As cannabis continues to become legal in many parts of the United States, consumers are looking for novel ways to consume the psychoactive plant. Gone are the days when eating edibles or smoking top-shelf buds were the strongest form of cannabis consumers could consume; that crown now belongs to dabbing cannabis concentrates.
That said, dabbing is not as peachy as it may seem at first glance. As it turns out, there may be some serious adverse health effects associated with the practice. But how can we separate fact from fiction when it comes to dabs?
This guide will briefly explain what dabbing is, how it works, and finally, discuss its health effects. So, stick with us to learn everything you need to know about dabbing cannabis concentrates and their health effects!
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What is Dabbing?
The goal of dabbing is to consume a highly potent form of cannabis in a short amount of time, thus delivering a much more powerful psychoactive effect. Some proponents of dabbing also argue that it is a purer form of consuming the cannabis plant since cannabis concentrates discard all plant matter only to preserve the desired chemical compounds.
The unique chemical compounds found in cannabis are known as cannabinoids. Of these cannabinoids, THC is the primary psychoactive and most psychoactive compound, followed by a range of other psychoactive and non-psychoactive cannabinoids including CBD.
An average dried marijuana flower had a THC concentration of only 5% back in the 1970s and 1980s. These days, weed can average anywhere from 15-25% THC owing to advanced growing and genetic selection techniques. Cannabis concentrates, by comparison, can have a THC concentration from anywhere between 80-92% THC.
For this reason, dabbing is significantly more potent compared to traditional forms of smoking cannabis; a single dab hit may have the same effect as anywhere between smoking four to five joints of cannabis weed.
How Dabbing Works
To understand how dabbing works, it’s important first to understand what cannabis concentrates are and how they are made.
A cannabis concentrate is any product created by accumulating trichomes of the cannabis plant from the flower. The trichomes are the crystalline, sticky, hair-like structures on the cannabis flower surface. These trichomes are the most highly prized part of the plant since they contain all the cannabinoids. In addition, they also contain secondary aromatic compounds called terpenes, which give each cannabis strain a unique aroma, flavor, and physical effects.
There are two methods for making concentrates:
- Solvent-based extraction: This method uses a solvent such as butane, propane, or carbon dioxide to dissolve the trichomes and extract them. Examples of solvent-based concentrates include Butane Hash Oil (BHO), Rick Simpson Oil (RSO), and CO2 wax.
- Non-solvent extraction: This method physically separates the trichomes from the plant material. Examples include kief, rosin, dry sift, ice water hash, and bubble hash.
Once the cannabis concentrate is ready, the consumer vaporizes it using dabbing equipment or paraphernalia. This equipment may include heated knives or specialized dabbing equipment such as dab pens or dab rigs. The concentrate, once heated, produces vapors that the consumer inhales to feel its effects.
What is a Dab Pen?
A dab pen, also known as a wax pen, is a specialized piece of equipment for dabbing. It consists of five major components: a cartridge for placing concentrates, an atomizer, sensors, a mouthpiece, and a battery. The pen helps the user vaporize cannabis concentrates by heating and producing vapor, which the user inhales.
A simple explanation of how a pen works is that the batteries draw the concentrate from the cartridge to the atomizer, which contains a heating element. The heating element then heats the concentrate to a specific temperature and produces vapor, which the user inhales through the device’s mouthpiece.
Dabbing Side Effects
Dabbing is not without its side effects. However, given the nature of how dabs are made and their chemical profile, some of these side effects may be more severe than those associated with other forms of cannabis.
Health professionals have separated dabbing’s side effects into physical and psychological categories. We’ll give you an overview of both here to help you better understand its effects.
Common physical symptoms of dabbing may include:
- Strong and spontaneous body sensations
- Increased heart rate
- Decreased blood pressure
- Dry mouth
Common psychological symptoms of dabbing include:
- Depersonalization and Derealization
- Extreme Paranoia
- Visual and Auditory Hallucinations
Note that a dab user may not experience all of these side effects at once or all the time; some effects such as insomnia are highly dose-dependent, whereas others such as hallucinations and psychosis more frequently occur in those at risk of disorders such as schizophrenia.
Dangers of Dabbing Wax
Broadly speaking, there are three major types of dangers associated with dabbing wax:
- Health Effects: These include the side effects mentioned above. Although cannabis is not physically addictive the same way other drugs like alcohol, opiates, and benzodiazepines are, it can nonetheless lead to psychological dependence. This mental addiction is especially prevalent in those prone to substance abuse disorders.
- Manufacture and Production: Butane is a highly volatile and explosive chemical that can cause devastating explosions from even a tiny spark. There are many documented instances of individuals accidentally blowing up their houses from butane explosions during the BHO concentrate manufacturing process. Even the best-case scenario in such situations leads to severe third-degree burns.
- Consumption and Use: Finally, the process of dabbing itself can be dangerous. Dab rigs utilize glass water pipes which the users have to heat with blow torches at high temperatures. The user may sustain accidental burns in the process or inhale harmful gasses. This risk is even more concerning given most users’ impaired physical and mental state as they dab, which may lead to safety negligence.
Long Term Health Effects of Dabbing
Although there is no conclusive evidence yet on the long-term health effects of dabbing, anecdotal evidence suggests that frequent dabbers may damage their lungs from excessive dabbing. This lung damage is most likely a result of heating the chemical compounds found in solvent-based concentrates. It’s not uncommon for long-term dab users to complain of sharp pains in their chest, hacking coughs, and tar-like mucus exuding from their respiratory systems.
In a 2017 study from Portland State University, scientists found evidence indicating that dabbing can have some detrimental health effects in long-term users, who frequently inhale toxic chemical compounds during the dabbing process.
Is Dabbing Dangerous?
While the verdict is still out whether dabbing is dangerous overall, the evidence so far seems to suggest that dabbing has some severe consequences for physical and mental health. The powerful high that dabbing produces is also not to be taken lightly. Some people refer to dabs as the “crack of weed”, and for a good reason; it can produce high tolerance to cannabis and psychological dependence as a result.
If you still decide to dab, we recommend you use safe practices to minimize its harm. One such practice is opting for solventless cannabis concentrates such as rosin or kief. As these products are prepared from natural processes and do not include hazardous chemicals, they carry less risk compared to solvent-based concentrates.
Ultimately, to dab or not to dab, the choice is yours. As the saying goes: let the buyer beware.