are partially the result of combustion, which breaks chemical bonds and creates free radicals. Inhaling smoke from a joint can therefore cause some of the same health problems as inhaling smoke from a cigarette.
Because dabbing uses lower temperatures, you’re able to avoid combustion altogether. The vapor you inhale from a vaporizer or dab rig will not only be smoother and more flavourful, but will also be a lot healthier for your lungs.
Arguably the biggest concern about the rising popularity of dabs comes from the way they are produced. Right now, the market for dabs is dominated by butane hash oil. Butane, as you probably know, is basically lighter fluid. Besides being extremely flammable, butane is loaded with chemicals you don’t exactly want to be inhaling.
Unfortunately, the popularity of BHO has led countless cannabis lovers (especially those living in areas where cannabis is still illegal) to try and make their own BHO at home. This has, in turn, led to countless disaster stories.
In places where cannabis is legal, BHO is typically produced in high-tech laboratories and according to strict safety regulations. And while these products usually have to uphold rigorous purity standards, there are still some concerns about the safety of heating and inhaling these products.
One other major concern about dabs is their potency. Cannabis flower usually contains between 10–30% THC, depending on the strain. Dabs, however, can contain up to 90%+ THC. Not only is it difficult for novice users to control their dosing at such high potencies, but regularly enjoying such concentrated cannabis means you’ll build up a higher tolerance to THC than you would by smoking or vaping flower.
The most common way to dab is to use a dab rig. To do so, you’ll need the following equipment:
Dab rigs look and work similarly to bongs. There are many different rigs out there at vastly different price points, and choosing one mainly comes down to your budget and personal preference. Smaller rigs can be a little more inviting and easier to use for beginner dabbers, while bigger rigs allow you to take bigger hits. Higher-priced rigs also tend to boast bolder designs.
Nectar Collectors offer a more portable and rookie-friendly approach to dabbing. They generally consist of a mouthpiece, a body with a percolator, a heat-resistant tip (which you heat with a blowtorch), and a dab dish. Simply place your dabs on the dish, heat the tip of the Nectar Collector, and place it over the extract to begin vaporizing; inhale!
Dab rigs consist of two main components: the rig itself, and the nail, which serves as the main heating component of the rig. Depending on the model, nails are heated electronically or manually (with a blowtorch). They are made out of a variety of materials, including glass, titanium, ceramic, or quartz. Some nails also come with a dome to help trap more vapor.
Dabs can be hard to handle due to their sticky texture and sometimes runny consistency. Combine that with the extreme temperature of your nail, and you’ve got a lot of potential for disaster. Dab tools, or dabbers, are specially designed to scrape together your dabs and load them onto your nail with ease. If you’re looking to get into dabbing, you simply can’t be without a good dabber.
The crucial step in dabbing involves getting your nail hot. The easiest, most reliable, but also most intimidating, way to do this is with a blowtorch. E-nails take the need for a blowtorch out of the equation, as they come with an electronic heating mechanism with precise temperature controls, giving you more control over your dabbing experience.
Dab rigs, like bongs and other smoking paraphernalia, need regular cleaning. Over time, a sticky, dark, and charred resin can build up around your nail and along the inside of your rig. It goes without saying that this resin can greatly alter the taste of your dab. Hence, it’s important to regularly clean your rig using 90% isopropyl alcohol, coarse salt, cotton swabs or pipe cleaners, and your dabber.
The last thing you’ll need to dab is something to store your extracts in. We recommend using non-stick, sealable silicone stash jars. You’ll find these at any good smoke shop.
So far, we’ve covered all the basics you need to know to start dabbing at home. But enjoying cannabis isn’t about sticking to the bare essentials; there are tons of accessories out there designed to make your dabbing experience more enjoyable. These include:
Below is a simple step-by-step walkthrough of how to dab using a dab rig. After reading this, hopefully you’ll be less intimidated by the experience, as it is actually quite simple.
Assemble your rig and fill it with water to cover its percolator opening(s).
Next, heat your nail until it’s red-hot. Getting the temperature right will take some practice; go too hot and you’ll burn and waste your dabs, while lower temps won’t allow for proper vaporization.
Once your nail is hot, carefully cover it with a dome if you have one.
Next, grab some extract with your dab tool, lower it onto your nail, and inhale steadily from the mouthpiece. At the right temperature setting, your dab should vaporize completely and form a big, powerful hit.
To help ensure you have an enjoyable dabbing experience, follow these tips for your first few sessions:
Always dab sitting down: Extracts are super potent and take effect very quickly. Always dab sitting down to avoid feeling light-headed or overwhelmed.
Hydrate: It’s important to hydrate whenever consuming cannabis, but especially while dabbing. Make sure to hydrate well before and during your session, and stay away from alcoholic beverages, at least until you’re more familiar with the effects of dabbing.
Pick the right day: Don’t dab on a day when you’ve got a lot on your plate. Instead, dab on the weekend or any other day when you have nothing else to focus on other than having a good time.
Keep it low: Dabbing works best at low temperatures, as you want to vaporize the cannabinoids and terpenes, not burn them. Getting your temps right will take some practice, but you can always invest in an electronic nail for more temperature control. Alternatively, invest in a carb cap to dab at lower temps.
Always clean your gear to preserve the flavour of your extracts.
Learn from the pros: If you’re new to dabbing, watch an experienced friend dab first to learn the basics. Even better, have someone walk you through the process and help you man the rig during your first couple of sessions until you get more confident.
Always start small: Dabs are super potent, so stick to small doses first and work your way up to avoid any negative side effects.
Choose the right setting: Recreational cannabis use should always be about enjoyment. Whenever you dab, choose a nice, relaxing space to really make the most of the experience.