The Dab Lab – Everything You Need to Know About Dabbing
I had my first real dab over 10 years ago. It was unexpected, unplanned, and waaaay too much for me to handle responsibly, but it was incredible! At the time, I had been an “experienced” user for a decade and had seen hash a couple of times, but this was a new kind of magic I had only heard of in stoner fairy tales. Concentrates. Dabs. Wax. These were the unknown cannabis artifacts I had been searching for and had, at last, discovered. After that experience, I started seeking it out, learning how to consume it, the costs compared to flower, and at some point, I learned about quality. Now, I own a cannabis dispensary and those secret and magical concentrates are not just here; they are taking over in an incredible way.
As the owner of a cannabis dispensary, I see a mix of excitement and intimidation from patients when it comes to dabbing and cannabis concentrates. Dabs are a growing aspect of the cannabis industry and can be a fun new avenue to explore in your cannabis journey, but there is a lot to learn. So, I’ve written this to help demystify the world of dabs and teach you everything you need to know to feel comfortable dabbing!
Many dab terms are used loosely, which only adds to the confusion. You may have heard terms like concentrates, extracts, oil, and wax used interchangeably when referring to dabs. These terms all refer to various types of dab products, but they are not the same. To best understand the difference between all the cannabis concentrates and terms, we need to understand the process in which they are made.
When manufacturing concentrates and extracts, the goal is to separate trichomes from the plant matter. Trichomes are the tiny, shiny, sticky “hairs” you see on cannabis plants. The crystals. The shiny sticky goodness. They are responsible for producing cannabinoids and terpene compounds, which are what give cannabis its medicinal properties. Concentrates are derived from cannabis in a “solventless” process, without using a solvent. Extracts are created in a process that does use a solvent. A solvent is a chemical or organic compound, usually a liquid, that is used to separate the trichomes from the cannabis plant matter.
The most common solvents used in the creation of cannabis products are ethanol, alcohol, butane, propane, and carbon dioxide. The process typically requires soaking the flower in the solvent, which creates a solution of the solvent, cannabinoids, and terpenes. This solution is then strained through a sieve or filter, which results in a viscous golden or amber liquid. This liquid then undergoes a process to safely evaporate the solvent, leaving behind the cannabis extract. Different consistencies of extract can be created during this process using methods like blending, whisking, or folding.
BHO & PHO
You may have seen some acronyms associated with dabs, like BHO or PHO. The “HO” stands for “hash oil” and the first letter represents the solvent used, like butane in BHO (butane hash oil) and propane in PHO (propane hash oil). BHO extracts typically range in potency from 50% to upwards of 90% THC while maintaining a fair amount of cannabinoids and terpenes, and are available in many mediums or consistencies including but not limited to: Wax, Crumble, Budder/Badder, Live Resin, Live Rosin, Shatter, and Diamonds and Sauce. PHO is typically used to make oil for cartridges.
While chemical solvents like butane, propane, and carbon dioxide can be caustic or dangerous on their own, the resulting cannabis extracts are perfectly safe for consumption. The extracts we sell at Easy Mountain, and at any dispensary in Missouri, go through stringent testing before reaching the shelves to ensure an enjoyable and safe product. For truly discerning and health-conscious consumers, however, there are solventless products known as concentrates. In order to make concentrates, the trichome must be removed from the cannabis plant without using any chemical solvents. Instead, the trichomes are separated using various methods of agitation that involve processes like dry sifting, ice baths, freezing, and applying heat and pressure. The process by which the trichomes are separated determines the type of concentrate that is produced.
More colloquially referred to as “kief”, dry sift is the result of high-quality cured cannabis flower being grated across fine mesh screens. The grating of the flower removes the trichomes, which are then sifted through various layers of mesh screens in order to isolate the trichomes. Many grinders have “kief catchers” as the bottom layer of the stack, which act as a small-scale version of this process. The kief in your grinder takes a long time to accumulate and is typically made up of all the different strains you have used in your grinder. Dry sifting produces large quantities of kief and allows for that kief to be strain-specific. That means if there’s a particular strain that works well for you (Bubba Fett, for example), you can use Bubba Fett kief as a bowl topper to see if it enhances your desired result. Alternatively, you can add the kief to a different strain to combine the effects of both strains.
Ice Water/Bubble Hash
Ice water hash and bubble hash are both names for the same product. The names come from the process in which it is produced, which involves agitation in an ice water bath. The cannabis plant is put into a series of mesh bags or screens, covered in ice and water, and repeatedly agitated or stirred. The ice is used to freeze the trichomes, which makes them easier to remove from the plant matter. Vigorously stirring the ice-cold mixture separates the trichomes and creates foamy bubbles in the ice water, which is where this hash gets its name. The trichomes are then sifted through a series of mesh bags or screens and collected. Once the concentrated trichomes are removed from the screens, they are squeezed, dried, and sorted by quality, resulting in bubble hash!
