Dabs: What Exactly Are Dabs and Are They Good or Bad?

I remember the first dabs of marijuana concentrate I ever smoked back in 2010. Lucky me, the guy who made it, Ganja Jon, ended up winning at the 2012 High Times Seattle Medical Cannabis Cup, the first Cup to featured concentrates. It’s kind of like losing your virginity to a porn star.

Within the past four years, I’ve seen the concentrate scene explode in popularity… and in the occasional apartment complex. Here on the West Coast, it seems like there is a huge generational divide, with the older folks like me eager for 4:20 and the younger folks waiting for 7:10, like dinner times in Florida. In Colorado, “concentrates constitute as much as 30 to 50 percent of all sales at most shops,” according to local media reports.

It’s a phenomenon former High Times Senior Cultivation Editor Kyle Kushman spoke about at this year’s Seattle Hempfest. “Don’t be a dab-head!” he exhorted. “Don’t let peer pressure trap you into thinking that flower is old-fashioned and that dabbing is somehow cooler than smoking a joint.”

“The coca leaf was used by the indigenous people for thousands of years until we reached the point in human evolution where we learned how to refine it and make it toxic to humans,” Kushman explained. “I am not convinced that we have not reached the point in human evolution where we have taken a plant that was previously non-toxic and learned how to turn it into something that can now be toxic in some situations.”

We have plenty of anecdotal and clinical data on what happens when you smoke weed all your life; we don’t have that experience with concentrates. Even though hash oil preparations have been around for generations, they were always treated as a novelty, a rare treat, like a monthly trip to the ice cream shop. But these days, I know young adults who are eating morning, noon, and night at the Baskin Robbins of dabs. I see t-shirts reading “Flowers? How thoughtful — they must be for your girlfriend.” I hear guys bragging about dropping one-gram dabs as if wasting all that product is a good thing.

As the phenomenon moves into the Midwest and South, it provides the verifiable scare stories that marijuana itself could never generate. The term of the day seems to be “wax.” “DEA warns about potent marijuana-based “wax” substance in central Indiana” reads one headline,  explaining how a “highly-potent marijuana-based product is becoming the new drug of choice for teens and young adults.” Another headline  from Texas states “Dangerous marijuana product looks like lip balm, high-THC concentration” and explains to parents how “butane hash oil lacks odor and is small in size making it easier to conceal, carry and ship.” And where the residential hash oil explosion used to be a West Coast / Colorado story, those headlines are now scaring voters in Lansing, Michigan and Radford, Virginia.

A grow house next door might be a bit smelly, but a hash oil production next door might just blow up. We can laugh at the anti-drug crusader who claims today’s pot is 20 times stronger than Woodstock Weed, but well-made hash oil actually is twenty times stronger.  Someone who smokes too much weed may get the munchies and fall asleep, but someone who over-dabs can end up passing out or puking their guts out (I’ve seen the former and been the latter).

Could the public that’s finally becoming barely accepting of marijuana react with a backlash against this unfamiliar, dirty-looking substance that either involves the scary visual of their kids with a blowtorch or the stealth nature of their kids sneaking a vape pen?  Time will tell because I see no signs of the dab train slowing down anytime soon.

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