Dab Life: A Brief and Wondrous History of Concentrates and The 710 Phenomenon


“Yeah, Brylcream, a little dab’ll do yah, Oh I could do some cruising too”


When Jimmy Buffet coined this phrase about a hair product on the hit song “Pencil Thin Mustache,” he unintentionally became a prophet for the medical marijuana industry’s biggest cash cow: DABS.

If you live in a medical marijuana state, you’ve most likely seen the Dab-evolution occur before your eyes. A couple years ago, cannabis concentrates or BHO (Butane Hash Oil) were few and far between on dispensary menus. Now, some dispensaries carry more varieties of concentrates than actual flowers.Since concentrates are a moderately novel development, not much has been written about them. Where, when, and who invented the “Dab” is a bit of a mystery that I decided to explore. Along with how it has assimilated itself as a sub-cultural phenomenon of sorts in such a quick time.

Precursor: What is a “Dab”

A “Dab” is really an active noun. “Do you want a dab?” or “Let’s dab” are two of the more common phrases you’ll hear uttered by those who dab. The act of dabbing cannot occur, however, unless one has concentrated cannabis either in wax, oil, or “budder” form. These concentrates are extremely potent (they typically hover around 75% but can allegedly go well into the 90th percentiles) and are also extremely difficult to heat up. Concentrates are extracted from flower, and oftentimes trimming by soaking them in Butane, which acts as a solvent. (Note: this process is dangerous and should NOT be done without a proper education)

While you can put your dabbable product on top of flower and smoke it, this method does not get the wax hot enough. Hence, the preferred, modern method of smoking BHO’s is off of an oil rig. An oil rig is a simple way of describing what is essentially a bong made specifically for Dabs. These pieces are shaped like a bong, but rather than having a standard slide and bowl, a titanium nail protrudes from the egg-shaped bowl.

Once you have your concentrate and a rig, you’re ready to fulfill a Dab.You take a creme brulee blowtorch or a high-octane cooking flame to the nail and heat it up until it is piping hot. Then, you drop the concentrate on the nail, the concentrate bubbles, then melts, and you gradually inhale the smoke. One hit of a strong concentrate will have a similar affect to smoking a moderate joint to your face.

This is what the process of Dabbing looks like if you have iron lungs:

Don’t try that at home either.The Origins of the “Dab” and How it’s Evolved into a Phenomenon

People have been smoking concentrated cannabis for a long time. Well before their were archaic, acrylic bongs, people were keen on Keef and Hashes.

Hashish, which ranges in potency based on its method of creation, has been around perhaps as long as cannabis. It is truly the original form of “concentrated weed.” But its THC percentage and strength is incomparable to modern concentrates.

The first archived piece on the Internet to profile modern concentrates and a purveyor of such was by Cannabis Culture. In 2005, the online marijuana magazine published a lengthy article about a Vancouver man who went by the name “Bubbleman” due to his affinity for using bubble bags to make potent bubble hash. And according to this piece, concentrates were in fact being smoked as early on as the 60s:

Another modern innovation is using alcohol, chloroform, butane and other solvents to chemically extract cannabinoids. The extracted cannabinoids are often called hashish, but they are not hashish in the traditional sense of the word ? they are “cannabis concentrates.”

Since the 1960’s, solvent-manufactured cannabis concentrates have been available as “honey oil,” “red oil,” “jelly-butane hash,” and similar concoctions. The cannabinoid percentage and purity of solvent-extracted products is almost always higher than that of hashish, but many solvent extract products are polluted by solvent residues. Also, making cannabis extracts with solvents can be a dangerous process.

BudderKing says Budder is the result of a decade of research that began with the making of liquid cannabis honey oil. Later in the 1990’s, he and his colleagues in Surrey, British Columbia (near Vancouver), carried honey oil manufacturing to new heights, eventually creating a product called “Glass.”

“It was refined oil made with a multi-step alcohol process,” BudderKing explains. “Then we took it further, and it hardened into something that looked and felt like amber. We liked it because it was very strong and easier to smoke than oil.”