Cured vs. Live
Cured and Live are terms you will see associated with different extracts and concentrates. The difference is quite simple; Cured comes from dried and cured cannabis flower, like the kind you buy at the dispensary. Live refers to products that come from live cannabis plants. The live plants are immediately frozen after they are harvested and kept frozen until the extraction process begins. Live extraction retains more of the plant’s full flavor and its natural cannabinoid and terpene profile.
Now that we have covered the major production processes and commonly used terms, we can learn about the different products that are made with extracts and concentrates.
Wax is probably the term people hear about most when they first start learning about dabs. Wax is actually just a generic term that refers to a lot of different kinds of cannabis extracts, pretty much any soft, opaque, wax-like cannabis extract can be referred to as wax. The specific types of “wax” are defined by their consistencies, which depend on the agitation they go through during the curing process. Let’s talk about each of the different types of wax and their consistencies.
Resin is the new kid on the block in the modern weed era. It is an extract made using a solvent, like BHO, and the process is fixated on the freshness and flavor of the plant itself, not just the potency and consistency of an extract. The process ideally begins with freshly harvested whole flower plants that are immediately extracted or frozen for later “live” extraction. The result is a golden, aromatic, moist extract with the consistency somewhere between a wax and a liquidy “sauce”. The initial “live” process is the biggest differentiator between Live Resin and other concentrates. Live resin is typically more aromatic and moister than its counterparts, which along with the Entourage Effect* makes this the preferred extract for cannabis connoisseurs.
*Entourage Effect describes how all cannabinoids (THC, CBD, CBG, etc.) as well as various terpenes (Limonene, Pinene, Myrcene, etc.) work together in one flower to create a dynamic and layered effect for the user.
Next up is Rosin. Sounds like resin, but they’re definitely not the same! Rosin is made through a solventless process of extreme pressure and heat. Trichomes are separated from the flower, placed in a press where heat and pressure are applied, squeezing out hot trichome oil. Once it cools down, you’re left with a soft, creamy, and malleable rosin. This solventless process preserves the terpenes and removes more vegetable material, giving rosin a cleaner flavor and melt than solvent extracts.
On some products you’ll see labels like “live rosin” or “flower rosin”. Live rosin is made from frozen, live cannabis. Flower rosin is made from dried flower, shake, or trim. Between the two, live rosin tends to be the more flavorful option.
Shatter is one of the more common and famous types of extract and often one of the first people discover on their journey to understanding dabs. It is usually a BHO extract that is poured smoothly into a tray to heat and cure, then cooled with as little agitation as possible. The result is a smooth, glass-like sheet of wax with the consistency of hard candy. Shatter is easy to handle, often broken apart and rolled into balls for convenient dosing. Because of its consistency, shatter is easy to use with almost any dabbing device and is a great product for beginners and experts alike.
Crumble is made the same way as shatter, but heated for a significantly longer time. The longer heating time results in less moisture – which decreases the chances for mold contamination and gives crumble the dry, loose, crumbly consistency it gets its name from. There are two types of crumble; Wax Crumble and Sugar Crumble. Both are typically easy to handle and break apart without melting, with sugar crumble being more brittle and breaking into smaller pieces than wax crumble. Crumble, like Wax, is easy to handle due to its natural tendency to form smaller pieces of concentrate, is easy to manage with a dab tool, and is easily used in most devices. Crumble is also great for sprinkling into your joints or as a bowl topper!
BADDER & BUDDER
Budder and badder are created in the same way as shatter, but while the extract is evaporating the mixture is vigorously whipped. This process adds air to the extract and gives it the consistency of butter or cake batter, hence the name! These are some of the cleanest, most sought-after concentrates, with high levels of THC (up to 90%) and great flavor. Because of this, they also tend to be some of the more expensive options available. Budder and badder are easy to handle with dab tools and work great in most dab setups.
DIAMONDS & SAUCE
Diamonds and Sauce is the progeny of cannabis mad scientists separating the two components of a good high: THC and everything else. The “diamonds” are pure and potent THC crystals, coming in various densities and sizes depending on the batch. The “sauce” is a terpene and cannabinoid concentrate that is much less viscous than any other concentrate style. You’re basically hitting extract soup, and it’s incredible. You can control your ratio of diamonds to sauce, changing the potency and flavor to your preference. This is not a particularly easy medium for handling, so it’s best to use it in an electric dab rig, like a Puffco Peak, a traditional glass banger, or certain styles of nectar collector.
