Smoking Flower vs. Dabbing Concentrate

Smoking Flower vs. Dabbing Concentrate

Powerful concentrates and high-end dab rigs have taken cannabis media by storm over the past several years. As modern strains and premium concentrates continue to become more and more powerful, dabs only increase in popularity among certain groups.

Longtime users with significant tolerances, adventurous consumers looking for the most intense cannabis experience, and those with a therapeutic need for rapid, high-powered relief are among many individuals who have begun to prefer dabs. While smoking remains the most ubiquitous method of consuming cannabis worldwide, dabbing is rapidly developing a unique cannabis subculture all its own. That subculture has its own lingo and equipment that would be completely foreign to any twentieth-century user. This can make getting into dabs intimidating for newcomers, even experienced cannabis users.

If you have yet to enjoy your first dab, there is no better time to learn about dabbing than right now. The popularity of dabs as a means of administering cannabis continues to climb, as the fast-acting effects and easy-to-store concentrates are prized by both recreational and medical users. A study looking at adult cannabis users in 12 states found that 14.5% of users reported trying dabs (defined here as the “flash vaporization/inhalation of highly concentrated marijuana”) within the past month. This data was published in 2016, and sales reports, search trends, and market data seem to indicate that dabbing has only grown in popularity since.

So, what’s the big deal with dabs? Is “dabs vs. flower” even the right question? Is dabbing really better? If so, why do so many cannabis connoisseurs stick with the tried-and-true method of smoking raw bud?

Why Choose Cannabis Dabs vs. Flower?

Why Choose Dabs Over Flower

Cleaner Experience

While you might not guess it by looking at the equipment involved in some of the more elaborate dab setups, one of the big benefits of dabbing versus smoking is that it is a neater experience with less mess involved. Because you’re using concentrated cannabis, there is no need to trim or grind a bunch of sticky flower. There is also less pungent smoke involved since you’re not burning plant matter. The exhaust from dabbing concentrates is more akin to a vape hit than a bong rip.


Using concentrates instead of flower is also more convenient for storage and transportation. Cannabis concentrates come in sealed containers in a variety of convenient forms like wax, oil, glassy shards, or sugary granules. And, since you can get smaller dab rigs that are intended to be used on the go, like the Boundless Terp Pen, you can basically use a dab pen like a vape pen and not even bother with all the required accessories… like a literal blow torch.


Dabbing is a unique and enjoyable experience. The fast (near immediate) absorption of a strong dose of high-quality cannabis makes for a different high and an altogether different experience than smoking or edibles. It might even rekindle somebody’s love for cannabis if they’re feeling “burned out” from smoking too much. The process of choosing, collecting, and upgrading the pieces of your dab rig also becomes an enjoyable part of the experience for many dab lovers, just as many smokers enjoy collecting glassware.

What to Expect When Dabbing Cannabis

Whenever you’re experimenting with psychoactive compounds, your health and safety should be your foremost concern. Even if you’re comfortable with cannabis, you may have questions about the safety of dabbing.

In terms of its health effects, dabbing is no more dangerous than vaping or smoking. Research continues into how all these activities affect the human body, but if you’re already vaping or smoking on a regular basis, you can feel confident knowing that dabbing does not pose any particular additional risk to your lungs.

The potential dangers of dabbing are mostly encountered in the extraction process, long before anyone purchases or consumes the concentrate. Extracting THC and other cannabinoids from raw cannabis flower is a complex scientific process and should never be left to amateurs. Purchase concentrates from a reputable dispensary. There, you’ll find knowledgeable staff, all the necessary dab accessories, and most crucially, concentrates that are made by professionals, tested for quality, and labeled with all the information you’ll need to make an informed decision.

Creating quality extracts requires a solid chemistry background and highly specialized manufacturing skills. Attempting to make your own dab concentrates at home will usually result in a low-potency, bad-tasting product, even in the best-case scenario. At worst, you could make yourself sick or start a fire.

