What Is Dab? Side Effects, Use, & Risks

While you might think of a “dab” as a popular dance move, in the drug world, a “dab” refers to a concentrated dose of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychotropic ingredient within marijuana.1 THC comes from the tiny, mushroom-shaped trichomes that cover cannabis plants.

When collected and concentrated, THC has powerful effects. Dabbing has been growing in popularity recently, especially among teens since the concentrated ingredients can be easily vaporized and inhaled using a vape pen. Dab is also called honey oil, ear wax, 710, shatter, black glass, and errl.2

What Is Dab & How Is It Used?

In some places, dab only refers to marijuana concentrates produced using butane, while in other places, dab includes all marijuana concentrates. Marijuana concentrates, including dab, are produced either in a commercial environment or a home setting. There are a variety of manufacturing processes including:

  • Water-based processing
  • Dry processing
  • Dry ice processing
  • Combining pressure and heat
  • Using flammable solvents, like butane or alcohol
  • Using nonflammable carbon dioxide solvents

One of the most popular preparation methods is to use flammable butane. This produces butane hash oil (BHO).1 Because of its highly flammable properties, it is against federal law to produce BHO. There have been several cases of individuals causing explosions or burning themselves while trying to produce a marijuana concentrate using flammable solvents.1

Depending on the preparation method used, dab can look like a gooey liquid wax, similar to honey; a hard, amber-colored solid; or a soft, spreadable solid like a lip balm. These oils and waxes are consumed using vape pens. Another way to use dab is to place it on a heated platform and inhale the vapor through a tool called a rig.1 Dab can also be infused into some foods or drinks and consumed that way.2

The legality of dabbing will depend on which state you are in. It is typically legal wherever other marijuana products are legal. For example, as of 2022, all marijuana products are fully legal in Colorado. However, in South Carolina, marijuana is still illegal.

Dab Side Effects

Because of the high concentrations of THC, dab often produces an instant high. The concentration of THC in a typical marijuana plant used in cigarettes is around 15%.1 Solvent-based dab produces highly concentrated products with a THC average between 54-69%. Some tested products have a THC concentration higher than 80%. Non-solvent-based dabs have THC levels around 39-60%.

Along with the high concentrations of THC, dab is inhaled all at once, instead of in multiple puffs of a cigarette. Dab delivers an extreme amount of THC to the body very quickly. This can increase the risk of dependence and addiction. Some of the common side effects of dab include:2

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Heighten your senses
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure

In some cases, it might also:3

  • Distort your sense of time
  • Impair your motor skills
  • Lower your inhibitions

Another concern for dab and other marijuana concentrates is the presence of contaminants. One study found contamination in 80% of the tested samples.1 These contaminants can include pesticides from the dried marijuana plant and residual solvents that were not purged in the production process. People who use BHO may inhale some butane, which can lead to more serious side effects, including death.1

The higher THC concentrations found in dab can lead to more serious side effects than other marijuana products.

Long-Term Effects of Dab Use

With long-term use, dab and other marijuana products can increase your chances of developing clinical depression. Or, if you already have a mental disorder, it can worsen your symptoms. With the high THC doses found in dab, some people become extremely paranoid and see and hear things that aren’t there.

Dab and other marijuana products can have long-term effects on your health:

  • Brain health: For frequent marijuana users who start at a young age, it can alter the health of their brain. It can cause a permanent IQ loss by as much as 8 points. These points cannot be regained, even if someone stops taking marijuana.3
  • Driving: Driving while under the influence of marijuana can be dangerous as it can lead to slower reaction times, decreased coordination, lane weaving, and difficulty reading and responding to road signs.3
  • Mental health: Multiples studies have linked the use of marijuana products to increased depression, suicidal thoughts, psychotic episodes, and anxiety. However, it is not known if marijuana causes these conditions or just worsens something that already exists.3
  • Athletic performance: Any marijuana use can affect coordination, timing, and body movements. This can hamper athletic performance.3
  • Daily life: Studies have shown that marijuana use can lead to problems with relationships, education, jobs, and reduced overall life satisfaction.3
  • Fetal development: If a pregnant woman uses any form of marijuana, it may restrict fetal growth and development. It may also contribute to stillbirth, premature birth, and poor cognitive function. THC can pass from mother to baby through breast milk, which can further harm a baby’s development.3

The long-term effects of dab will depend on how much and how often it is used. However, regular, heavy use can cause:

  • Reduced cognitive function
  • Tolerance to the effects of THC
  • Dependence on THC

The more you use dab and other marijuana products, the more your body will tolerate its effects. This means you may need to start using more to achieve the same high. This can lead to even more long-term health risks as you are taking higher and higher doses.

