In 2014, dabbing became a mainstream topic in the cannabis industry. A dab typically refers to ‘smoking dabs’ which is a dose of concentrated cannabis often inhaled through a dab rig or vaporizer. Many were, and still are, wary of the potent THC doses concentrates deliver. Several stories covering the explosions of amateur extractors had many worried about the impact this up and coming method of consumption would have on legalization.
Three years from dabbing’s mostly negative public exposure and attitudes seem to have progressed, with more and more of the industry accepting concentrated cannabis and cannabis oil extractions both medically and recreationally. Although the general public's perception have matured slightly, that is not to underscore that dabbing, when done improperly, can pose some serious health risks.
To keep yourself out of the danger zone, avoid these simple pitfalls when dabbing with cannabis concentrates:
Whenever I hear my dabber friends mention a new deal they got on a dabbing nail or dab tool, I immediately become concerned. Generally, most retailers are trying to do their best to get you safe products, but the industry is still immature.
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As a result, you still may not know exactly what you are getting when you buy a new titanium nail from your local head shop. Ideally, it is a grade 2 titanium nail, although, don’t always expect the closest bargain headshop to be stocking the most premium of elemental metals. You may find grade 5 (the most common grade of titanium) or lower in bulk orders shipped from overseas. Here, you run the risk of exposing yourself to dangerous fumes when heating your titanium, which is definitely something you don’t want to inhale along with your THC.
A HelloMD staff member's picture of their cannabis concentrate.
You can’t expect every headshop to flash you their titanium papers for each purchase, although you can look for higher grade components than your simple bargain choices. There really is a reason why one nail is $12 and one is $80. You can also avoid this entirely by using quartz and ceramic nails, both of which are perfectly safe.
Don’t get me wrong, stainless steel is fine when unheated. However, when you bring it up to high temperatures, that things start to get suspect. Stainless steel has chromium in it, which is released within fumes when the stainless steel is heated. High quality, portable dabbing setups often have titanium coils since the heating elements themselves can get to upwards of 1000F after they begin to glow. For inexperienced users who like to see their titanium turn orange, this can be much, much higher.
Unfortunately, lower grade coils still use other metals, like stainless steel, for their heating elements. This can expose novice users to dangerous chromium fumes, which can result in many health hazards. A quick trip over to the CDC conveniently lets us know that chronic inhalation of Cr(VI) compounds increases the risk of lung, nasal, and sinus cancer. Yikes!
You can avoid this by looking for titanium coils and other solutions, such as ceramic/quartz elements or portable rig setups. Often, high quality components will be obvious to pick out from a lineup from their labeling and appearance. The profound coughing experience and gross metal taste you find from some of these coils is also a big hint to try something new.
There is a risk even when purchasing an organic concentrate product from the cannabis industry. Most growers are doing their best to only provide consumers with pure products that are free from any harmful outside factors, however, as recently as February, we were reminded that cannabis can possibly be lethal when not cared for properly. This particular case was caused by untreated fungus growing on a cannabis plant. The consumers were already in a compromised state of health, but it is without a doubt that the contaminated cannabis contributed to one of their premature deaths.
Since dabbing is concentrated cannabis, these factors can be multiplied. Depending on the growing procedures and extraction methods, any leftover pesticides or unwanted particles are concentrated within the oil. Immediately, the risks for consuming contaminants and anything that you would rather not inhale is increased. Look for concentrates with certified testing and stay away from bargain basement extractions. There is often a good reason (read: bad reason) why they are so cheap.
Torch and nail safety should go without mentioning here. However, due to cannabis consumers’ propensity for altered states of mind, a perfectly safe heating element can turn into a butane fueled fire starter. Torches and nails, without the proper attention, can cause serious bodily harm. From burns to outright property damage, the destruction blowtorches can cause cannot be understated.
This can be easily remedied with the right approach and a set of rules to keep you safe. Of course, keep your torch flowing into open space and never in the vicinity of flammable objects and the heated nail should always point away from you. Aside from these obvious points, be wary of how you move your torch and glass around after you consume. I personally have several steps I take so the 1000+ degree objects have a safe space before AND after a dab. This can be the difference between some icky water spilling over your carpet, or your home up in flames.
A common thread in this article is low grade components and bargain materials. I can’t stress enough that low cost products are low cost for a reason. I don’t mean to defame bulk suppliers, most are decent companies, and please don’t feel guilty for bargain shopping. I just want you to use your judgement when you are purchasing materials that are involved with your lungs. Is there a real reason why one is $8 and sort of sad looking, while another is shiny and seems like a team of scientists built it? Is it really worth your respiratory and overall health?
Avoiding the four hazards outlined above will make you a much safer cannabis consumer and keep you healthier overall as you medicate with concentrates. Dabbing is a much more volatile form of cannabis without a doubt. Its health risks have not fully been studied in the long term and a blowtorch is often involved, but with these simples steps you can keep yourself from some serious risks that are completely avoidable with the right knowledge.