What Are Dabs? A How-to Guide!

BHO Wax on Dabber
Photo by: Canna Obscura/Shutterstock

As sensible policy regarding cannabis use gains popularity across the United States– whether medically, recreationally, or both– information about the advancement of both cultivation and consumption techniques are either currently being studied or not available.

In either case, trends and fads have come up in the cannabis industry; advancements in technology and an increased understanding of the effects of cannabis have led to stronger products being available in marijuana dispensaries, while information struggles to keep up with the growing interest and demand.

I mean, who looks at a joint’s THC in milligrams? What are THC concentrations?

What are Dabs? How Do You Do Dabs?

The popularity of THC concentrates continues to rise, and with it, growing concerns regarding the usage of THC concentrates and the effect of doing dabs on the human body. In order to answer the question “what are dabs?” we must first understand that doing dabs is actually three things:

  1. The act of vaporizing concentrated cannabinoids
  2. A method of using marijuana with specialized equipment
  3. A substitute for traditionally smoked cannabis

What Are THC Concentrates?

Cannabis Concentrates Wax
Photo by: Roxanna Gonzalez
The easiest way for me to understand THC concentrates is by thinking of them similarly to how you may think of alcohol. While you may be able to sip beer for a few hours and be fine, sipping liquor for the same amount of time would likely leave you a great deal more intoxicated.

When you do dabs, you give your body access to at least double (in many cases, much more than that) the concentration of active cannabinoids as compared to traditional smoking. So in the same way that pounding back shots may lead to an expedited and more intense intoxication when you do dabs repeatedly, it can cause both the inexperienced and veteran smokers to experience more pronounced effects more rapidly.

Before you can consider yourself a regular dabber, however, it is important to decide what kind of concentrate you want to be doing dabs with. Oh yeah, didn’t anyone tell you there is a bunch of different concentrate products you can do dabs with, all created under a wide variety of processes? I have separated some of the more common processes into two categories for you: solvent-less extractions and solvent extractions.

Solvent Extractions

The process of creating concentrates to do dabs with involves a keen scientific know-how. Many of the concentrates that use a solvent to pull the organic, active cannabinoids from the plant matter are themselves highly flammable, so many places have regulations on manufacturing processes to prevent explosions and fires. Common solvents used in concentrate extractions are:

  • Butane Hash Oil (B.H.O.), also known as Butane Honey Oil, this solvent is among the most common extraction methods.
  • Propane Hash Oil (P.H.O.), also known as Propane Honey Oil is another common method of extraction, said to contain less residual parts than BHO making it cleaner to do dabs with.
  • Co2 Hash Oil is extremely common, used often in oil preparations for vaporizer pens, but you can do dabs with it just as well as the others.
  • Alcohol can also be used as a solvent in making THC concentrates, but it is less common.

Solvent Free THC Concentrates

While the use of solvents to extract oils from plants is nothing new (it’s how we get essential oils), some people argue fuller flavor and smoothness come from solvent-less extraction processes.

While there is some evidence that residual solvents may exist in finished THC concentrates, most of the information discussing whether solvent-less THC concentrates are better to do dabs with is purely anecdotal.

  • Rosin is the name for the oil created by means of heat and pressure and nothing else.
  • Bubble Hash, also known as full melt hash, is named bubble hash because of how it bubbles when lit. Careful when you do dabs of it, as I may dirty your nail a bit.

With the rise in popularity of concentrates, a term was adopted into the stoner rolodex that would be essential in describing a full routine in using concentrates. Traditionally, the word dab means to “apply a small amount in quick, tapping strokes” and when defining ‘what are dabs’, that is basically what we mean as well.

Now, before you go half-cocked off searching “dabs drug” on Google and spend your night sifting through a shroud of either similar or very contradictory information, allow me to explain what a dab is.

“Dab” is the colloquial term used to describe the vaporization of concentrated cannabis on a small heated skillet or nail, passing the smoke through a water chamber, similar to a bong or hookah, while being inhaled by the user. But what is a “nail?” A “skillet?”

What are dabs, actually?

How to Dab in Three Easy Steps

While we untangle what are dabs, it’s worth mentioning that while all the varieties of extraction yield a slightly different concentrate, the tools you have to have to do dabs with are as important as the concentrate itself. Let’s go over some of the more common equipment needed to do dabs:

  • Nail: The element of the dab rig that is heated with a blowtorch and covered by the dome. When doing dabs, this is the part that the concentrates are “dabbed” onto, allowing them to vaporize.
  • Skillet, banger, or domeless nail – variations of heating surfaces to vaporize the cannabis concentrate. When you’re doing dabs, the temperature you do it at is as important as the type of nail you choose.
  • Dabber: When doing dabs, the dabber is the tool used to dab the concentrate onto the heated nail and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Oddly enough, some of them resemble dental tools, and I do recommend them.
  • Dome: Goes over the nail and has a small opening in the top that helps direct any vapor back down through the pipe when it comes off the nail while doing dabs.

So let’s review, what are dabs? As I’ve defined it, it is three things really: a street name for concentrate use, a name for the process of using concentrates, and a substitute for traditionally smoked marijuana. When learning how to dab, and about dabs drug, it is important to be able to identify all the pieces of the dab rig and understand how they all work together.

THC Concentrates & More

While I have commented on common extraction techniques for concentrates, to take a dab you need to know more about the different dabbable concentrates and the different textures and consistencies. Let me explain:

  • Shatter: usually, a golden amber honey color, extractions of Butane, Propane, and Co2 may yield this somewhat transparent, hard extraction. When cool, it shatters apart like glass.
  • Wax: wax is often created using similar extraction methods to shatter. The main difference is that wax is not transparent and often is less hard to the touch. Also called earwax or budder, usually denoting differences In texture or consistency.
  • Rosin: A solvent-free extraction that yields a dark golden amber sap texture.

While shatter often boasts one of the highest concentrations of cannabinoids, it is important to note that in almost every case, THC concentrates are at least double the strength of traditionally smoked cannabis, and are often four to five times more potent than flower itself. This is why doing dabs is such a hot-button topic in the marijuana industry.

Inexperienced people doing dabs is suggested to lead to a higher occurrence of side effects, though research to this point has been inconclusive in showing any additional risks when using dabs drug for smoking marijuana.


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Joey Wells
Joey is a freelance writer and digital marketer based out of Denver, Colorado. He has been a contributing writer in the cannabis industry for nearly two years. In his time in the cannabis space, he has written on economics, taxes, regulations, law, and medical or scientific research.