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What Dabs are Like

From First Inhale to Your First Dab Rig

By James S. BrayPublished 3 years ago 11 min read
Top Story - February 2021
Some easily dabbable crumbly shatter.

If you haven’t tried dabs before and are curious to find out what it’s like before you indulge, you’ve come to the right place. It’s definitely a smart decision to educate yourself before you try a mind-altering substance you aren’t familiar with. If we recall back when edibles were gaining more mainstream popularity, we had to give the PSA that this is actually a different experience, because it’s a different chemical reaction, and not the same-ol’ Mary Jane you know and love. I find myself doing a similar spiel with dabs when I talk to people about them nowadays.

Dabs, or wax, shatter, crumble, and so on, refer to different consistencies of highly-potent marijuana extracts, but they are all still inhaled. This means they provide an experience that is the same as when dry herb is smoked, only they are much stronger. When trying dabs, you should consider how significant the high might be for you, given the quality of flower you smoke and the frequency of your habit.

This is not to embolden those who smoke high quality herb all day long, but rather to consider how drastically different the high will be from your norm, so you are prepared for the experience. No matter what your habit, if you have quality wax, you will feel a punch, to be sure.

image from https://weedhub.delivery/sf-peninsula/concentrates/

How are They Made?

Before you take anything into your lungs, it’s wise to know what you’re smoking. Dabs are made in two main ways, with several differences in the process. There are many ways things can be done and I won’t be going into full detail here. This will be a brief overview so you aren’t jumping headfirst into this without thinking.

Dabs are relatively safe when made correctly, but these are often processed with chemicals at some point during their production. It’s not plant material, it’s an extract and in order to extract certain things we have to use chemicals and solvents. These should be completely processed out by the time you inhale the dabs, but there could be trace amounts left over and people vary in their sensitivities, so please be advised.

One way to make dabs is with butane. You can do this quite crudely by grinding up about an ounce of buds and packing them tightly into a long tube with a screen mesh holding in a cheese cloth at one end and shooting the butane through the tube, onto a glass dish and letting it evaporate off. This is an unfinished product, leaving a dark brown, almost black wax, but some people have smoked it, though I do not advise this.

People who use butane correctly will use a glass tube with a fine filter at the end and pump the butane through with higher pressure, causing a cleaner product. The can be processed further from there. Butane dabs do not mean dangerous, bad, crude or cruddy, but they certainly can be that, which is why a visual inspection is your best friend (which is what we will be talking about in the next section). There are cleaner ways to make dabs, but there are also cleaner ways of making butane dabs, so don’t rule them out by the method alone.

Another way to make dabs is with a heated hydraulic press. The bud is likewise cut up finely onto the press and then the press is heated to and put down. After, the bud is removed and the wax is left over and scraped up. Using a hydraulic press is cleaner, due to less chemicals, but requires heavier machinery and is, thus, a heavier investment for those who produce them.

A gram of quality wax on parchment paper.

Quality by Visual Inspection

The quality of your dabs can usually be checked visually, though sometimes a little smell needs to be involved. It can be hard to tell very crude dabs from reclaim if you aren’t keen to dabs yet. Reclaim is just the byproduct of smoking dabs, like resin is with dry herb. This can be smoked again, but should not be purchased, unless knowingly. The hard and fast rule is that the closer to a translucent honey-gold color, the better. The murkier and closer to brown, the worse quality.

As far as consistency, this is a huge factor in reclaim versus crude dabs (very sticky wax that resettles over time when the container is tilted, is usually reclaim). Dabs should always be sticky to the touch, but should hold its shape at room temperature. You should be able to crack or shatter most dabs by poking them firmly with a pointy tip, and a small chunk should take a moment of rolling it in your fingers before it warms up enough to lose its shape.

Crude dabs sometimes look like fudge and should be avoided. If it looks so dark it’s almost black or reddish brown/black, avoid it, as this could be reclaim or the chemicals have not evaporated off of the crude wax enough. If the color is more towards a yellow or orange and has some murk to it, that can be okay, give it a poke and a smell to see if anything is off. Very slight green tinge can sometimes happen and seems to be mostly alright.

