Answered: WTF are ... Cannabis Dabs?

Flavor, potency, experience -- welcome to the world of cannabis dabs.
Flavor, potency, experience -- welcome to the world of cannabis dabs. /

If you smoke weed for the taste then concentrates are probably your best friend. They’re as terpy and flavorful as you can possibly get with cannabis. 

If you’ve never tried dabs, you may be intimidated by stories of people getting so high they can’t function, but today we’re going to break down those fear walls once and for all.

Let’s talk about dabs and how you properly smoke them.

What are dabs?

Dabs are a form of concentrated cannabis oil that you consume with a dab rig. They are also called hash oil.

With cannabis, you’ve got a bunch of different smokeables that can come from the flower. That’s because it’s not the plant that gets us high, it’s the chemicals and oils inside the trichomes, these small crystal structures on the surface of the cannabis plant. 

These chemicals and oils are called cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, etc. Cannabinoids are the THC, CBD, CBG, and CBN compounds that provide certain health and wellness benefits. 

Terpenes are the compounds like limonene, caryophyllene, and myrcene that are responsible for the smell and taste of weed. 

While not responsible for our highs, some studies suggest that terpenes may be responsible for the different types of high we feel from cannabis. This is why you’re starting to see more terpenes listed on packaging. 

All of this is important because both cannabinoids and terpenes are housed inside of trichomes. And trichomes are what processors extract from the plant matter to make dabs (and vapes). 

So when you dab, you’re essentially getting the purest form of cannabis possible.

The different types of dabs and where they come from 

There are a variety of ways to extract trichomes from cannabis plants. Each of them result in a different consistency of dabs with different names like wax, shatter, pull-n-snap, budder, honey crystals, sauce, diamonds; truly the list goes on and on. 

Regardless of differing consistencies, all of these dabs can be separated into two main categories: solvent-based dabs and solventless dabs.

Solvent-based dabs vs. Solventless dabs 

Solvent-based dabs are concentrates that were made by using solvents like butane, propane, and ethanol, and carbon dioxide to extract trichomes from cannabis plant matter. 

Solventless dabs use natural substances like heat and water to extract trichomes from cannabis plants. 

Whichever is better comes down to personal opinion, however many consumers view solventless dabs as superior to solvent-based dabs due to them using no chemicals in the extraction process. 

Solvent-based dabs (if properly extracted) are still considered safe due to the final product being purged of any chemical solvent.

The different types of solvent-based dabs:

  • CO2 oil
  • BHO
  • PHO

CO2 oil

CO2 oil combines pressure and carbon dioxide to extract trichomes from plant matter. CO2 oil is mostly used to make vape pens and distillates, as CO2 dabs would be far inferior in taste to the other options. Distillates mean the cannabis oil has been processed all the way down to its pure cannabinoids (THC, CBD). They have no terpenes, no taste, which is why you commonly see distillates with post-extraction terpene additives.

BHO dabs

Butane hash oil (BHO) uses butane to pull trichomes off those dry buds. It is the most common form of dabs, and usually results in wax, shatter, crumble, or sauce. Butane is also used to create live resin, which differs from common BHO as it was extracted from fresh frozen plants, not dried and cured. This gives live resin a much more flavorful taste than other BHOs, because the terpenes were frozen in there.

PHO dabs

Propane hash oil (PHO) uses propane to remove trichomes from the buds. Forms of PHO are usually referred to as budder, due to its “buddery” consistency. At this point, PHO dabs are pretty rare compared to the alternatives.

The different types of solventless dabs:

  • Ice water hash 
  • Rosin

Ice Water Hash

Ice water hash, as the name would suggest, is a type of hash oil that is created by ice water to extract the trichomes from a plant. The buds, which start as fresh frozen plants, are shaken together with ice and water. The frozen trichomes then fall into the water, and are then filtered out, dried, and served up as some beautiful bubble hash. There is much debate amongst connoisseurs if water should be considered a solvent or not.


Rosin uses only pressure and heat to make solventless dabs. It can be made from pressing dried flower, hash, or kief into parchment paper with a hair straightener or a rosin press. This is why rosin dabs still have somewhat of a planty taste to them. Additionally, there is live rosin, which is made from applying heat and pressure to fresh frozen plants for extraction, and is considered one of the most flavorful dabs possible. It’s all about preserving those terpenes.

How to smoke dabs the right way

Smoking dabs is easy, you just need the right equipment and a little bit of practice. 

For dabbing, you need these accessories:

  • Dab rig
  • Dab tool
  • Carb cap
  • Dab nail/banger
  • Torch
  • Extracts, obviously 

Step 1: Crack your dab container open and glob up

Pretty simple, but step one is obviously to open up your dabs and use your dab tool/poker to scoop out a little dab of concentrate for yourself. Amount is up to you, but if your tolerance isn’t so high, start out with a small little tick, like a grain of rice, and see how it feels.

Step 2: Torch your banger 

Sit your dab tool aside and torch up your dab nail (banger). You can find a torch by simply googling “dabbing torch” and following Amazon to the many options.

If you prefer to skip the torch, you might consider electronic dab rigs like the Puff Peak Pro.

Step 3: Wait for your banger to cool down

Once you torch your banger, wait about 90 seconds or so for it to cool down. Taking a red hot dab will burn off all the terpenes and leave you with a scorched esophagus for no beneficial reason.

Step 4: Drop your glob into the banger with the dab tool

As your banger cools to the optimal temperature, put your dab tool in the bottom of it and inhale while the oil melts into the glass. You’ll see and hear some bubbling.

Step 5: Add your carb cap 

As you inhale, add your carb cap to the top of the banger to trap heat and encourage airflow. It’ll help you get the most flavor and time length out of your dab sesh. Exhale a few times, and there you have it, my friend: you’ve now taken a dab. 

Step 6: Clean your banger

After taking your dab, always run a cotton swab through your banger to make sure it's clean, clear, and ready for the time you want to hit some oil. Otherwise it’ll get gunky and disgusting, which will distort the taste of any future dabs. Your lungs and taste buds deserve better.

Dabbing accessories that help enhance your dabs

Taking dabs is all about tasting those terpenes that come from your favorite strains. If you can get the temperature and airflow right, then you can really unlock those citrus flavors from Orange Creamsicle dabs or that gassy flavor from Motorbreath dabs. 

There are plenty of accessories that can help you get dabbing right.

Things like terpene thermometers, terp pearls, and e-nails for example. Terp thermometers like the Dab Rite and Terpometer measure the temperature of your dab nail as it cools. E-nails are electronic heating systems that wrap around your banger and maintain whichever specific temperature you want.

They’re all great because you can get hit that sweet flavor spot of between 450 and 550 degrees Fahrenheit (or whatever temperature works best for you). The lower the temperature, the more flavor you get; the higher the temperature, the bigger clouds of vapor you’ll get. Choose your own adventure.

Terp pearls are little beads that swirl around your banger as you inhale a dab. Like carb caps, they help distribute heat and airflow, enabling you to get fuller hits out of your dabs. They aren’t mandatory, but they damn sure maximize your experience. Follow all of the steps listed above, grab these dabbing accessories, and you’ll be a pro at dabbing in no time.

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