Even longtime marijuana smokers can quickly get confused when they try to dip their toe into the world of cannabis concentrates. These odd waxes and gels, sticky shatters, and amber oils are alluring, but not nearly as straightforward as rolling it up, lighting it up. When I first tried concentrates, I was flummoxed. I bought the wrong rig, the wrong gear, and probably wasted a few hundred dollars worth of product. All because I didn’t know what I was doing. If you’re ready to start using cannabis concentrates – called “dabbing” or sometimes “vaping” rather than “smoking” – here’s everything you need to get started.
Instead of a pipe or a bong, dabbing cannabis concentrate requires a dab rig, sometimes called an oil rig. You can use a traditional bong for this, but it’s less effective.
Why Bongs Are Inferior For Dabbing Cannabis Concentrates
Bongs use large air chambers so you can whip up frothy clouds of smoke. That’s useful for the purpose of smoking because you want to mix the acrid smoke with air to be easy to inhale. Dabbing doesn’t work that way. You’re trying to get the vapor being created into your lungs as fast as possible. The longer it lingers in a chamber, the less effective it is, because it’s rapidly cooling. When the vapor from a dab cools, it adheres to the sides of your rig, becoming what is known as “reclaim.” That reclaim is technically lost material. Vapor you could have inhaled that sat too long in your rig.
I began with a standard 2.5 foot bong, and the inside was quickly a mess of reclaim. Hits off it tasted terrible, because of all that sludge on the sides, and it got worse with every use. I also threw away product too cooling in my bong rather than dipping into my bloodstream.
Why Rigs Are Better
Rigs are built like bongs, but smaller. To dab, it’s better to have the vapor pass through water than to take it directly.You can take it directly, by doing a knife hit, but the filtration and cooling of the water helps make your hits taste better, and feel better on your tender lungs. The rig has a chamber for water, but it’s streamlined so that while you inhale, you’re getting a straighter draw, similar to a pipe. This is ideal for taking the superheated hit.
What Rig is Right
As with most things marijuana, glass is better. You can get a silicone rig, but it will taste like complete swamp dredges in about two weeks. Glass is non-porous, so nothing can stick to it forever. With concentrates, this is of paramount importance, because they are sticky as hell. Reclaim is nearly as bad.
Both reclaim and cannabis concentrate will stick to anything and sink right into the pores. Get a little concentrate or reclaim on your skin, and it will try to live there. When the vapor gets into your rig and cools, it condenses into its sticky form, adhering to the sides. With glass, you can clean it off with heat or chemicals. With anything else, a little reclaim is going to stick to and ruin – yes, ruin – your rig. I thought I could take some foul hits, because I have almost no sense of taste. I cannot stomach taking hits out of a used rig made of anything but glass. It’s foulness.
Besides getting glass, you want something that can withstand a lot of intense heat. Most any rig is made for this, but look for thick glass. You can use the cheap ones that look like juice boxes or coffee cups, but you’ll need to be careful about heat. Which means using a banger, which we’d suggest anyway.
Maybe it’s because I’m a slow stoner, but nothing confused me more in the world of concentrates than when they kept talking about “nails.” The Nail is the thing you’re putting the concentrate onto. It’s the thing you’re going to get hot to dab off of. They come in a lot of shapes and sizes and materials. Titanium, ceramic, and crystal are the three major kinds of nails. You can’t know which is best until you’ve tried each. Here’s how they compare:
Con: Needs time to season correctly
Titanium is an outstanding metal in most ways. It’s light, heat-resistant, patinas nicely, and can withstand almost anything. Using titanium for your nail will work well if you season it properly. Seasoning is most important with titanium. A bad seasoning can ruin the flavor of your hits, create uneven heating on the nail for less effective hits, and will smell worse. While good for use as a nail, titanium requires a little expertise to work perfectly. Since it’s not breakable, and will season itself with use, it’s fine for beginners, though will have some growing pains. After a while, it forgives early mistakes, and you’ll be able to make it sing for you. It’s crowing glory is that it won’t break, unlike the other two options.
Con: Some people say hits taste like boiled ass. I don’t even like using a ceramic dabber. If you’re spending the money on a gram of concentrate, only use a ceramic nail if: a) You have to. b) You’ve never tried it. c) You really know what you’re doing. d) You want to make me sick.
As difficult as titanium nails are for inexperienced dabbers, ceramic nails are worse. They also require seasoning, to block the pores on the nail, and are mildly breakable. Even with good seasoning, ceramic nails tend to taste and smell worse over time, making them bad for heavy users. That said, some claim they cannot enjoy anything but a well-seasoned ceramic nail. The learning curve on these varies, but the sooner you start learning, the sooner you can master the art of ceramic dabs.
Pro: Clean taste, clean hits
Quartz works the same way as glass when it comes to dabbing. No pores makes it better. While seasoning is necessary for ceramic and titanium nails, crystal burns clean. It is slightly more delicate, and can be broken, and is certainly more expensive, but it’s worth it. Also, don’t be fooled by the airy, glass appearance of quartz nails. So long as you don’t smash it, it’s not going to shatter. As with bongs and lighters, paying a little more up front means fewer replacements, and saves you money over time.
My Take: If I had it to do again, I would have started off with a strong quartz nail, or a good titanium. I tend to break them, and I liked extremely hot dabs for a while. If you’re more careful, go quartz, as it’s much smoother.
You can’t use your trusty Bic to dab. Cannabis concentrate is made from heat exposure and requires temperatures of between 600 and 1,000-degrees Farenheit to vaporize. Since that’s your goal, you’ve got to get a good torch lighter. Just because something makes a blue flame doesn’t mean it’s ready to dab.
Ideally, you want your torch lighter to have a large base and a good handle. You’re either going to be holding it for extended periods, or it’s going to be sitting on a tabletop. Either way, it’s going to produce a lot of heat, and needs to be comfortable to operate while activated. It should have a permanent on fixture. The price range on lighters is huge, but scrimping here can be literally deadly. Your lighter is an investment in safe living – this is FIRE after all – so spend a good $30-$45 for something nice. I went cheap, and it was painful and dangerous and burned my rug and could have killed me. You’ll spend less overall on a nice lighter right off. Here’s a few that fit the bill:
If you have a nail, you don’t need a banger. A banger is a little pipette that arcs the place you put the concentrate. These are helpful because they give you a nice, flat, open, accessible surface to dab your concentrate onto. Nails have holes in the center of them, typically, and that means you dab around it. With a banger, you can drop your dab and see it sizzle without a nozzle in your way. They cause less waste, as the vapor is controlled better. The placement of the pipe through which you inhale captures vapor better than nails – some would argue – so you need less to get to the Happy Hunting Grounds of THCandyland.
Carb caps aren’t needed for all dabbers. The intent of a carb cap is to alter the air flow and thus temperature inside your banger or on your nail. By using a carb cap, you can take lower temp dabs, and ensure that all of the concentrate you put onto your nail or banger gets used. Carb caps are extremely simple, and can easily be made at home if you don’t feel like spending the scratch. There’s also a wide range of size and variance, so know what nail or banger you intend on using so you can get a cap that fits.
If you’ve got a rig, a nail and/or banger to go into said rig, and a torch lighter that can bring the heat, you’re ready to take your first hit of cannabis concentrate. When you see god, tell him ‘sup.