What Are Dabs?
Understanding These Popular Marijuana Derivatives
The umbrella term “dabs” refers to various preparations of highly concentrated marijuana extract. Once the cannabinoid-rich base oil has been extracted from marijuana plant material, it can then be further processed into other forms, all of which can be called “dabs.” Quite appropriately, the method used to smoke dabs is known as “dabbing,” the details of which we’ll discuss in a later section.
The use of marijuana concentrate may not be new, but dabs are currently exploding in popularity—especially among teens and young adults.
The Differences Between Weed and Dabs
Although dabs are produced from marijuana plant matter, dabs are quite different from what we know as “weed.” In addition to the fact that they look nothing alike (weed looks like plant material, dabs look like processed resins and oils), the concentrated result of extraction gives dabs a significantly higher THC content than that of weed. The average THC content of marijuana plant matter is roughly 12-13%. In stark contrast, the average THC content of dabs can range anywhere from 50-80%. As a result, dabs generally offer a more intense high than other forms of cannabis do.
Types of Dabs
By processing the base marijuana extract in various ways, a wide variety of textures, colors, and concentrations can be achieved. Take a look below at the characteristics of five common kinds of dabs: shatter, budder, oil, live resin, and wax.
- What it is: The oily base extract of marijuana, often referred to as Butane Hash Oil (BHO) or Honey Oil. Usually yellow/amber in color, it sometimes develops crystals for a chunky appearance.
- How it’s usually made: Solvent extraction is performed by adding liquid butane gas as a solvent to dried or cured marijuana plant matter. Heat and vacuum pressure are then carefully applied to remove the remaining butane without changing the liquid consistency of the extract.
- What it is: A glassy, solid concentrate with an amber or honey color. As the name implies, it is often brittle and shatters easily.
- How it’s usually made: Solvent extraction is performed on dried or cured marijuana and the resulting oil is heated at temperatures around 90–100° F in a vacuum oven to purge excess butane. The temperature at which this purging occurs is the key to its glassy, solid appearance.
- What it is: A smooth, usually golden-colored substance with the consistency of very soft butter.
- How it’s usually made: Solvent extraction is performed on dried or cured marijuana and the resulting oil is whipped during heating to create a creamy, fluffy texture.
- What it is: A yellowish, semi-solid substance with the consistency of wax.
- How it’s usually made: Solvent extraction is performed on dried or cured marijuana and the resulting oil is purged of butane using a vacuum pump and little to no heat. Heat is kept low, and the product may be whipped to produce a thicker consistency without it turning into shatter or butter.
- What it is: A viscous, honey-colored substance that is considered to be more aromatic than other types of dabs.
- How it’s usually made: Extraction is performed on fresh, frozen marijuana plant matter using either butane or carbon dioxide as a solvent. The resulting extract is similar to BHO, but is more sap-like and can contain even higher concentrations of the desired compounds.
Dabbing Methods and Equipment
Unlike traditional means of smoking marijuana, dabbing involves inhaling vapor produced by heating the dab substance. This is generally done using a dabbing “rig” or vaporizer.
A rig is a specialized water pipe in which dabs are heated, producing a vapor that can be inhaled through a mouthpiece. An oil rig is a simple pipe that uses a heated nail (usually made from glass, titanium, or quartz) to press into and heat the dab substance. An atom bomb rig, on the other hand, uses a battery-powered heating element.
Hand-held vape pens or “dab pens” are battery-powered products that contain an atomizing chamber in which the vapor is produced. Some vaporizers are limited to commercial vape oils, but others allow users to dab with any substance.
The Risks of Dabbing: How Much Is Too Much?
The idea that inhaling vapor through dabbing is risk-free due to a lack of smoke is a major misconception; in fact, both the production process and the inhalation of vapors can pose significant risks to users.
If improperly handled, transported, or stored, liquid butane poses risks like an explosion, fire, severe burns, and asphyxiation. If the butane is not purged sufficiently from the dab material during production, users are at risk of inhaling significant amounts of butane gas while dabbing, exposing them to additional health risks like irregular heartbeat, temporary memory loss, and changes in blood pressure.
The dangers of dabs themselves are varied but serious, including paranoia, hallucinations, psychosis, rapid heart rate, blackouts, and more. Tolerance builds quickly with these concentrated substances, leading users to higher and more dangerous doses at a much faster rate than other types of cannabis use. The fast, powerful high of dabs can also lead highly intoxicated individuals to make life-threatening decisions or behave recklessly.
It’s difficult to define how much is “too much” because the actual content and concentration of a given dab can vary so much. While research has not conclusively shown whether one can overdose on cannabis, the potency of BHO can take you very close. A particularly high dose could cause you to pass out and lose consciousness, at which point there are risks for various complications. So many factors are involved—your personal tolerance limits, the concentration of the dab, the identity and concentration of any unknown chemicals in the dab, etc.—that it’s like playing Russian Roulette every time.
Learn More About Addiction and Explore Recovery Options
An addiction to dabs or other illicit substances can have a devastating impact on all areas of your life. As the drug becomes the all-important center of your life, your goals, relationships, physical health, and psychological stability are all at risk of serious, sometimes irreversible harm. At Yellowstone Recovery in Southern California, we can help you avoid or reverse these risks before it’s too late.
If you’re struggling with an addiction or are concerned that a loved one might be using dabs, call Yellowstone Recovery at (888) 418-4188 to discuss your options.
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