What Are Dabs?

What was once called the future of cannabis, dabbing has become the mainstream and preferred way to consume cannabis in states where it is legal. Search Instagram for hashtags like #thedab303, #dabstagram, or #weshouldab, and you’ll find hundreds of thousands of examples of this budding subculture. Marijuana concentrate, or dabs, are super-concentrated oils that have been extracted from cannabis. They are favored for their potency, taste, convenience, and overall experience. For those new to dabbing or who may be puzzled by the dizzying amount of choices, The Dab is here for you. Let’s begin with how and why people are dabbing.

How Do You Use Them?

There are two ways to use dabs: vaporizing them in a pen or dabbing them from an oil rig. While the experiences are similar in outcome, they differ greatly in process.  Pens can be used to vaporize dabs in a few simple and easy steps. It’s usually as straightforward as loading the pen, pressing a button, inhale, exhale. Using a pen for your dabs has the convenience of portability and the familiarity of control–you only puff as much or little as you need.

A rig, on the other hand, also requires a dabber to get the dab on, a nail to melt the dab off of, and a torch to heat the nail up. If you’re extra savvy, you’ll want to use a carb cap to control the temperature and air flow of the dab for optimal flavor. People like to use concentrate for many reasons, but they are chiefly flavor, potency, and consistency. Whether you choose to use a rig or a pen, using marijuana concentrate will feel different than smoking flower. Its effects are faster-acting, harder-hitting, and shorter-lasting. This appeals to many seasoned users, especially those with higher tolerances, and people who medicate throughout the day.

Even more overwhelming than a dab itself, the options for people looking to dab seem endless. Marijuana concentrates can be categorized according to the material used for extraction, the extraction process, and the consistency of the final product. For example, nug-run BHO budder refers to concentrate that was made from flower, extracted with a solvent, and prepared to a texture similar to butter. It’ll make sense to look at them in that order: material, process, and product.

What’s In a Dab?

Dabs are either made from trim, flowers, or fresh frozen plants. The vast majority of dabs are made from marijuana trim, the dried plant material that is trimmed from the flowers before harvest.  Trim’s preferred status in concentrate production is twofold: it’s an abundant byproduct and less expensive to process than flowers. Trim makes high-quality, flavorful concentrate, but it is not as terpene-rich or desired as nug-run, concentrate that is made from flowers. Nug-run is superior to trim-run because of the richer flavor it derives from fuller spectrum cannabinoid and terpene profiles.  

Finally, you have fresh frozen material. As the name implies, fresh frozen material is whole cannabis plants–imagine them being chopped off in the soil at the stalk–that are vacuum sealed and frozen until they are ready to be fed into an extractor. Compared to dried and cured trim or flower, fresh frozen packs the richest terpene content and is used to make live resin. Live resin, much like shatter in the early days of concentrates, is all the rage among connoisseurs and people new to dabs. With improvements in production and the continuously falling prices of cannabis, dabs made from live resin have become an affordable option for most consumers.

How are Dabs Made?

The different methods of extraction can be seen under the umbrella of solvent-based v. solventless extractions. Solvent-based extractions have been around for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until a 2005 Cannabis Culture article titled “Beautiful Budder” that they were officially on the aboveground scene and well-known. By then, Da Kine dispensary in Vancouver, British Columbia had been carrying a budder concentrate for two years.

The real craze began after 2010’s High Times Cannabis Cup where concentrates were judged for the first time. Butane Honey Oil (BHO) would explode in popularity. Other solvent-based extraction methods include CO2 supercritical fluid extraction (SFE) and propane extraction (PHO). CO2 SFE is increasingly popular due to its use in large commercial extractions done for edibles and cartridges. PHO, less common than the other two, is still used commercially and known to produce a product that is more akin to budder than other consistencies.  

Solventless extraction methods are dominating the concentrate scene in 2018. With growing concern over hydrocarbon based solvents like butane, dabbers are looking for cleaner, more environmentally conscious ways of having their dabs whipped up. The first and most well-known example of a solventless concentrate is hash, or hashish, which is produced from sifting the kief off of dry marijuana buds and collecting it and pressing it into the stable, though sticky substance hash is known for. A more refined example of hash, bubble hash, or ice wax, is made using ice water and agitation to filter trichomes through successively finer screens.

The most popular form of solventless extraction is rosin. Rosin is the process of using heat and pressure to extract the oils from cannabis and cannabis plant material. The rosin revolution, as its known, has been made possible by the availability of cheap and effective rosin presses for commercial as well as household use from companies like Denver-based Lowtemp Plates. Legend has it that rosin was first created by a crafty pothead who pondered if they could squeeze some of the gooey goodness out of a nug with a hair straightener. Today, rosin presses can handle much larger loads, and it is far more scalable for commercial solventless extractions than the other methods.

What Are Dabs Like?

The final layer to this is the different consistencies, or look and texture, concentrates take on. The less viscous kinds  are the most common and easy-to-use. The first to explode on the scene, and still the most common today, is shatter. Shatter, as its name implies, has a hard and brittle consistency, is yellow to amber in color, and can be shattered into pieces like glass. It is the easiest form of concentrate to use because it doesn’t require a dabber and is generally less messy.

After shatter, wax is the second overarching consistency in concentrates. Wax is not translucent like shatter and either appears as budder or sugar. Budder is fluffy, light yellow to golden in color, and soft in appearance and texture. Like shatter, budder is easy to use, and when firm, can be used without a dabber. Sugar is a harder, crystalline substance that looks like amber-colored sugar that is wet and sparkly, as if soaked in honey. Sugar and budder are the two most common types of concentrates that are offered at dispensaries. Their popularity is owed to their superior flavor,  better melts, and comparatively lower prices.

On the more viscous end of the spectrum are sap and distillate. Sap is essentially shatter that never hardened up. Sap is most commonly offered in high-CBD varieties because of those strains tendencies to produce a more viscous concentrate. Sap is great for dabbing, but due to its viscosity, is not ideal for pens and can be messy even on a dabber.

Distillate, the holy grail of solvent-based extractions, is ultra-refined concentrate that goes through some form of pre-extraction before being fractionally distilled, or stripped of all content except for pure THC. Known as the clear, distillate is colorless, odorless, and flavorless due to its pure, terpene-free state. Like CO2 oil, distillate is used in large commercial extractions for edibles and pen cartridges.  

The latest form to arrive has been live diamonds. The new top shelf in concentrate, they appear like diamonds soaked in honey. Like live resin, diamonds are made entirely from fresh frozen or fresh plant material. Diamonds are made by using pure THCA crystals that are cured in terpenes or allowed to “sauce up.“ This exceptionally flavorful form of concentrate became popular in 2016. Live diamonds are high cannabinoid full spectrum extract (HCFSE) THCA crystals that have been combined with high terpene full spectrum extract (HTFSE) sauce, or terp juice. Put simply, live diamonds are pure terpene juice mixed with pure THCA crystals. Diamonds are loved for their unmatched aroma, flavor, and full-spectrum terpene profiles.

Are Dabs Right for Me?

The world of concentrates is expanding and growing more sophisticated by the day. At The Dab, our staff is knowledgeable and understands the complexities of marijuana and marijuana concentrate. We hope you’ll come and visit us for the best selection, unbeatable prices, and the most helpful, Dab-savvy budtenders in Denver. If you thought dabbing was complicated, you came to the right place. We are The Dab, Denver’s best dispensary.    

Written by Spencer Ward February 28, 2018