When it comes to marijuana consumption methods, times have certainly changed for the better. Once upon a time, the best you could hope for was a few puffs from a poorly rolled joint. Today, there are lotions, edibles, capsules, and concentrates, and more. The final entry on that list is causing controversy, joy, and more than a little consternation.
One of the processes of consuming concentrate is known as ‘dabbing.’ Proponents claim that it is significantly safer than its dry herb counterpart, primarily due to a lack of combustion. However, advocates of flower believe that dabbing can also lead to the ingestion of harmful chemicals, and its potency makes it a risk to the health of newcomers.
So let’s take a look at how dabs compare to flower regarding strength, health risks, and a couple of other things.
What Are Dabs?
Cannabis dab concentrates come in various forms, including wax, shatter, and crumble. They are all extracted from flower and known for their extremely high THC (or CBD) content, hence the term ‘concentrates.’
In fact, an increasing number of manufacturers are offering concentrates with a THC content of over 90%!
You can consume concentrates via a dab pen, which is akin to a vaporizer, or by using a dab rig, which is a device specially created for dabbing. Both options use a heating element to vaporize the dab, and you inhale the vapor and get very high, very quickly. Some users like to add a sprinkle of concentrate to their flower for an extra kick.
What is Marijuana Flower?
Everyone who has ever even heard of marijuana knows about flower, even if you haven’t actually heard it called “flower” before. Weed has been around for a very long time, and dry flower (bud) is still the most popular form of consumption.
You can smoke it in a joint or go wild with a bong, but whatever the method, marijuana flower is associated with getting high, and vice versa for experienced smokers. In the modern era, breeders are creating potent cross-breeds, but even now, the THC content seldom rises above 30%, with 15-25% being the most common range.
Things to Consider: Is Dabbing Safe?
One of the biggest ‘dangers’ associated with dabs is the risk of getting horribly burned during the extraction process. While this is true for those who attempt DIY extraction at home, you have no such issues if you purchase it ready-made from a reputable source. It is common to use butane in the DIY extraction process, and that IS a risky business.
For starters, butane can heat up the metal or glass that you use to extract cannabinoids, and if you touch the substance, expect a lot of pain. There have been a few examples of explosions when amateurs try to extract THC from marijuana for use as concentrates. One of the most tragic cases occurred in November 2013, when David Schultz caused an explosion in his apartment building, killing one person and injuring several more. He is currently serving a nine-year prison sentence.
Using a Dab Rig
If you use a rig to consume concentrates, you have to heat up the ‘nail’ with a torch. The combination of getting extremely high and exposure to intense heat is always a worrying one. While common sense should prevail when using hot nails, that isn’t always the case when high. A safer alternative is a rig with an e-nail, which heats itself.
Harmful Chemicals in Dabs?
It is often assumed that dabbing is significantly safer than smoking flower because of the lack of combustion. However, dabbers aren’t necessarily free from exposure to chemicals. For example, be wary of sellers who extract their THC using butane. Although lab-grade butane is relatively pure, it is expensive and hard to find.
As a result, manufacturers sometimes cut corners and use low-grade butane instead, and parts of it get into the end product which you ingest.
The issue of whether exposure to vapor is harmful to one’s lungs is still open for debate. There are concentrates with 500 ppm of residual hydrocarbons, which sounds bad but is no worse than when you smoke a joint.
Dabs vs Flower: Potency
It has often been said that you can’t die from a marijuana overdose, mainly because it has never happened in human history! While it also won’t happen with dabs, the extreme potency can be overwhelming for the uninitiated. Remember, there are dabs on the market with a THC content of over 90%.
Concentrate is sometimes known as ‘pot on steroids,’ and according to marijuana advocate Dr. Dustin Sulak, a single inhalation of a dab offers up to 10 times the THC (and other cannabinoid content) as herbal weed.
If you’re new to cannabis and consume too much concentrate without developing a tolerance, there is a chance that you’ll lose consciousness. Above all, make sure you either dab at home or with a friend, just in case the high becomes too extreme.
Before Dabbing, Know Your Marijuana Tolerance
The extraordinary amount of THC contained in high-quality dabs means that your body will quickly become accustomed to the psychoactive cannabinoid. Eventually, you will get to the stage where you need a greater amount of concentrates to get high or to feel a medicinal benefit. In theory, you could also suffer from withdrawal symptoms if you use dabs for long enough and suddenly go ‘cold turkey,’ although there is no concrete evidence for this assertion.
Dabs vs Flower: Things to Consider
The biggest health risks associated with marijuana arise when you smoke a joint, as combustion can reach approximately 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The plant begins to combust at around 392 degrees, and as combustion causes smoke, there are similar risks to smoking tobacco, albeit without the enormous number of carcinogens.
