Wax dabs and dabbing have grown in popularity over the last several years, potentially for good reasons. For many lovers of THC, dabs have become the ultimate way to experience cannabinoids without all the nastiness of smoking.
You might have heard about dabbing but have been put off trying this alternative way to get your THC hit by how complex it sounds. Perhaps you have been using a dab rig for a while, but now want something to dab with that doesn’t require a backpack to carry around.
Either way, a dab pen could be the answer. But what is a dab pen, how do they work, and how do you use one? Read on to find out.
What is a Dab Pen?
Dab Pens are small, portable devices used for vaporizing concentrated cannabis resin. They are sometimes called wax pens or wax vaporizers, but as the terms “dab” and “dabbing” became popular as names for the concentrate and the process of vaporizing it, the devices themselves are now commonly called dab pens.
Like a more traditional dab rig, dab pens vaporize the cannabis concentrate to provide an intense hit without burning. But unlike a dab rig, you don’t have to mess around with glass pipes, flames, and hot metal. This means that dab pens are an easier, more discreet, and more portable method of dabbing, especially for beginners.
Although dab pens often look outwardly similar to many modern vape pens, there are several notable differences (more on those later.) One similarity is the range of different styles available. Some look very pen-like, others like a pod vape or a small battery mod vape.
What are Dabs?
Dabs, or wax, is a solid or semi-solid form of cannabis extract, which is created using a fairly complicated process involving butane oil. Various cannabis oils are extracted from the plants and concentrated until they lose much of their liquid content. The resulting concentrate is usually waxy and sticky, hence the name wax.
Common wax dab varieties include shatter, budder, and crumble. Each type has a different consistency, potency, flavor, and THC level. You can also buy CBD concentrates without THC. All can be used in a dab pen, although the more solid varieties like shatter can be easier to load without too much mess.
How do Dab Pens Work?
A dab pen is made up of a battery, a heating element, an atomizer chamber to hold the cannabis concentrate, and a mouthpiece. Although the style of dab pens varies, all the currently available devices work in approximately the same way.
The cannabis concentrate is heated by the element (or coil) when the dab pen is fired or when you draw on the mouthpiece, creating vapor. This can then be inhaled through the mouthpiece. Dab pens have small atomizer chambers, while larger dabbing devices, like the AUXO Cenote, can have a sizeable chamber to collect the vapor before it’s inhaled.
Dab pens almost always allow the user to change the output temperature, letting you use them with different concentrates (wetter wax types tend to work better at a lower temp.) It also allows you to tailor the flavor and intensity of the hit you get from the dab. The available temperature range varies depending on the type of heating coil inside the pen.
The heating element or coil in a dab pen is commonly made from ceramic or quartz material, with quartz rod coils able to provide the highest temperatures. Some devices can produce upwards of 700° Fahrenheit, which may be needed to cleanly vaporize some forms of cannabis concentrate.
How to Use a Dab Pen
If you’re used to vaping pre-filled cannabis distillate cartridges, switching to a dab pen can seem fiddly and complicated. But it really isn’t.
- Make sure the dab pen battery is charged and ready to go. Most modern dab pens use USB-C, so charging should be pretty fast.
- Unscrew the top of the dab pen to reveal the atomizer chamber and the heating element. This is where you will place your cannabis extract.
- Load the atomizer with your dab of cannabis concentrate. Don’t overfill the chamber, especially if this is your first try. If the atomizer can also be unscrewed from the battery, doing so can make filling it easier.
- Replace the atomizer and screw on the top cap firmly.
- Check the power setting is at the level you want to use (check the instructions to see how you change the power level.)
- Fire the dab pen by pressing the button or sucking on the mouthpiece slowly. When you feel like you’ve inhaled enough, release the button or stop drawing.
If you are new to dabbing with cannabis concentrates, start with a tiny dab (think: grain of rice) and wait a short time after your first inhale to see how it will hit. Even long-time THC users have been caught out by the intensity of their first dab hit.
Are Dab Pens Strong?
Dab pens are designed to be used with concentrated cannabis and can create a lot of vapor, which means a hit can be pretty intense. Of course, the variety of cannabis concentrate you are using will also dictate the strength. Don’t expect a dab of THC wax to hit the same way an edible or THC vape hits.
