The Dreaded Apparatus
Dabs and vapes
So now we know what cannabis oil is and some ways to use it. But what's up with all the bizarre hardware you find in the display cases at dispensaries? There's some weird objects that look like torture instruments from a UFO and some glass things that look like sculptures made by a mentally unstable scientist. Clearly, the tools of the trade have changed a bit over the years, and roach clips are no longer the cutting edge in cannabis technology.
I first heard about dabbing from terrifying media stories detailing its “dangers.” Many were saying it was to traditional cannabis smoking what crack is to cocaine. Aesthetics seem to have more to do with this idea than reality, since dabbing involves the use of a hand torch with an open flame and a glass “rig,” which can look pretty “1980s-back-alley-crack-fiend” when in use.
Another thing about dabbing that used to scare the uninitiated was the danger involved in making butane hash oil (BHO). Many less-than-careful BHO producers have accidentally blown up their labs working with the method, since it utilizes butane (a highly combustible gas) passed through a tube of cannabis. These days, the horror stories are harder to find, since producers have begun using more stringent safety procedures and the industry has turned to CO2 oil for the most part. CO2 oil is safer to make and produces a more pure oil on the back end.
Dabbing requires some pricey equipment and is much more involved than simply drawing flame to a bowl. The dabbing rig can only be used with cannabis oil (referred to as “wax,” “shatter,” “honey” and a few other names). Rigs come in all sorts of weird shapes and sizes, but they all have the same basic parts: the glass body (usually looks similar to a bong), the “nail” and the “wand.”
The “nail” is a special bowl made just for dabbing rigs. Its name comes from the old school method of dabbing which utilized actual nails for the process. These days, they are commonly made of titanium, quartz or ceramic and are tube-shaped with a ridge at the top where the oil is placed during the procedure. The “wand” is a stick made of glass, metal or ceramic that you use to deposit “dabs” of the oil onto the nail. With me so far?
Rigs can cost between $50 and $2,000 for the whole setup (for real). I just couldn't bring myself to spend that much on what was essentially a bong, but luckily, I have a buddy who has one and was willing to burn an afternoon showing me how it works.
Along with the rig, he had a hand torch, tongs, a rag and a bowl of water. Being the good neighbor that I am, I brought over a gram of honeycomb Cannawax (BHO) ($60/gram) from Cannaceutics Inc. (Call (505) 672-8734 with valid N.M. cannabis patient number for store location).
Step 0: If using a new nail, you have to “season” it. This involves heating the nail and dropping water or extra wax onto it before grabbing it with the tongs and dropping it into the bowl of water to cool. This is repeated two or three times.
Step 1: Place the nail in the rig.
Step 2: Put a small dab (start with the size of a grain of rice) onto the end of the wand.
Step 3: Use the torch to heat the nail up with the torch until it's almost red hot.
Step 4: While touching the dab to the end of the hot nail, inhale the vapor through the mouthpiece.
If this sounds complicated, that's because it is … a little. I had a good time, but I didn't find it to be the most relaxing way to take my medicine by a long shot.
Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the effects of vaporizing concentrated hash oil. The effects were fairly different from smoking flower. The oil's high THC concentration meant a more potent hit, which was expected. What wasn't expected was how different the mostly THC experience of dabbing was versus the multifaceted cannabinoid experience of smoking.
Concentrates extract the THC (and some traces of other compounds) from the plant, leaving the CBD and a few of the other cannabinoids behind. The resulting effects are felt more psychologically than physically, and gave me more of a “head high” than a body one. It was very strange, and I wanted to try it out some more.
To that end, I started looking more closely at the currently popular vape pen.
Vape pens are generally small—the size of a Sharpie or thereabouts—and lightweight. They are completely electronic and don't require the use of a flame at all. Most models of vape pens are inexpensive, portable and don't require that much equipment. It's because of these reasons and the idea (prevalent in the cannabis community) that vaping is a healthier alternative to smoking that vape pens have become increasingly popular over the last couple of years.
(Keep in mind that due to the lack of research on the relatively new technology, no one really knows what the long-term effects of vaping will be, and calling it “safer” might be jumping the gun a bit. After all, a study conducted by Emory University showed that moderate to light cannabis smoking had no lasting negative effects. And a study from the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that, contrary to common sense, long-time users might actually have stronger lungs than nonsmokers. So, keep that in mind.)
All you need to get started is a pen battery and an oil cartridge. Pen batteries are typically pretty cheap. The low price point on these little gizmos allowed me to really give them the old try. I went ahead and picked up the O.pen Vape 2.0 variable voltage battery, one of the more popular entry level pens. Versions of the O.pen can be found at a number of local dispensaries. Mine came from High Desert Relief (4840 Pan American Fwy NE Ste H) and cost $20. They also had the basic model (with a single voltage) for $10. The variable voltage allows you to control how hot the device's coil gets, meaning you can control how robust the hits are.
I also bought two disposable cartridges from a couple of dispensaries. The cartridges come pre-filled with cannabis oil made from that dispensary's medicine, so it's a good idea to shop around and find your own favorite places. I bought a 510mg blueberry Bhang cartridge (0.65 grams, $30) at Everest Apothecary (9237 Fourth Street NW) and a 300mg indica K-Puff cartridge (0.45 grams, $30) at CG (6614 Gulton NE).
Step 0: If your pen battery isn't charged, do so. The pens come with a USB charger. Most batteries charge within a few hours at most.
Step 1: Attach your cartridge by screwing it into the proper end. The cartridges come with their own unattachable mouthpiece, so once it's on, you're ready to go.
Step 2: Turn the pen on. Many pens are always “on,” meaning you just have to start sucking on the mouthpiece to activate them. The O.pen 2.0 requires pressing a button five times to power it on and off.
Step 3: Hit the damn thing. Some pens require a press of the button, but most just wait for you to hit it. On the O.pen, a LED at the end lights up to let you know it's working. Be careful. You'll barely feel any sensation while inhaling. The first time I hit it, I thought it wasn't working until I blew out a huge plume of vapor and fell over coughing.
The effects from the pen weren’t noticably different from those of dabbing (which wasn’t surprising, since they both use cannabis oil), but the ease of use and lower price certainly made it more attractive to me. I would definitely recommend it.
But it does feel like something’s missing when you use cannabis oil in any form. The distinctive effect is very different from smoking the flower, and I suggest trying both before you settle on one or the other. If I get to choose between flower and oil, I will always choose flower.