Dabbing is really popular.
The process of vaporizing cannabis concentrates or ‘dabbing’ started gaining popularity in the last few years. Before that, the standard way to consume weed was by smoking the flower. Dabbing offers cannabis consumers a faster and more compact way to consume cannabis.
Boasting THC concentrations between 50-90%, a single dab is enough to get just about anyone high. Since concentrates only contain the active ingredients of cannabis, it is often seen as healthier as well. Instead of smoking an ounce of flower, a chronic user might only vaporize a gram of concentrates.
But recent research by Portland State University (PSU) published in the journal ACS Omega indicates that dabbing isn’t perfect. The main risk is that excessive heat from the ‘dab rig’ can degrade the terpenes into harmful versions of themselves.
Cannabis smokers often carry bic lighters. These lighters are perfect for igniting cannabis flower but can’t provide enough heat to vaporize cannabinoids efficiently. So most dabbers use a propane or butane torch to heat a pad (commonly called a nail) to vaporize concentrates on.
The nail can be anything from glass to ceramic or even titanium but the most common is quartz crystal. The problem comes when those materials are heated to glowing, sometimes reaching temperatures over 950°F. At that temp, the chemical bonds holding the cannabinoids and terpenes together begin to fracture.
As the chemical bonds break, new compounds are formed. The terpene known as myrcene breaks down into methacrolein at around 500°F. Since methacrolein is a carcinogen, consuming cannabis high in myrcene (by the way, all cannabis has myrcene) heated above 500°F is not good for you.
According to principal study investigator Dr. Robert M. Strongin, “The higher temperatures go, the more risk that (users) will be inhaling things that could be harmful,” he came to that conclusion after some serious testing. The team used advanced testing methods like nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and mass spectrometry.
Researchers used pure terpene extracts as their base for the study. They reported findings based on myrcene alone because it is the most abundant terpene. Myrcene also produced the lowest amount of harmful chemicals and was far easier to obtain than THC.
“The results of these studies clearly indicate that dabbing, although considered a form of vaporization, may, in fact, deliver significant amounts of toxins,” researchers wrote. “The difficulty users find in controlling the nail temperature puts users at risk of exposing themselves to not only methacrolein but also benzene.” But not all is doom and gloom for dabbing.
Researchers found that keeping the temp below 500°F can drastically reduce the amount of degradation that occurs. Less degradation equates to a safer product. This means that e-nails may be the safest way to consume cannabis.