The size of the cloud doesn’t make the dab. Unfortunately, some people believe that, though, and they may be doing something that’s ultimately detrimental to their health. Regardless of the rationale for using cannabis, whether medicinally, preventatively, or recreationally, the dabber no doubt doesn’t want their inhalations to be harmful. After all, what would be the point in that? So, it’s important to understand how to maximize safety when dabbing and to know what comprises that treasured cloud emanating from your lungs.
We recently published an interview with Robert Strongin, Ph.D., of Portland State University. Strongin’s research group has provided several scientific papers that delve into toxicants formed during dabbing like benzene and methacrolein, especially when the product is heated to high temperatures. These molecules form from the degradation of terpenes. I asked Strongin where he found his temperatures because they seemed rather high, and he pointed to social media sources like Reddit. Some people are even report using 710°F (377°C) because it spells the word “oil.” Really? In a time where people crave knowledge, and given the fear-mongering of haunting cannabis cynics, we should be extra-vigilant in doing things rightly, safely, and scientifically.
Strongin’s group measured the toxicants at temperatures of 403°C (757°F) and above. They did not detect any at 322°C (612°F). That’s not to say that these molecules weren’t present at temperatures in between, however. It should be noted that these toxicants were present in small amounts, and not at levels produced when smoking tobacco or cannabis. But knowing that they are or could be present should prompt some home investigation.
Since the toxicants form at high temperatures, the thing to know is the actual temperature at which you dab. Unless you have a calibrated, digital setting that you trust as gospel, it’s worth confirming temperatures with a suitable infrared thermometer. You can calibrate your thermometer using boiling water since it should read 212°F (100°C). This way, you have numbers that invoke trust.
If you’re using a glass dab rig and a butane torch, you can (or better yet, have someone else) measure the temperature reached inside your banger as you heat over time. You can measure the time on your phone or watch so you know when you’ve reached the optimal temperature. Cannabis scientist Arno Hazekamp, Ph.D., nominated a temperature of 410°F (210°C) as being optimal after evaluating the vaporization process. At 450°F (232°C) and above, combustion occurs, transforming your process from vaping to smoking.
It’s also recommended to confirm temperature settings on an electronic dab rig. There may be different temperatures listed for various colored lights. When you set your device to that temperature, you may see the coil illuminate. Use your infrared thermometer to measure the temperature, and test it at different regions of the coil. Your device may have a glass bowl that you put the concentrate into, which gets placed on top of the coil. Once you have the average temperature of the hot, bare coil, put the glass bowl in without concentrate, and re-test the temperature settings to evaluate attenuation of heat inside the bowl since this is the temperature your concentrate will see.
You can dial in your process in this fashion, and easily take any guesswork out of dabbing. With this little bit of knowledge, you can better ensure you practice safe dabbing.
 Meehan-Atrash J, Luo W, Strongin RM. Toxicant formation in dabbing: The terpene story. ACS Omega. 2017;2(9):6112-6117. [journal impact factor = 3.512; times cited = 39]