To Dab or Not to Dab…
A Trichome Institutetm publication by Max Montrose
One dab, two dab, three dab-four, take another dab, and you’ll need some more. Is dabbing the crack-cocaine of marijuana? Or is it the next revolution in smoking technology? There are so many questions and seemingly more confusing answers than most people can make sense of. Is dabbing addictive? Is it dangerous? What is the legal status? Where did it come from? How do you do it and is it safe? Can you test how safe it is and how does Colorado define safe residual solvents? Let’s start from the top and knock out the easy questions first.
What is a Dab or Dabbing?
To dab means to take a tiny amount of concentrated hash (upwards of 95% THC) on the end of a small thin rod called a dabber. People use a bong or bubbler contraption many people call an oilrig. Oil for what you’re smoking, and rig stands for whatever smoking set up you build into a bong to dab with. A user takes the hash concentrate hanging on the tip of the dab rod and presses the small sticky hash ball to a hot metal plate, called a puddle swing, or other hot surface.
There are a variety of tools to heat and dab off of, including dome ‘n nail, dome-less nail, quarts, titanium, ceramic-dish, etc. Any of these tools are simply heated with a powerful torch or electricity. The heated attachment permits the dab to incinerate as it is pressed together and the smoke is sucked through bubbling bong water.
I like glass and ceramic attachments over titanium. Something about heating metal till it glows red-hot and then pressing another metal tool to the heat seems like you have to be smoking micro-doses of titanium. I imagine inhaling titanium off gasses due to the softness of the red hot metal in that violent state becoming evaporative. Especially if dabbing off of the metal is consistent over time. Quartz crystal, glass and ceramics seem to be safer, but more science needs to be done to confirm if this theory is true or not.
The art of the dab truly became popular in the later part of 2009 in Colorado. Since then it has taken many stoners to the next level–and quick. I am pretty sure dabbing originated in California. Before 2009 and the days of the dispensary, dabbing was very rare because almost no one knew how to make the wax to dab with. Those who understood how to make at home concentrates were a small underground community that pioneered Wax and Shatter hash. Those backyard chemists with PHD’s in reading stoner blogs never had the technology or skill to make hash that was safe for consumption.
Today in Colorado 2015, grams of wax or shatter can be sold from anywhere between $15-$60 in a dispensary depending on quality and type. A friend told me he discovered in Florida, grams of wax are around $80-$90 and is not only more expensive than cocaine, but also more sought after. Dabbing is becoming popular at exponential rates, yet most dab heads don’t have a clue what they are smoking.
The hash you dab with can be a variety of cannabis extracts that have a range of colors and viscosity. A few years ago we all used to call it earwax, because the extract is yellow and the same consistency as typical earwax. Wax, shatter, live resin, etc. are extracted with Butane, Hexane, Propane, CO2 and other liquid/gas chemicals. When a particular solvent or a mixture of them is pressurized through the cannabis leaf trim plugged in a chamber, it obliterates the trichomes
exposing the fatty lipids, waxes, and cannabinoids. This mixture is pressed out as an oil that is purged and cured into a concentrated consistency.
So is dabbing safe?
The extraction technologies are getting better and better each day. We are just now getting to a point where I believe BHO (butane hash oil) and other solvent extractions are becoming less harmful. But wax and dabbing back in the day was horrific and it’s still this way with the black market in and out of Colorado today. Yes dabbing can be safer today if you know how to do it right.
Before I get into safe dabbing I want to describe to you how horrific most dab extractions and dabs use to be in the shops, and still are on the streets. Extracting the trichomes was most commonly done through copper pipes instead of glass or full loop mettle chambers as it is today.
I don’t know if the solvent strips the insides of the copper or PVC pipe into the wax, but I can imagine it does. Some people say Butane isn’t bad for you because you can often find it in food ingredients. I don’t know if anyone has ever done a study on consuming small PPM’s of butane vs. directly smoking massive quantities of butane. St. George University of London has a study about people who directly use and abuse butane as a drug, which is much different from smoking residuals of butane in hash. I can imagine there may be similarities in smoking butane, studies have shown, with sucking it into the mouth directly. I have read that inhaling butane can cause drowsiness, narcosis, euphoria, cardiac arrhythmia, asphyxia, temporary memory loss and fluctuations in blood pressure, and can result in death from asphyxiation and ventricular fibrillation. So I would much rather not smoke BHO (butane hash oil) when I have other options.
The Saint George study, called Trends in Death Associated With Abuse of Volatile Substances 1971 – 20041, found that gas fuels continue to be associated with the majority of deaths. In 2004, butane from all sources, including aerosol propellants, accounted for 79% of VSA deaths (37 of the 47 deaths). Since 1971, butane gas lighter fuel has been associated with 83% of fatal abuses of gas fuel (38% of all substances fatally abused)
Again I want to emphasize that the St. George study is vastly different from smoking butane in hash, but also that no one has studied these effects and the trend is fairly new. It never ceases to amaze me how many people are unaware that simple heat purging in a Pyrex pan on the stove doesn’t really cook out all the residual butane matter. Not only that, but drug dealer stoners use cheap butane that is less pure and less refined which means the chemical components of the butane have a stronger presence in the hash. The hash smells like a lighter being held under your nose with the gas leaking out.
