An Ode to CBD Dabs

Whenever someone’s curious to try cannabis for the first time, I make what many people consider a strange, even stupid suggestion: Try dabbing.

I know, I know. Dabbing can be intimidating. In most cases, it means using a blowtorch to essentially freebase concentrated cannabis. High Times once said that the techniques involved “bear an eerie resemblance to those used for harder drugs like meth and crack”—which, unfortunately, is true.

It’s true dabbing can get you ripping high, but by no means does it have to.

But hear me out! While dabbing might look like one of the most nefarious ways to consume cannabis, it’s actually far less threatening than you might think. And dabbing has significant benefits over other novice-friendly methods of consumption.

Especially if you start with CBD.

Dabbing Can Be for Everybody

Dabbing is divisive. It’s widely been called the “crack” of cannabis, depicted as the kind of high-octane experience stoners seek when smoking flower just won’t cut it. That’s wrong, and it ends up needlessly scaring away more moderate consumers.

It’s true that dabbing can get you ripping high, but by no means does it have to. Just like with drinking, the effects of dabbing depend on what you’re dabbing and how much of it you use. Starting with CBD allows you more control over your experience. Because it doesn’t cause the intoxicating effects that THC does, you won’t get blasted if you use too much.

Dabbing CBD also offers unique advantages that make it ideal for new consumers and seasoned smokers alike. It’s easier on your lungs than smoking, offers immediate effects unlike edibles, and provides one of the best ways to appreciate the subtle flavors of each strain.

Cannabis Training Wheels

New to cannabis? Many people are turned off by the idea of literally smoking the plant. It can irritate your throat and lungs, cling to your clothes, and leave your living room reeking. If you opt for a pre-rolled joint, the experience may be even less pleasant, as many are made with low-quality flower or shake.

If you’re intent on not smoking, budtenders might steer you toward an edible or a vape pen. Personally, I think these are mediocre alternatives. Edibles with THC in them are notorious for being difficult to dose—pretty much everyone I know has a horror story about being hit too hard by an edible—and the high can last for hours. That’s no fun if you’re not enjoying the ride. And if you stick with CBD alone, edibles can be underwhelming. They often take more than an hour to hit you, and because CBD’s effects can be subtle, you might not notice much at all.

A vape pen offers more convenience than dabbing—it’s portable, fits in a pocket, and doesn’t have any exposed heating elements that could burn you—but the experience is comparatively lacking. Many vape cartridges I’ve tried taste stale, plasticky, or oddly chemical. There are exceptions, but offering a vape pen to a first-time consumer feels a bit like suggesting a new beer-drinker crack open a Bud Light.

But dabbing! Dabbing is a lovely experience. In most cases, the quality of dabbable extracts is going to be far higher than the oil in your vape pen, providing a more authentic and complete experience in terms of both taste and effects. And CBD dabs offer the ability to experiment without being bowled over by THC’s high.

For Hardcore Consumers, Too

If you’re already a fan of flower but haven’t tried dabbing—and my informal polling suggests this is actually a huge group of people—it’s worth starting with CBD. Many folks, myself included, were introduced to dabbing as a way of getting super, super high. Suspend that belief and try a dab of CBD.

If you’re already into dabbing but have never tried a high-CBD product, do yourself a favor and pick some up. It’s an experience completely unlike getting stoned.

For me—a regular smoker of high-THC flower—dabbing CBD is a welcome change of pace. THC can sometimes be a little too buzzy for me, making my mind race or my body a bit jittery. Dabbing THC is more likely to bring on those effects in me, as it provides a comparatively high dose all at once. But when I dab CBD, I feel the opposite. I exhale and my whole body exhales with me. I feel more relaxed, more centered, and less all over the place than usual.

Where to Begin

The most obvious prerequisite for dabbing CBD is a dab rig. These look a lot like bongs, but instead of being equipped with a bowl to hold flower, they include a heating element (there are different kinds, including so-called nails, buckets, bangers, etc.) that vaporizes cannabis oil on contact. If you’re using a traditional dab rig as opposed to an electric one, you’ll also need a torch to heat up the nail or banger. These generally use butane and are basically identical to the kind you might buy if you were going to make crème brûlée.

Leafly already has a ton of good information about how to choose the right dab rig for you. They’re not always cheap, so you might want to borrow a friend’s rig at first. You might also ask that friend to help show you how the torch works, as that can be the most intimidating part of dabbing.

Perhaps most importantly, you’ll need a high-quality dabbable concentrate. Note that not all concentrates are meant for dabbing. (RSO, for example, isn’t intended for dabbing.) If you’re not sure, ask your budtender.

Some high-CBD extracts also contain a significant amount of THC. I recommend starting with extracts that contain just a tiny bit of THC. That way you’re unlikely to overdo it. One of my favorite high-CBD strains is ACDC, which has a CBD-to-THC ratio of about 20:1. If you decide you’d like to feel more of the characteristic high associated with THC, you can choose an extract with a higher proportion of CBD.

What to Expect

Dabbing is one of the fastest ways to feel the effects of CBD, which most people describe as calming and stress-reducing. Others say it can combat nausea. Many find it helps them sleep, though personally I find this is less because CBD makes me sleepy and more because it seems to ease my late-night anxiety.

There are all sorts of other medical benefits around CBD that are currently being investigated. Last month, the FDA made a splash when it approved the first cannabis-derived pharmaceutical, a purified CBD oil used to treat epilepsy. Other potential uses for the cannabinoid include treatment for chronic pain or autism, prevention of brain diseases in older people, and even protection against certain cancers.

I’m not a medical marijuana patient. I don’t use CBD to treat anything serious. Heck, dabbing isn’t even my preferred consumption method. I’m much more likely to roll up some high-THC flower and smoke it.

But I’ll never get rid of my dab rig, and CBD is the reason why.

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