Marijuana users have no problems finding new and innovative methods of becoming intoxicated. For generations, most cannabis consumers had little option but to smoke a joint or blunt or use a bowl. Occasionally, people tried edibles but preferred the ritual of smoking marijuana.
Then along came dabbing and vaping to change the game completely. Both options give you the option to vaporize cannabis concentrates, as well as smoke marijuana flower. Concentrates contain an extremely high level of THC, sometimes up to 90%.
The popularity of both new options has inevitably led to a debate over which is better. This article analyses the differences between dabbing and vaping to help you decide which one is preferable. To clarify, we focus on using a vape pen or dab rig for concentrates rather than cannabis flower.
First Things First: What Is Dabbing? And What Is Vaping?
Don’t feel bad or out of the loop if you can’t keep up with the difference between dabbing and vaping. It’s a confusing field with a lot to remember. Also, it doesn’t help that dabbing is a type of vaporizing. Both are forms of ingesting cannabis extracts via vapor.
Dabbing involves using a dab rig to vaporize marijuana concentrates like shatter, wax, crumble, etc. Vaping typically relates to the practice of using a vaporizer with specifically-produced e-liquids or e-juices along with concentrates.
You don’t burn the material with a vape pen. Instead, the device heats it to a temperature below where it combusts to produce a vapor, which you inhale. Proponents claim it is healthier than smoking due to the lack of carcinogens produced. Inhaling vapor is potentially less irritating to the nose and lungs. Also, vapor doesn’t leave behind a long-lasting pungent odor.
Dabbing does expose the material to higher temperatures than vaping, ultimately combusting it.
What Is the Difference Between a Vape and a Dab Pen?
The heating mechanisms produce a radical difference between a dab pen and a vape pen. With a dab rig (which is essentially a bong with a nail instead of a bowl), the user heats a titanium (or quartz or ceramic) nail. Then they dab the wax onto it, inhaling the subsequent vapor through the mouthpiece of the rig.
With vaping, an electric heating coil heats the air in the vape pen chamber instead of heating the oil. When the air is hot enough, the active cannabinoids (THC, CBD, etc.) and terpenes are pulled out of the oil and into the air of the chamber. The result is a nice, clean, inhalable vapor.
In general, a vape pen remains more convenient and portable. It is possible to place one in your pocket and bring it with you. While you could try and transport a dab rig, it isn’t going to fit in your pocket! However, advances in dabbing mean there are options on the market that perhaps allow for greater portability.
Experienced users suggest they get more THC per hit with a dab rig than a vape pen.
Also, experienced users suggest they get more THC per hit with a dab rig than a vape pen. This is because many vaporizers provide carefully measured doses per hit. Dabbing tends to offer a ‘freer’ experience with a greater level of cannabinoids consumed.
Yet vaping offers a greater degree of temperature control since vape pens usually have temperature settings. This can make a big difference to the flavor and vapor produced, depending on the type of concentrate.
Whether you dab or vape, it is helpful to understand more about what’s happening to the plant material when you heat it. However, you can limit your research to conductive and convective heating.
It is typical for dab rigs to use this form of heating. Conduction involves applying a heat source directly to the material. This makes sense when heating a cannabis concentrate because of its efficiency. However, it also exposes the material to significantly higher temperatures than vaping.
When you heat the nail, the temperature could reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This is well beyond the temperature required to cause combustion.
Vape pens use this type of heating. Convection uses hot air to vaporize the plant material. When the air reaches a specific temperature, it heats the concentrate, thus extracting the cannabinoids. This process also turns the material into a vapor without ever threatening combustion.
A growing number of pens now use ceramic coils to ensure there isn’t any direct contact. This process ensures the oil isn’t combusted and also prevents harmful chemicals from being released.
Is Dabbing Healthier Than Vaping?
Which method of marijuana consumption is the healthiest? When it comes to vaping vs. dabbing, you have people on both sides claiming that their preferred method is safer. In general, there is an agreement that both options are healthier than smoking cannabis.
