Safety & Compliance

Is Dabbing Cannabis Safe or Pose Health Risks?

Written by Asia Mayfield

Recreational and medicinal cannabis users are flocking to concentrates. Interest has surged so rapidly that sales of cannabis flower can’t keep up. Industry experts believe that concentrates will soon dominate the market.

As public interest increases, however, people are becoming concerned about safety. Cannabis concentrates are usually consumed by “dabbing.” The material is blasted with extremely high heat and the user inhales the resulting vapor.

“The higher temperatures go, the more risk that (users) will be inhaling things that could be harmful,” Dr. Robert M. Strongin, a researcher at Portland State University, said.

Dr. Strongin’s research found that high temperature dabs can be risky. Toxic chemicals are present in the vapor.

“The difficulty users find in controlling the… temperature put[s] users at risk of exposing themselves to not only methacrolein but also benzene,” Strongin wrote in his study. “The results of these studies clearly indicate that dabbing, although considered a form of vaporization, may, in fact, deliver significant amount of [toxins].”. 

Methacrolein, an extremely toxic substance, can be detected when dabbing at temperatures of at least 400°C (752°F). Benzene is detectable when dabbing temperatures reach 526°C (979°F).  If lower temperatures are employed when dabbing, toxicant formation from terpenes in concentrates may not be detectable at all. A recent article published in Terpenes and Testing Magazine, issue 9, entitled “Toxicant Formation from Terpenes Deconstructed” discussed the PSU study, and illustrated this point, noting that a dabbing temperature near 377°C (~711°F) is often employed by users of the technique and that using temperatures at or below 377°C would result in a low probability of toxin formation.  Potential toxicants formed from a more practical temperature range would be extremely useful in better determining appropriate best practices for limiting exposure to substances like benzene and methacrolein.

The same toxins that are detectable at high dabbing temperatures are present in cigarettes as well. In fact, both methacrolein and benzene are present in much higher concentrations in cigarette smoke than in the PSU dabbing experiment.

Another point to note is that the damning research wasn’t performed using actual cannabis. Strongin and his team looked at three separate terpenes: myrcene, limonene, and linalool. They injected the terpenes onto a dab rig outfitted with a ceramic nail and analyzed the resulting vapor when the nail was heated to different temperatures.

It’s not all bad news for dabbing enthusiasts. Low-temperature dabs produce the same psychoactive effect. It can be really hard to control the temperature of the nail, so consumers who plan to dab regularly should try using an e-nail, or get themselves a decent infrared thermometer to see what temperature they are actually using to dab when using a standard nail.

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About the author

Asia Mayfield

Asia Mayfield is a freelance writer who focuses on the cannabis industry. She can be reached at [email protected]