If it smells anything but fresh and something comparable to a pine-like scent, look at it questionably. Any overt chemical smell or anything that just seems resin-y is to be avoided. Sometimes dabs will have air bubbles or specks of foreign material in them. If this looks like anything but air bubbles or tiny bits of marijuana, raise an eyebrow at it suspiciously.

Some crumble of a good color.

How Much to Use

It’s common to play a little bit of a prank on friends who you are introducing to dabs for the first time. This tends to entail giving your friend a bit larger of a dab than a newbie can handle, causing them to get much higher than they might have on their first time. All in all, this is generally a harmless practice, but it can be a little bit intense. If you want to try dabs and get high within a manageable range for your first dab, just bear in mind that your friend may be giving you more than you can handle, so if you’re suspicious try taking about half what they tell you. If you’re certain you’re not being goofed on, go for it, but certainly don’t do anything that could be dangerous until the dab wears off.

A friend of mine was introduced to dabs by his dealer and, in the course of leaving, hit two parked cars. No one wants to have to leave their insurance information on two stranger’s cars in the dead of winter, blazed out of their mind (don't dab and drive). So, when it comes to dabbing, knowing how much to use is crucial. Since wax is so concentrated, it does not take much to do the job. After taking half as much wax as I would use, as an experienced user, I was left with a reasonable beginner’s dab, which, when pressed into a small cylinder, measured 1 centimeter long by about 1 millimeter wide (the dab I would take is about 2 centimeters long). A beginner dabber would inhale a 1 centimeter long dab and, after a few moments, find themselves pleasantly, though manageably high.

Possible effects of dabs in progress.

The Experience

As far as the experience of dabbing goes, we will be covering two areas. First, there is the experience when the dab is done; what the high is like. Second, we have the experience of dabs as a lifestyle; the way it affects our daily life. In the end, it’s all marijuana, but dabbing is very different from the plant material, not only in experience, but even down to the tools you need to use them. The dabbing lifestyle is different to the dry herb stoner lifestyle. So, for this reason I feel it’s important that we cover the experience of dabs more broadly, after giving you all the information you came here for. So, what is the high from dabs like?

The thing to know is that this is still pot. The high will be like the high you get from smoking bud, but since it is more concentrated, it will be much more intense. The intensity should not be compared to edibles, because edibles have a different chemical variant of THC that does not get created when marijuana is smoked. So, a dab high should not cause edible-like effects, but it will still likely cause a high that will surprise you, especially when you take too much.

The duration is about the same between bud and wax, but with dabs I tend to find myself wanting to smoke again when the peak wears off, although I am still technically high. This can be an issue with being wasteful with dabs if one is not careful and it can also affect tolerance, which we will discuss more in the next section. To save on your dabs, though, check in with yourself before dabbing again, because oftentimes you’ll find you can still enjoy the buzz you have, rather than being wasteful and seeking another peak experience before the last dab has worn off.

That is, essentially, what to expect as far as feeling high from dabs. It’s not a different drug, it’s not over the top if you use it wisely, but is a very intense high, as if you smoked an entire joint of primo green by yourself, just with the ease of taking a single hit. This is why I have loved dabs. It’s one hit and then I’m done, there’s very little smell and it dissipates faster than bud smoke. It’s maximum efficiency. However, it does come with some lifestyle changes to consider.

You will, first and foremost, need new tools to smoke it. A cheap setup can include a “nectar collector” (a straight type of pipe and my favorite means of intake), a glass container to take the dab from, a metal implement to break off dabs easier, and a silicone puck container to store the wax. Most of this can be purchased in a cheap dab kit, usually costing around $30. The main thing you will need, which is vastly different from bud, is a blowtorch.

Example of cleaning a dab rig.

The blowtorch is what put me off of dabs for a long time. I even used a gas stove to heat up the nectar collector’s tip, when I did start using them. Eventually, I transitioned into a small butane torch, instead of the propane torch I had often seen friends using. Propane torches are an option, but they are quite bulky and, personally, I find their bases aren’t as secure as some butane torches, which worries me about accidents. I don’t want to be dealing with a big heavy propane torch while high, which requires that I crank a knob to turn off. To me, this just spells “accident waiting to happen.”

