[Editor’s Note: Even though dabbing is relatively new, the conversation (or argument) between flower and concentrate (hash) has been going on for centuries. So why is dabbing that much more ‘efficient’ than smoking a joint? This answers some of it.]
Dabs getting you higher than joints is not a new concept in the United States. In fact, they rose to popularity in the US when headlines touted their potency with unsubstantiated claims that one dab was as strong as five joints. While the act of consuming concentrates has become common among American cannabis users, hardly any available research exists on the subject due to federal prohibition.
Fortunately, dabs and dabbing were imported from the USA to Europe, where research on cannabis doesn’t face as many obstacles. A recent study conducted by Swiss researchers from the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University of Bern found that dabbing did a much better job of getting the total amount of available THC and CBD into your lungs than smoking. In fact, the study published in Forensic Science International found that joints waste 300 percent more THC than dabs.
If you smoke cannabis for the effects associated with THC or CBD, you probably want your lungs to absorb them as effectively as possible. What if scientists said that you only get a fifth of the available cannabinoids in your joint?
The study aimed to “investigate the decarboxylation of precursor acids of THC and CBD (THC-A and CBD-A) by dabbing and by smoking” and to “determine the recovery of THC in the condensate.”
Materials and Methods Used
The plant material and butane hash oil (BHO) used in this experiment were confiscated by police. From there, samples were submitted to a lab in Germany to test the total cannabinoid content. And finally, the samples were sent to researchers in Switzerland.
The marijuana flowers tested at a total of 17 percent THC while the BHO was more than four times as potent with 71 percent THC. The Swiss Cannabis SA also contributed hemp with 6 percent CBD for the experiment.
The first seized extracts had labeling that indicated they were from Washington State. The researchers claim “classical hash oil is extracted with solvents, and after solvent evaporation, residues are mixed with a vegetable oil.”
Vegetable oil is for cooking and has no place in traditional hash oil so something got lost in translation. Researchers could be referring to vegetable glycerin–a thinning agent used in certain weed cartridges and most nicotine-based e-liquids.
So their first encounter with BHO extracts may have been from an old or low-quality cartridge. The best THC cartridges no longer have any cutting agents and regular hash oil for dabbing definitely shouldn’t have any vegetable glycerin or oil in it. Today, vegetable glycerin is typically used for e-juice and low-quality or black market cartridges.
Smoking on Scientific Glass
Researchers did their best to mimic actual human cannabis smoking and dabbing with scientific glass and tubing. Researchers wrote, “Ideally, the method of smoke production should reflect human cannabis smoking behavior.
For the smoking apparatus, a joints worth of plant material was squished into a glass frit that was connected by a short tube to two gas washing bottles for continuous smoking. This method makes it so no smoke escapes.
For the dabbing apparatus, researchers decided to go with what they call “a new form of application for these extracts,” or the titanium nail. But to most modern dabbers, the titanium nail is a piece of the past. Most have traded their titanium in for more effective tools like quartz bangers and carb caps.
Researchers heated the titanium nail until it was red hot. Then, they waited a few seconds and dropped in 160 to 230 mg of BHO. This is no longer a recommended method of consuming concentrates. Today, quartz bangers and inserts are used to maintain lower temperatures for longer periods than titanium. In fact, researchers admit their method of dabbing “probably resulted in temperatures at which vaporization was accompanied by combustion,” creating further losses.
Results? Dabbing Saves Time and THC
The cannabinoid contents in the trapped condensates were tested to determine the lung availability and decarboxylation rate. Lung availability is the recovery of THC in the condensate. The BHO had 75.5 percent lung availability while the canna-flowers were only able to recover 26.7 percent. Both smoking and dabbing decarboxylated more than 99 percent of the THC-A.
Low-temperature dabs are vaporized, not combusted–so there is less of a loss in THC from burning.
According to the study authors, “In contrast to combustion, pyrolytic losses of THC should not occur upon vaporization of cannabis material.”
It’s worth noting that the numbers don’t account for any smoke that wouldn’t be inhaled during a normal smoking session. Smoke was constantly fed through until nothing was left. That means the recovery rate for the joint was generous, considering a dab can be completed in a single breath. On the other hand, it would be impossible to transfer every bit of smoke into your lungs when smoking a joint.
So the results reflect the maximum amount of THC that could be transferred from joint to smoke rather than “a realistic estimate of the amount of THC delivered during human smoking.”
The study also documented the amount of time it takes to smoke flower and dab to completion. It took about two minutes to burn the flower and less than five seconds to finish the dab.
Researchers Address Exaggerated Rumors on the Potency of Dabs
So does that mean a single dab is equal to smoking several joints? No. Comparing average dabs and joints, researchers estimate “a dab delivers a similar amount of psychoactive THC as smoking a joint.”
Myth is spread by the media about the alleged dangers of dabbing claimed single dab being as potent as five joints. Those claims have misled many and created a fear of extracts. A so-called “drug expert” named Dr. David Sack appeared on the television show The Doctors and claimed a single dab could be as potent as five joints. Maybe if the joint is average sized and the joint is five times as large as a single serving.
If you’ve never dabbed, imagine the first puff of your joint feeling like it’s the last. The high potency combined with the higher recovery rate provides full effects without the repetitive inhalation of smoke.
It’s important to note that these findings are preliminary in nature. Further research involving human subjects, more samples and preferably more modern methods of consumption needs to be conducted.