Cannabis dabbing is a process of inhaling cannabis from a refined extract. The name derives from applying a small dab of extract to a dab rig. A rig is similar in appearance to traditional water pipes, such as bongs, but instead of having a bowl of smokable substance there’s a metal aperture, the nail, which is heated to high temperature. When the dab of product is applied to the heated nail it evaporates and is inhaled by simultaneously drawing on the mouthpiece of the dab rig. Extracts are a healthier form of smoking with the same quick onset effects.
THC, the psychoactive element in cannabis, once in your system, makes its way to the brain.
In traditional smoking methods terpenes are combusted not inhaled so dabs provide a quick cleaner hit, with a stronger high, more socially congruent with recreational cannabis.
For this reason dabbing has become more popular amongst recreational cannabis users in recent years at the same time as it’s gained newsroom notoriety. Often this notoriety is misplaced, while smoking anything carries health risks, it is amateur production of dabbable extracts, particularly BHO, that leads to house fires and crack/meth lab comparisons.
Away from the basement, or kitchen, of amateur production, extraction is a complex, but safe, process. If cannabis companies growing cannabis are biology, then those making extracts are chemistry.
Extraction works by collecting cannabis flower, packing it into a chamber, forcing a solvent (CO2, Butane or isopropyl alcohol) through that chamber to strip the plant of THC and terpenes, and collecting the used solvent with plant extracts at the end.
It’s the solvent that causes trouble in home production. Leaky apparatus and poor safety awareness (smoking while handling butane) leads to fireball explosions causing damage and destruction. Professional cannabis companies manufacturing extracts use high pressure equipment to maximize yield and use of this equipment, and industrial solvents, are highly regulated as in any other industry to maintain safety.
Once the process is complete the extract is put through a heat treatment process. This serves a joint purpose of removing solvent from the mix and solidifying the extract into a form that can be dispensed for dabbing. Lower intensity heat processes produce soft products, like waxes or oils, that are more malleable but contain less THC extract than high intensity solid products like shatter that contain more THC but less terpenes.
As millennials continue to grow as the dominant demographic in the cannabis market, their desire for cleaner cannabis methods (in production and consumption) will increase, and we’ll see smoking methods like joint and bong use that expose the user to carcinogens, replaced with cleaner smoking methods like dabbing or vapes.