Guide to dabbing concentrates

“Dabs” are concentrated forms of cannabis that can be smoked or vaporized one dose at a time. Concentrates may also be called butter, peanut butter, shatter, oil, wax or crumble, with the names descriptive of the appearance or physical properties of the concentrate.

Varieties of dabs

Concentrates, commonly called dabs, are generally classified into one of six categories.

Shatter, also known as sheets, glass or slabs, is a semi-transparent thin sheet of concentrate that resembles yellow or amber glass. At or below room temperature, shatter can be easily broken or snapped to obtain the proper dosage size.

Butter, also known as peanut butter, budder or whipped wax, has the texture and appearance of commercial peanut butter. Its consistency has also been likened to the popular non-toxic “dough” used by children for play and crafts. Butter is malleable although the texture is firm. Butters may be yellow, golden brown or beige in color.

Oil, also known as honey oil or 710, is a thick liquid that is normally dark gold or amber in color. They are often packaged in plastic syringes to make them easier to handle, transport and use. Oils are considered by many to offer greater consistency in determining dosage. Most oils are smoked or vaporized, but some types are edible.

Wax, also known as crumble, flake, honeycomb or earwax, can have a variety of textures and appearance. The type of process employed to create the concentrate determines the consistency. Some waxes have a coarse, crumbly appearance similar to brown sugar. Others may be a sticky, thick semi-solid chunk reminiscent of earwax, while still others may be in small-to-medium flakes.

Live resin or live resin oil is created from live, fresh plants that have not been previously subjected to the drying process. Live resin typically has lower availability and can be difficult to locate, but some people claim that it provides the ultimate way to experience the nuances of a strain’s aroma and flavor. Rosin is a solvent-less form of making concentrates using only heat and pressure.

Dabbing accessories

Numerous options are available for smoking concentrates. Some types of dabs, such as crumble, can be sprinkled on top of cannabis and consumed in the traditional manner. Most dabbers, however, prefer dab rigs specifically designed to optimize delivery.

Oil rigs are the classic equipment for dabbing. They are basically water pipes that have additional elements to enable the use of concentrates. The normal configuration consists of a nail, dome and holder. Dabs are placed in the holder, the nail is heated with a torch, the dome is set in place and the heated nail is touched to the concentrate to create the inhalable vapor.

Domeless nails are all-in-one oil rigs that are intended to facilitate dabbing by eliminating the need to remove and replace the dome. Users heat the nail and apply the concentrate directly onto the nail.
Vape pens or vaporizers are similar in appearance and design to e-cigarettes. They contain an internal element that heats the concentrate to the correct temperature. Vape pens work best with oil, wax or shatter, depending on design, but many of them are not normally recommended for use with butters.

Dabbing pens have a shape that is reminiscent of a syringe. They consist of a dish onto which the concentrate is loaded and a “pen” with a tip that is heated and then dipped into the concentrate.

Atom bomb rigs combine the benefits of both a vaporizer and a water pipe. Dabs are loaded in an atomizer that uses a battery to heat the concentrate. The rig functions like a water pipe, allowing the user to experience water-vaped dabbing.

Existing water pipes and bongs can sometimes be used for dabbing by purchasing an attachment or nail to use with concentrates. There are also many different available options, such as swinging skillets or custom “designer” nails. In addition, as dabbing continues to grow in popularity, new add-ons are likely to appear on a regular basis.

History of dabs

The practice of concentrating medicinal cannabis into a more potent form goes back centuries. However, early extraction methods and tools often resulted in concentrates of inconsistent strength and purity. This was the case during the 1960s, when oils and other concentrated forms of illegal drugs were prepared in unregulated labs and sold “on the street.”

Modern dabs are created with techniques and methods that have been recently developed. Some experts fix the year at 2010 for the first true dabs, while others claim they actually began as early as 2005. Regardless, it is safe to say that the concentrates sold today are a development of the 21st century.

California is typically given credit as the home state of dabbing, and a glass blower is often credited as having developed new extraction methods. Other reports credit growers of medicinal cannabis, with the location being either Colorado or California, depending on the source.

Although the earliest concentrates could possibly predate written history, dabs did not become widely popular until recent years. The manufacturing process had become widely known and used by 2012, and the trend has continued to grow during the intervening years.

Who would want to dab?

Dabs offer precise control over the dosage. This allows users to effectively budget their medicine over time or to control how much they consume during a day or a session.

Because dabs are concentrated, they tend to be more potent. Individuals can build up a tolerance to medicines, meaning that they require ever-increasing dosages to deliver the same result.

Concentrates can be an excellent alternative for those who have developed a tolerance for cannabis. Concentrates normally deliver faster results than cannabis. Dabbing can often deliver near-immediate results, making it ideal for those who need fast-acting stress or pain relief.

Depending on the variety, many dabs do not have the strong smell that is characteristic of cannabis when it is burned. In addition, dabs normally have little or no scent when they are not being burned. For those who prefer discretion, this can be an advantage of concentrates over dry medicinal cannabis.

Best practices

Many individuals are taking up dabbing for the first time after years of opting for other delivery methods. Dabbing requires a little more attention to detail than traditional methods. Following are the top “best practices” for dabbing.

