Dabbing, which involves inhaling highly concentrated THC oils, waxes, or isolates, has become an increasingly popular way to consume marijuana. While many enjoy dabbing recreationally, questions have arisen about the safety and risks of this relatively new method of cannabis consumption. Specifically, concerns about the potential toxicity of dabs have stemmed from their high THC levels, use of solvents like butane for extraction, and addition of flavoring additives.
What are dabs?
Dabs, also known as butane hash oil (BHO), wax, shatter, or concentrates, are made by extracting THC and other cannabinoids from marijuana plants using solvents like butane or carbon dioxide. This results in a waxy, glass-like concentrate that can contain THC levels of up to 90% compared to just 15-25% in traditional marijuana buds.
Dabs come in various textures like budder, crumble, sap, and more. They can then be vaporized using a dab rig, e-cigarette, or vape pen. A dab rig involves heating a “nail” to extremely high temperatures using a handheld torch, then placing a small dab of concentrate on the nail while inhaling through the rig. E-cigarette style vape pens on the other hand, utilize removable cartridges filled with THC oil that are heated and inhaled.
Are dabs more potent than traditional marijuana?
Yes, dabs contain significantly higher concentrations of THC compared to traditional marijuana flower. While the average THC content in marijuana ranges from 15-25%, THC levels in dabs typically range from 60-90%.
This makes dabs around 3-5 times more potent than smoking conventional bud. The extraction process concentrates the THC and other cannabinoids into a dense, purified form, resulting in a product that is extremely psychoactive.
Just a small dab is needed to produce an intense high. First time or occasional users often report feeling overwhelmed from dabbing. Building up too high of a tolerance to dabs can also make it difficult to get high from regular bud afterwards.
Do dabs get you higher than smoking weed?
Absolutely. Not only are dabs much more potent in terms of THC content, but inhaling vaporized concentrates leads to faster absorption and higher blood THC levels than smoking flower.
With traditional smoking, only some of the THC is pyrolyzed by heat and absorbed in the lungs. Much of it never makes it that far and is lost in sidestream smoke or exhaled.
Vaporizing dabs is more efficient – most of the THC turns to vapor and is rapidly absorbed by the lungs and bloodstream. This gets users almost instantaneously and intensely high.
Research shows that dabs can increase THC levels in blood by 2-3 times compared to smoking the same dose of marijuana. The combination of higher potency and faster absorption makes dabbing a much more intense experience.
Can dabs be addictive?
While marijuana use does not typically lead to physical dependence and addiction like other drugs, studies show that frequent and long-term use of high-potency cannabis concentrates may pose a higher risk. This is due to the uniquely intense high and rapid tolerance build up associated with dabs.
Frequent dabbing can quickly lead to the development of tolerance, requiring users to consume more and more just to achieve the original effects. Dabbing high doses on a daily basis can result in dependence forming.
Suddenly stopping heavy dab use leads to withdrawal symptoms like cravings, anxiety, irritability, sleep problems, sweating, decreased appetite, and restlessness lasting around 1-3 weeks. This demonstrates a state of dependence has formed.
Those who are prone to addiction may be at an increased risk when using highly potent and dependence-forming dabs multiple times per day. However, addiction remains relatively uncommon with marijuana use alone.
What are the short-term effects of dabs?
The acute effects of dabbing are similar to marijuana but often magnified in intensity. Desired effects include:
– Euphoria, relaxation, lowered inhibitions
– Enhanced senses, creativity
– Increased appetite
– Pain relief
However, the high THC levels make unwanted side effects more likely as well:
– Anxiety, paranoia
– Rapid heart rate
– Impaired coordination
– Short-term memory loss
– Panic attacks (in rare cases)
Furthermore, the rapid onset of effects increases the risk of overconsumption. New users often overdo it with dabs, resulting in an uncomfortably intense and disorienting high.
These powerful psychoactive effects make activities like driving extremely dangerous after dabbing. The short-term cognitive impairments coupled with delayed motor reactions create substantial risks.