Getting Started

If you’ve never tried dabbing before, you should be ready for a significantly distinct experience. Your first dab hit cannot really be described in the same terms as sparking up a joint or consuming a pot brownie. If you’re an experienced cannabis user, you will still recognize your altered state of mind as a classic THC high, but the real difference is in how you get there. The effects of a dab hit come on much faster and stronger, in an almost-instantaneous heady rush that cannot readily be compared to any other form of ingesting cannabis.

amount of concentrate is sufficient to feel serious effects. I mean, you are using concentrated cannabis, after all. Also, avoid dosing again too quickly. Although the initial head and body rush will come upon you in a rapid wave, the full effects of your dab might take a while to creep up on you. So, give it some time before dabbing and track your results if you can.

A 2017 Reddit post looking for experienced dab users to describe the effects of a typical dab session included such comments as:

“You know that heavy body high from Indica? When you smoke a lot, and then your whole body feels infused with a light bubbly feeling, none of your joints hurt, and walking feels fun because it feels good to do everything? [However, it takes a large amount of cannabis flower to reach this level.] Dabs just put you there. With less of a foggy mental state than if you’d straight up smoked your way there with bud.”

“Faster, harder, cleaner… less ‘foggy’.”

“Far more potent, but clearer… If you’ve ever vaporized flower, a dab is very similar, just far more potent.”

“Dabs are like a shot of Bacardi 151 when you usually drink cider. They are a faster overall buzz, and the effects don’t seem to last as long as smoking flower.”

Do Concentrates Get You Higher than Flower?

Will dabs really produce a stronger high than flower? The short answer is “yes.” Concentrates that can be dabbed, such as shatter, wax, sugar, and budder, are all just highly refined, concentrated preparations of the same chemical compounds found in natural cannabis flower. They are therefore more potent than flower—often many times over.

Of course, that’s what a concentrate truly is, a formulation that is stronger than the original source it’s derived from. For that reason, given an equal amount of concentrate and natural flower from the same strain of cannabis, the concentrate will produce a much stronger, more lasting high—or you can achieve an equivalent high with a much smaller amount.

There’s really no secret to it—this is the very simple mechanism by which dabs can get you higher than smoking a bowl or joint. When you dab, you’re consuming more THC, much more quickly. In the same sense, you can ingest a small amount of highly concentrated vapor and quickly consume the same amount of THC otherwise maintained by re-packing a bowl multiple times or smoking an entire blunt. In this way, dabbing is also unquestionably more efficient than smoking. One study found that smoking joints wasted an incredible 300 percent more THC than consuming cannabis in dab form.

Will I Feel Higher After Dabbing?

The longer answer, of course, is more complex. Dosing is important; consuming the exact same amount of the exact same THC will produce the same amount of “highness” whether you dab or smoke it. The quality of the product matters, too. Say, for example, you have your favorite high-quality bud and compare it to a poorly produced concentrate derived from a strain of cannabis that doesn’t agree with you. In that situation, you’ll probably find that the high from the natural flower is a better and more pleasant experience.

Then, of course, there are products that are exceptions to our above basic rule. Even the best CBD concentrate obviously won’t get you “higher” than smoking a potent strain of THC flower, because that’s not the effect of that compound.

While levels of THC and other chemicals can certainly be tested and monitored, your high is not really something that can be observed and measured in an objective way. Cannabis use is a deeply individualistic experience. Personal preference and the quality of the product are often nearly as important as potency or quantity.

Preparing to Dab

In order to dab, you’ll need a cannabis concentrate and a device to heat it with. In other words, you’ll need to consider the type of dab rig you’ll use, which type of concentrate you’ll use, and even make some decisions about the potency and dose you prefer. If you’re new to dabbing and ready to take the plunge, don’t be intimidated. You’re already taking a good first step by doing your research.

Choose Your Dab Rig

Choose Your Dab Rig

Dab rigs are like glass pipes in the sense that you can find a quite simple, affordable rig or opt to invest in something much more elaborate. Here are some of the most popular.

Traditional Glass Rigs

Traditional glass rigs are some of the most common rigs for concentrates you might find. While they range in size, it’s easy to find one that fits your needs. A glass rig may come with a nail, but if not, you’ll have to buy one separately.

Mini Rig

Mini rigs are great when you want to dab but don’t want to have a lot of big accessories lying around. Mini rigs are usually between 6-12 inches tall and are perfect to stow away when you’re not using them.