In reality, the actual technique of vaping is probably healthier than dabbing. This is because it presents less of a chance of inhaling a charred substance.
The process of dabbing uses incredibly high temperatures. Therefore, even if you’re extremely careful, you’ll probably combust some of the concentrate and inhale it along with the vapor. When you vape, you ‘should’ only inhale the active cannabinoids extracted from the carrier oil.
However, you should take this notion with a big grain of salt. The actual act of vaping is certainly healthier than dabbing. However, the e-liquid you vape is potentially much more dangerous than pure dabbing concentrates like waxes or shatter. This is due to methods of production.
For example, cannabis e-liquids and vape juices require perfect viscosity for vaporization. This means the products must have a more liquid texture than pure cannabis concentrates. If you’ve ever made a concentrate like BHO wax, you know that they are thick and sticky rather than ‘clean’ like oils.
Turning the natural concentrate into a liquid suitable for vaping involves cutting it with carrier oils. Manufacturers even use toxic thinning agents such as propylene glycol and ethylene oxide, which are known carcinogens. Is it better to inhale charred plant matter from time to time rather than vaporized carcinogens? Both methods certainly have their health concerns.
One issue to note is what happens when you heat cannabis concentrates or flower to a high temperature. Dabbing automatically exposes the material to extreme heat. However, some people turn their vaporizer’s temperature setting way too high. Increasing the heat to a certain level increases the risk of benzene production.
You can find this carcinogen in tobacco, car exhaust fumes, and even soft drinks! Typically, cannabis produces low levels of benzene unless you overheat it. A study published in 1986 found that marijuana produced benzene when heated beyond 365 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have a vaporizer, you can keep the temperature below that level. You’ll find it hard to do so with a dab rig, however.
Vaping vs. Dabbing: A Question of Potency
For experienced users, the big vaping vs. dabbing question is whether one is more potent than the other. Whether you inhale vapor or smoke, the high is likely to hit hard and fast. One can argue that the higher temperatures achieved by dabbing release even more cannabinoids than with vaping. However, it boils down to how much you can consume in a certain period.
Is Dabbing More Potent Than Vaping?
In terms of potency, the THC content of the product you’re inhaling is the first concern. Traditionally, both dab concentrates, and marijuana e-liquids are much more potent than raw flower buds.
For example, most high-quality dab concentrates will have a THC content of anywhere between 60% and 90%. This is far more potent than regular marijuana strains, which generally top out at about 25-30% THC.
Similarly, you can buy e-liquids with THC concentrations of between 15% and 90%. It is a lot easier to control your high with vape liquids. This is because you can choose to take small hits at a time with your vape pen.
There are a growing number of hospitalizations from dabbing and vaping extremely potent cannabis concentrates.
With dabbing, on the other hand, the whole idea is to inhale an entire dab at one time. The process involves dabbing the concentrate on the red-hot nail and inhaling until the vapor is gone.
With that in mind, dabbing is traditionally much more potent than vaping, at least when done in “normal amounts.” However, if you vape an entire cartridge full of 90% THC e-liquid, you’ll experience an extremely uncomfortable level of intoxication.
The most important thing is to use either option sensibly. There are a growing number of hospitalizations from dabbing and vaping extremely potent cannabis concentrates. Experiencing the side effects of a THC “overdose” could turn you off marijuana altogether.
Final Thoughts on Dabbing vs. Vaping E-Liquids
It seems as if dabbing and vaping are the future of cannabis consumption. A greater number of people have access to incredibly high-quality cannabis than ever. This means that tolerance levels will inevitably rise. Consequently, individuals will increasingly favor and seek out the enhanced potency of both dabbing and vaping.
Also, both methods are becoming popular because of their perceived health benefits. The assumption is that inhaling vapor is better for us than smoking marijuana.
However, if you choose to vape, take every measure you can to ensure that your e-liquid is safe and manufactured responsibly. A lot of companies cut their products with harmful thinning agents. Certainly, one can argue that it is better to inhale a cloud of cannabis smoke than a cloud of toxic vape juice chemicals.
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