Therefore the hash is extracted in an unsafe chamber with unsafe chemicals that are then not properly heat(ed) and vacuum purged out for consumption. Simply making wax at home creates a scene more similar to crack and meth than ganja. An at-home wax making scene includes a kitchen with pipes and filters, scattered amongst cans of gasses and chemicals, surrounded by blow torches, Pyrex pans and cooking plates, vacuum chambers with tubes connected to vacuum sealers, bags of trim, and an oil rig on the counter to boot. This is not weed by any means; this is the crack of cannabis today. Yet there are more reasons to keep concentrates legal than not.
It’s not just the black market that makes dirty wax. When I did a presentation for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on dabbing; I asked a local test lab to provide me with some data on PPM’s of residual gases they found in concentrate products (see acceptable limits per gram chart below). Some were actually impressively clean, where as others are terrifying. The last batch tested had a total combined content of 7399 PPM of Isopropane, Iso-pentane, N-pentane, Isobutane, and N-butane2!
Black-market hash makers often make it on the local news for blowing themselves and their house up by making this pipe-bomb style hash in their house. (They are) not aware that one spark from static electricity or lighting a cigarette will blow up the butane pressured copper pipe-bomb in their hands. This is a big explosion that not only blows the glass out of the windows, but it splinters copper shrapnel, freezing solvent and sticky wax oil all over the individuals who didn’t do this extraction outside. If your caught doing this with children in the house you can be charged with manufacturing narcotics, possession, intent to distribute, explosive manufacturing, and child endangerment. And yes it is illegal in Colorado to make these types of cannabis extracts at home.
Yes, if you do it correctly and here is the method. The most key element to a safe dab is safe hash. There is an at home way to test if your dabs are safer than not: put 1 dab on the end of paper clip held over a paper towel, and simply light it on fire. If the dab has tons of residual gas in it, it will sparkle like the 4th of July.
If the wax is not flammable, and doesn’t spark what so ever and just melts onto the paper towel, it is cleaner than not. Currently some companies have moved away from Butane and onto CO2 gas extractions and it makes sense this is a cleaner method. I am also aware of companies out there who have secret technology for a water-based extraction and not a gas extraction whatsoever.
One thing I noticed from dabbing solvent-less wax is that it’s strong, but not painfully mind blowing like its gas extracted cousins. I believe this is true because you’re getting the effect purely from the THC and not the residual gas. Shatter is a more pure form of wax that is vacuumed and heat purged in scientific ovens and usually has a lot less residual ppm’s of gas in it. After you have assurance that the hash you’re smoking is safe, then you need to smoke it in a safe way. This is easy to do if your oil rig is 100% glass and not metal. Instead of a puddle swing use a quartz crystal nail. Quartz is the most tempered glass on earth, you can heat it red hot and drop it in freezing water and it won’t shatter! Your dabbing tool should also be glass, and there for I’d say it’s safe to say glass on glass with chemical free hash will not be a hazard to your health. That’s how I dab…
Acceptable Consumption in Colorado
As time goes on, the companies that do use gas extractions are finding ways to keep the residual ppms at an extremely low point and therefore it might be the case that professional grade, lab-tested hash may not be that much of a risk to your health. I truly don’t know how, but the state of Colorado has come up with what they deem “acceptable consumption” for residual PPM’s and you can find it in R 712, E 2, 3, 4 – Retail Marijuana Testing Facility: Mandatory Sampling and Testing Program “law”: Permissible Levels of Contaminants.
“If Retail Marijuana, Retail Marijuana Concentrate or Retail Marijuana Product is found to have a contaminant in levels exceeding those established as permissible under this rule, then it shall be considered to have failed contaminant testing. Notwithstanding the permissible levels established in this rule, the Division reserves the right to determine, upon good cause and reasonable grounds, that a particular Test Batch presents a risk to the public health or safety and therefore shall be considered to have failed a contaminant test.”
Residual Solvents and Metals (outside of Colorado, please refer to your local governing authority)
|Substance||Acceptable Limits Per Gram||Product to be Tested|
|Butanes||< 800 Parts Per Million (PPM)||Solvent-Based Concentrates|
|Heptanes||< 500 Parts Per Million (PPM)|
|Benzene**||< 1 Parts Per Million (PPM)|
|Toluene**||< 1 Parts Per Million (PPM)|
|Hexane**||< 10 Parts Per Million (PPM)|
|Total Xylenes (m,p, o-xylenes)**||< 1 Parts Per Million (PPM)|
|Any solvent not permitted for use pursuant to Rule R 605.||None Detected|
** Note: These solvents are not approved for use. Due to their possible presence in the solvents approved for use per Rule R 605, limits have been listed here accordingly.