Silicone Rig

Silicone rigs are great for those who love convenience. They’re easy to fill, easy to clean, and by the far are the easiest of the larger rigs to move around. The best part is that they work just the same as your average glass rig.

Recycler Rig

Recycler rigs are designed to give users an “optimal” smoking experience. They have extra filtration that helps promote some of the smoothest dabs you’ll ever take. Recycler rigs keep water moving consistently, similar to a whirlpool, that helps users clear the chamber easily.

Honey Straw or Nectar Collector

Honey or nectar collector straws are another popular choice for those looking for a smaller, more convenient method of dabbing. These rigs are handheld and look similar to a thick straw, where users heat up the bottom attachment and put it right next to the concentrate to dab.


E-rigs are the number one choice for those looking for convenience and to cut down on the need for extra accessories. E-rigs are small, handheld devices you can simply fill with concentrate, and they’re heated by an internal element. These allow users to control the temperature of their dabs much easier than when using a torch on a regular nail.

Terp Pen

Terp Pen

Similar to the e-rig, terp pens offer an on-the-go dabbing experience. However, even smaller and more discreet than the e-rig, the terp pen is an affordable, pocket sized vaporizer. You just fill the cap with your favorite concentrate and inhale.

Based on price and convenience, I still recommend the original Boundless Terp Pen, however, they also have an XL version that also features adjustable temperature settings and improved ceramic coil design for better airflow and larger hits… for a little more money, of course.

At $49.99, the Boundless Terp XL is still a lot more affordable than most dab rigs on the market.

Also, I like that the Terp Pen’s mouthpiece is pre-tapered to fit on most 10mm water pipes. You just insert the Terp Pen with the mouthpiece end first into your 10mm water pipe. From there you can cold or hot start, depending on your preference. It’s that simple!

Understanding Dabs vs. Vaping

Vaporizers are another extremely popular modern method of consuming cannabis. If you’re already familiar with vaping, you may be wondering how it differs from dabbing at all. Both involve heating a concentrated form of cannabis and inhaling THC-rich vapors, after all. While it’s true that the mechanism of administration is much the same, dabs and vapes differ in a few important ways.

Terp Pen 2

The most notable difference between vaping and dabbing is in the physical format of the process, which is to say, the equipment required and how you use it. Fully featured dab rigs require a few different pieces, as well as the concentrate itself. A vape pen, on the other hand, is a self-contained unit with a pre-filled oil cartridge that screws onto a pen-shaped battery and heating element. To further confuse matters, there are larger, more elaborate vape rigs that can vape concentrates or even flower, but self-contained pen- and pod-based vapes are by far the most popular today.

The second big difference between taking a dab and hitting a vape pen is in the level of the psychoactive high achieved. That near-instant rush of euphoria associated with a quality dab hit will not usually occur when someone draws in on their vape pen, as the amount of concentrate being consumed is usually quite a bit smaller.

For cannabis lovers who want to make the switch from flower to concentrates because it’s more discreet to use and easier to transport, vaping is likely a better option than dabbing. Try both methods and see what works best for your lifestyle and cannabis use goals. Already tried both methods and having trouble deciding which is your favorite? The Boundless Terp Pen offers users the best of both worlds. You can fill it with your favorite, hand-selected concentrates and then carry and use it in convenient vape pen form.

Choose Your Dab Tools and Accessories

Dab rigs can vary quite a bit in size and complexity, from full rigs that require a table to set up to handheld heating elements that are similar to vape pens in size, form, and function. There are a few fundamental elements to most dab setups that you’ll need to consider.

Dab Rig

The term “dab rig” can be a little confusing, as it may refer to either the base part of your unit or the complete, fully assembled system you use for dabs. Right now, we’re zooming in on the main unit, which means a “dab rig” is just a special type of water pipe. Mechanically, it functions much like your favorite bong, but the dimensions and features are tailored to give users the best experience dabbing concentrates.