I can envision being high and clumsy, knocking the torch off the table, and catching my place on fire. No thank you. This is why I opted for a $15 butane torch with a steady flat base (butane refill cans are about $2.50/9.6 Fl OZ). I can have this running while I heat up my tools, but then immediately release the button to turn the flame off. With this, there is much less room for accidents and that’s what we want, when using mind-altering substances.

As far as maintenance, everything is relatively easy to clean with an alcohol soak. I would say it’s actually easier to clean dab rigs than it is to clean pipes used with dry herb. No scraping is necessary, just soak in alcohol, and pour it into a glass container, let it evaporate off, and collect the reclaim. Easy peasy. Storage for dab setups can be much less hassle too. Most often, dab kits fit in a convenient box and all else is just the handheld torch and maybe a puck or two. This is very conveniently stored away in a drawer or cupboard.

The only thing I would say is a drawback to the rig that I have described here, is that butane tends to take slightly longer to heat up the tools, and the handheld torch naturally holds less butane than the standard propane canister holds of propane. This means you will spend more time heating things up and refilling your torch. Personally, I am fine with this because it means more safety. This is only a slight difference, but one that perhaps matters to some.

As an out-in-the-world stoner, the dab experience is also different. If you dab on the go (there are portable vapes and other kits for true on-the-go fashion), you will appear more high without redness-reducing eye drops, but you will also not smell like marijuana. If you do have any smell on your clothes or in your place from dabs, it is not as strong, so can be easily overpowered, but it is also not as widely recognized by people as the classic pot smell. This adds a layer of protection for you, should you have to worry about being discovered.

You might also find that dabs make you less efficient, or otherwise the high it causes can make going out in the world more or less tolerable, depending on who you are. Be mindful of this and choose wisely when you dab. I have found that productivity and dabs do not mix for me, but you might be the opposite. Take care when finding this out and do be responsible when dabbing.

An example of dabbing in irresponsible locations.

A Word on Tolerance

Now that we have gone into a good amount of depth on the topic of dabs, I would like to talk about how dabs affect tolerance. As someone who has flirted with being exclusive to dabs, I’ve had to be more conscious of when my tolerance is being affected by dabs, because otherwise I could waste good herb. The fact of the matter is that, if you dab regularly, you will be increasing your tolerance. If you dab daily, you could stand a chance of ruining good, old-fashioned bud for yourself. Or, at least, you will increase the amount you need to smoke to get high by roughly 100%. That is to say, that if you are a total dab head and then smoke a joint one day, you might find that you have to smoke two joints to get as high as the one joint used to make you.

So, if you want to enjoy both, you will have to consciously create a balance to avoid racking up too high of a tolerance and then wasting more bud than you might like. Dabs can be very affordable, but it can also make your weed bill go up if you’re adding it to your lifestyle, rather than using it to replace your herb-smoking lifestyle. If you want it all, you can have it, you just need to plan ahead and be a little more mindful. Sometimes, you may find that you will need to do a week-long dab detox to get back to normal. This is totally fine and a good way to reset your tolerance without too much of a shock to your system.

Overall, dabs are a good way to get high and, in my opinion, far superior to bud, though they are a different experience and lifestyle. Hopefully, this article has prepared you for your first dab and given you ample information to know what to expect if you are adding dabs to your life. The experience of dabs is not just about the high, but it’s about how it affects the other aspects of your life too. I hope you now feel prepared to take your first steps into the wonderful world of wax. Dab on, my friends, dab on.

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About the Creator

James S. Bray

Writer of fiction and non-fiction alike 🖖

Check out my book: 'The New Frontiers of Lucid Dreaming' on Amazon!

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  • Mark Jacobs2 years ago

    I recommend getting an electronic dab rig. I was, still am, off put by the idea of using a freakin’ torch to heat my stash; thoughts of an ER visit because I was too stoned and touched a blistering hot piece of glass are enough to discourage me. I still prefer flower or hash, but since picking up the Cloudious 9NX (ref: https://www.cloudious9.com/products/hydrology9-nx-flower-concentrate-vaporizer) I’ve gotten more into dabs. It gives great clouds of vapor, heats up in about 30 seconds, is (relatively) easy to clean, and is SAFE! The 9NX is expensive—now down to about $250–but works well. There are cheaper e-rigs out there, maybe someone else can comment.

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