The Ultimate Guide to Dabbing

Dabbing is the process of smoking or vaporizing dabs, which are concentrated medicinal herbs. Unlike other delivery methods, dabbing delivers a single dose of highly concentrated medicine per session. A variety of tools and dab rigs can be used to deliver a potent dose of the medicinal waxes/concentrates.

What is Dabbing?

Concentrated herbs for medicinal use — dabs — are typically categorized according to their properties or appearance. The five most common categories are described below.

  • Oils are thick liquids that are usually amber or gold in color. They are typically vaporized or smoked although some oils are also edible. Many find it easier to determine a consistent, precise dose with oils.
  • Shatter is sometimes called glass or sheets because it resembles amber or yellow glass. The term shatter refers to the ease with which the thin sheets can be broken when they are at room temperature.
  • Live resin is extracted from plants before they are dried. Many people feel that this form of concentrate delivers the best undertones of flavor as well as aroma. However, it may take some searching to find live resin as it has limited availability.
  • Waxes come in a wide variety of colors and textures. Wax is sometimes called flake, crumble or honeycomb, and these names describe the appearance and texture, which is determined by the method used to produce the concentrate. In appearance, some waxes resemble brown sugar, others are flakes and still others may resemble earwax.
  • Butter reminds most people of peanut butter in both appearance and texture. Butter is sometimes called whipped wax. It has a firm texture, but it is easy to shape or mold.

Specialized equipment designed especially for use with dabs is available as are attachments for many types of traditional delivery methods.

Dabbing with Traditional Bongs

Traditional bongs and water pipes can sometimes be used for concentrates. However, depending on the configuration of the pipe or bong, it will usually require purchasing one or two accessories. At minimum, it will require a nail, which is the term used to describe the heating surface that is applied to the dab. A skillet or dab holder may also be needed as well as a dome.

Dabbing with Oil Rigs

Despite the name, oil rigs can be used for virtually any dab. Oil rigs are one of the most popular types of equipment for dabbing and consist of a holder for the dab, a dome to help prevent dispersion of the vapor and a nail for the heat source. The dab put into place in the holder and the dome is replaced. A torch is used to heat the nail, which is then applied to the dab to produce the vapor.

Dabbing with Dab Pens and Vape Pens

Dabbing pens and vape pens share some similarities, but they are actually two different types of equipment. Dabbing pens look a lot like syringes. They have a holder for the concentrate and are used by heating the tip of the pen with a lighter or torch and then touching the pen to the dab. Vape pens are more like the devices used to vaporize nicotine juice. An internal element applies heat to the concentrate, and the vapor is inhaled through a mouthpiece. Dabbing pens will work with any type of concentrate, but most vape pens are limited to shatter, wax or oil. 

Dabbing with Domeless Nails

Domeless nails can best be described as all-in-one dabbing rigs that streamline the process. There is no need to remove a dome to add the dab or replace it afterwards. Instead, the nail is first heated and then the dab is placed on the heated nail.

Dabbing Tools and Accessories

Many different tools and accessories are available to make dabbing easier or more personalized. These include:

  • Nails, which are produced in several different materials, including ceramic, titanium, glass and quartz
  • Torches to provide a reliable source of heat for dabbing
  • E-nails, which are electronic nails that eliminate reliance on a torch for a heat source
  • Dabbing wands, spatulas and tongs for placing the concentrate
  • Containers to store dabs in an air-tight, watertight environment
  • Cleaners to remove residue from the holder, nail or wand

History of Dabbing

People have been producing herbal concentrates for centuries. Until the late 20th century, however, such concentrates varied widely in potency as well as purity. For example, many types of concentrated street drugs that appeared in the 1960s and 1970s fell out of favor due to the unpredictability of the effects. Although there were numerous attempts to create consistent, pure concentrates over the decades, it was not until the new millennium arrived that dab production was refined.

No one can state with certainty when dabbing in its present form first began or who was the first to refine the methods. Most experts believe that dabbing originated in California sometime between 2005 and 2010. Many credit a glass blower with having created the first oil rig to be used with concentrates.