Lowering the temperature setting will usually reduce the intensity, as well as the amount of vapor. And if you’re using a dab pen for the first time, starting on the lowest power setting is recommended. You can increase the heat, and the intensity, as you get used to how hard it hits.
What’s the Difference Between a Dab Pen and a Vape Pen?
There are several significant differences between a dab pen and a vape pen, and those differences don’t just relate to what they are designed to vaporize.
Higher Temperatures: Dab pens are designed for use with thick, almost solid, cannabis concentrates. That means they need to heat to a higher temperature than you commonly find in a vape pen. Even a small dab pen might be capable of producing 600-700F and working at 4.2V.
Higher Capacity Batteries: Those higher temps require a lot more power. That means that the battery in a dab pen will usually be much more powerful than a battery in a similar-sized vape pen. It isn’t unusual for a dab pen to feature a 1200mAh battery.
More Expensive: Dab pens can seem very expensive when compared to normal vape pens. Nicotine vape pens rarely cost more than $30, but you can expect to pay around $80 for even a simple dab pen. Some can cost a couple of hundred dollars! THC vape cartridges are more expensive than vapes, and can be more expensive than dab pens. But of course, cartridges are pre-filled with cannabis distillate.
More Difficult to Use: Although much easier to use than traditional dab rigs, using a dab pen still requires a bit of effort. Learning how much resin to place in the chamber (sometimes called the Oven) takes some time. And you’ll have to get used to loading and cleaning the pen each time you take a hit.
Solids, Not Liquids: Unlike vape pens, dab pens are generally designed to be filled with solid or semi-solid resins, although some can take liquid concentrates. Many dabbers use a small metal dab tool, like a tiny spoon, to load their dab pen.
Is Using a Dab Pen Safe?
Although wax dabs have the potential to be more potent and intense than other forms of cannabis, using a dab pen is no more dangerous than taking THC or CBD in any other way. In fact, because the resin is not burned, it could be argued that dabbing is safer.
You might notice that a dab pen gets slightly hotter on the outside than, say, a vape pen. It is normal for the area around the vaporizer chamber to feel warm when the dab is being vaporized. However, if the battery feels unusually hot to the touch, it could be a sign of malfunction. But that is true of any device with an internal battery.
If you want to try out a dab pen it’s advisable to choose the device carefully, start slowly, and have your first hit somewhere you feel comfortable and safe.
Alternatives to Dab Pens
We’ve already mentioned dab rigs, the more traditional way of dabbing. A dab rig is made up of a glass tube or chamber, a metal or quartz “nail,” and a flame (usually a small blowtorch.) The nail is the part of the rig that gets heated to vaporize the wax dab. Dab rigs also often use water to filter the vapor and give a smoother hit.
If all that sounds intriguing but way too complicated and/or dangerous, there are other alternatives: e-nails and e-rigs.
E-nails are electronic vaporizer chambers, designed to be used with a traditional dab rig. This removes the need for naked flames and gives better control over heating temperatures.
E-rigs are electronic versions of a complete dab rig, including the tube, chamber, nail, and electronic heating component. E-rigs are usually smaller than a traditional dab rig, and certainly more portable. Yet not as portable as a dab pen and considerably more expensive.
E-nails are sometimes called e-rigs, and vice versa. Check out our guide to the best e-nails and e-rigs in 2023 to learn more about these alternative ways to hit your favorite dabs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Dab Pens Illegal?
It really depends on where you live, but in the United States dab pens are legal to buy and own. The same laws that apply to vapes apply to dab pens, meaning that they cannot be sold to anyone under 21.
Are Dabs Illegal?
If you live in a state where cannabis is legal, dabs should also be legal. You won’t be able to buy dabs online, as it contains too much THC to be legally sent through the mail. Instead, you will have to buy from a dispensary.
Do Dab Pens Smell?
The vapor produced by dab pens does smell of cannabis, but not as much as when smoking cannabis flower. The smell is less intense and also does not hang around for as long. Many people find the smell of dabs more “natural.”
Are Dab Pens Good for Beginners?
If you are inexperienced with cannabis concentrates, choosing to use a dab pen makes great sense. They are easier to use, don’t require so much work, and are completely portable.