Cannabis Concentrates 101: What’s A Dab, And Do You Need One?

A man in a parka and ball cap reading Swag does "The Dab" move

Dabbing is hot right now.

Flip through an issue of High Times, and you’ll find full-page ads for dabbing tools and “the purest butane on earth.”

Maybe you’re just curious, or maybe you’re seeking the ultimate extreme high—but whether dabs are for you depends on a variety of factors.

Dabs are servings of BHO or PHO: butane hash oil or propane hash oil.

By grinding up cannabis buds, or sugar leaf trim, and then using butane or propane as a solvent, the THC is stripped from the plant matter, resulting in a thick liquid known as hash oil.

You can further manipulate the oil into a solid—AKA shatter, wax, honeycomb, sap, and so on—by removing the remaining gases through decarboxylation and other unpronounceable processes.

The end result is a highly intensified form of THC, up to 90 percent, known as a divisive category of cannabis products called “concentrates.”

It’s not the same as frozen orange juice concentrate.

The pro-dab/anti-dab debate begins with how it’s made. You’ve seen news stories of house fires started by someone who was sloppy, using a highly flammable gas under extreme pressure while indoors.

To quote Frankenstein’s monster, “Fire bad!”—especially when it’s the apartment next to yours that goes up in flames.

Safe processing can eliminate this problem, but perhaps a larger concern for some is that butane or propane is used to make dabs.

No one wants to inhale nasty gases while smoking cannabis, right?

Well, unless you’ve been using a magnifying glass to harness the sun’s rays to light your bong, joint, or pipe—and no, you haven’t been doing that—butane is what powers your Bic, Einstein.

The butane used by quality “processors” (the preferred term) is far cleaner than standard cigarette-lighter butane, and the methods used to remove any lingering gas can result in a lab-tested concentrate with no detectable trace of the solvent.

The other thing to consider is the way in which dabs are consumed.

While there are concentrate pens that use a simple incandescent light bulb-style heated filament coil, dedicated dabbers use a “rig”—a modified water pipe with a “nail” of titanium or glass that is heated to a red-hot temperature by using a blowtorch.

(Cue the crack comparisons, and the fact that blowtorches in stoned hands can result in burns that eliminate fingerprints, or entire fingers.)

So why would anyone do this? Because dabs are potent as hell: It’s a rush of THC that can be extremely helpful to those with hardcore pain-management issues.

Instead of smoking several joints or bowls, you can take a single inhale and be pain-free for hours.

But for recreational use, the effects can be overwhelming. I tend to avoid dabs, but recently took one that made the skin beneath my eyes sweat.

In other words, dabbing isn’t for everyone. But we’re lucky to live in a world where the option exists.

Josh Taylor is a well-known and successful entrepreneur in the legal cannabis space, producing B2B and B2C cannabis events, "Backstage Budtending" and upscale concierge services through his companies and His weekly syndicated newspaper column and features about cannabis ran for five years until March 2020.

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