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Dabbing 101: A Comprehensive Guide for the Uninitiated

If you’re a cannabis consumer, you’ve most likely heard of “dabbing”, the act of vaporizing extracted cannabis resin (a.k.a. hash). When it comes to taste and potency, it’s superior to flower (approximately 60%-90% THC, compared to dried flower’s range of 15%-30%), making it a preferred method of consumption for many. 

However, obtaining a dabbing set-up can seem intimidating for the uninitiated. While some expensive equipment is typically required, there are many ways to create your own personalized dab ritual. It can be as affordable or as extravagant as you’d like. Now, let’s get into a little theory! 

Hash and Its Varieties

For decades, hash has come in many forms and can be classified into two categories: solvent and solventless. Both processes can be found in today’s concentrates, where solvents such as butane, ethanol, hexane, and propane are used to extract the resinous glands. The most popular solventless method is rosin, which uses heat and pressure to extract the cannabinoids from plant material.

Traditional hash usually contains enough plant material that makes it impossible to dab, leaving an ashy residue of whatever couldn’t dissolve. This variety is better suited to be consumed with ground cannabis in joints, bowls, or dry herb vaporizers.

In Canada, it’s legal to make your own concentrates (FYI: Health Canada keeps an updated list of safe solvents), but illegal to purchase until government-regulated products become available later this year.

Here are the essential tools required for a basic dab set-up!

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WATER PIPE

Most commonly known as a “rig”, this piece is available in glass, ceramic, and silicon. Each has their positives and drawbacks:

  • Glass: The most ubiquitous of all water pipe materials, glass rigs range in production value from brand-name knock offs found at your local head shop, to thoughtful, functional designs by artisans. These pieces are the easiest to clean, but also the easiest to break.
  • Ceramic: Slightly sturdier than glass, ceramic performs quite similarly to glass. However, its opaqueness makes it difficult to determine how clean it is. To add, if it’s elaborately decorated, great care must be given. This means going easy on harsh solvents like isopropyl alcohol in order to preserve the original design.
  • Silicon: The least fragile of all materials, incredibly durable, and dishwasher safe, silicon has many factors working in its favour. Its drawback lies in its porosity and potential for off-gassing. With that in mind, silicon rigs are fine for occasional use, and make for great camping companions.

NAIL/BANGER

Again, preference matters here, and it will come down to these features:

  • Titanium: This is the most durable. It heats up quickly and retains heat well. High quality titanium will last forever, but lower quality has the potential to off-gas titanium oxide. Titanium also does not produce the best flavour.
  • Quartz: Many consider quartz optimal when it comes to terpene tasting, and it doesn’t emit harmful gasses when heated. Based on quality, retention of heat can vary – but it typically holds less than titanium. It can also break over time from constant heating.

TITANIUM DABBING TOOL

This piece resembles anything from a finely pointed dental tool, to a small spatula or scoop. Which one to buy comes down to how you prefer portioning your product; some want a scoop to easily pick up crumbly wax, while others would rather use a flat edge to “cut” themselves a corner of shatter.

CARB CAP

Metal carb caps are usually designed to cover the flat top of a titanium nail, whereas quartz caps have greater design ability based on how particular the consumer is about aesthetics and function.

HEATING DEVICE

Torch vs. Enail:

  • A torch, usually one found in kitchen stores for crème brûlée, is the most common entry point for concentrate consumers due to their price point and portability. NOTE: You will need to purchase a can of butane to refill the torch.
  • Enails range anywhere from $100-$300+, and are more of an in-home device. While this may offer less flexibility for on-the-go purposes, they are more convenient for the constant user, as the coil around the nail (either titanium or quartz) is consistently heated at your desired temperature.  
Photo: Fred Morledge

Got your equipment ready? Fantastic. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to create a great dabbing experience:

  • The dab: Collect a grain-sized piece of concentrate with your dabber. Set aside, preferably on a small silicon mat (cannabis resin loves to adhere itself to tables).
  • Heating the nail: light your torch and direct the tip of the flame either over the surface of titanium, or the base of quartz until both are red hot. NOTE: a timer is handy for the next step.
  • Gauging temperature: Never do a dab immediately after you’ve finished torching! You need to let your nail cool slightly before proceeding. This can be gauged by either using a timer (30 seconds-1 minute), or the under-side of your wrist over the top of the nail. Once the heat feels bearable, you’ve reached optimal temperature. 
  • Taking the dab: insert the concentrated-coated end of your dabber in your nail. Once it has fully melted off the tool, immediately cover with carb cap. Keep it on the in-between pulls, as this is what is keeping the vapor contained for you to consume.
  • Consuming a dab: inhale hard and exhale quickly. Holding in your inhalation only deprives your brain of oxygen, and further contributes to inevitable coughing (which is not of any concern – cannabis is actually an expectorant!)

Final Notes

  • Most dabbing accessories can be found at your local head shop. Tell the retail associate what you’re doing and let them help. Allume will be introducing a starter kit soon, so keep your eyes peeled! 
  • If a rig feels too cumbersome for your daily ritual, there’s a way to downsize the tools without sacrificing efficacy. Nectar collectors are long glass tubes with either a titanium or glass tip.
  • Due to inconsistent quality control amongst black market producers, one must be aware of unpurged product (impure). Because it’s difficult to determine this visually, one has to rely on smell or inhalation. Another test is holding a small amount near a flame – purged product should melt, not ignite.
  • Don’t use the same water pipe for both concentrates and flower. Combusted flower leaves an unpleasant aftertaste, significantly affecting the flavour of concentrates.
  • While we can all appreciate purchasing pieces within our budget, consider supporting local glassblowers – an investment for yourself and our economy. 

Happy dabbing!

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