Chemicals & Carcinogens
When you vaporize your dabs, around 95% of the gases contain cannabinoids. In contrast, combusted smoke gases consist of just 12% cannabinoids. Also, combustion of marijuana produces a few known carcinogens and tar, which could lead to chronic bronchitis as they irritate your lungs.
If you’ve ever used dabs, you’ll notice that the glass and water remain cleaner for longer. When you smoke flower via a water pipe or bong, it is striking how quickly the glass and water become dirty. In fact, the glass is black with tar and other less than healthy substances which can take a toll on your lungs. Research into how dabs affect your lungs is still ongoing, but users routinely report cleaner hits with less lung irritation.
Dabs vs Flower: Which has the Better Flavor?
One of the best things about concentrates is the burst of flavor you enjoy when you purchase a high-quality product. As well as consuming a cleaner substance, with better cannabinoid content, dabbing potentially has a greater level of terpenoids. This is crucial because the marijuana plant’s terpenes are responsible for the delightful aroma and flavor you enjoy when you consume weed.
However, it is possible for concentrates to lose their aroma and flavor during the extraction process because terpenes are extremely sensitive to heat. Some producers have started reintroducing terpenes into their dabs after extraction, which results in an even better level of flavor than the flower from whence they came.
It is also a fact that combustion destroys an enormous number of terpenes because it exposes the flower to extreme heat. Important terpenoids such as Beta-Caryophyllene, Alpha-Pinene, and linalool have boiling points between 242 and 388 degrees Fahrenheit. CBD has a boiling point of between 320 and 356 degrees.
Therefore, individuals who use vaporizers that heat concentrates to temperatures in the low 300-degree range should theoretically derive greater flavor and more medicinal benefits than those who smoke flower.
Dabs vs Flower: Difficulty of Consumption
Although the most common way to consume flower is via smoking, some people like to use their culinary skills to create tasty treats and edibles. If you go down this route, make sure you decarboxylate your marijuana first; this process ensures the THC-A transforms into potent THC.
The decarb process happens automatically when you smoke a joint. For use in cooking, heat your flower in the oven at around 220-245 degrees Fahrenheit for 30-45 minutes.
Dabs, however, offer a greater degree of versatility. The most common form of consuming concentrates is via a dab rig, where you place the substance on the hot nail and inhale the vapor. However, you can also create ingestible oils and tinctures, add it to food and beverages, or even sprinkle some on your joint and smoke it. There are also different dab forms including sugar, crumble, sap, oil, wax, shatter, resin, and honeycomb.
Dry Herb vs Dabs: Discretion
One of the biggest downsides of flower is a complete lack of discretion. If you are smoking a joint in public, the smell of the weed is certain to give you away. The smoke fills the air with the unmistakable scent of Mary Jane, and you can expect looks of disgust, depending on where you live! The smoke also clings to your clothes, and smells terrible the following morning when stale.
When you use dabs, however, there is no smoke and the vapor does not ruin your clothing or hair with the scent of weed. Dab pens are designed to look like innocuous devices, and you can even control vapor production to ensure you have a clandestine vaping session.
Dry Herb vs Dabs: What About Quality?
As flower has been on the market for a lot longer than dabs, it has the edge in quality. You can find high-quality flower in every licensed dispensary in any state where marijuana is legal for medicinal or recreational purposes. In these states, there are so many reputable sellers that there is no need to take any chances.
Although dispensaries also sell dabs, it isn’t as easy to find premium-quality concentrates. Dabs are widely available online, but you must be very careful when choosing a supplier. Ideally, producers will use supercritical CO2 extraction, which is clean and guarantees high-quality concentrate. However, some use butane for extraction which could provide contaminated samples. Buyer beware!
Final Thoughts on Dabs vs. Flower
There is really no ‘best’ choice here, only what is ‘right’ for you. Both methods have their benefits and drawbacks. As long as it is performed with clean, tested products, dabbing offers a rapid high and is also useful if you’re hoping to alleviate chronic pain or other symptoms associated with medical problems.
However, its extreme potency means you have to be careful when using dabs or risk developing a tolerance. You could also ingest harmful chemicals if butane is used to extract the cannabinoids.
Flower is the all-time classic form of marijuana, and it will not go away any time soon. It is easier to get premium-quality bud from a dispensary, and you can enjoy a controlled high. Alas, smoking weed is far from discreet, and the smell usually gives the game away!
It is also a fact that smoking flower leads to combustion, which means you potentially inhale chemicals, tar, and carcinogens. The combustion process also destroys terpenes and cannabinoids that are crucial components of marijuana’s medicinal benefits.
Whatever your preferred option is in the great marijuana dabs vs flower debate, the fact remains that both can “get the job done!” Stay green, and thanks for reading!