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  • Writer's pictureVeronica Irwin

The Highest Hallmark Holiday

If you needed an opportunity to learn how to dab, July 10 — 7/10 in cannabis industry parlance — is it.


SF Weekly

If we’re being honest, the day is little more than a Hallmark holiday for weed. Unlike 4/20, which has decades of history and lore behind it (and story that most likely dates back to a bunch of high schoolers in neighboring Marin County), 7/10 is little more than an opportunity for cannabis companies to promote their concentrates and dabbing aficionados to enjoy a day on the couch.

The reason for the occasion? Well, 710 upside down kind of looks like “OIL,” and if you’re stoned enough, you might think that’s really cool.

Nevertheless, why skip an opportunity to celebrate? Dabbing is a significantly underrated segment of the cannabis market, despite being one of the most efficient and fun ways to partake. Factor in that Northern California produces some of the best concentrate on the planet, and it just makes sense for local tokers to give it a try.

Dabbing is defined as the vaporization of concentrated cannabis oils, which are referred to as “concentrate,” “oil,” “extracts,” “wax,” or “dabs.” Typically this is done with a tabletop contraption called a “dab rig,” but vape pens often are referred to as “dab pens” because they are performing the same process. The purpose is to deliver a high amount of cannabinoids and terpenes in a small hit, while also exposing new flavors and characteristics of a strain. Yes, dabs tend to get you high a lot faster than cannabis flower or edibles — but people who love to dab enjoy it for the taste and the aggressive cycle of innovation in this segment of the industry.

If you’re not a weed snob, however, all that innovation and talk of terpenes and cannabinoids might be an intimidating prospect. The actual process of dabbing, especially the standard way by using a torch, is probably intimidating, too. In fact, you likely have a story about an individual whose rampant cannabis use back in college almost scared you, who fired up your first (and maybe only) dab, and made you cough up half a lung.

Far too many of us have a terrible first impression of dabbing, most often because we dab at too high of temperatures (more on that later) or because our first attempts were with the shoddy, low-quality products of yesteryear. But if done right, in 2021 dabs can be the most cost-effective, cleanest, and exciting options in your stash.

The Tools

The optics and terminology also don’t help: Butane torches, after all, are most commonly associated with high potency compounds, like crack (and Joe Rogan’s favorite, DMT). The term “rig,” meanwhile, has long been synonymous with the syringes of intravenous drug users.

But a dab rig is no crystal ship, and cannabis — no matter how you ingest it — is not going to keep you up for days or send you into debilitating withdrawals if you decide to quit. And while dabbing certainly delivers a very concentrated dose of THC, no one has reported communing with fractal elves after a big rip.

The dab rig consists of a small glass vessel and a crystal bowl piece, called a “nail,” that is heated up with a heavy-duty torch lighter. A tiny drop of concentrate the size of a pencil eraser or smaller is then dropped into this bowl with a metal spatula, where it immediately vaporizes from the heat. The user then puts a glass cap on top of the bowl, puts their lips to the mouthpiece, inhales, and feels the rush of a fast-acting, potent dab hit. It sounds extreme — like freebasing weed — but it actually isn’t all that different from hitting a cannabis vape pen. What’s more, just as with vape pens, you can easily control your dose by taking smaller hits or opting for concentrates higher in CBD or Delta-8, rather than Delta-9 THC. I’m personally a fan of the Delta-8 dabs from Lifted Made.

These days, however, there’s no need to risk burning the house down for a tasty dab. Electronic rigs are flameless, and heat up to the perfect temperature with the touch of a button. The Hydrology9 NX from Cloudious9 or the Puffco Peak Pro, both of which are portable and super easy to use, are great choices. However, it’s worth noting that electronic rigs are considerably more expensive than the traditional route — the Hydrology9 NX and the Peak Pro cost $300 and $400, respectively, while glass rigs can be as cheap as $40 — and e-rigs typically only allow for small portions. The small spatulas that are used come in all shapes and sizes, from spoons to narrow cone shapes, and are tailored to picking up soupier or more solid consistency concentrates.