While they function in a similar way, you should not attempt any retrofitting of accessories to smoke flower from your dab rig or vice versa. Dab rigs perform less filtration than traditional water pipes, and this is done by design for a couple of reasons. First of all, there is no ash and soot involved in vaporizing concentrate like there is when combusting raw flower, so a high leve of filtration becomes unnecessary. Additionally, excessive cold-water filtration applied to a dab rig could result in the messy and wasteful re-condensation of vapor occurring inside your rig.



To oversimplify things, “dabbing” just means heating your cannabis concentrate to vaporize it and then inhaling that vapor. The reality is a bit more complex. For one, you’re usually applying the heat indirectly by pre-heating the surface your concentrate will be placed onto for vaporization. In any case, it all begins with heat, so let’s start there.

Your trusty lighter doesn’t really have the juice required to heat your dab rig sufficiently, at least not in a timely fashion. Most dabbers turn to a simple butane torch for a solution. Quality units can be found at most hardware stores. Even many gas stations now sell convenient pocket-sized torches, and most work well enough to get by. Be sure to grab extra butane fluid if you’ll be hitting your dab on a regular basis.

If you’re going with an electronically heated rig, such as a self-contained, pen-style dab rig, or one with an electronic nail, you’ll have no need for a torch.

Dab Tool

Dab Tool

Swiss Army Knife style multi-tools are popular with many cannabis smokers and dabbing also requires tools. The most critical is a poker or rod that you will use to remove a small bit of concentrate from its container and apply it to your dab rig. A regular metal nail works fine for a super-simple dab tool, which will actually become confusing as we move on to exploring the other parts of your dab setup…

Dab Nail

Dab Nail

The dab nail, meanwhile, doesn’t look like a nail at all. Some dab aficionados call this portion of the rig the “banger” instead of the nail, perhaps to avoid this confusion. But “nail” seems to have caught on as the more popular term for this apparatus, which is essentially your dab rig’s “bowl” when looking at dabbing as analogous to a traditional pipe. The dab nail consists of a bucket and stem that inserts securely into your rig. It is important for the nail to conduct and dissipate heat in a very specific way, and for this reason, most quality dab nails are made of the same material, quartz.

E-nails, or electronically heated nails, are also becoming popular. These eliminate the need for using a butane torch, which some people are understandably not comfortable doing indoors.

Carb Cap

Carb Cap

A carb cap is an optional accessory that will be useful for those who prefer the flavorful, terpene-rich experience offered by low-temperature dabs. Just like the simple carb hole on your favorite pipe, the carb cap of a dab rig allows you to regulate the airflow through your dab rig. The fanciest carb devices can even generate a forced air effect, ensuring all of the vapor makes its way into your lungs.

Choose Your Type of Concentrate

Modern, reputable cannabis producers have their products stringently tested and print the levels of THC and other cannabinoids right on the package. Your concentrate should be clearly labeled, so you know exactly what it is that you’re dabbing. The various methods of extracting and concentrating the THC from raw flower result in different products with different textures, terpene profiles, and potencies. Ask your dispensary staff for recommendations.

Concentrates can come in multiple forms, but these are the most popular:

  • Kief – friction is used to physically separate the THC-rich trichome particles from the rest of the less-potent plant.
  • Hash – Another common solventless concentrate. When kief is compressed into a solid or semi-solid form, the resulting product is hash or hashish.
  • Distillate oil – Solvent-free cannabis distillate is created by a distillation process. A distilled oil can be combined with cannabis-derived and/or all-natural terpenes for use in vape cartridges or can be used to create high-potency edibles.
  • Shatter – A solvent-free cannabis concentrate. The concentrate can be “shattered” into small doses.
  • Crumble – A dry, solvent-free concentrate. Its texture is dry so crumble crumbles when manipulated.
  • Live resin (or live rosin) – derived from flash-frozen plant material, or flower that is frozen immediately after harvest.
  • Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) – RSO is an edible oil with a high potency. It contains the fats, lipids, and chlorophylls of the plant.
  • Budder (or batter) – Solvent-free budder, like crumble, is created using shatter. Shatter is melted to create a creamy texture. The extract is then set aside so terpenes can rise.

Cannabis Concentrates

Consider Your Dose

With so many different concentrates and tools, dosing can be a complex equation for novice dabbers. No single factor will be more relevant to your overall experience than the size of the dose you take, so it’s important to give this some thought.

