I discovered dabbing about a year ago, and since then I’ve seen the curiosity about it thrive. Apparently Google doesn’t turn up very informative results on the topic because lots of people have come to me with very basic questions about it. I am by no means an authority on the science of extracts, but I’ve had enough experience with them to mildly enlighten the complete novice.
Most people come to me with snippets of information they’ve gathered and ask me to connect the dots, often wanting to know the distinction between vaping flowers, vaping oil, and good old-fashioned smoking. Others have seen someone dabbing and want to know what they were looking at. My favorite category is people who have bought a pen or some oil without completely understanding how to use them. I was recently at the home of a family friend whose son slyly told me that he had some oil. He pulled it out of his contraband cigar box and handed it to me. I took a look at the little amber wad on a square of parchment paper and said, “Looks real nice.” He agreed enthusiastically and then paused for a moment before asking, “So, what the fuck do I do with it?”
I’ve come across lots of people like him, who bought a little bit of oil on a whim and don’t know what to do with it. Then there are the people who have come upon a vaporizer pen and asked me where they’re supposed to get the stuff to put in it. It’s happened enough times that I have a little crash course prepared. I always preface it with a little disclaimer, asking, “Are you sure you want to deal with all this?”
While the high from oil is great, and markedly stronger than any high achieved from vaping or smoking flowers, no one can deny that it is a righteous pain in the ass to deal with. It’s expensive, it sticks to almost anything you store it in, and of course there’s the conundrum of consuming it correctly. If you have some flowers and want to blaze, you can easily whip up a device from the contents of your kitchen, but if you’ve got oil and want to experience the premium high that comes from vaping it, you’re limited to dabbing it with a rig or putting it in a pen--both of which are far more costly than that apple in the crisper. On top of running you 50 bucks or more, vape pens haven’t been around for long enough for all the kinks to be worked out. Every single brand I’ve used has had functionality problems at one point or another. After spending money on both the pen and the oil, there’s nothing more frustrating than having it clog or worse yet seeing it flash a bunch of times to indicate a mystery problem.
If you’re a fully dedicated, long-time dabber, now is the part where you roll your eyes. In pockets all over the US, particularly on the West Coast, dabbing has become widespread enough to develop its own cultural following. In these circles, it’s worth all the trouble, and some even believe that it’s overall a more sophisticated method of consuming cannabis. When we were producing the first episode of Weediquette, which covers solvent extracts, I met some awesome dabbing enthusiasts who took great joy in educating me on this, and others whose enthusiasm bordered on pure elitism. These folks have taken it to the extreme, refusing to smoke flowers and vehemently declaring that smoking plant matter is disgusting and that buds are meaningless.
This mentality can be pretty confounding to typical potheads who have a more “live and let live” attitude when it comes to smoking weed. My preferred method is spliffs, (joints mixed with tobacco) which many people find disgusting. Frankly, I don’t enjoy a pure weed joint as much, but I don’t discriminate. I’ll smoke in any manner the situation dictates. If someone who is smoking with me in my space prefers not to have tobacco, I won’t throw any in. Half the time, I just acquiesce because I don’t want to make a big discussion out of it. But the obsessive dabbers I have met are quite the opposite, taking any opportunity to launch into a spirited soliloquy on the merits of their preferred method over any other.
With extracts, everything is more intense. The high is more intense, the fandom is more intense, and the way you make it is straight up explosive. People who try to derive extracts at home using flammable solvents like butane will sometimes botch the process, blow their faces off, and wind up on the evening news. This irks advocate groups who are pushing to get weed legalized. It’s hard to justify legalizing a drug when all of its medicinal and social benefits are overshadowed by an insular trend that appears far more elicit than any component of the plant itself. And it may even have been a palpable threat at one point, but now legalization is unfolding so fast that it’s unlikely that a few instances of botched home extractions will slow it down.
Many who fear the dabbing trend overlook the practical benefit that it can provide. For medical cannabis patients, sometimes a dab is the only way to get the amount of medicine needed to alleviate pain. Smoking an equivalent amount of weed would tear up one’s throat, and dabbing is faster-acting than eating an edible. Arguments against dabbing for medical use usually center around a lack of testing of extract products. In a lot of cases, medical dispensaries are still selling home-blasted extracts that could have remnants of butane, propane, or whatever solvent was used to conduct the process. Some more advanced operations are using carbon dioxide, which is much cleaner, and others are actually going back and perfecting water/ice processes and coming out with hash so pure you can dab it.
In itself, dabbing is a pretty innovative way of ingesting cannabis, and it gets you high as absolute fuck. I’m glad that it exists as an option. But its delivery systems are still a little half-baked, and the way it’s characterized by both opponents and aficionados reflects a nature of excess that makes me think twice about making it a habit. There will come a time when getting wax and vaping it will be streamlined and easy as pie, but right now it may be more of a hassle than it’s worth. That’s my two cents for anyone who asks me about dabbing. If it’s something you’re into, by all means, do it. Just don’t give me shit about smoking spliffs.
Special thanks to JJ Chamberlain