Why Do Some People Prefer Dabbing Medical Marijuana?

In the previous instalment of our series geared toward folks new to cannabis, we broke down the various types of cannabis concentrates and the many ways to consume them. In this article, we put the spotlight on dabbing, perhaps the most controversial method of using cannabis concentrates. While many argue that dabbing bears no medicinal value, others say it’s the only method that truly helps ease their symptoms or conditions.

Wondering if dabbing might be right for you? To help you decide, we lay out some of the reasons why dabbing cannabis is so controversial and explore why patients choose to dab.


The Potential Risks Associated With Dabbing

Dabbing is a method of consuming cannabis concentrates usually in higher doses than are possible when using other methods. Patients dab using a dab rig, which is similar in appearance to a bong. But instead of having a glass bowl where flower is burned, a dab rig has a metal or quartz “nail.” When dabbing, this nail is heated and a dab of concentrate is dropped onto or pressed against the nail. At low temperatures, the concentrate is vaporized on contact, while at higher temperatures it combusts and is turned into smoke. Either way, the patient inhales the smoke or vapor through the neck of the dab rig and is quickly given a large dose of cannabinoids.

Dabbing has garnered a fairly bad reputation over the last few years—and not without cause. Because it makes taking large doses of cannabinoids very easy, it’s also extremely easy to take in more cannabis than is manageable and comfortable for a given individual. When dabbing high THC extracts, many folks report having had overwhelming experiences. Some even head to the emergency room, complaining of distorted vision, overwhelming panic or other uncomfortable side effects from THC. While these effects subside after the high wears off, the effects of a large dose of psychoactive THC can be very frightening.

Another controversial aspect of dabbing is the way the nail is heated. To heat the nail, many dabbers use a mini blow torch, which can occasionally leak butane and poses a potential fire hazard. We recommend avoiding this practice if you dab and instead opt for an e-nail, which is heated electronically.

Using an e-nail reduces the potential risks that come with using a blow torch, and it also allows you to have more control over the temperature of your dabs. Keeping your temperature low will result in a safer dab, as certain elements of your concentrate—such as terpenes—can become carcinogenic when exposed to extreme heat. According to a recent study published in the American Chemical Society’s ACS Omega, to be on the safe side you should set your e-nail to temperatures lower than 611 degrees F.

Dabbing is also controversial because most dabbers use concentrates that have been processed using butane. Butane not only poses health risks to humans when inhaled, but also carries risks for those making the extracts. Processing concentrates using this chemical can lead to explosions during manufacturing. To avoid the risks posed by the presence of this toxic and unstable chemical, we recommend using concentrates processed without chemical solvents.

Why Do Patients Dab Marijuana?

Given all of the risk factors that people face when dabbing, you may wonder why medical patients would ever choose to dab. There are so many cannabis options, you’d think that dabbing is really just something for recreational users. Still, many cannabis patients report that dabbing is the method that works best for them. And there are a number of reasons why some patients prefer it.

The most obvious reason to dab is that each dose packs a major potency punch. Concentrates are rich with cannabinoids and terpenes, the medicinally active elements of the cannabis plant. While this can send novice users into an uncomfortable psychoactive trip, for patients with a high tolerance, the high potency level might be just what’s needed.

As a writer and a cannabis-use consultant, I frequently meet patients who tell me that the only method that works for them is dabbing. I hear this most often from patients who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Flashbacks to traumatic incidents can keep PTSD sufferers trapped in their memories for hours at a time, unable to function. That said, many report that the fast-acting, potent dose gained when dabbing is able to jolt them back into the present moment, shifting them out of their frightening memories and allowing them to function again.

Meanwhile, other patients—such as those with severe chronic pain—report that dabbing is the best way to quickly and effectively relieve their painful symptoms.

Other patients say they dab because they want a cleaner medicinal experience than smoking their cannabis. Because concentrates have less plant matter and more cannabinoids, patients can get the dose they need without as much smoke or vapor reaching their throat and lungs. If you need a higher level of potency, and you have to choose between smoking a joint and taking a single dab, keep in mind the joint requires inhaling a lot more smoke. Dabbing is an option that’s quicker and more efficient in terms of getting a higher dose without having to inhale as much of the non-medicinal elements of the plant.

How to Dab Marijuana Concentrates

If you’re interested in dabbing, there are a few rules of thumb you can follow to ensure that you’re dabbing safely:

  • First, avoid cheap, low-quality dabbing nails. Low-quality titanium (below grade 2) or stainless steel nails can give off toxic chemicals when heated. Patients should stick to grade 2 titanium or quartz when purchasing a nail.
  • Second, look for high-quality concentrates that have been processed without chemical solvents.
  • Third, start by using a very small amount with your dabs—until you get to know how they affect you.

If you think dabbing may be a good option for you, check out our how-to video on dabbing with an e-nail:

In our next installment of the Cannabis for Newbies series, we take a look at how and why folks consume edibles to address their medical needs.

Need a medical marijuana recommendation? Consult with one of HelloMD’s knowledgeable doctors; it’s easy, private and 100% online.


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