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Dabs Weed: What You Need to Know About Cannabis Concentrates

Cannabis concentrates are an especially potent type of cannabis product. THC concentrations in these products generally sit between 54% and 69%.[1] This makes them much stronger than conventional cannabis. 

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The exact risks they pose to a user are not fully understood and are still being researched.[2] However, their increased potency means effects and risks are heightened.   

What Is Dabbing?

In the context of drug use, dabbing typically refers to the inhalation of concentrated tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabis concentrate.[1] This is the main psychotropic cannabinoid found in marijuana. Put another way, it’s an especially potent form of cannabis. 

This form of cannabis is often prepared by individuals at home using a process involving butane oil. The result is a product called butane hash oil (BHO).[3]

Beyond legal and health concerns, the preparation of these concentrates at home poses risks that are not typical of other types of cannabis preparation and use. Home BHO labs can and have exploded, resulting in serious injuries to the individuals preparing BHO.[1] 

The legal penalties for operating such a lab are also fairly severe. They’re roughly equal to the risks of operating a methamphetamine lab.[1]

How Does It Work?

The preparation of THC concentrates creates a product that is proportionally more active than if one were just to smoke or consume standard cannabis in its plant form. This is because, definitionally, these concentrates have a much higher concentration of THC. 

Compared to conventional cannabis, which has a THC concentration of about 10% to 15%, THC concentrates range in THC concentration from 54% to 69%. Some can be even more concentrated than this.[1]

When inhaled, this kind of drug use will cause a much more intense effect in a user than is typical of standard marijuana use.[4] Research has indicated that this kind of intense THC concentration can increase the risk of experiencing anxiety, agitation, paranoia, and psychosis. 

The reason people choose to dab is typically to achieve a stronger marijuana high, which can cause desirable effects like relaxation, increased insightfulness, greater sexual pleasure, and a sense of euphoria. How aware the average person engaging in dabbing is of the downsides of the practice is currently unclear.[1]

The Rise of Dabbing in the United States

As recreational and medical marijuana use has increasingly been made legal across the United States, the legal, gray, and black market production and sale of cannabis-related goods has also expanded. Dabbing seems to have grown from a fairly niche practice to something more widely engaged in by teens and young adults.[1]

Of major concern is a continued increase in at-home BHO labs. Beyond the health concerns of intense THC concentrates, these labs are major fire and explosion hazards.[3] Butane is unstable and highly combustible. Many of the alternative methods to make these concentrates are similarly dangerous, involving the use of propane or alcohol.[1]

Is This More Addictive Than Other Methods of Consumption?

Potentially. Marijuana can cause dependence. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recognizes that marijuana use disorders occur, where a person feels withdrawal when they stop using marijuana after long-term use.[5]

Whether cannabis concentrates are uniquely concerning is a topic of some debate. Because these concentrates have a higher concentration of THC, their effects are heightened.[2] 

More research still needs to be done into how these higher-potency products affect users. It’s possible that these products are more likely to cause dependence or addiction. It seems probable that they’re at least more likely to lead to serious medical complications when used than other forms of marijuana.[5]

Signs of Dabbing Abuse

While research is still emerging on the specifics of dabbing’s effects, a person who is chronically abusing these types of cannabis concentrates would likely show the signs of cannabis use disorder, which is better researched and understood than the practice of dabbing is. This disorder is characterized by a person being unable to control marijuana use even if it causes them problems in various areas of life.[6]

Common signs that a person may struggle with some form of cannabis use, which could include dabbing, include the following:[6]

  • Using marijuana in high-risk situations, such as while operating a vehicle
  • Using marijuana in higher doses than intended
  • Trying to quit marijuana use but being unable to do so 
  • Spending excessive time using marijuana
  • Experiencing strong cravings for marijuana
  • Using marijuana despite it causing problems at school, work, or home
  • Sacrificing important events with family or friends to use marijuana instead
  • Continual marijuana use despite social or relationship difficulties
  • Continual marijuana use despite psychological or physical issues
  • Needing to consume more marijuana to achieve the desired high
  • Withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of marijuana use

Generally, if a person continues to abuse drugs even as they experience a significant decline in their quality of life, it likely signals that they have a problem. People experiencing this type of relationship with cannabis should talk to an addiction treatment expert to understand their options and start their path toward recovery. 

Updated March 8, 2024
  1. Mullins MF. Cannabis dabbing. Nursing. 2021;51(5):46-50.
  2. Bidwell LC, Martin‐Willett R, Karoly HC. Advancing the science on cannabis concentrates and behavioural health. Drug and Alcohol Review. 2021;40(6):900-913.
  3. Al-Zouabi I, Stogner JM, Miller BL, Lane ES. Butane hash oil and dabbing: insights into use, amateur production techniques, and potential harm mitigation. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation. 2018;Volume 9:91-101.
  4. Cannabis (marijuana) concentrates DrugFacts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published June 25, 2020. Accessed February 19, 2024.
  5. Is marijuana addictive? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published July 2020. Accessed February 19, 2024.
  6. Addiction (Marijuana or cannabis use disorder). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published October 19, 2020. Accessed February 19, 2024.
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