Although the who, where and when of dabbing's invention is debated, however, the fact remains that the practice has expanded greatly since 2012. It is becoming increasingly popular among those who want to enhance the potency of their medicinal herbs or control the dosage more precisely.

Who Would Want to Dab

Dabbing holds great appeal to many people for various reasons. However, most dabbers cite five reasons as being the most important.

  1. The results are attained quicker. Pain relief achieved through smoking dry herbs can take several minutes, but concentrates can frequently provide results in times expressed in seconds.
  2. Because dosages can be controlled precisely, people are able to "budget" their medicinal herbs. They can allocate their consumption for a session, a day or longer with a great deal of accuracy.
  3. Dabs often offer greater discretion. Although it is not true for all varieties, most concentrates do not produce the characteristic smell of burning dry herb, and most concentrates produce virtually no smell while burning.
  4. More potent than dry herb, dabs have enhanced effects. It is common for long-term smokers of dry herb to develop a tolerance to the medicine's effects. This can result in the need to constantly increase the dosage to obtain the desired effect. Dabs have become especially popular among those whose tolerances make it difficult to achieve the level of pain or stress relief that they need.
  5. Concentrates are perceived as a "cleaner" method of burning herbal medicines. Dabs eliminate rolling papers, reducing the amount of vapor that is released into the air as well as reducing the number of non-therapeutic chemicals burned.

Pros and Cons of Dabbing Compared to Other Forms of Smoking

Ultimately, individuals have to decide for themselves whether to smoke dry herb or concentrates. However, here are some of the pros and cons of dabbing compared to smoking herbal medicines in a traditional manner.

The Pros of Dabbing

  • Concentrates burn more cleanly and release few chemicals into the air. A recent study found that the smoke from a dry herb cigarette released more than 110 different chemicals.
  • Smoking medicinal herbs leaves a lingering, unpleasant smell. Dabs produce only faint aromas that dissipate quickly.
  • Dabs makes less of a mess. Smoking produces ashes that can be scattered around the room. In most cases, concentrates are completely used up during the session, and any remaining material can be recycled for the next session.
  • Most people feel that dabs are less irritating. Smoking can irritate the eyes, throat or bronchial tubes, but most experienced dabbers describe the concentrates as far less harsh and irritating.
  • Concentrates can be as much as five times more potent than dry herbal medicines. The THC levels in most oils, for example, is normally 75 percent or more. Dry herbs seldom contain more than 25 percent THC, and many varieties have less than 4 percent.
  • Dabbing provides faster relief, but it also requires less time. Many people do not have the time to smoke a full bowl of dry herb, but they can finish a dab in mere seconds.
  • There is great control over how much is consumed when using concentrates. It is difficult to estimate how much medicine is in a cigarette or bowl. This can lead to under-medication as well as over-medication. Dabs allow a more precise dosage to be easily calculated and delivered.

The Cons of Dabbing

  • Dabs can be more expensive than dry herb. However, for those who have developed a great tolerance for dry herbs, the increased potency of dabs often offsets the additional cost.
  • The most popular heat source for dabbing is a butane torch or lighter. Butane contains a "chemical cocktail" that can produce unpleasant vapors. In addition, butane torches can be dangerous if not operated correctly.
  • Dry herb can be stored almost anywhere and at a great range of temperatures. Most concentrates are temperature-sensitive; for example, if the temperature is too warm, shatter can turn into a sticky mess. Many concentrates can stick to glass, paper or most plastics.
  • Dabbing may be difficult for those with impairments involving an arm or hand or those who lack muscle coordination. Placing the dab, operating the torch and placing the nail usually require the coordinated use of both hands.
  • Concentrates can be too potent for beginners. Those with little or no tolerance for medicinal herbs may place too large a dab and become nauseated or sleepy.

Best Practices for Dabbing

Dabbing can be an effective delivery method for medicinal herbs. The following tips can help enhance the experience.