Purchase dabs from a reputable source. Concentrates can vary in extraction method, purity and strength.

Clean the dabber after every hit. Failure to do so allows residue to build up, which will be harder to clean if neglected and which can interfere with the taste of future dabs. Isopropyl alcohol is an excellent cleanser for dabbers if rinsed after cleaning and allowed to dry before the next use.

If uncertain about dosage, opt for less. If the desired effect is not realized, supplement with cannabis delivered traditionally or clean the dabber and try a bit more.

Always follow the storage recommendations for the different types of concentrates. This ensures the best taste and least risk of contamination.

Realize that dabbing is not the ideal delivery method for all individuals. Although most people report favorably about dabbing, others are less enthusiastic, citing reasons such as complexity or difficulty in using an oil rig. As there is a possibility that it might not be a suitable delivery method, avoid investing in expensive equipment until at least one successful dabbing experience has been achieved.

Pros and cons of dabs vs. dry cannabis

Either method is capable of delivering adequate results for most individuals, and both methods have fans and detractors. It is also important to note that what some may consider an advantage may be a disadvantage to others. However, experts generally offer the following pros and cons for the different products.

Dabs are a cleaner-burning product. When dry cannabis is smoked, the user inhales plant material that has no medicinal value along with the medicine. Concentrates eliminate most of the superfluous ingredients. In addition, concentrates are substantially lower in the heavy tars that are inhaled while smoking cannabis.

Dry cannabis burns at a higher temperature than concentrates. This means that the gas inhaled from dabs is cooler, smoother and less irritating.

When burning concentrates, most equipment requires the use of a torch (such as a kitchen torch normally used for caramelizing) to heat the nail. Individuals with physical limitations may find it difficult to coordinate the torch and dabbing apparatus.

Dabbing is the fastest, most efficient method of introducing medicinal cannabis into the body, which can be an advantage. However, novices might find the speed of action unsettling.

Because dabs are concentrated, they may be too strong for individuals with little or no smoking experience. Beginners may smoke too much, especially during their first dabbing session, and experience a negative reaction, such as becoming extremely sleepy.

Dry cannabis is often easier to store than some types of dabs. For example, when shatter is left in an environment where the room temperature exceeds that established for normal human comfort, it can become sticky or gooey. While cannabis can be stored in a plastic or glass container, paper envelope or plastic bag, many types of concentrates will stick to such substances. In addition, there is a risk that the concentrate will acquire an odd flavor or impurities from having been stored in an improper container.

Per gram, dabs are typically more expensive than dry cannabis. However, as less of the concentrate is needed for the same effect, the costs tend to even out on a per-dosage basis, although prices can vary a great deal, depending on the strain, potency and extraction method.

Dabbing produces less second-hand smoke than burning cannabis. Only a small amount of concentrate is heated during a session, with much of the smoke inhaled by the user. Domed oil rigs serve to contain most of any leftover smoke.

Safety tips and tricks

Unless individuals have been properly trained and have professional equipment, they should not attempt to make dabs at home. Amateur “chemists” have caused dozens of explosions while attempting to make concentrates.

If a torch is used as a heat source, obey all safety rules supplied by the manufacturer for safe operation. Do not use a torch in the presence of potentially explosive vapors, such as concentrated gasoline fumes, and keep the flame well clear of combustible materials.

Dab while seated, especially if new to dabbing. If the dosage is too high, it can cause the user to faint or become light-headed.

Do not dab a product that “looks wrong.” For example, a dark black concentrate typically contains impurities, and the general rule is that the darker the product, the more impurities it contains.
Do not dab a product that “sounds wrong.” Quality dabs will be virtually silent when dabbing. If the product pops or crackles, it may contain impurities and should not be inhaled.


Overall, the risks involved with dabbing are similar to those involved with smoking cannabis. However, due to the potency of the concentrates, there are a few additional risks that should be considered.

Dabbing makes it easier to consume an excessive amount of product. First-time dabbers have been known to pass out or faint, striking their heads when they fall. Over-consumption can also trigger anxiety attacks and nausea.

First-time dabbers are advised to be in a safe, private location, such as their own home. Some novices report becoming excessively sleepy immediately after dabbing even though they were well-rested and energetic prior, and some reported that they fell asleep for several hours afterwards.

Torches that can produce heat between 1,500 and 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit are sufficient for dabbing. Never use a more powerful torch than is needed — it can damage the equipment as well as pose an increased burn hazard.

Dabbing equipment should be properly maintained and inspected prior to use. Cracked or chipped dabbers or nails could break when heated.

One of the most popular extraction methods is using butane, and although top-quality processes remove most or all of the butane, inferior concentrates may contain a varying amount of butane. Some experts feel that these inferior products contain enough butane to be harmful when inhaled. If concerned about butane levels, opt for a concentrate prepared using a different process, such as ice-water extraction.

Closing notes

Dabbing has been increasing in popularity in recent years, and it is likely to continue to do so. Dabs or concentrates offer a potent, fast method of delivery that makes them ideal for those who need immediate relief from their symptoms. Because of the variety of dabs available, individuals will need to determine whether waxes, oils or butters offer the best consistency for their specific needs.