Once you have all the supplies, it’s time to learn how to properly heat a “nail” to temperature — something probably better explained in a YouTube video than in text form. However, it’s worth noting that the goal is to heat your concentrate at the lowest possible temperature that still allows it to vaporize. It is a common misconception that concentrates should be heated to piping hot temperatures. This leads to combustion rather than vaporization, and is the primary reason many dabbers succumb to a coughing fit after every hit — sure, inhaling too much of anything that’s not air can induce a cough, but dabs really shouldn’t feel any harsher than a small bong rip. When heated properly, a dab should be smooth, flavorful, and leave a small amount of oil behind, not make you feel like your lungs are collapsing in on themselves.

The Trade

Far more fun than equipment, however, is shopping for concentrates. Dedicated dabbers are the molecular gastronomists of the weed world. As such, the concentrate menu is the nerdiest section of the cannabis store. It’s where we go to ponder the chemical breakdown of our favorite cannabinoids, ogle at the shades of sappy gold cannabis oils, and salivate at the often detailed terpene and cannabinoid descriptions on the packaging. Really, decoding all the alien-sounding terminology and lab testing has to include a bit of trial and error, but there are some basic categories that are worth learning before diving in.

Resin, and specifically a type of concentrate called “live resin,” is the most common type of concentrate on dispensary store shelves right now, and probably the most popular. It has a sticky, sugary texture, akin to raw honey, that’s easy to handle, is consistently very potent, and normally comes in at a reasonable price point of around $35 per gram. This concentrate is made by passing flash-frozen cannabis flower through a chemical solvent like butane, propane, or CO2. This solvent isn’t present in the final product, but it does strip away most of the organic material, leaving the sappy substance behind. The live resin extracts from AbsoluteExtracts are a solid starting point, and because of this brand’s popularity, they’re easy to find in stores.

Most chemically processed extracts are derived from resins or similar oils, the main difference between these subcategories being consistency and flavor. Sugars, with a texture exactly like the name suggests, are pretty easy to scoop up and tolerate fairly high heats for those who haven’t gotten their technique down, so they’re a good choice for beginners — I recommend Cannabiotix’s terp sugars. Crushed diamonds, like those from Raw Garden, are similar but have a little less flavor and a little more potency. Wonderbrett makes incredible badders, a concentrate with a uniform, cake batter-like consistency that practically constitutes stoner ASMR when you portion out a serving. Terpene sauces, like those from Blessed Extracts, maximize flavor and have a more soupy texture with small chunks of pure THC crystals scattered throughout.

On the other end of the spectrum are the solventless extracts: rosin and full-melt hash. Rosin, for example, is typically made by squeezing cannabis flower between heavy, heated plates until an oily sap trickles out. Full-melt hash, on the other hand, is made via a process of repeatedly sifting cannabis flowers — often with the help of freezing temperatures — until only the finest, sappy particles remain. This process, similar to how some traditional hashishes are produced, refines the substance down to an incredibly pure form that can be entirely vaporized, and doesn’t leave any plant matter behind. Rosin can be whipped and molded into many different textures, much like resin, while full melt hash nearly always comes rolled into a sticky ball shape, called a “temple ball.” These extracts often are considered the top tier, and have prices to reflect it. Stiiizy, however, makes comparatively cost effective and high-quality rosins that are whipped into a variety of different enticing consistencies. San Francisco-based social equity brand Sunset Connect also tells us they have a full-melt hash hitting the shelves this month, and if it’s anything like the more standard hash they make for sprinkling on top of flower, it’s bound to be top-notch.

To really learn one’s preferences between the different options, however, a little bit of trial and error is necessary. Half the fun of dabbing is being a geek about it, and going down the internet rabbit hole to learn all about how different extraction methods are performed, the comparative advantages of different pieces of technology, and the variable concentrate-consuming rituals around the world.

Luckily, if you’re looking for an excuse, the for-profit cannabis industry already made one for you: 7/10.

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