It seems like nowadays, there are a million and one ways to consume cannabis. This is especially true with regard to cannabis extraction. Commonly referred to as “dabs,” cannabis extracts (also commonly referred to as concentrates) are refined products containing little to no plant matter yet pack quite the punch. But the world of extracts can be overwhelming -- what’s the difference between shatter and rosin? Why would someone use a blowtorch to get high? How are concentrates made?
Read on to find out everything you wanted to know about full-spectrum cannabis extraction -- and why dabbing has become one of the most prominent methods of consumption today for recreational and medical marijuana users.
On a very high level (no pun intended), cannabis extraction is the act of separating the full-spectrum active ingredients in cannabis from the plant materials. The end result is a concentrated version of the raw bud, with a consistency ranging from viscous oil to thick batter to a crumbly powder. The extract can be used alongside cannabis flower in a joint, blunt, bowl, or bong, or on its own in a specially-designed rig meant for dabs.
It’s important to remember that cannabis extracts are far more potent than regular bud, including medical cannabis. The average cannabis flower on the market contains anywhere from 15-30% active ingredients, while concentrates can range between 60-95%. Concentrate newbies should always start slow when beginning their foray into dabbing.
Concentrates are made by removing the trichomes from the buds, leaves, and stems of the cannabis plant. These lanky crystals contain cannabinoids and terpenes aka the key compounds responsible for the effects, flavors, and aromas associated with cannabis.
There are hundreds of cannabinoids but the most prevalent ones are THC and CBD, which interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). CB1 and CB2 receptors throughout the body process cannabinoids. The ECS is believed to help maintain homeostasis among the rest of the systems and organs; essentially, it’s keeping the body in harmony.
Terpenes are found in every plant, but with regards to cannabis, there are several typically present. These include the herbal-leaning myrcene (thought to be the most common cannabis terpene), pinene, which conjures images of vast coniferous trees, peppery caryophyllene, citrusy limonene, dank humulene, and fruity terpinolene. While most responsible for a strain’s unique flavor profile, terpenes also play a role in the physical effects. They round out the full spectrum of active ingredients.
For hundreds of years, the only real cannabis concentrate in the game was hashish, more commonly referred to as hash, which is made by compressing sticky trichomes. Nowadays, there are seemingly endless concentrate options at the recreational and medical cannabis dispensaries. Here’s a breakdown:
As discussed above, there are several ways to consume cannabis concentrates with dabbing being arguably the most popular. A traditional dab involves the use of an apparatus called a rig, which looks similar to a water bong. A small bowl called a nail is heated to extremely high temperatures, typically with a butane torch. Once it reaches the desired temperature, a small “dab” of concentrate is placed on the nail using a special tool resembling a pin or shovel. The concentrate is instantly vaporized, and the vapor is inhaled through the mouthpiece of the rig. Any residual cannabis oil is wiped out with a cotton swab. Some people prefer what’s called a cold start dab, wherein the material is placed on the nail prior to heating.
Another way to dab is with a “nectar collector,” a vertical vaporizer that is sort of similar to a chillum pipe. One end is heated up and then dipped into the concentrate directly -- the user then inhales from the other end. For those wishing to avoid using a blowtorch, especially medical cannabis users, there are a number of electronic dab rigs on the market including the Puffco Peak, the Dab Dipper, and the Kandypens Oura.
Vape pens are also considered a form of dabbing. The types of vape pens include disposable devices pre-filled with oil or “cartridge” systems, which use special batteries. A pod or 510-thread vessel with a mouthpiece is filled with full spectrum or distillate oils, either at home or by a licensed producer, which then attach to the battery. There are also pens on the market that can be filled with other types of concentrates (like shatter or wax) using a quartz or ceramic chamber which needs to be cleaned frequently. Vaporizer pens have become popular thanks to their ease of use and relative portability.
Dabbing concentrates has become a favorite consumption method of recreational and medical cannabis users around the world, particularly in the last decade. Available in a wide variety of types and consistencies, dabs deliver more of the plant’s active ingredients to the body than traditional smoking. Because they’re concentrated, one dab may offer the same effect as an entire joint of bud -- so caution should be used. Cannabis extraction has come a long way over the years, with new technologies certain to spring up in the future. Pay attention when shopping at the dispensary -- the next big thing in dabs could show up at any time!