“You only make Budder from kif, hash, or high-crystal organic buds like what we have bred,” BudderKing said. “The bud has to be literally covered in crystal on top of crystal. Our favorite strain is a dark, short plant, almost purple, that comes from a Berry variety mixed with some Bubblegum and White Widow. Budder is strain-specific and base material specific. You can taste different strains of Budder, kind of like how you can taste in honey what flowers the bees used to make the honey.”

BudderKing created a small hand-held butane-fueled device that heats up a tiny, attached surface on which Budder is placed and inhaled. This device will soon be commercially available.

This device has clearly evolved in the seven years since that article was written. This is what a modern oil rig typically looks like:

It’s pretty clear that people have been making concentrates for decades. However, the art of extraction was clearly not perfected–and taken into the mainstream–until recent years. Based on the outdated comments spotted below this piece, this Dab-creator was a bit ahead of the curve, as Budder didn’t even begin to scratch the mainstream until around 2009.

Sources I’ve spoken with who are prominent figures in the medical marijuana industry noted that the first they ever heard of high octane concentrates was around the Summer of 2010 (a little less than two years ago). They also believe that, in the United State, concentrates took form first in either Northern California or Colorado. And that Dabs began to spread like wildfire and pick up momentum particularly in the Denver and Boulder areas.

But everyone I’ve spoken to agrees that it was around a year ago that they really started seeing budders, waxes, and oils appear on dispensary menus. And in the last year, concentrates’ popularity has skyrocketed.

Likewise, in the past year the process has become much more industrialized, prominent amongst growers, and well, a financial windfall for those who know the keys to extraction. Since concentrates sell in the 40-60 dollar range per gram and are a lot cheaper to produce than bubble hash, they have truly taken over the medical marijuana industry’s landscape on the west coast.

The people creating waxes or budders or oils are typically those who have an abundance of left over bud or trim from grows. They stuff this weed or trim into a long tube, and allow butane to drip through the tube. Slowly but surely, a light stream (it almost looks like urine) begins to leave the tube. The butane then needs to be separated from the wax as a screening process of sorts. Naturally, the quality of the wax has a lot to do with the quality of the product, its THC count and the present cannabinoids that can be extracted. The best concentrates are also developed by those who use the highest quality form of butane.

Where Do Dabs Go From Here?

About three months ago, I was visiting friends and family in New York City. I was walking through the East Village, and I spotted a Head Shop ahead of me. I turned to the right, and, sure enough, there was an oil rig in the display case. Then, just yesterday, a friend from the East Coast called me strictly to inquire about “these vape pens I’m hearing about.”

Word is spreading–and fast. While skeptics of Dabs are quick to note that smoking concentrates and using a torch are crack-like, defenders of Dabs will quickly respond that it’s a healthier way to smoke, as it involves less inhalation.

And the assimilation of Dabs into the mainstream is a dual-edged sword for the medical marijuana industry. While the medical benefits of such a potent form of cannabis for real patients is legitimate, detractors will be quick to note that it’s the type of product that can easily be abused.

It’s been written before by NORML’s Russ Bellville that Dabs are a public relations nightmare. But this eventual backlash has yet to have been felt.

At this year’s High Times Cannabis Cup, more people were smoking concentrates than bud. In fact, the amount of concentrates being smoked almost bordered on abuse.

At the subsequent San Bernardino SmokeOut, medical marijuana patients were met by a recording at the entrance that banned all forms of concentrates (hash included). This leads me to believe authorities are well aware of concentrates, and most likely view them as a far more serious “drug” than cannabis.

Dabs are a polarizing topic–even within the medical marijuana community–and one that promises to not go away for quite some time. Only time will tell if legislation is introduced to limit the sale of concentrates in collectives. Until then, expect to see more and more concentrates popping up on dispensary menus. Cause it’d simply be foolish for dispensary owners to stop selling their most lucrative product.

The 710 Myth (added 7/10/2013: In the past year since this was written, an additional term has been used to signify dab-lovers. And that number is simply “710.” The reasoning is rather straightforward: if you flip 710 upside down, it spells “OIL” and Oil is the fabric of dabs (if you’re skeptical, flip your computer around). And with that, the first 710 Cup ever will take place this weekend…

When and where was the first time you saw a concentrate on a dispensary’s menu? When did you take your first dab? Do you have any idea what region concentrates became so prevalent? Do you think Dabs are safe? Let us know in the comments.

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