- Other Contaminants
|Substance||Acceptable Limits Per Gram||Product to be Tested|
|Metals (Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead and Mercury)||Lead – Max Limit: < 10 ppm Arsenic – Max Limit: < 10 ppm Cadmium – Max Limit: <4.1 ppm Mercury – Max Limit: <2.0 ppm||Flower; Water-, Food-, and Solvent-Based Concentrates; and Retail Marijuana Products|
|Pesticide||If testing identifies the use of a banned Pesticide or the improper application of a permitted Pesticide, then that Test Batch shall be considered to have failed contaminant testing.|
|Chemicals||If Test Batch is found to contain levels of any chemical that could be toxic if consumed, then the Division may determine that the Test Batch has failed contaminant testing.|
|Microbials||If Test Batch is found to contain levels of any microbial that could be toxic if consumed, then the Division may determine that the Test Batch has failed contaminant testing.|
|Molds, Mildew, and Filth||If a Test Batch is found to contain levels of any mold, mildew, or filth that could be toxic if consumed, then that Test Batch shall be considered to have failed contaminant testing.|
The truth about wax, shatter and dabbing is (because) you’re smoking a very potent amount of THC (even though its small) this will bring your tolerance up very quickly. So much so that most dab heads find it frustrating to smoke anything besides dabs; simply smoking weed doesn’t do the trick anymore. Marijuana is not addictive, but dabs have brought marijuana to a whole new level, and I do know people who you could consider addicted to taking dabs. Then again they might be addicted to the effect they get from the dab outside of the THC if they are smoking the dirty stuff. I’ve dabbed super dirty dabs myself, and the high is nothing similar to that of cannabis. 0.00 ppm concentrates do not produce the (mind blowing) effects that dirty hash does.
Either way, because I would like to preserve my cannabis tolerance as much as possible, I take a dab only when I need to. I wake up at 2 am every morning due to my Psychomotor Agitation and taking a sleeping pill or smoking bowl after bowl that late, doesn’t knock me back to sleep half as quickly as just taking a dab. I smoke dabs medically only, with clean wax, on a glass on glass rig. I recommend my method to anyone who cares about their tolerance or overall health.
In conclusion I don’t mean to scare anyone. I just want to make people aware of the facts and the unknowns. First, some people who have Multiple Sclerosis, or who may be having an epileptic seizure don’t have time or a steady hand to smoke a bowl for 10 minutes in dire medical need. It’s incredible how much medicine can enter your system instantly by dabbing and some people truly need this medically. The second reason is personal recreational preference. It would really be disappointing if all alcohol was low ABV beer, and scotch, whisky and tequila were made illegal. Some people like to drink the heavier stuff the same way some people like to take dabs. Freedom is an important part of our culture; keep concentrates legal. The third and most crucial reason is that dabbing has already hit the mainstream market and has reached critical mass. Make it illegal now and you will see a tremendous surge in the homemade crack-wax that is a hazard to health. People are blowing themselves and their homes up frequently as it is. Make the product illegal and the danger to society will surge. If you keep safe, regulated, and standard product available, people won’t have to result to bootlegging crack hash and exploding homes.
Concentrates should not become illegal for three very good reasons
First, some people who have Multiple Sclerosis, or who may be having an epileptic seizure don’t have time or a steady hand to smoke a bowl for 10 minutes in dire medical need. It’s incredible how much medicine can enter your system instantly by dabbing and some people truly need this medically.
The second reason is personal recreational preference. It would really be disappointing if all alcohol was low ABV beer, and scotch, whisky and tequila were made illegal. Some people like to drink the heavier stuff the same way some people like to take dabs. Freedom is an important part of our culture; keep concentrates legal.
The third and most crucial reason is that dabbing has already hit the mainstream market and has reached critical mass. Make it illegal now and you will see a tremendous surge in the homemade crack-wax that is a hazard to health. People are blowing themselves and their homes up frequently as it is. Make the product illegal and the danger to society will surge. If you keep safe, regulated, and standard product available, people won’t have to result to bootlegging crack hash and exploding homes.
- 1 M.E. Field-Smith, B.K. Butland, J.D. Ramsey, H.R. Anderson. Methods of Administration of Volatile Substances, 1971- 2002, 2003 and 2004. St George’s, University of London
- 2 The lab table in question could not be reproduced in this article, but is available and can be obtained by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about dabbing as well as superb, engaging cannabis educational materials, please visit The Trichome Institute as well as its informative multimedia productions on the “Method of Interpening“.
Copyright 2015: The Trichome Institute LLC, All Rights Reserved.