What are the risks of using butane for extraction?
Most dabs on the market today are extracted using butane as the solvent. Butane is inexpensive, easily accessible, and efficient at stripping cannabinoids and terpenes from plant material. However, butane hash oil (BHO) extraction comes with some inherent risks.
Firstly, butane is highly flammable and can be explosive. Attempting do-it-yourself extractions without proper equipment and experience puts the user at risk of combustion and burns. Even under professional conditions, lab explosions are not unheard of.
Secondly, residual butane left in the concentrate after extraction can be hazardous if inhaled. Studies have found toxin levels of up to 800 times the permissible occupational limit in some BHO samples. While not all residues are this high, it highlights the need for proper purging.
Properly purged BHO made by experienced extractors contains minimal traces of butane and is generally considered safe. But the risks of using this combustible solvent for DIY or amateur extractions may outweigh the benefits considering safer alternatives exist.
Are other cannabis extracts like CO2 oil safer?
Yes, substituting hydrocarbons like butane with non-flammable liquid carbon dioxide offers a safer extraction method.
Supercritical CO2 extraction utilizes carbon dioxide heated and pressurized past its critical point. In this state it has solvent powers strong enough to extract cannabinoids from plant matter.
CO2 provides a clean, non-toxic extraction compared to butane alternatives. However the equipment required is expensive and the process more complex, so butane remains more common among small producers.
Other options like ice water hash extraction completely avoid solvents in favor of filtration. While the end product is less concentrated than BHO, ice water hash avoids residual contaminants.
Overall, consumers should look for concentrates labeled as solventless or prefer CO2 extracted oils whenever possible for maximum safety.
Can flavoring agents and additives be risky?
Manufacturers sometimes add flavoring agents, thinning agents, or preservatives to cannabis oil concentrates to improve the taste, aroma, viscosity, or appearance.
While safe food-grade terpenes, essential oils, and all-natural ingredients can be used, some companies utilize questionable additives like:
– Propylene glycol (PG) – causes respiratory irritation and allergic reactions when vaporized and inhaled at high temperatures
– Polyethylene glycol (PEG) – linked to lung damage
– Vitamin E acetate – associated with EVALI outbreak
– Medium chain triglycerides (MCT) – may produce carcinogens when vaped
When choosing a flavored dab product, check for natural cannabis derived-terpenes and avoid artificial or e-liquid additives not meant to be vaporized. Unnatural thinning agents in particular may pose health risks from inhalation.
Can pesticides and other contaminants be present?
Yes, the use of chemical pesticides, fungicides, fertilizers, and growth regulators during marijuana cultivation carries the risk of contaminating concentrates during extraction.
While present in only trace amounts, compounds like bifenthrin, paclobutrazol, pyrethroids, neonicotinoids, glyphosate, and more can concentrate in extracts when the entire plant is used.
Less reputable producers may blast moldy, mildewed, or tainted material into dabs. Harmful bacterial contaminants are also a concern with poor starting materials.
Seeking out dabs tested for pesticide, microbial, and residual solvent contamination is key. Reputable brands analyze their concentrates and provide batch testing documentation to ensure safety and purity.
Can metals from vape pens or dab tools leach?
Yes, there are some concerns over metals like lead, chromium, nickel, manganese, and iron transferring from vape pen heating coils, cartridge wicks, or dab tools into inhaled vapor.
However, exposures are generally only a potential concern with low quality and unregulated hardware made with unsafe materials. High quality vape pens and dabbing devices utilize medical or food-grade stainless steel and other inert metals that do not leach at high temperatures.
Concentrate vaporization between 300-450°F is also at lower temperatures than tobacco e-cigarette coils operating at 600-800°F where leaching is more likely.
Can the high heat of dabbing produce carcinogens?
Dabbing necessitates heating concentrates to temperatures between 500-1000°F, far above combustion points. At these temps, oxidation and thermal decomposition can occur – converting portions of the concentrate molecules into new compounds.