  1. Choose quality equipment. Whether it is an oil rig or a dabbing pen, buying inferior equipment can lead to disappointing results as well as wasted money.
  2. Purchase an extra nail for an oil rig, especially if the nail is glass or another breakable material. Nails can be dropped, and the rig will be useless without one.
  3. Start with a small dab initially. Novice dabbers should not overestimate how much concentrate will be needed to provide the desired effect. Be conservative in the first session if just starting to dab. It is often a good idea to make the first dab from a new source a small one as well.
  4. Limit the amount of vapor inhaled when first starting to dab. Because the medicine is more concentrated, there is no need to draw in the same quantity of smoke as is required with a bong or cigarette. Too much vapor can trigger coughing.
  5. Always clean all equipment after use. The holder, nail and any other equipment such as tongs or wands should be thoroughly cleaned after every session.
  6. Use the proper tools when handling dabs. Concentrates can leave a residue on the hands that can be difficult to remove. In addition, perfumes, soaps or other items can transfer to the dab and impart an unpleasant taste.
  7. Store dabs in the proper container for the type of concentrate. For example, never use wax paper to store oil; it is difficult to remove and the wax will often come off with the dab.
  8. Handle dabbing tools with care. Wands, spatulas and tongs can be easy to drop. If they land on the floor, they can pick up pet dander, hair, skin cells or other particles that are undesirable.
  9. Season new nails before use. This involves heating the nail to the proper temperature two or three times before the first session. After heating, let the nail cool before repeating and before dabbing.

Cleaning the Equipment

Cleaning depends in part on the type of equipment being used. There are cleaners available that have been specifically designed for removing residues left by concentrates. However, for most products, it is sufficient to soak the tool for an hour or so in concentrated isopropyl alcohol. Depending on the type of rig, it may be necessary to use pipe cleaners dipped in alcohol to reach hard-to-clean areas. Follow this with a thorough washing in clean, cool water. Let the equipment dry before using; if desired, use dry cotton swabs to speed the process.

Safety Tips

When dabbing, it is always best to follow the principle of "better safe than sorry." Here are some of the most important safety tips.

  • Parts of the dabbing equipment, such as the nail and the skillet, can become hot enough to cause burns or blisters. Know where the "hot spots" are and take care to avoid touching them.
  • Use the smallest torch that will provide the necessary heat. Exercise caution when using a torch; make sure it is properly set and directed.
  • Keep the rig clean. Residue can build up, and these residues can overheat and/or burst into flames.
  • Never attempt to make concentrates at home. The production of dabs requires experience and training, frequently uses highly flammable liquids and is something that is better left to professionals.
  • Novice dabbers should remain seated throughout the session. This reduces the risk of dropping the concentrate or the equipment, but more importantly, it is important to know the physical effects that concentrates have on the individual. If the person has little tolerance, dabbing can make him or her feel light-headed or dizzy.

Risks of Dabbing

Almost all of the risks associated with dabbing can be mitigated through basic safety awareness. However, there are a few special risks that should be considered.

The first risk involves the torch. Butane torches are capable of producing flames that can cause severe burns. Countless homeowners have managed to set fire to their drapes or upholstery through carelessness when using a torch. Do not operate a torch if flammable liquids are nearby or if you are severely impaired. Always make sure that the torch is pointed in the correct direction, and turn it off as soon as the task is done. One way to avoid these types of risks is to purchase an e-nail.

There is always a risk of receiving a minor burn from the hot elements of a rig. Domeless nails have exposed heating elements which increases the risk. However, burns can be avoided by learning which parts get hot and then taking care not to touch them.

Another risk, especially for those who have never dabbed before, is the risk of falling. Many first-time dabbers are surprised by how potent concentrates are. The effects can be much stronger than anticipated, leading to dizziness or even fainting. Mitigate this risk by dabbing while seated in a safe location.

Ceramic and glass are breakable materials and, when cracked or broken, can inflict cuts. Although high-end equipment is less prone to breakage while in use, it is always wise to consider the possibility. Avoid bumping or dropping the breakable components, and inspect them before each session to make sure that they are intact.


There is no universal "best method" for the delivery of herbal medicines. Personal preferences are the primary reason for choosing one method, such as dabbing, over another. Hopefully, this guide can help those considering dabbing decide whether it is the right method for their specific needs.


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