Cannabis aficionados team up for dabs at iBake Englewood, a private marijuana club south of Denver. (Denver Post file)

Concentrates 101: Why vape or dab? Potency, flavor & other factors

It’s fun to try something new and different, but vaping or dabbing concentrates can be tricky.

Most cannabis consumers who seek out concentrates after being a flower user are simply looking for a stronger experience. Others are looking for a flavorful sesh. But for people who have never tried cannabis extracts or who may have overdone it their first time dabbing, concentrates can be intimidating. Getting educated can help your cause, and that’s what this Concentrates 101 series is all about.

Say you’re a longtime fan of flower. Over time, regular users build up a tolerance to cannabis in general, but more specifically, to certain strains and specific cannabinoid/terpene profiles. For example, if you smoke nothing but Sour Diesel for a month and then switch it up to Grape Stomper, the latter will generally hit like a ton of bricks — but flash forward to the next month after nothing but Stomper-smoking, and that Diesel will kick the doors of perception open like it did the first time.

This interaction between body chemistry and specific strains is one of the greatest mysteries of cannabis. And it gets even murkier when you are extracting certain parts of the cannabis and leaving others behind, as is the case with concentrates. During the extraction process, plant compounds are extracted or left behind depending upon a lot of factors including esoteric things that most users would have no idea about, such as their chemical polarity. Whether a strain (and its associated concentrate) affects you in an uplifting way or a relaxing way depends largely upon what parts of it were pulled and how they interact with your body, as well as the manner in which they are consumed.

The most common question in the mind of a new concentrate user is, “Will this be too strong for me if I normally just smoke weed?”

While it’s complicated and depends a lot on the aforementioned body chemistry and other factors, in general, concentrates are stronger, but not in the way most would think. Essentially it’s a numbers game:

If you smoke a joint of approximately 15 percent THC/CBD cannabis that weighs 0.5 grams, you are consuming approximately 75 milligrams of cannabinoids. Granted, as a joint burns, a decent amount of the smoke burns off into the air, so this number is probably more in the 50-60mg range.

To compare this with doing a single dab, the math works out this way:

If you vaporize a standard-sized dab (for argument’s sake, let’s call it 0.1 gram apiece) at approximately 70 percent THC/CBD, then you are consuming approximately 70 milligrams of cannabinoids. Dabbing tends to capture more of the vapor than smoking a joint/pipe does by nature, so that 70mg number is reasonably solid.

Looking at it that way, they are basically the same in terms of overall potency. Then why do some people get completely “spun out” when they dab, yet can smoke joint after joint with no issues? The answer lies in the complex interaction between cannabinoids and terpenes as well as body chemistry. There is no sure answer for how a concentrate will affect you; the only way to know is to try a tiny amount.

The complete concentrates series

Part 1: What’s on the market? Info about kief, BHO, water hash and others
Part 2: How should I smoke this shatter? Ways to consume concentrates
Part 3: Are concentrates right for me? On potency, expected effects and more

Most users who have a poor experience with dabs find themselves in that situation because they consumed too much, too quickly. While it’s fairly easy to do five dabs in a row in less than five minutes (or to “bite off more than you can chew” with one large dab, so to speak), it’s a little harder to smoke five joints in that same amount of time. So when it comes down to ease of use, it is much faster and easier to consume massive amounts of cannabinoids in concentrate form.

cannabis concentrates
Medical marijuana patient Teri Robnett, right, uses a vape pen to manage chronic fibromyalgia in December 2014. Her husband, Greg Duran, uses a grinder to prep marijuana for Teri, who medicates throughout the day. (Andy Cross, Denver Post file)

This is the double-edged sword of concentrates: for those seeking a stronger effect to target a medical ailment, it is perfect because they can flood their system with cannabinoids and remedy the situation quickly and efficiently; for those who aren’t necessarily on a quest for potency, a few quick dabs can be entirely too much.

So that brings us back to the main question: “Why should I try concentrates?”

Generally, concentrates are recommended for those who are requiring a higher level of medication for certain conditions — always consult with your medical care team first before making any changes in treatment. When it is determined that flower is falling short in meeting these users’ needs, they may be advised to seek something stronger. The quick-acting and potent nature of dabbing can provide the needed level of relief while also acting faster than flower, and far faster than edibles.

Though the increased potency of concentrates is the most common reason that people try them, more and more they are appreciated by connoisseur-level “flavor hunters” — those who are looking for new flavors and experiences every time they smoke something. Because well-made concentrates provide concentrated flavor instead of being muddied up by the taste of burning plant material, a properly-done concentrate will provide the pure flavor of the terpenes in that strain, giving a tasting experience like none other. If you’ve ever had a flower that smelled amazing but just didn’t taste that great, chances are that it would be much more appealing in concentrate form.

dab of cannabis concentrate on parchment
Cannabis concentrate is taken off parchment paper for a dab at the U.S. Cannabis Cup in Denver on April 18, 2015. (Seth McConnell, Denver Post file)

One other factor is that concentrates can be very discreet compared to flower. Instead of hands and clothes smelling of resin or smoke, the light vapor that is the result of vape pens or dabbing doesn’t hang in the air, stick to clothes, or otherwise linger the way that smoke does. This is a big advantage for those who need to be semi-stealthy or quick with their smoking. Rather than taking a few minutes to roll a joint and another 5 to 10 minutes to smoke it, a concentrate user can sip on their vape pen a couple of times or do a single dab and get the same effect with far less trouble.

So whether you are looking for something stronger than the usual flower, need something targeted toward a specific medical condition, are a “flavor hunter,” need to medicate quickly or simply like trying new things, cannabis concentrates are certainly deserving of your time and consideration. There are so many preparations, strengths and ways to consume them that there is truly something for everyone on the market.

Even if nothing currently available appeals to you, the level of innovation that is happening in this niche of the industry means that new things will be coming out constantly, opening up new and exciting possibilities.

Have other questions about concentrates? Let us know in the comments below.