It’s always best to start small and be patient, even if you’re a regular cannabis user. Remember that dabbing is an entirely different—and more intense—experience than smoking or edibles.

Due to the wide variety of cannabis concentrates on the market and the fact that every person has a different body and experiences cannabis in a different way, there is no possible way to create a universal dosing guide for dabs.

Here are the factors you’ll need to take into account when preparing your first dose:

Cannabinoid Profile

Do the necessary research so that you understand what all those numbers on your concentrate’s label actually mean for your experience. THC level is the most important single component when it comes to the level of psychoactive high your dab will achieve, but other cannabinoids like CBD and CBG will also impact your overall experience. Dispensary staff can be a good source of information for these technical details, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Calculate the THC Content

Accurately estimating just how much THC is in your dab will require some simple math:

  1. Take the total weight of your concentrate product; most concentrates are sold in .5 gram or 1-gram packages.
  2. Multiply this by the THC percentage of the product to get the total amount of THC in your package. (Save this number for later.)
  3. Weigh out a single dab dose.
  4. Divide the total weight of the product from Step 1 by the weight of a single dab to find how many total dabs are in the container.
  5. Take the total THC amount from Step 2 and divide it by the total number of dabs from Step 4. This will tell you how much THC is in each dab.

To express this as a formula:

W = total weight of concentrate in your full container, typically 1 gram.

T = the amount of THC in your concentrate expressed as a percentage; for a concentrate containing 50% THC, T would equal 0.5.

D = the measured weight of a single dab.

(W x T) / (W / D) = total THC content per dab.

To give you a practical example, let’s look at a typical 1-gram canister of wax with a THC potency of 74.33%. We’ll need to work in milligrams to deal with tiny amounts of concentrate, so we start by expressing our 1-gram product as 1000 milligrams and then multiplying by the THC potency (0.7433) to get the total amount of THC in the package. In this case, it’s around 743 mg.

Next, let’s prepare a dab-worthy ball of wax the size of a small bead and weigh it out. You’ll need a sensitive scale for this, as you’ll be weighing a tiny amount of material. A modest dab of high-potency concentrate might weigh in at around 20 or 25 mg. First-timers should aim for the low end of this spectrum. Let’s say we’re newcomers, and we want to try the tiniest possible dab we can fit on the end of our tool, and that this weighs out to an odd 17 mg of wax.

By dividing our 17 mg dose into our 1000 mg of concentrate, we know that our package will yield us about 59 individual dabs.

Lastly, we take our total THC content of 743 mg and divide it by those 59 doses to conclude that we’re talking about 12.6 mg of THC with each dab. This is a reasonable dose to start with if you’re new to dabs but familiar with cannabis.

12 to 15 mg may seem suspiciously low to anyone who is familiar with the fact that a single edible dose is typically 10 mg. Remember that dabbing will hit you harder, faster, and just plain differently than eating or smoking cannabis.

If you feel you didn’t go big enough, you can always try a bigger dose next time or follow it up with a second dab if you still aren’t feeling the effects after a half hour or so. On the other hand, there is no real way to mitigate the unpleasant effects of taking more THC than you can handle. Erring on the side of caution is always best.

Consider Your Cannabinoid Ratio

Unfortunately, calculating THC isn’t sufficient to fully predict how your dabbing experience will hit you. The complex interplay, or entourage effect, between different cannabinoids can change the way your brain and body process these compounds and alter the nature of your experience. For example, a product with a 20:1 THC to CBD ratio will result in serious psychoactive effects. A product with a 1:1 ratio, on the other hand, will offer a significantly different and more clear-headed experience because CBD does not merely work differently than THC; it also mitigates some of its effects.

Adjust Your Dab Rig Settings

Choosing the correct temperature for your equipment and concentrate is another crucial aspect of hitting that perfect dab. E-nails, electric pens, and some high-end dab rigs give you a digital thermometer readout, making it extremely easy to set the temperature and experiment with new settings. When you’re using a classic dab rig with a torch, it’s more a matter of feeling out the process and using practice and repetition to hit the right temperature.

