What is a dab? A short history of concentrate consumption

cannabis concentrate aka dabs

The cannabis realm is vast and evolving at a rapid pace. There are so many modalities for consumption, it seems that there’s something for everyone. The concentrates section of any dispensary may evoke curiosity, with some consumers asking, “What is a dab, anyway?”

Dabbing is not exactly new. People have consumed weed extracts in a variety of ways for years. But for the uninitiated, dabbing involves vaporizing a tiny bit (aka a dab) of highly concentrated cannabis at a moderately high temperature. These extracts are more potent than regular flower. The cannabinoid content in bud is typically somewhere between 15-30 percent, whereas concentrates test as high as 60-90 percent.

The effects are usually far more intense compared to traditional smoking, giving new life to the old saying, “Just a dab will do ya.” 

What is a dab – and how do you do it?

The evolution of dabbing over the last decade or two has been intriguing, as the legalization of cannabis across the United States has led to new innovations. Back in the day, hot knives were all the rage. This rudimentary way to vape concentrates saw a small piece of hash placed between two red-hot butter knives, quickly turning to vapor which was then inhaled via a funnel often made from the top of a two-liter soda bottle.

By the early 2010s, dabbing emerged as we now know it today. Extraction techniques became more advanced. Butane hash oil (or BHO) and CO2 oil were entering the market, and these concentrates were stickier and more viscous than old-school hash. Now, extracts come in various forms, from CBD crumble to high-end rosin that is thick like honey.

These concentrates could be used to top a bowl or crumbled into a joint, but as consumer tastes for extracts evolved, so did consumption methods

Similar to smoking a bong or bubbler, dabs are vaporized on something called a rig. Rigs resemble a larger water pipe but also have a special bowl called a banger, or a smaller tip called a nail. Bangers and nails are usually made from quartz, ceramic, or titanium to withstand high heat. The nectar collector emerged soon after; this dab rig is like an elongated chillum.

When setting up a “traditional” dab, the banger or nail is heated using a blow torch. Dabbers also commonly use an e-nail, an electronic device with coils that wraps around the rig and maintains the desired temperature. This temperature varies depending on the type of concentrate and personal preference. A range of 400 degrees Fahrenheit and 600 degrees Fahrenheit is most common. Some prefer extremely high temps when smoking dabs, but the results may induce intense coughing.

Once the banger reaches the desired temp, a small piece of concentrate is placed using a dab tool. Depending on the temperature, the material liquefies and vaporizes almost instantly, before the vapor is inhaled through the rig’s mouthpiece. 

Some people prefer a cold start dab, where the concentrate is placed in the banger before heating. This method is believed to have a more flavorful experience as the temp increases due to the release of terpenes, the compounds in cannabis responsible for their flavor, aroma, and effects.

what is a dab - bulk cannabis concentrates

More ways than one to dab

For some, the idea of using a blow torch in their cannabis routine is intimidating, which is totally understandable. This author carries a faint scar on her arm due to a dabbing incident in 2018.

Thankfully, there are more ways to dab than a torch and rig. Many electronic rigs (aka e-rigs), vape pens, and electric honey straws have been introduced over the last several years. These high-tech dabbing devices make concentrates accessible and incredibly easy, making them ideal for beginners.

Loadable vaporizer pens became super popular in the mid to late 2010s because they are a convenient, portable, and discreet way to dab. Resembling an ink pen, these devices have a chamber for concentrates, usually in the middle. A battery-powered heating element called an atomizer heats the material with a push of a button. Once the vapor is created, it’s inhaled through a mouthpiece on top. 

Larger e-rigs are more similar to traditional rigs aside from their built-in heating elements that look similar to a loadable pen but are far more powerful. The Puffco Peak broke the mold for e-rigs thanks to its high-end design and function. The Ispire daab and Focus V Carta are also popular e-rig choices thanks to their customizable features and functionality.

Electric nectar collectors make dabbing extremely accessible. Products like the Little Dipper allow you to enjoy extracts with ease. One end features a heating element that you touch directly to your concentrate; you then press a button on the middle and inhale through the other side. This device and similar offerings brought dabbing to new demographics and are especially handy on the go since they can easily fit in a pocket or purse. 

Dabbing: quick, efficient, and powerful

While dabbing may seem overwhelming, it’s just another tool in the cannabis toolkit. Consumers have a wide variety of options nowadays, and many find that taking a dab is an effective and straightforward way to medicate.

Some people wonder if dabs are healthier than flower, but the short answer is yes and no. Vaporizing is slightly better for the lungs than combustion, but your throat may become irritated if the temperature is too high. Since THC concentration is higher in dabs than flower, and the effects of dabbing can be more pronounced, newcomers should tread lightly.

Many people prefer dabbing cannabis concentrates to smoking since it’s a more efficient method of consumption and lacks the pungent odor of burnt plant material. Dabs are often ideal for medical patients or those with higher tolerance, thanks to their potent nature.

Anyone considering trying dabs for the first time should always start low and go slow. Try a tiny bit at first, and remember, you don’t need to take the entire rip. Count to two while inhaling, and then exhale and then wait a few minutes before trying again. It’s easy to overdo it with dabs, but once you dial in your dose, you may find the consumption method a perfectly pleasant experience.

Rachelle Gordon is a cannabis journalist and Editor of GreenState.com. She has been covering the cannabis space since 2015, and has been featured in High Times, CannabisNow, and many other niche publications. Rachelle currently splits her time between Minneapolis and Oakland; her favorite cannabis cultivars include Silver Haze and Tangie. Follow Rachelle on Instagram @rachellethewriter

Rachelle Gordon