Dab Withdrawal, Dependence, & Addiction

Many people falsely believe that you cannot become addicted to marijuana products. While statistics are not available specifically for dab, research shows that 1 out of 6 people who start using marijuana before the age of 18, can become addicted to it. In addition, 1 in 10 adults can become addicted. Higher concentrations of THC, like those found in dab, have a much higher risk of dependence and addiction.3

If someone is dependent on dab or other marijuana products, they feel a physiological need for the product. It is possible to have a physical dependence on dab without being addicted to it. However, without treatment or intervention, dependence can easily turn into an addiction.

With an addiction to dab, someone cannot stop using it even if it is negatively affecting relationships, finances, health, or even their career. They are constantly thinking about how and when they can get their next high.

If you feel like you are losing interest in other activities and becoming solely focused on getting your next dab high, you could be developing an addiction.

Someone who is dependent on dab may experience withdrawal symptoms when not using it. These may include:4

  • Depression
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Tremors
  • Stomach pain
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Headache

If you suspect you or someone you know has become dependent on dab or developed an addiction, it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible before more serious health problems occur.

Overdose Risk, Signs, & Treatment

While overdosing on dabs is rare, it is possible. With an overdose, someone would have a very high concentration of THC in their body. Some of the signs of dab overdose include:5

  • Hallucinations
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia
  • Pale skin
  • Sudden high blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Nausea and vomiting

Drinking alcohol while using dab or other marijuana products may increase the level of THC in a person’s bloodstream, leading to an even higher risk of overdose. If you think someone has overdosed on dab and is experiencing severe health problems, call 911 immediately.

The typical symptoms of a dab overdose are generally mild and do not require critical care treatments. However, if you are someone you love is struggling with dab use, there are treatment centers available.

Treatment for Dab Addiction

While marijuana products are becoming legalized in many states, this does not decrease their risks. Dab, in its concentrated form, has a higher risk of addiction. If you or someone you know is experiencing withdrawal symptoms or is struggling with an addiction to dab, treatment is available at California Behavioral Health.

Contact us today to speak with a treatment specialist about your dab use.

Frequently Asked Questions About Dab

Can You Overdose on Dab?

While overdosing on marijuana products is rare, it is possible to overdose while using dab. The high concentration of THC makes overdose more likely and can lead to extreme, overwhelming reactions.

What Are the Different Types of Dabs?

Dab concentrates come in various forms depending on how they were produced. Some of the popular types include shatter, crumble, sauce, rosin, and diamonds.

Where Does Dab Come From?

Dab is primarily concentrated THC extracted from marijuana plants. It is produced using various methods including butane extraction, freezing with dry ice, and submersing the plants in icy water.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Dab Use?

Prolonged dab use, especially at a young age, can lead to impaired cognitive abilities, reduced life satisfaction, and problems with relationships. Over time, this can grow into dependence or even addiction.

What Are the Withdrawal Symptoms of Dab?

After taking dab for an extended period and suddenly stopping, your body will likely go through a withdrawal. You may feel anxious, depressed, irritable, or experience periods of insomnia.

Resources

1U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2022, March 18). Cannabis (Marijuana) Concentrates DrugFacts. National Institutes of Health.

2Just Think Twice. (n.d.) The Facts About Marijuana Concentrates.

3SAMHSA. (2022, March 22). Know the Risks of Marijuana.

4NIDA Archives. (2020, March 23). Marijuana Withdrawal Is Real.

5Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020, April). Vaping & Marijuana Concentrates.

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