Marijuana smokers have always been a creative lot. Take for example, all the terms we have for dating Mary Jane (oops, there’s another one): bake, toke, hit the hippie lettuce, rip, get irie, bug out, and many, many more. But recently, a new term—dabbing—has been growing in popularity as marijuana aficionados discover its benefits. Dabbing involves vaporizing marijuana concentrates, so, while it’s similar to smoking the traditional spliff, it’s also very different. It’s these cannabis concentrates that we’ve come here to talk about today and we’ll be focusing on one in particular: marijuana wax (or just “wax”). Let’s start from the beginning.
Marijuana wax is a form of hash oil concentrate (or just “concentrate”) often produced using a process known as butane hash oil extraction. If those terms are foreign to you, don’t worry. We’ll explain them in the next section.
For now, it’s enough to know that marijuana wax got its name because, in its final form, it looks like earwax or, more appetizingly, thick honey. Now before you get grossed out by its appearance, look back at the first sentence in this section. Notice that wax is a concentrate. What does that mean? It means that wax contains more THC than your traditional marijuana (sometimes 80% or more). Are you starting to see the appeal?
But how is marijuana wax made and how does it get to be so potent? Here’s how.
Marijuana wax is most commonly made through a process known as butane extraction. Traditional marijuana buds are packed into a tube or pipe and then butane—more commonly known as lighter fluid—is forced through the contents. Thanks to some really complicated and technical sciency stuff that we don’t need to be concerned with, the butane bonds with the THC in the buds and essentially pulls it from the plants. The butane is then allowed to evaporate and the resulting concentrate is an oily substance aptly called butane hash oil.
If the process of creating butane hash oil is still a bit hazy (pun intended), think about it in another, more familiar way. If marijuana buds were sugar, butane extraction would be like boiling sugar water until it becomes thick. The resulting substance—caramel—is a much sweeter form of the sugar you started with because all the “extra stuff” has been removed (through the boiling) leaving only the sweetness behind. That’s butane extraction in a nutshell. The butane extraction is also why the concentrates are so much more potent than traditional marijuana: because the extraction process pulled out all the THC and left the “extra stuff” behind.
Once the extraction process is complete, the butane hash oil concentrate is then either hardened to form shatter or cooked a bit longer to form marijuana wax.
Now before you run out to buy some butane to make your own marijuana wax, be warned: butane extraction is a very dangerous process if not performed correctly. First of all, butane is a highly flammable substance that can explode if not handled properly. Second, butane vapors can collect at low levels (the floor) where you’re not likely to detect them until it’s too late. Add any kind of spark to this mix and you’ve got big problems. Third, butane vapor can be deadly if inhaled in high quantities so it’s important to work in a well-ventilated area.
Butane extraction is very similar to the process used to make methamphetamines (meth) and we’ve all seen the charred results on TV when that goes wrong (no more trailer!). Bottom line: Leave butane extraction to the experts and just enjoy the results.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, cannabis wax is consumed by vaporizing a small dab of the concentrate with a special bong (sometimes called, yeah, you guessed it, a vaporizer) and then inhaling the smoke. A dabbing bong can take several forms and is not much different from a regular marijuana bong, but the vaporizer does have a few extra parts you should know about.
There are two basic differences between a regular bong and a dabbing bong (or dab rig): the nail and the dome.
The most important part of the dab rig is the nail. A nail can be made from titanium, glass, ceramic, quartz, or any number of other materials. Each material has its own benefits and drawbacks so make sure you do some research to find the one that works best for you.
The nail is heated (typically with a blowtorch) and then the dab of wax is applied to the HOT surface where it instantly vaporizes (a.k.a. turns to smoke). The smoke can then be drawn down into the pipe just like a traditional bong.
Some dab rigs reverse the process and use a solid glass bowl to hold the wax and a hollow metal nail attached to tubing (like a hookah). The hollow metal nail is heated and then applied to the wax in the solid glass bowl. A strong inhalation then draws the smoke through the hollow hail, through the tubing, over the water, up the pipe, and into your lungs.
The dome is a spherical piece (usually glass) that fits over the nail to help contain the vaporized marijuana wax so that it doesn’t just float off into space. The dome makes it possible to inhale most of the smoke and allows you to use less wax because you get more vapor in your lungs.
A carb cap is another common piece you may eventually use on your dab rig. Most dabbing is done by heating the nail to high temperatures but this process can be difficult to learn and do correctly. To help prevent these “mis-fires”, some dabbers heat the nail to lower temperatures and then use a carb cap instead of a dome. The carb cap creates a mini oven that helps vaporize the marijuana wax at lower temperatures. Some dabbers claim that the smoke created by using a carb cap and lower temperatures gives a smoother, more enjoyable experience.
One word: Potency. As mentioned, THC percentages can reach as high as 80% (and sometimes higher). That’s more than three times higher than some of the strongest strains of traditional marijuana (at ~25% THC).
Dabbers testify to two distinct differences between dabbing and smoking: faster effect and more intense highs. Many report that the effects of dabbing are almost instantaneous and result in a much more intense high (both visually and physically).
Another reason it’s growing in popularity is because you don’t need much of it to get really high. Most dabs are less than the size of your pinky nail (picture a mini-chocolate chip) so you can get a pretty big bang with just a little bit of product.
Yes. Because cannabis wax is processed more than traditional marijuana, it costs more than traditional marijuana. Traditional marijuana flower can cost between $15 and $20 per gram on the west coast while wax and other concentrates can cost between $70 and $100 for the same amount.
So while you may be paying more for the same amount, you’re getting a very high THC content and will need considerably less of the concentrate to get really high. It goes back to the old adage, you get what you pay for.
That is the question. Though it sounds like a rip-roaring good time, dabbing may not be for everyone. The best advice? Give it a try and see for yourself. Maybe you’ll decide to do the dab forevermore. Maybe you’ll stick with the spliff instead. Maybe you’ll mix and match as the mood hits. It’s entirely up to you.