Going into every facet of choosing the correct temperature would be nearly impossible because every different cannabinoid, terpene, and type of extract will have its own individual vaporizing, scorching, and combustion points. The correct temperature settings for your dab rig will depend on what you’re dabbing and what sort of experience you’re looking for. Typically, you want to aim for a temperature that will vaporize all of the concentrate without burning it.

Dabs Temperature Guide

Dabbing temperatures exist on a spectrum from about 400 to 600 degrees Fahrenheit, but can be broken down into a few ranges:

Standard Temperature Dabbing: About 545°

Anywhere from 545 to 570°F is a good place to start for most dabs. Resin, shatter, and crumble style concentrates all tend to work well at this range.

Low Temperature Dabbing: 400-500°F

Dabbing at lower temperatures involves heating your equipment so that it’s just barely at the vaporization point. This method is favored by people who enjoy the taste and aroma of cannabis, as it better preserves the terpenes and allows for them to be savored and fully experienced.

If you’re a terpene aficionado, consider starting with these optimal vaporization temperatures for some of the most sought after terps:

  • Caryophyllene (peppery): 266°F
  • Pinene (sweet, floral, herbal): 311°F
  • THC: 315 °F
  • Myrcene (herbal, spicy): 334°F
  • Ocimene: 347°F
  • Limonene (citrus): 349°F
  • CBD: 356°F
  • Terpinolene: 365°F
  • Linalool: 388°F
  • Humulene (earthy, woody): 388°F
Low temp dabbers should be aware that some e-nails and dab pens don’t go lower than 450°. This style of dabbing typically results in a pool of residue left in your nail because you have not reached the temperature point necessary to vaporize every element of the concentrate.

High Temperature Dabbing: 570°+

Hotter dabs can ensure that every last bit of concentrate is being fully vaporized, leading to more intense effects. Certain types of concentrates also respond better to hotter dab rig settings. One downside to hot dabs is that you can cross the line from vaporizing to combustion if you’re not careful. This can result in less pleasant flavors and hard-to-clean, burned-on residue.

What is Healthier: Taking Dabs or Smoking Flower?

There is not a great deal of hard science currently available to answer the question of whether dabs or smoking flower are better for you. In general, you should assume that all forms of smoking and vaporizing pose some risk to your lungs, particularly over extended periods. Logic would indicate that, because dabbing requires you to smoke so much less material to achieve the same effects, it would be less harsh on your respiratory system overall.

However, it is important to be aware that scientific studies about the effects of vaporizing these substances are still extremely limited and the potential for harm may not be fully understood at this time. It is also important to point out that the dangers of homemade concentrates, amateur formulations, and “open” dab rigs outstrip those of legitimate products from reputable dispensaries.

Dry herb vaporizers are a great middle ground for cannabis users who want to try a more dab-adjacent experience without the intense effects of highly concentrated cannabis. A dry herb vaporizer is exactly what it sounds like: an electronic heating device that brings raw cannabis flower to the point of vaporization without burning it.

Again, I like the products made by Boundless. They have a good selection of Dry Herb Vaporizers with a wide range of features and pricing, so you can pick the one that best fits your preferences and budget needs.

So, What’s Better: Dabbing or Smoking?

At the end of the day, if you’re choosing between dabs and flower, the better option is the one that works best for you! Do you like a mellow, laid-back experience where you can appreciate the smells and flavors of natural cannabis? Maybe you’d appreciate finding your favorite strain. If you crave a more intense cannabis experience or have a medical condition that sometimes calls for rapid, powerful pain relief, you may benefit from trying dabs.




Jenny Stradling

Hi, I'm Jenny Weatherall, founder and co-owner of Dank Budz - a brand dedicated to the wonderful world of cannabis, with a special focus on the amazing benefits of CBD. With over 20 years in researching and writing articles for the web, and as the CEO of Eminent SEO since 2005, my mission with Dank Budz is clear: to dispel myths, end the stigma, and highlight the many benefits of cannabis. I'm committed to correcting misinformation through educational content that’s both accurate and engaging, advocating for legalization, and sharing the fun lifestyle cannabis offers.