What is Dabbing?
A Guide for Parents


As marijuana has become increasingly legal across the U.S., parents are worrying that their sons and daughters may become exposed to the stuff. If you’re a parent, the thought has probably crossed your mind that your kids may have already experimented with marijuana.

The marijuana problem is not as simple as concern over the growing legalization of the drug. As legalization has increased, other marijuana-related issues have presented themselves. There are new and different ways to use marijuana that are far more potent, more habit-forming, and a great deal more dangerous than the usual methods of consumption.

Clearly, not all marijuana is created equal.

The practice of “dabbing,” a process of smoking highly concentrated THC extract, is one good example. While a typical marijuana joint may contain 11 to 21 percent THC, a marijuana dab may contain 80 percent THC or more. Increase the potency of the drug, and the risk for harmful side effects also increases. And sadly, marijuana “dabs” are becoming more popular among young people.

Dabbing Defined

What is a “dab” exactly? A dab is simply a slang term used to denote THC concentrate, a substance that is extracted from marijuana plants using butane. The THC concentrate forms as a dark brown or yellow wax, a very sticky, gummy substance, hence the name “dab.” Marijuana dabs are also called butane hash oil, honey oil, budder, crumble, and shatter.

Unlike bulk marijuana, marijuana dabs can be consumed in e-cigarette vape pens. That's another reason why dabbing is harmful, purely because young people can inhale highly concentrated THC out of a seemingly harmless vaporizer device. When someone uses marijuana dabs out of an e-cigarette, it looks like they're just vaping nicotine and water vapor, which is what most people use e-cigarettes for. The only noticeable difference is the smell created by vaping a marijuana dab, and that smell can be concealed by various means.

Harmful Side Effects of Dabbing

Teenager fall from stairs

Dabbing can lead to rapid heartbeat, blackouts, psychosis, paranoia, even hallucinations. Dabbing has also been associated with accidents and falls.

Proponents of marijuana legalization would stand against any criticism of dabbing, saying that dabbing is merely a “different way of using cannabis, albeit a more potent one.” But in truth, that’s precisely why dabbing is so dangerous and why it should be avoided at all costs.

While dabs are similar to marijuana flowers in that both drugs contain the same psychoactive ingredient (THC), they are about as similar in potency as a regular beer (roughly five percent alcohol by volume) is to a glass of spirits (80 to 95 percent alcohol by volume).

As if the practice of dabbing was not harmful enough, just the production of dabs is also quite dangerous. In a process called “blasting,” butane solvents are run through marijuana buds to pull out the cannabinoids. Then, the solvent is evaporated, and the resins left behind are 60 to 80 percent pure THC. Because the extraction of THC involves butane, a highly volatile, combustible substance, it is not uncommon for people attempting this process to get injured, to start a fire, or even to create an explosion.

Unfortunately, as the procedure for producing dabs is simple enough (in theory at least), lots of people attempt such a procedure at home. That has led to several accidents, injuries, and even entire homes lost due to explosions and fires.

Dabbing Compared to Regular Marijuana Smoking

There is no doubt that dabbing is harmful, and that dabbing is far removed from traditional marijuana smoking. One could easily say that dabbing has no position in the “medical marijuana” sphere. Instead, dabbing is a form of drug use significantly more dangerous than traditional methods of using marijuana.

While it is sometimes believed that regular marijuana smoking is non-addictive (a debatable point), even users within the marijuana community agree that dabbing can be habit-forming. A group of surveyed marijuana users admitted that marijuana dabbing was more likely to cause tolerance and withdrawal symptoms, both of which are signs of addiction.

It would also seem that the motives behind dabbing versus traditional marijuana use are quite different. Another group of surveyed marijuana users said that they used marijuana flowers to relax, to sleep, to cope with social anxiety, etc. For dabbing, on the other hand, users acknowledged that they used dabs purely for purposes of experimentation and recreation, not for alleged health reasons.

So here we have a situation where the use of highly concentrated THC has piggybacked on the marijuana legalization campaign. What started as a nationwide effort to promote marijuana for supposed health benefits has now resulted in making it easier for young people to use a highly potent, potentially addictive substance that has no health benefits whatsoever.

The Difference Between Shatter and Other Forms of Marijuana Dabs

We mentioned "shatter" earlier as one of the nicknames used to refer to dabs. However, shatter is a bit different from other forms of THC concentrate. While regular marijuana only has about 5 to 18 percent cannabinoid content, shatter is a form of THC extract that has gone through a second purification process, creating a drug substance that no longer resembles marijuana in the slightest, a drug that is almost entirely comprised of concentrated THC.

“A single inhalation of concentrate delivers the THC and other cannabinoids equivalent to three to 10 inhalations of herbal cannabis, depending on the potency.”

According to Dr. Dustin Sulak, a Maine physician, “A single inhalation of concentrate delivers the THC and other cannabinoids equivalent to three to 10 inhalations of herbal cannabis, depending on the potency.”

What Parents Can Do

Parent talk with teenager

Parents may be pretty worried about marijuana use, and rightly so. They have to fight the battle on two fronts. On one side, the support for and the legalization of marijuana is increasing, and that makes it more challenging to convince their sons and daughters that marijuana is harmful. And on the other side, marijuana itself is becoming more dangerous and potent, witnessed clearly in the emergence of THC concentrates.

Luckily, parents have several tools at their disposal to help their sons and daughters say no to marijuana.

  • Education. Possibly any parent’s best defense is to educate their kids about the real effects of dabbing. For too long, America has held to a notion of, “If it’s taboo, we just don’t talk about it with our sons and daughters.” The problem with that approach is, if parents don’t talk about drugs with their kids, someone else will. Best for the parents to be the opinion leaders on this subject.
  • Addressing Peer Pressure. One of the main reasons why young people start using drugs is because they are peer pressured into doing so by other people their age. If young people know how to guard against peer pressure, if they have strategies for removing themselves from difficult situations, they can avoid harm.
  • Creating a Better Social Circle. A more permanent fix for the risk of peer pressure is for parents to help their kids get involved with better social groups. Parents can do this no matter the age of their children. Parents can help get their sons and daughters involved in healthy, active, drug-free groups, such as sports, clubs, volunteer groups, churches, the arts, community organizations, etc.
  • Addressing the Underlying Reasons to Use Drugs. People never start using drugs “just because.” There is always an underlying reason for drug use. There is a struggle, a hardship, a life crisis, an emotional problem, difficulty at work or in school, trouble in the home, or some other underlying issue that causes people to use drugs in the first place. If parents can help their kids address these issues early on, they can help prevent future drug use.

If your son or daughter is using marijuana, THC concentrates, or any other drug for that matter and cannot stop, please contact Narconon today. Drug addiction is most effectively treated with residential drug rehab.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.