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Dabs or flower: Which is healthier?

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When it comes to choosing how to consume your cannabis, many assume dabbing is healthier than smoking flower.

After all, research shows that the plethora of harmful particles and gases released when you smoke a joint may do as much damage to your lungs as smoking tobacco, while inhaling vaporized cannabis concentrates (or, dabbing) is marketed as a way to enjoy the benefits of smoking herb (namely – a strong high, fast) without endangering your lungs.

As with so much in the cannabis world, though, there isn’t quite as much science backing this claim as some sellers would like you to believe. Frankly, there isn’t a lot of research out there about dabs at all.

So, are dabs really healthier for you than bud?

The short answer is yes… sort of.

According to Cannabis Clinician, Consultant, and Author Laura Lagano, dabs, from a medical standpoint, are more the lesser of two evils than a blessing.

“As a healthcare professional, I can’t recommend smoking flower or dabbing,” Lagano told GreenState.  “But, if a patient was in extreme pain and needed the immediate relief those methods provide, I think I would chose dabbing because it doesn’t do as much damage to the lungs as smoking. But the potency of dabs can really throw people, and they’re complicated to consume – you really have to know what you’re doing and have a high marijuana tolerance, or find concentrates with low THC levels, to get it right.”

As a safe alternative to both dabs and flower, Lagano recommends under-the-tongue tinctures, which can produce an effect just as powerful as smoking would, and almost as quickly.

But, if you’re still down for dabbing, bare in mind these 5 health risks:

 

1) It’s all too easy to become too high

Fun fact: Some dabs (particularly crumble and shatter) contain as much as 95 percent THC. For context, a single bud generally contains 10 to 20 percent THC.

It’s no surprise, then, that the extremely high THC levels of THC consumed while dabbing is what Lagano and other health professionals find to be the most concerning aspect of this method.

While it’s unlikely you will overdose on THC, the effects of this much THC can be scary. Users with low to moderate marijuana tolerance levels report experiencing hallucinations, paranoia, and a feeling of paralysis. Using dabs of this high potency can also open the door to marijuana dependency, as your body gradually begins craving more and more THC.

RELATED: What to do when you’re too high

2) You can burn yourself (and your house) in the extraction process

If you’re like us, you’re probably spending a lot of time bored at home right now. Even so, extracting dabs yourself (i.e. pouring butane on flower in a rig and lighting it) is probably not a DIY project you want to try.

According to a 2015 study by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, dab creations gone awry have caused a considerable number of fires, severe burns, and even explosions in the United States. Clearly, costly mistakes are hard to avoid when inexperienced consumers handle highly flammable butane and wield torches while consuming high levels of THC.

Fortunately, if you live in a state where marijuana is legal, it isn’t hard to purchase dabs without putting yourself and those around you at risk by trying to make them yourself.

3) You could be inhaling harmful chemicals

A 2017 study by Portland State University showed dabs can contain extremely harmful toxins, including (but not limited to) benzene, a chemical widely known to cause cancer. While benzene is harmless at average temperatures, it is highly dangerous at the temperature that used to be considered ideal for dabs (around 700°F.)

Thanks to this and other studies on the subject, the recommended temperature for your nail (the tool most commonly used to heat a dab) now lies between 315 and 440°F (which, incidentally, also preserves more of the terpenes and cannabinoids in the concentrate.)

Still, it can be very difficult to regulate the temperature of your nail, and, when the stakes are this high, a few degrees too hot is nothing to take lightly. To avoid guesswork and stay safe, invest in an e-nail, and use a carb cap to enjoy full vaporization at cooler temperatures.

RELATED: 4 Things Your Teen Should Know About Vaping and E-Cigarettes

4) They can contain artificial terpenes

A disturbing trend in the cannabis industry is the addition of artificial terpenes in marijuana and CBD products, generally for the purpose of flavor and aroma enhancement. Unfortunately, dabs have not been spared of this.

The same study from the University of Portland showed freakishly high levels of terpenes in several cannabis concentrates on the market, indicating terpenes had been added through artificial means. While all the terpenes they discovered were safe in food products, most were considered toxic when heated and/or vaporized.

For this reason, it’s important to make informed decisions when buying your dabs. By purchasing from a legal, reputable seller, and you stand a much better chance of avoiding harmful terpenes than if you purchase from other commercial sources.

 

As a rule of thumb, be kind to yourself, others, and your dabs. If you feel your tolerance is high enough, or you’re in enough pain, that dabbing is the right consumption method for you, remember to purchase your dabs from a reputable seller, use relatively low temperatures, and bring a friend in case something goes wrong.

Elissa Esher is Assistant Editor at GreenState. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Guardian, Brooklyn Paper, Religion Unplugged, and Iridescent Women. Send inquiries and tips to elli.esher@hearst.com.