These are just a few of the concentrate and extract styles currently available. Thanks to the ever-curious stoner mind, new ones get created all the time. The ability to creatively manipulate the medicinal attributes of this plant become more robust and informed with each attempt. New methods are developed to push the limits and understand how to best produce high-quality results with different strain types, and inevitably, breakthroughs are made. This knowledge grows throughout the industry and is built on by many contributors over decades of time. The best way to learn more and keep up with new products is to visit your local dispensary, like Easy Mountain, and ask the friendly budtenders.
Now that we know about popular products, we gotta learn how to enjoy them! Like making dabs, doing dabs has also been subject to stoner innovations over the years. Let’s take a look at the various methods of consumption.
So now we’ve learned a lot about concentrated cannabis and we’re ready to try some with a friend who knows what to do. They say, “Wanna do a dab?” and you say, “Yes, I think I am now well-informed and prepared to do my first dab.” And then they bring out a blow torch and the deals off. What the hell do we need a blowtorch for?!? I mean, I’ve heard of industrial strength, but this is excessive! That shock factor or nervousness is totally normal. This section will cover many methods of consumption to help give confidence to our friends who might need it. We will start with some basic equipment and practices that will ensure you have all the skills and tools you need to get started. Some things you may need, depending on which consumption method you use, include the following:
This is a surface mat, usually with a fun design of some kind, that is constructed with materials that make handling concentrates easier. All concentrates and extracts can become very sticky, and possibly messy. To avoid any unnecessary cleanup, preparing your dabs on a dab mat is often the preferred method.
This could be as simple as straight piece of metal. Usually, they have spoon or scraper tips to allow for more concise handling of your dabs. It’s a good idea to have more than one dab tool available because you often need another tool to scrape off your dabs into your device or container. There are also tools called Hot Knives that use a battery-powered ceramic blade that heats up so that your dabs will slide off without any extra effort. Be sure to ask your budtender at Easy Mountain about those if you’re interested.
TORCH & BUTANE
With the exception of the straw and dish method, any glass bangers or dabbing bowls will require a high-powered torch to get the glass, quartz, or titanium hot enough to effectively reach desired temperatures. These are most often powered by butane, and because it’s hard to gauge when your torch will be out of fuel, it’s always good to have an extra can.
92% ALCOHOL OR HIGHER
This is the simplest cleaning agent for dabbing tools, bowls, and devices. It is preferred practice to frequently clean any cannabis consumption devices. It is worth the time and effort to make your devices clean so you can get the full flavor of your dabs. You can either soak your components in a glass of alcohol and then rinse them in hot water, or dip q-tips or cotton swabs into a glass of alcohol and spot clean.
These can help label your dabs, consolidate your collection, and offer a convenient container for storing your dabs. There are dozens of varieties of containers for your wax, the best option depends on the type of wax you’re using. Silicone containers are a popular and affordable option that is good for storing most types of dabs. One of our favorites at Easy Mountain is the airtight Alchemy Jar, with a stainless steel outer shell and borosilicate glass inner jar. These containers offer protection from light, heat, and oxidation and provide the ideal contact surface for handling your dabs. No matter which direction you choose, you’ll need something to store your dabs in.
Now that we have an idea of some of the supplies we’ll need, let’s look at what options we have for devices and methods of consumption.
STRAW & DISH
This is a very simple and affordable way to get started sampling dabs! This method, as the name suggests, uses a glass straw with a tapered tip and a dish that holds your dabs. The tapered end is heated with a lighter or torch, the heated end is placed into your glass dish containing the dab, and then you breath in. It’s that simple! Reheat as needed and experiment with the temperature to find what works best for you. Using a regular lighter may work in a pinch, but a butane torch is preferred. This method will work with all concentrates and can be a great way to get the last little bit out of the end of your jars.
This is like a more advanced straw and dish. In the conventional Nectar Collector design, a straw-like glass piece, often utilizing water filtration, is equipped with a glass or titanium nail. This nail sticks out at the end opposite the mouthpiece. Nectar Collectors need to be heated with a torch, a normal lighter will not get the nail hot enough. After heating, just insert the heated tip into your concentrates and breath in. This method works great with all styles of concentrates.
The new electric Nectar Collectors utilize a vape pen battery (.510 thread battery) to heat a wire coil that is attached to a straw. To use, simply press the button on your pen to start heating the coil, touch that to your dabs, and breathe in through the straw. Electric Nectar Collectors, or electric dab straws, are among the simplest and more affordable ways for users to start trying dabs. Most all types of concentrates and extracts work well in these pens. However, some dabs will hit better at higher temperatures and would do better with some of the next options.
