Last updated: 04/22/2021
Author: Dr Anjali Talcherkar
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Cannabis use is on the rise in the U.S. with the surge of legalization and widespread availability. As marijuana’s popularity increases, so do that of new cannabis products and methods of intake. One of these varieties, called “dabs,” is concentrated portions of cannabis containing high amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).1
This method of getting high, called dabbing, involves using a vaporization rig—a glass chamber that looks similar to a bong. While more research is needed to accurately assess dabbing effects, dabbing weed has some adverse effects. It’s important to educate yourself on the potential dangers of dabbing and seek help if needed.
Table of Contents
Dabs & Dabbing—What Is It?
Dabs are small amounts or “blobs” of cannabis extracts. The principal extract used in dabbing is butane hash oil (BHO). BHO is a waxy, nonpolar extract of the cannabis plant made with butane as a solvent.
BHO has active ingredient (THC or cannabidiol) contents ranging between 50% and 90%, with terpene content ranging from 0.1% to 34%.2 Because these blobs are made up of highly concentrated cannabinoids and terpenes, dabs can be very flavorful and attract young users.
Marijuana concentrates, or dab weed can be made in a commercial environment or prepared at home.3 They can be produced in various ways including:
- Dry processing (kief, finger hash)
- Dry ice processing
- Water-based processing (bubble hash)
- Combining pressure with heat
- Using non-flammable carbon dioxide solvents
- Using flammable solvents, including butane (lighter fluid), propane, ether, or alcohol
The method of intake of dabs, vaporizing, has a very clean and smooth taste if done properly.3 The pure method of delivery is one reason for the rising popularity of dabbing. How it works is cannabis concentrate is volatilized through an application to a hot platform; the vapor then passes through a water glass pipe device, similar to a bong, and inhaled.1,3
Other names for dab weed are:
- Live resin
- Honey oil
Why Dabbing is Popular
The main reason dabs are preferred over other routes of cannabis intake is that less material is needed to get the desired dab effects, which results in a “cleaner high.” Users consider dabbing to be a form of vaporization, so it’s easier on the lungs than smoking.2
Another device that can be used in dabbing weed is a dab pen. Dab pens are devices that fall somewhere between a dab rig and a vape pen. Dab pens are more expensive than regular marijuana vape pens, and when it comes to vaporizing cannabis oil, dabbing is one of the more labor-intensive ways. However, it gives the user complete control over the process.1
Dabbing weed allows you to:
- Pick your marijuana concentrate and preferred type, texture, and quality
- Set the exact temperature
- Choose the amount of oil
Despite apparent advantages to dabbing versus other methods of cannabis intake, there are several disadvantages, including harmful dabbing effects on your health. Because this is a fairly new and popular fad, prevalent among young people who often stay on top of new trends, it is important to educate yourself and seek help if you spot any red flags associated with dabbing.
Is Dabbing Weed Dangerous?
Research shows that marijuana is the most commonly used drug in the United States, with about 12% of people 12 years of age or older reporting use in the past year and particularly high rates of use among younger people.4
Some adverse short-term and long-term effects are associated with marijuana use depending on how it is used and in what form. However, more research is needed to understand how dabbing effects may differ from smoking traditional marijuana plant buds.4
Adverse Short-Term Effects of Marijuana Use
Although dabbing is done for somewhat enjoyable effects of marijuana, there are also some negative effects you’ll experience, including:4
- Impaired memory
- Impaired motor skills, interfering with driving with the possibility for injuries
- Altered judgment, inability to make sound decisions
- Paranoia and psychosis in high doses
Adverse Long-Term Effects of Marijuana Use
If you dab or smoke marijuana regularly, you may end up with some negative lasting effects, such as:4
- Marijuana addiction
- Stunted brain development
- Negative impact on academic progress, usually dropping out of school
- Cognitive impairment and lower IQ
- Chronic cough or bronchitis
- Depression and lack of life satisfaction
Dependence and Addiction
According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, around 2.7 million people 12 years of age and older met the DSM-IV criteria for dependence on marijuana, and 5.1 million people met the criteria for dependence on any illicit drug.4,5
Research also shows that 9% of overall marijuana users will develop an addiction, 17% of those who start in adolescence, and 25-50% of those who are daily users. It is unknown yet how dangerous dabbing is compared to other types of cannabis use, but dabbing weed poses other health risks.
