Dabbing – a healthy alternative to other smoking methods

By Canncentral Editor

2019-11-21

What is the healthiest method to smoke weed? According to a recent study, the answer is dabs

There are many diverse uses for the cannabis flower. It may be interesting to consider which method is the most healthiest. A recent study pinpoints dabbing – suggesting that the inhalation of heated extract vapour maximizes the delivery of cannabis’ active ingredients.

Dabbing outdoes the alternatives

Dabbing is considerably more effective at delivering THC—cannabis’ primary active ingredient—compared to any other methods of inhalation, such as smoking from a pipe bowl or a joint; this was discovered based upon results of a 2019 study from Forensic Science International.

More than three-quarters of the THC in a dab arrives in a users’ lungs. By comparison, smoking cannabis eliminates roughly the same amount of THC before it can even get inside the user, the study claims.

The experiment involved a machine built in-house which simulated smoking and dabbing, while also collecting the smoke and vapour for the purpose of analysis. Either smoke or vapour that would have travelled to the lungs was examined for its cannabinoid content. When compared with the result of the cannabinoids in the original sample, scientists were able to approximate the amount of THC and CBD from the initial cannabis product that would make it into the consumer’s system. This amount was dubbed the “rate of recovery”.

Previous studies on vaping, smoking, and joints

Although the study points to sizable differences between smoking and dabbing, previous studies uncovered results that were less than remarkable. In 2015, Dr. Jeffrey Raber conducted a study that found decent recover rates for smoking, with a range of 27.5% to 46.3%. This result may represent a more optimistic picture for weed smokers; however, it is still noticeably slower than the reported 75.5% rate of recover found with dabbing. Dabbing is also a different practice when compared to “vaping”. Dabbers inhale cannabis extract that has undergone boiling off a heated piece of either quartz, ceramic or titanium. Comparatively, vapers either toast a cannabis flower in a Pax, or a Volcano, or they sip vapour from a device similar in structure to an e-cigarette.

Research on vaporizers illustrates a broad range of recovery rates that vastly vary depending on the vaporizer utilize. The majority of vaporizers averaged modest recovery rates in the mid-to-high 50’s. Another study exhibited rates from 51.4%-82.7%, but this was dependant on the vaporizer. Of all the vaporizers studied, only one was on par with the rates of recovery found with dabbing.

Keep your temps down low

Although on the surface, dabbing appears to outperform alternative methods of cannabis consumption. Dr. Raber posits that dabbing doesn’t consistently have such high rates of recovery. His team performed experiments involving both pipe smoking and dabbing, along with his research centred around joints. The team discovered considerably lower rates of recovering for dabbing – approximately 50%. Dr. Raber’s research suggests that when it comes to the matter of recovery, dabbing is comparable with smoking.

“It is certainly possible that you could see high efficiency in terms of recovery via a dab, says Dr. Raber.

So what would be the reason for such large variation in these studies?

Says Dr. Raber: “It seems to primarily be based on temperature.”

The higher the temperatures, the more likely combustion is to occur, which can destroy or convert active cannabinoids into some other substance.

In his experiments, he analyzed not only the smoke and vapour that enters into the lungs but also the ash, sidestream and exhaled smoke. However, only about 50% of the cannabinoids from the initial sample were recovered. The remaining half of the cannabinoids appeared to be destroyed or converted into something new. Therefore, the new study conceivably could have utilized a lower temperature to dab, thus minimizing combustion.

Although combustion seems to be responsible for smoking’s low recovery rate numbers, we are unable to simply assume that these cannabinoids just ‘vanished into the ether’. Besides, smoking joints has a potent effect that differs in feeling compared to vaping or dabbing.

Says Dr. Raber: “It is quite possible other molecules that form during combustion, which are absent in vaporization, are leading to some of those experienced physiological effects.” However, it would be extremely difficult to ascertain the identity of that molecule.

Is dabbing THCA healthier?

The composition of extracts utilized is another important factor in the varying rates of recovery.

“We did observe differences depending on concentrate composition,” recalls Dr. Raber.

In Raber’s study, extract abundant in THC was used; the new study used the natural “acid” form of THC – called “THCA” – which can be identified on the fresh plant. This is a crucial difference.

It is possible that dabbing with THCA extracts provides a measurably more efficient way to consume THC.

(Time for a lesson in organic chemistry: when you heat THCA it transforms into THC, which is great for our recovery rate. However, if you heat THC, it converts into CBD – a very bad thing or your recovery rate. This is the reason why old weed lacks potency: the THCA has mostly converted into THC or worse, CBN.)

Extracts with a high concentration of THCA have increased in availability in recent years, but they aren’t the norm when it comes to dabbing.

Is dabbing the healthiest method overall? Or are recovery rates maxed out when low-temp dabbing is combined with THCA? Further research is necessary before we can fully reach a conclusion.

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