Drug and Alcohol

What Is a Dab: Effects and Risk of Dabbing Cannabis

Dangers of Dabs: Know the Risks of Dabbing

Dabs, or dabbing, is a form of cannabis abuse increasingly popular. It's also very risky, and can lead to cannabis use disorder. Learn more.

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Drug and Alcohol

February 27, 2023

Dabs are a form of using cannabis that is slightly different from how cannabis has been traditionally used. Across the US, more and more states allow the recreational or medicinal use of marijuana. As marijuana is decriminalized more, there is a more significant threat of different forms of cannabis consumption emerging. Dabs are a form of cannabis consumption that has taken off in recent years, particularly on social media.

This is particularly true for a younger population that appears more ready to experiment with new forms of recreational drug use. This has fueled the popularity of dabs. This discussion delves deeper into how dabbing is the next significant emerging threat in substance abuse disorders or addictions and what everybody should know about dabs.

Dangers of Dabs: What Is a Dab?

Dabs are considered a new way of using cannabis, although some sources date the practice back to the Vietnam War. Dabbing is the act of inhaling vaporized THC concentrate. THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the active substance in cannabis/marijuana.

This concentrate, often called BHO or butane hash oil, is a waxy, amber substance containing very high amounts of THC. Dabs are made by mixing cannabis with butane, which extracts THC from cannabis. Drug dabbing or dabbing a substance means the use of a pipe, bong, or another vessel (called a "dabbing rig") to use the substance to get high. Dabs are vastly more potent than the traditional form of cannabis.

This means the product delivers a more substantial hit and a more intense high. Dabs work exactly in this manner as they contain a purer, more potent, and more concentrated form of marijuana. Dabbing is perhaps the next logical step for people who have been consuming marijuana in some way until recently and now seek a more potent form of cannabis.

Dabs are certainly a stronger way to use cannabis, and while the cannabis legalization lobby might say that it does not present a clear danger to the health or sanity of people, repeatedly using a more potent form of cannabis raises the chances of developing a dependency.

Dabs: A Deeper Explanation of BHO and More

Dabs are often referred to as BHO or butane hash oil. BHO is not a specific product but refers to any cannabis extract obtained via an extraction method where the cannabis plant extract is processed using butane as the primary solvent.

There are many types of BHO extracts. Each BHO concentrate has a different level of potency, color, texture, and cannabinoid purity. Dabs are compelling and potentially addictive because they contain extremely high levels of THC levels. This is the ingredient found in the cannabis plant that is responsible for its ability to affect the mind. When people dab, they consume high doses of THC. Initially, this is a recreationally rewarding experience

However, with regular use of dabs, the user can develop an increased tolerance leading to using more dabs, and raising the risk of cannabis addiction.

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Dabs: Cannabis Addiction Is Not Widely Recognized

If you or a loved one is suffering from a marijuana addiction or wondering if the use of dabs is pushing you towards one, it is time to get clarity. Seeking the opinion of a rehab specialist at a drug rehab can help.

Unfortunately, cannabis use disorder is not widely understood. It is a real, recognized condition, however. If you have been consistently increasing the amount of cannabis you've been consuming, and it seems like you struggle to remain energetic or maintain focus at work or school without dabbing, you may need help immediately.

Dabs: What Are the Slang Terms for Dabbing?

There are many street names and words that refer to dabbing. This helps dealers and users trade or use the product without grabbing attention. Some of the more popular street names for dabbing or BHO include:

  • Shatter

  • Earwax

  • Honey oil

  • Budder

  • Wax

  • Live resin

  • Honeycomb

  • Earwax

  • Errl

All types of dabs are likely to contain a highly concentrated form of cannabis with varying levels of THC. The level of THC can vary depending on the source and the method used to make BHO, however. This means that it is difficult to determine the potency of every dab, let alone its psychoactive effects. Dabs are usually smoked and vaporized. There are no standards that limit the THC concentration in dab drugs. This can range from 30% to 80%, and this cannabis potency makes it a threat to everyone who is dabbing, including:

  • People who are new to using cannabis recreationally

  • Folks who have used cannabinoids before but seek something stronger

  • People addicted to more potent street drugs trying to substitute lethal, illegal drugs with something that has more acceptance

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The Aspect of Dabbing Many People Don't Realize

If you are wondering how dabs outweigh the traditional form of marijuana, consider this—regular marijuana contains just about 12% to 15% THC. When a batch of marijuana contains about 25% THC, it is considered strong. In comparison, THC content in dabs can average around 80%.

People who support dabbing often argue that since a lesser amount of dab provides the desired effect much stronger and quicker, it is a more innovative alternative to regular marijuana, which has to be consumed in considerable proportions to experience the same effect.

In reality, using such highly concentrated doses of THC can have adverse effects, particularly raising the tolerance level of the person using dabs, pushing steadily towards using more dabs, which can create an addiction.

Dabs: Risks of Dabbing

Dabs are vaporized. It is easy to buy a glass pipe or bong that helps with cannabis concentrates like dabs. This is why dabbing using vape pens and e-cigarettes has also emerged as a popular way of using dabbing drugs. However, not everyone might have the gear that is needed to vape or inhale the dab.

An easier and cheaper way of experiencing a dab drug is by placing a pinch of the cannabis concentrate on a slightly heated surface. When the dab drug is placed on a small piece of foil or any other metal, the concentrate gives way to vapors that are easier to inhale by using a water pipe. 