Dabs that are homemade or obtained on the street may contain harmful residual solvents (i.e., butane, pesticides, or other contaminants).1 You don’t always know what you are getting if you get dab weed from unreliable sources.
BHO, a sticky extract of the cannabis made using butane as a solvent, cannot be taken orally and must be vaporized for users to experience the dabbing effects. The process of BHO production can be harmful if it is done at home by inexperienced chemists.
The real danger of dabbing is found in the terpenes found in cannabis concentrate extracts.2 Terpenes create carcinogens when they are burned. Myrcene is one the most common terpenes in cannabis, comprising up to 50% of the terpene profile.2 This means that any extract of cannabis that preserves the terpenes (BHO and rosin) will generate higher levels of myrcene and benzene than regular pot smoke.
Dab smoke contains an irritant (methacrolein) and a slightly elevated benzene level compared to cannabis flower smoke. Benzene is an aromatic chemical that can increase your chances of cancer, although at doses not found in dabs. This scenario is similar to the toxic chemicals found in coffee beans during the roasting process. The toxins don’t necessarily appear in the final coffee product but may be present at some point in the refinement process.
It’s also important to note that every time we pump gas, every time we drive a car, or even just take a breath near a freeway, we inhale significant quantities of benzene. The presence of benzene is not to be ignored, but we cannot assume dabbing is dangerous based on the current findings. More research is needed on these potentially harmful effects.
That said, there are a few reports of psychosis, neurotoxicity, and cardiotoxicity associated with dabbing weed but not among most users.1 Any drug, illicit or otherwise, if abused, can pose dangers to your health and well-being. Prolonged cannabis use may lead to dependence or addiction. In such cases, treatment may be necessary to reclaim your health and life.
Treatment for Dabbing Abuse and Addiction
Drugs like marijuana can alter the dopamine reward system, so being able to stop using dabs if the habit is problematic is just one part of the recovery process.6 You also need to reprogram deeply entrenched thought patterns to form new positive behaviors.
When you attempt to break behaviors, some challenges may arise including losing friends, needing to fill your time, and experiencing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.6 Stopping cannabis use has also been known to cause withdrawal, making it difficult to quit completely.
Cannabis withdrawal symptoms include:4
Detoxing from cannabis and dabbing might be difficult initially, but help is available. Because recovery occurs in different ways for each person, treatment may include :
- Inpatient or outpatient treatment
- 12-step support groups
- Faith-based programs
- Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
- Job skills training
- Psychosocial interventions
How to Choose the Right Rehab Program
When researching treatment options, it is important to look for programs that address your specific needs. Consider the rehabilitation facility itself, the individual practitioners, the demographic of the clients in the program, and the treatment program method. Research each program and speak with the admissions department to get a clear sense of each facility. Treatment is an investment in your future, so choose wisely.
To help you decide which treatment option is best for you start by asking a few questions, such as:
- How long have you been addicted to dab weed?
- Do you have medical or mental health concerns?
- Does your insurance cover addiction treatment?
- Do you need detox?
- Are you interested in a program that serves a specific population (teens, elderly, faith-based, LGBT, etc.)?
- Do you have other treatment needs, such as job skills training, family or couples therapy, the ability to complete schoolwork in treatment, etc.?
- Do you want to stay close to home for treatment, or would you rather put some distance between your treatment and your current environment?
It’s up to you to assess whether or not your dabbing habit has gotten out of control. It’s helpful to research treatment options if you feel you need more support. Call our support specialists at 800-926-9037 Who Answers? who can guide you to the best options.
- Alzghari, S. K., Fung, V., Rickner, S. S., Chacko, L., & Fleming, S. W. (2017). To dab or not to dab: rising concerns regarding the toxicity of cannabis concentrates. Cureus, 9(9), e1676. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.1676
- Meehan-Atrash, J., Luo, W., & Strongin, R. M. (2017). Toxicant formation in dabbing: the terpene story. ACS Omega, 2(9), 6112–6117.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Marijuana concentrates: DrugFacts.
- Volkow, N. D., Baler, R. D., Compton, W. M., & Weiss, S. R. (2014). Adverse health effects of marijuana use. The New England journal of medicine, 370(23), 2219–2227.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2012). Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings.
- Kauer, J., & Malenka, R. (2007). Synaptic plasticity and addiction. Nature Reviews, 8, 844-858.