Dab pens cross the inhalation method of dab rigs with the convenience and portability of a vape pen.
These pens work well for people who like cannabis extracts (“concentrates”), but don’t necessarily want to own or use a dab rig. Also called a wax pen, these pieces allow you to enjoy concentrates, anytime, anywhere.
What is a dab pen?
Unlike vape pens, dab pens do not use “carts” or cartridges filled with cannabis oil. Rather, dab pens use cannabis concentrate that you place directly on the heating element.
Dab pens are usually easier to clean than vape pens, but vape pens rarely need cleaning.
The difference between a dab and vape pen
Both dab pens and vape pens are portable vaporizers, but they use different forms of cannabis and different heating methods.
|Dab pens||Vape pens|
|Conduction heat||Convection heat|
|Concentrate is placed directly on hot surface to vaporize||Air is warmed around the oil to create vapor, no direct contact with heat|
|Uses extracts & concentrates||Uses oil cartridges|
|Extract may not be decarbed prior to use||Oil is usually already decarbed before use|
Using a dab pen for the first time
Dab pens can be an intense consumption method because concentrates are more potent than an edible or joint. You don’t need much to get high; a single gram of concentrate contains as much as 800 milligrams or more of THC, easily providing multiple servings in a very small amount of extract.
When using a dab pen for the first time, make sure you read the instructions. Each pen is different, and your manual will cover changing the temperature, loading the oven, and hitting the pen.
Since dab pens often use conduction heat, it’s important to let the pen preheat before you hit it. This won’t take long but ensures the concentrate has dissolved fully to give you a strong hit with rich vapor.
What can you use in a dab pen?
You can use a variety of different concentrates in a dab pen, including
Don’t use oil or wax oil cartridges in your dab pen. Those only work with vape pens.
How to hit a dab pen
Dab pens typically come with a removable mouthpiece that covers the bowl (or oven). Some dab pens have a dab tool to place the concentrate in the bowl. This can take practice to get the hang of, as the oven is small and dabs are sticky.
- carefully load your concentrate into the oven. Note: if you need a dab tool and you don’t have one, you can use a paperclip
- screw on the mouthpiece
- allow your dab pen to preheat
- click the button (if applicable) and inhale 1 – 2 times
- wait 10 – 15 minutes to feel the effects of your high
Each pen is different, so refer to your owner’s manual for specific instructions on adjusting the temperature, loading the pen, and other important information.
Your pen’s owner’s manual should include information about the temperatures that the pen reaches at different settings. It is a general rule of thumb to avoid temperatures above 300°C (572°F) to avoid degrading Cannabis terpenoids into toxic byproducts. Cooler dabs are not only healthier for you, but they also result in a more flavorful hit. 1
What does a dab pen high feel like?
Dab pens are a very similar experience to dabbing, without all of the fire and fanfare.
Dab pens use concentrates, which are (of course) concentrated cannabis trichomes. These pens deliver strong highs. If you aren’t familiar with dabbing, start with a very small amount of concentrate.
Because you can control the temperature more on a dab pen, you’re able to preserve more terpenes in your hits. Most terpenes have significantly lower boiling points than cannabinoids and will be heated off quickly in a dab rig. Preserving these compounds means a more flavorful hit and a more balanced high.
How to clean a dab pen
Dabs are sticky! It’s important to keep your dab pen clean so it doesn’t get gunked up in between uses. If you can’t draw vapor through the pen, it may be clogged with old resin. To avoid this, wipe your dab pen out after each smoking session, when the bowl has cooled down but is still warm.
To clean your dab pen you’ll need:
- rubbing alcohol
- dip your q-tip in the rubbing alcohol, ensuring the cotton swab is saturated
- use the q-tip to wipe out the bowl and allow to air dry
- check your instructions for the best way to clean your mouthpiece.
Are there safety concerns with dab pens?
While THC is a safe substance for most people, using a dab pen has some specific concerns:
What’s in your concentrate?
Concentrates are made with or without solvent. Solvents are an effective way to mass-produce concentrates, but there are concerns about what’s left behind in the process, particularly because products are not regulated equally among countries of the world or even between states in the United States.
Concentrates should always come with a Certificate of Analysis to prove there are not significant traces of heavy metals or chemical solvents. Inhalation of these chemicals can lead to serious health problems. 2
Unfortunately the Cannabis industry is still in a time where fraudulent lab data is rampant. Any certificate of analysis should feature a batch ID that can be directly linked to the batch ID featured on a particular product. Always watch out for companies that reuse old test results. It is also a good idea to look up the laboratory that performed any tests for a product to get a sense of whether they are accredited and trustworthy.
Chemical changes at high temps
Dab pens use high temperatures to create vapor, but this heat can transform existing chemical compounds, creating unintended byproducts. When cannabis concentrates are heated to very high temperatures, toxic byproducts like benzene or methacrolein can be formed. Of particular note are the terpenes. Terpene degradation hasn’t been extensively researched, but one study found that vaporizing cannabis may cause toxic degradation in certain terpenes. 3
The science around vaporizing, and cannabis as a whole, is constantly evolving and growing. While there are unknowns around dab pens, they are still less harsh on your lungs than a dab rig heated by a blowtorch.
- Meehan-Atrash J, Luo W, Strongin RM. Toxicant Formation in Dabbing: The Terpene Story. ACS Omega. 2017;2(9):6112-6117. doi:10.1021/acsomega.7b01130
- Laucks, P., & Salzman, G. A. (2020). The Dangers of Vaping. Missouri medicine, 117(2), 159–164.
- Jiries Meehan-Atrash, Wentai Luo, and Robert M. Strongin ACS Omega 2017 2 (9), 6112-6117 DOI: 10.1021/acsomega.7b01130
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