CULTURE
Weed 101: WTF Is a Dab Pen and How Do You Use One?
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For those who are creeped out by blowtorches, dab pens are a welcomed innovation. But what makes the concentrate consumption device different from a vape pen or dab rig, exactly?
Published on December 5, 2019

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Both the lexicon and technology regarding cannabis consumption continues to grow with each passing day.

For decades, stoner culture focused on synonyms for weed itself, leading to the birth of terms like “420” and “chronic” (shout-out to Dr. Dre). Nowadays, the terminology associated with cannabis runs the gamut from academia to Silicon Valley. 

As we begin to digest concepts like terpenes, phenotypes, and the difference among cannabinoids, we are also simultaneously attempting to become familiar with a whole new world of phrases related to hardware. This moment of non-stop technological cannabis innovation is responsible for introducing us to bizarre-sounding things like atomizers and crucibles. 

Those latter terms are actually both related to the act of dabbing, yet another relatively recent innovation in the long history of cannabis consumption. Distilled to its essence, the appeal of dabbing isn’t always the intensity of the ensuing high, but instead the purity and quality of the vapor produced. 

There’s no denying the fact that amateurs or those with a low tolerance for THC should approach dabbing with caution, but it’s disingenuous to dismiss the activity as something that only appeals to the most serious potheads among us. If anything, many medical patients find greater relief from consuming cannabis concentrates via dabbing compared to other forms of toking. 

Disclaimers aside, it is understandable if the volume of equipment required or the expertise expected has put you off from taking your first dab. After all, this is an activity that regularly requires the use of a personal blowtorch. Fortunately, there’s a new option well worth considering: dab pens.

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What Is a Dab Pen? 

A dab pen offers the same end result as a dab rig by heating cannabis concentrates to a specific temperature, but does so without the requisite shoebox of accessories or need for an open flame. Instead, these units are electronic, making them a comfort to anyone intimidated by using a big ‘ol blowtorch. Often shaped like a cigarette or vape pen, these portable devices can be taken on the go and bring a much needed element of portability to the act of dabbing. 

With most dab pens, all you have to do is load your concentrate into the body of the device, and then heat it up and inhale. It’s that simple, just like hitting a vape pen. Some dab pens, like the Puffco Plus, come with a loading tool, splash guard, and carb cap — essentially all the components of a dab rig in one compact tool (minus the water base and percolators, of course). 

What Makes Dab Pens Unique?

Dab pens (sometimes called “wax pens”) are truly defined by the product we put inside them. As opposed to devices intended for use with dry herbs (aka cannabis flower), dab pens are filled with cannabis concentrates and extracts. There are some units that can handle flower and concentrates, but unless the product you’re using is clearly marked as being designed for both forms of cannabis, it’s likely intended solely for one or the other.

When we talk about concentrates, we’re referencing the various forms that cannabis extracts can take. Phrases like wax, shatter, butter, and crumble all refer to various forms of concentrates. A quality (reusable) dab pen will be able to combust concentrates in any of the above forms, often by means of a chamber heated to a specific temperature by a ceramic coil. Given that various cannabinoids combust at certain temperatures, dabbing allows consumers to exercise precision when it comes to their dosage.

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More Reasons to Try a Dab Pen

Another reason for dabbing’s rising popularity stems from the simple fact that vaporizing concentrates often results in exceptionally pure and flavorful hits. The more we understand terpenes — the aromatic compounds that naturally flavor our cannabis (and offer a whole host of other benefits) — the more we can hone in on how to best enjoy them when consuming pot. 

One reason we sometimes can’t taste a given strain when we smoke it in a bowl or in a joint is that the excess plant matter gets burnt, which takes away some of the flavor potential. By definition, concentrates consist solely of cannabis trichomes, meaning that excess material is no longer there to taint the taste. Thus, dabbing is a viable way to taste cannabis and all its terpenes the most effectively. 

If you’re not convinced that dabbing is for you, a dab pen is an excellent way to test the waters and see what you think before investing in a full rig. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find that this oft-misunderstood method of consumption isn’t so scary after all! 

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Zack Ruskin is a cannabis and culture journalist living in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter: @zackruskin.
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