The High Life on Dabbing: Don't it make my soft drugs hard?

City Paper

I’ve been hearing a lot about dabs, also called hash oil, wax, ear wax, shatter, or honey oil, for the last several months and I’d smoked it a few times, but never in a situation where it was really possible to write about—late at night, with a lot of alcohol involved, etc. 

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times had a cover story about how people in Colorado were blowing their houses up “Breaking Bad” style by using butane to extract the THC—the main, but not only, psychoactive chemical in marijuana—from the cannabis flowers. Why, I wondered, would you take a product that is relatively clean and safe and legal-ish (depending on where you are) and push butane through it to extract something kind of dirty and gross and industrial? It’s not only the production end where it is dirty. Often people smoke it off a nail with a blowtorch and in a way that looks like you’re smoking crack and it’s goopy and runny and grimy to smoke through a vaporizer, reminding me of the youthful nights I spent scraping resin from a bowl. Dabbing is taking soft drugs and making them hard. This harder form must offer something that makes it all worth it, I thought, and I wanted to figure out what it was. 

The obvious answer is density. Hash, as a concentrate, has always been easier to smuggle than weed. More weight takes up less space. And that is certainly true with dabs—at anywhere from $35 to $75 per gram (whereas weed is more like $15), it is a moneymaker. And if you are a consumer, you could have the decriminalized 10 grams and it would last you for nearly a year (10 grams of weed would cost about $180, whereas 10 grams of dabs could go for $700). Plus, a far greater percentage of the weight you have—like, almost all of it— actually contains psychoactive substances. 

It was perfect timing, then, when a friend gave me a little rubber container with somewhere around a half a gram of dabs in it along with a scalpel-like scraper and a pen-sized vaporizer-style device to smoke it from. 

The wax itself appears like a shiny-surfaced oil slick in the container, but when you break a piece off you can see the THC’s greenish tint and crystalline structure. You take a bit of that and pop off the top of the pen and scoop a little of the wax into a metal ring, put the lid back on, and press a button and it combusts it, turning the wax into a rather messy liquid and a beautiful flowery hash taste as you inhale the smoke. Something about that flavor is distinctly European exotic, with impressions of Rimbaud, Baudelaire, and Walter Benjamin. 

After four hits, I felt very energetically stoned. The weed website Leafly says that dabs are at the center of debates around legalization because of the fact that people “overdose” on it. Well, the job of this column is to try to overdose so you don’t have to. But I still wanted to take it a bit slowly at first, so I could gauge the effects of varying amounts. 

After the sixth hit, there was a sort of rush to the face almost like poppers, but that’s partly because I have mainly been on a noncombustion trip lately and the intensity of the smoke hit me. After six more hits the high definitely became more cerebral and abstract. I took one more (hit 13 overall) and went to the store, which is always a good test of your highness. On the way up the street at dusk, I had a series of serious, but not uncomfortable, existential thoughts about the state of my life and what I am doing with myself and what we are doing with the world and everything seemed beautiful, as the deepness of night wrapped around me in a cold moist dark that made the fluorescent light of Eddie’s not unpleasant at all as I bought limes, onions, tomatoes, garlic, and beer to complement the beans and rice and green chili cooking at home. 

Sometimes when you’re super stoned, especially under fluorescent lights, you became anxious and incapable. But this is different. People call it marijuana crack or stoner’s crack and there is a way in which it has a stimulant effect. I was not staring and stupid and cowardly or unconfident as I made my way through the store. I walked with intense purpose, found what I needed with a great pleasure (and added bagels), and chatted amicably with the woman at the counter. As I walked back outside I slipped again into a pleasant revery. 

Back at home I continued to smoke throughout the night—with an IPA here and there to take the edge off and a bit of coffee to increase it—and I read almost an entire book and did some other work that I needed to do. It was as if, by concentrating the THC and removing the other cannabinoids, many of whose effects are unknown, the industrial dab had become the perfect productive weed. 

As a workaholic, I like that. But it also lost something, part of the euphoria, or—it’s hard to put my finger on it. But there’s something about dabs I still don’t get. I’ll have to explore a little more in further installments to see what I really feel about this industrial-grade processed marijuana byproduct. 

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