Some experts have raised concerns over methacrolein, benzene, acrylamide, and other carcinogenic compounds potentially forming. However, studies suggest any byproducts produced only represent trace levels, far below occupational exposure limits.
One study found dabbing produced lower levels of harmful combustion byproducts compared to smoking flower, likely because vaporization avoids an actual combustion reaction. Overall, current research has not linked dabbing with significant added cancer risk thus far.
Can dabbing cause breathing problems?
The high temperatures required to vaporize cannabis concentrates have the potential to irritate the soft tissues of the respiratory tract for some users. This could aggravate pre-existing conditions like asthma, bronchitis, or allergies.
Some individuals experience coughing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and sore throat after dabbing, especially with frequent high-temp use. Taking smaller, lower temperature dabs may help reduce this irritation in sensitive users. Proper hydration and breathing technique can also minimize discomfort.
However, vaporizing is still considered far less hazardous and irritating compared to traditional smoking in terms of respiratory health effects. Consumers with respiratory issues are better off dabbing than smoking cannabis when possible.
Is there a risk of physical injury from dabbing?
The use of butane torches and extremely hot nails used for dabbing does carry a slight risk of burns or other physical injury with improper handling. Dropping a hot titanium or quartz nail on skin can cause serious burns for example.
Explosions and fires are also possible (though very rare) from butane torch misuse. Additionally, being too intoxicated while operating a torch puts users at higher risk of burns, so refraining from additional dabs once at the desired level of high is prudent.
Lastly, dropping a glass dab rig or handheld torch while under the influence could lead to cuts or other injuries. Taking necessary precautions helps mitigate any physical risks.
Can dabbing cause lung damage?
So far, there is no definitive evidence that dabbing or vaping cannabis oil causes significant adverse effects on lung function. Past studies on hash oil use found only minor pulmonary issues and no serious health effects.
However, cases of EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury) have brought more concerns over vaping’s safety. Most instances involved vaping vitamin E acetate, an additive largely used in illicit market THC cartridges.
When inhaled it seems to damage lung tissue, causing severe lipoid pneumonia. However, regulated extracts didn’t appear involved with EVALI. More research is still needed, but currently dabbing does not appear linked with the same dangers as EVALI.
Is tolerance or withdrawal possible?
Yes, with frequent use over time dabbing can quickly lead to increased tolerance. Due to the high dosages being consumed with concentrates, users can rapidly develop a tolerance where more is needed to achieve the desired effects.
Abruptly stopping heavy daily dabbing leads to marijuana withdrawal syndrome in some long-term users. Symptoms like mood changes, sleep disturbances, decreased appetite, cravings and restlessness typically resolve within 1-3 weeks.
Though not medically serious, developing a dependence on high potency dabs may contribute to psychological addiction in a small subset of users.
Are there risks unique to adolescents or those with mental illness?
The risks associated with intense psychoactive dabbing may be further compounded in vulnerable populations like teens and those predisposed to psychiatric conditions.
In adolescents, dabbing could negatively impact brain development. It may also increase the risks of developing conditions like depression or schizophrenia later in those genetically predisposed.
Additionally, the powerful effects of THC concentrates could trigger latent psychiatric problems or worsen symptoms in those with pre-existing mental health diagnoses. Intoxication from dabs may also make some effects like anxiety, paranoia or panic attacks more likely.
When used appropriately by healthy adults, dabbing overall appears reasonably safe. However, risks like over-intoxication, dependence, and respiratory irritation do exist – especially among less experienced users and vulnerable groups.
Avoiding amateur extractions, properly purging solvents, analyzing extract purity, using high quality vape pens, and moderating dosage can help reduce adverse health effects. More research is still needed on the long-term effects of consistent, heavy dab use.
Like all mind-altering substances, abstinence from dabbing altogether is the only way to completely avoid any risks. Those who do partake should exercise caution until further study provides a better understanding of dabbing’s lasting health impacts. For most consumers who use moderation, cannabis extracts offer a relatively safe alternative to smoking.
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