Butane Inhalation: One of the Many Threats of Dabbing

The chemical process that uses butane for extracting THC oils from the marijuana plant is a bit complicated. Here, butane is used as the solvent. The product obtained via this process is called Butane Hash Oil (BHO). The butane should be evaporated to separate it from the highly-concentrated extract that is left to dry out a bit and eventually becomes a dab. The use of butane itself is controversial. This is because butane is highly flammable.

Even when allowed to evaporate, butane might not be properly eliminated, and some of it can be retained with the dab or the concentrate. This is just another reason why every batch of dabs comes with a slightly different range of dabbing potency/effects. This makes the production process of dabs hazardous. Some people have compared the threat to that of illegal meth labs, where fires and explosions are common.

There is another reason that dabbing can be more dangerous than what people assume since marijuana legalization has spread to many states in the nation: many people are not ready for the effects of a higher concentration of THC. People who dab, assuming that having vaped a bit has prepared them for the cannabis high, can be in for a big surprise.

Among such dabbing users, there is a stronger risk of developing psychotic symptoms, and this can include anything from getting delusions or being paranoid.

Dabs: Harmful Effects of Dabbing

While dabs are usually smoked, some people might also add them directly to food or beverages. Consuming dabs as edibles can be risky. Some of the more acknowledged risks of dabbing include:

  • Coughing and wheezing due to inhaling toxic compounds

  • Rapid heartbeat and increased blood pressure

  • Unexplained violence or agitation

  • Suffering from blackouts

  • Paranoia 

  • Bouts of sudden energy can get harmful

  • Hallucinations

Some more physical symptoms of dabbing could include the following:

  • Trembling: This is similar to what people call cannabis shakes. Shaking in an uncontrolled manner might be accompanied by twitching and tremors. Dabbing over a long period can worsen these symptoms.

  • Blackouts: People who are relatively new to dabbing and have not experienced high concentrations of THC could suffer from fainting spells or blackouts. The person might lose consciousness for a few minutes, and this is not regarded as a common side effect of using marijuana, underlining the higher and dangerous potency of dabbing.

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Dabs: Why Dabbing Is so Hard to Control

As bad and dangerous as prescription drug abuse, a person often has an idea of what they're taking (unless it's a counterfeit pill). Similarly, vials and injections often deliver some idea about the dosage or intensity of the drug being abused. However, the situation is somewhat different for vaped drugs or substances that are inhaled ... like dabs.

Sometimes, the amount of concentrate that is used for heating and creating the vapors might seem weak because the concentrate itself might not be pure enough. The user might have little idea how much of it is needed to feel high.

This is why dabbing comes with a more than likely chance of causing overdosing on THC. Even for people who have been using medical marijuana, using dabs comes with this risk. Not just using concentrated forms of marijuana extracts is risky; not knowing about the strength of the concentrate is as serious a problem.

While some people might say that overdosing on cannabis does not happen a lot, it is a risk that should not be taken. For people with pre-existing health conditions or those who are dabbing for the first time, a near-overdose experience could become very serious. For others, if not the dab overdosing, just taking in too much of the vapor could give way to upsetting physical and psychological symptoms.

Dabs: A Risk Factor for Cannabis Addiction

People supporting the legalization of medical marijuana often say that marijuana is not really addictive. However, this cannot be a generalization for everybody. Some people are inherently not likely to develop an addiction, while others are more prone to developing a marijuana dependency. Addiction does not always show up with easy-to-spot signs. Sometimes, the addiction takes time to show itself in the form of clear symptoms.

However, for others, the dependency is already there. For instance, some folks might struggle to carry on with their regular work during the daytime or sleep during the night without dabbing — this is at par with increased dependency on a substance. The phrase "wake and bake," which describes some behaviors around cannabis, is a perfect example of addictive behaviors.

You see, the addiction pattern of dabbing can be very similar to the substance abuse associated with alcohol or other drugs. The short-term effects of using marijuana in any way could slowly give way to a chronic dependency where a person’s short-term memory, thinking patterns, motor coordination abilities, and judgment could be affected.

Others could suffer from respiratory issues and elevated heart rates when they don't get their daily dab. Dabbing itself can be harmful to the lungs.

People who recreationally use cannabis, including dabs, are more likely to show symptoms such as:

  • Decreasing social interactions and propensity toward social isolation

  • Unable to think clearly or make small decisions without regularly using

  • Feeling a strong urge not to use dabs for the smallest duration

  • Progressively using more of the dabbing, seeking a bigger high

  • Using dabs despite realizing the negative consequences

  • Anxiety upon not dabbing for the shortest duration

  • Low motivation to perform at work or school

Despite being poorly understood, cannabis addiction is treatable with the right help.

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Dabs Becoming Compulsive? Find Real Help for Cannabis Addiction at The Edge Treatment Center

Dabs can be a fast highway to addiction for many. If your dabbing habits are out of control and you'd like to live life without addiction, reach out to The Edge Treatment Center today. We'll help you build a life where cannabis use disorder is left in the past.

We'll help you find a drug detox center where the megadoses of THC dabbing causes can leave your body in a safe manner. When you're ready to enter our outpatient drug rehab, we'll help you build a life that doesn't revolve around dabs. Nobody wants to live a life revolving around compulsive substance abuse; it's limiting. At The Edge, you'll be able to leave dabbing behind.

Want to know more about cannabis addiction, the risks of dabbing, and more? Contact The Edge Treatment Center today.

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If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there is hope. Our team can guide you on your journey to recovery. Call us today.