What to expect when dabbing for the first time

Published on July 8, 2021 · Last updated January 11, 2022

Written by Emily Resling

dabbing setup

I’ve been a regular cannabis consumer for many years, but my frame of reference for dabbing was this:

• On Instagram, dabbing looks like hip kids (21+) taking fancy bong hits.
• I’ve heard one too many horror stories about first time dabs.
• I hot-knifed hash in college. That’s kind of the same, right? No. Yes. No.

Impressed by my ignorance (or calling bluff on my indifference?), my colleagues here at Leafly challenged me to go from zero to dab hero from this place of anemic knowledge.

No diving into our own excellent guide to dabbing, no seasoned dabber to assist (“Without a lifeguard!” said co-editor, Bailey Rahn), get from here to there only by talking to budtenders, until I felt I had all of my questions answered.

Why dab in the first place?

Do I need to dab? Do I want to? Isn’t it just an outrageous form of consumption better suited to power-consumers and young people who want to partayyy?

Why would someone in my demographic—well past my experimentation days, very satisfied with my chosen pleasures—venture into this territory?

Concentrates offer a purer and cleaner source of cannabis since, unlike flower, you’re not inhaling ash or plant matter with every hit. 

Those who love dabbing, love it for its clean vapor, intense body high, and smooth hit.

I asked Will Hyde, The Avid Dabber himself, for his thoughts on dabbing.

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WILL: Some people like vaporizing instead of combusting. While others prefer the… robust effects from higher doses of cannabinoids. But to me, it’s all about flavor! High quality hash and concentrates really emphasize the essence and nuance of each strain. When extractors and hash makers work with top-shelf cannabis, the results are pretty incredible! It’s a beautiful combination of art, science, and nature.

What you need to dab

Ben Perez at Dockside Cannabis being extraordinarily patient and thorough with his know-nothing client, the author. (Vitamin Dee Photography for Leafly)

Luckily for me, the closest dispensary to Leafly HQ is Dockside Cannabis. Double lucky, the next available budtender when I arrived was Ben Perez, Leafly’s Best Budtender in Washington state in 2017.

I promise on all things holy, this was a coincidence. It was my first visit to Dockside, I had no idea we’d previously bestowed this honor to a Dockside budtender. In hindsight, I believe the universe was setting me up for a successful inaugural dab.

You need a lot of things to dab.

• Dab rig and banger, like a small bong and bowl, but not.
• Cannabis concentrate. Also called: shatter, butter/budder, rosin, wax, butane hash oil (BHO), and … more?
• Torch, to get to a controlled temperature pretty fast.
• Carb cap (optional), which functions like a lid over your bowl (oops, banger) in between hits.

If you’re in a quality place like Dockside, you might also leave with a handy one-sheet about dab rigs upon which your patient and kind budtender has used a Sharpie to draw a small dot illustrating the tiny amount of concentrate you should dab as a first-timer.

Key takeaway: VERY SMALL DOT. Like a capital O in Helvetica type face, font size 20.

Dab gear costs

tOur novice feeling good about her Puffin Farm selection with that Clean Green certification. (Vitamin Dee Photography for Leafly)

After thirty minutes of Q&A with one exceptional budtender, I left with:

• Dab rig made of borosilicate glass ($80)
• Clean Green certified concentrate of Strawberry Cough by Puffin Farm ($45)
• Torch ($24)
• Quartz, thermal style banger ($10)
• Directional carb cap (the optional lid-type thing) ($3)

All in: $162 spent, pre-tax.

Plus a stop at nearby gas station to fill the torch with butane.

Let’s dab!

heating a dab rig
Ehhh… Is this right? (Vitamin Dee Photography for Leafly)

I think I followed Ben’s instructions. I tried to use a teeny tiny drop of concentrate, pointing the syringe straight into the banger, and one air bubbly burp later, a droplet was in there waiting for me, slightly bigger than Helvetica O size 20.

When you’re talking about a dollop that tiny, could a teensy, extra plop be the thing that sends you over the euphoric edge into vomit-down-your-own-shirt land?

Ben said “Clear the rig, there is no ‘loading a bowl’ to pass around.” I proceeded, but didn’t clear the dab rig. I was nervous as hell! A few hours later my family would be at dinner. Arriving privately elevated is nothing new. Crash landing at the table like Yotam Perel got a hold of me? Not an option.

Within a minute of my first hit, I was filled with a high rush so intensely full-body, my heart sank and I feared I was next in the “flopped after first dab” data set. 

But, that didn’t happen. Instead, I acclimated to this verrry heightened feeling—all senses keenly keyed up—although it came on with incredible speed. It wasn’t a measured jog up to my cozy place, it was more like “Not high, not high, HIGH NOW.”

It didn’t escalate, though. I relaxed into the big high. It was manageable. It felt super excellent. Not like vaping. Not like edibles. Robust, yes.

Tips and advice for first-time dabbers

The good news

dabbing, cannabis concentrate
That’s about the dollop you need, first-timers.

Like Will said, the flavors were incredibly alive. I spent a lot of years as a restaurant Sommelier, so I’m comfortable identifying flavors across my palate. I have never tasted such distinct flavor notes in weed, nor did I ever expect to.

Was I tasting clear berry notes by the power of suggestion? I was, after all, smoking Strawberry Cough. Or did it really truly taste and smell like berries?

After an hour-ish of giggling my way through putting hats on a good sport of a dog, I went back for another hit of research. It was not power of suggestion. The dab really truly smelled and tasted like bright, juicy berries. Amazing!

The high was clean and clear. I was pretty darn elevated but didn’t feel anxious or panicky. Just giggly and very, very good.

The bad news

My fault, but, I wasn’t sure what to do with any matter left in the rig. Burn it off? Wipe it out? Concentrate is expensive, surely people don’t flush the dregs? If I smoke it, is it like a reduced sauce, stronger than the original? Oh wait, is this what the carb cap was for? Not sure I used that for its intended purpose.

Dabbing overall felt very involved, some combo of high maintenance and precious. Otherwise nothing bad to report.

Final thoughts

The newbie’s OMG moment. A classic “can I feel my face?” move, followed by dozens of minutes balancing small items on the dog behind her. (Vitamin Dee Photography for Leafly)

Between flavor-bursting vapor and an intense, crystal clear high, there’s a purity and a reach with dabbing that other consumption methods can’t touch. I can see how it’d be fun for a group of friends to sit around dabbing together, as long as someone at the table was reliably experienced.

A couple things I recommend:

  • Surround yourself with friends. Make sure you’re in the right spot with the right people and you’ll be fine.
  • Start low, go slow. Always start with a tiny dab and work your way up if you feel comfortable.

Am I a yabba dabba doer? I doubt it. My easy vape habit feels daunting enough—hit my PAX Era with a Heylo pod or my G Pen Gio plugged with Oleum, and that’s as much as I want to think about it.

However, if I make a parallel to my wine life: I was a next-level pro, taster of everything, reading the science, hands in the dirt, always stretching my palate and knowledge.

Couldn’t it be that devoted dabbers are simply the most pot-appreciative among us, in pursuit of the purest, most beautiful, least-obstructed expression the flower can offer?

Yep, it could be that. Respect. And I’m okay not being there with them.

“If you decide to try it again, I’d like to dab with you,” Will offered, after I described my experience. “I love taking people on that journey, explaining what’s happening while it’s happening, and showing people how to have an enjoyable dab.”

I’ve never shied away from a tasting sesh with a Master Somm, and Will is probably the cannabis industry equivalent. So maybe just one more time…

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