These devices have been around for some time and have certainly improved over the last 5-6 years. This is a pen-like battery attached to a chamber with a heating element. Dabs, and sometimes dry flower, are added to the chamber. When you press the button, the chamber heats up the wax to create vapor, which can be inhaled smoothly and discretely. This method requires more maintenance and education than others. It’s very common for users to overfill the chamber, or flood it, at which point the heating element is unable to effectively heat the contents. This causes your coils to burn out and creates unneeded expenses, so experiment with how much to add each time without overdoing it. This method works best with more solid extracts and concentrates, but technically any dab you can get in the chamber will work. E-Pens typically have different heat settings, which can be adjusted depending on what you are wanting to heat inside them.
Similar to E-Pens, E-Rigs are electronically operated devices that heat chambers or bowls to vaporize your dabs. There is a wide range of products available with drastically varying price tags.
Conventional E-Rigs, or E-Coils, are accessories to rigs or other water pipes. Using a glass banger and convection heating, the coil wraps around a glass banger. A switch box allows for temperature regulation and requires a 110 outlet for power. These are bulky and involved machines, but they do work exceptionally well when set up properly. Harnessing the great filtration and cooling from a rig, and utilizing deliberate and constant temperature regulation makes every dab with an E-Rig intentionally awesome. This method is suitable for all types of extracts and concentrates, but offers almost no mobility.
New E-Rigs and E-Nails are much more mobile devices, limited only by battery life and coil health. These fantastic little machines come in a variety of options and prices. Maintaining these rigs is a bigger obligation, requiring spot cleaning after every use and regular deep-cleaning to ensure no residue build-up compromises the health and life span of the heating components. Despite the increased focus on maintenance, these are much simpler to clean than their flower-heating counterparts and will consistently deliver a precise hit. Some of the newer machines even have apps that allow you to control the temperature down to the degree. E-Rigs and E-Nails are suitable for all types of dabs and can be exceptionally mobile.
GLASS BANGER & CARB CAP
Finally, often the best option for those wanting to add dabs to their medicine cabinet, is a glass banger. Glass bangers are an attachment that easily fit on most rigs and are a great option for beginners and experts alike. The most common issue that can arise with rigs using this attachment is that unlike smoking flower, it can be difficult to prime the chamber. When you use a bong to smoke flower, you’re probably used to dragging smoke into the chamber using the pressurization of flower in the bowl, and then removing the bowl to inhale the hit quickly. When hitting dabs, priming your hit is not an option. That means as you inhale through the rig, you’re hitting the vapor straight away. The solution to this problem is a carb cap, which is a glass accessory that can be used to pressurize the banger, allowing you to adjust the airflow to get a more controlled hit.
Another variable that is of dire importance to dabbing, especially with torch and banger methods, is temperature. The ideal temperature depends on the type of dab, especially which terpenes dominate the wax that you’re using.
HOW TO CONSUME
In general, a dab should be between 300-650 degrees. Anything under 300 will barely create vapor, anything over 650 is very likely to scorch your throat and will destroy many awesome facets of the cannabis extracts or concentrates. There are devices available that will measure your temperatures, but there are also methods and tricks to be able to get pretty accurate without adding another accessory to your rig. Here is a step-by-step method to ensure that you won’t be burning your lungs or wasting your concentrates with the torch and rig method of dabbing.
- Using a torch, apply direct flame onto the underside of the banger until it begins to glow faintly. If your banger is glowing, it is way too hot to use but gives us a reference to how hot it is and how long we need to wait.
- Remove the flame and let the piece cool down. This will be at least 30 seconds, but could be longer depending on whether using glass, ceramic, quartz, or titanium.
- Once you’re confident enough time has passed, add your concentrate to the banger or nail. If the dab pools up without evaporating, it wasn’t hot enough and you’ve waited too long to add the dab. Alternatively, if it evaporates really fast, tastes burnt, or scorches your throat, it was too hot, and you didn’t wait long enough for it to cool down. Some trial and error may be necessary to find the right temperature for your setup.
- Clean your banger after use. This can be done at your discretion, but it does make sense to clean it after every single use. This routine will ensure the most flavorful and enjoyable dabbing experience every time.
There’s always stuff to learn as you go about what will work best for you and your setup, but make sure to set a timer so you know exactly how long you’re heating and cooling your torch-powered dab device. That way adjustments can be effectively made to find the exact right formula for you and your rig.
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