Close this search box.

Dabbing and Why It’s So Dangerous

picture of Joe Gilmore
Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

February 15, 2024

Table of Contents

As medical marijuana and dabbing become legal in more parts of the United States, and recreational use gains acceptance, the landscape of cannabis is evolving rapidly.

Attitudes toward marijuana have shifted significantly in recent years, with less stigma attached to its use. However, it’s important not to underestimate the potential risks associated with cannabis consumption.

heart icon that is 2 hands holding

Need help getting addiction treatment?

The legalization of marijuana has sparked innovation in cultivation, allowing growers to experiment freely. This has led to the development of potent strains, with some West Coast varieties boasting THC levels as high as 30%.

Additionally, new forms of cannabis, such as dabs, have emerged. But what exactly are dabs, and why should you be aware of them?

Before we explore these questions, it’s crucial to emphasize that if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, seeking help is vital. Our Orange County rehab center offers support and guidance to individuals seeking assistance with addiction.

What Are Dabs?

So what is a dab? Dabs are highly potent cannabis concentrates or marijuana derivatives.

One of the most heavily marketed forms of dab is “shatter”, named for its hard and brittle appearance resembling a slab of toffee. The large thin sheets can be easily shattered into smaller pieces.

Shatter and other dabs contain anywhere from 50% to 90% THC. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive component of marijuana that gets you high. And dabs will certainly get you extremely high almost immediately. Contrast this with a joint of regular marijuana flowers or buds, typically anywhere from 5% to 25% THC.

Put bluntly, dabbing is to weed what crack is to cocaine. In many ways, this image of dabbing as crack-like activity could be a saving grace. While young people are dabbing in their droves, concentrates suffer from an image problem in the eyes of older generations schooled on a simple joint or a bong hit.

Concentrates are not new. Anyone who has smoked hashish on hot knives has already tried a crude form of dabbing. Here, small balls of hash are placed on top of white-hot knives. The resulting vapor is collected in an opened bottle and then inhaled. The effects are fast and strong.

It’s this immediacy of action along with intensified effects that are leading many people to try their luck with concentrates, whether for super-charged pain relief or intense feelings of euphoria.

So, dabs are ultra-concentrated forms of cannabis or marijuana, but not all dabs are created equal…

Cannabis Concentrates: Dabs, Shatter, and Wax

Cannabis concentrates have many different names. These usually refer to a specific type of concentrate, including the following:

  • Dab wax
  • Shatter
  • Wax
  • Budder
  • Crumble
  • Cannabis oil
  • Hash oil
  • Resin

While all of these are similarly concentrated forms of marijuana, each has its own distinctive properties and appearance.

Among marijuana connoisseurs, shatter is generally considered the cleanest, purest concentrate currently available. It also happens to be the most potent. 

Dab wax is similar to shatter, except slightly less potent due to more impurities left behind during production. Dab wax is not transparent like shatter, and it’s also much softer.

Oil is also concentrated on marijuana. Although it’s not as potent as dabs or shatters, oil is still much more potent than smoking buds or flowers. Most users consume oil in vape pens.

Sometimes, you’ll see dabs called BHO (butane hash oil). This is named for the process of creating the drug-using butane to extract the THC. Making BHO is potentially lethal. The gas is flammable and the results when things go wrong are similar to the explosions when meth labs go awry.

You’ll often see dabbing used to refer to any of the above methods, whether or not dab wax is involved.

someone dealing with the side effects of dabbing | Renaissance Recovery

Dabbing Side Effects

You can expect similar side effects from dabbing to those you would get from smoking weed. The elevated levels of THC mean these effects are more pronounced and extreme.

Short-term users of shatter or dab wax can expect to experience any or all of the following:

  • Visual or auditory hallucinations
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Decreased coordination
  • Vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Changes in sensory perception
  • Memory problems
  • Increased anxiety or panic attacks
  • Intense paranoia

Long-term and heavy dabbers could develop psychiatric disorders, psychosis, or chronic illnesses. Anyone with an existing mental health condition is at heightened risk from dabbing. 

Given this nasty list of side effects and the sky-high prices of dab wax and shatter, why do people use concentrates in the first place?

The Perceived Benefits of Dabbing

Medical marijuana patients and weed smokers alike find some advantages to dabbing.

Dabbing is a highly efficient delivery method resulting in powerful effects felt almost immediately. For anyone using marijuana to manage chronic pain or severe nausea, the rapid onset of effects from dabbing is the key selling point. That said, you’re unlikely to find many doctors advocating dab rigs and 80% shatter.

As long as the extracts have been properly manufactured, the end product is cleaner and purer than smoking marijuana flowers or buds. It’s also easier on the lungs since burned plant matter produces hot smoke and resin. Most of this unwanted material is eliminated when you use cannabis concentrates like dab wax. You get the essential cannabinoids and terpenes you’re looking for without those unwanted by-products.

The marijuana industry, in general, has benefited from dabbing as innovation continues to drive the industry forwards.

If you’re reading this and considering dabbing, you may want to think closely about the manifold drawbacks of firing up the dab rig.

The Dangers of Dabbing

Even if you’re a regular weed smoker and you feel you have a reasonable tolerance for the drug, dabbing takes things to a new level. You should not proceed with concentrates until you’re clear on what’s entailed and what could go wrong.

Here are 5 dangers of dabbing:

1) You could see your tolerance start building

Dabs are loaded with such high doses of THC administered so rapidly that it’s likely your body will become accustomed to high levels of THC. 

The more your tolerance builds, the more marijuana you’ll need to feel high. Given the price of shatter and dab wax, you could easily end up with a habit as costly as smoking crack cocaine.

2) Controlling your dose is challenging

Even experienced weed smokers might look at a tiny dab of wax and think that it won’t be anywhere near enough for them to get high. The results of overdoing it with concentrates can be remarkably unpleasant.

Attempting to gauge a reasonable dose of something that was only created to be as strong as possible will always be challenging. If you’re looking for a gentle experience, you’re best advised to leave the dab rigs to hip-hop artists with lots of time and money on their hands.

3) You don’t know what other substances you’re ingesting

Unless you extract the concentrates yourself, you have no idea what ingredients were used during the extraction process.

You could also introduce other contaminants into your body. Rusty dab rigs can end up with that rust leaching into your butane hash oil and entering your bloodstream. 

4) You could feel nauseous or paranoid after too much cannabis concentrate

If you go over the top with dabbing, you could feel nauseous.

Feelings of brief but intense paranoia are also commonplace, especially among first-time users or casual smokers not accustomed to such a powerful high.

5) The process of extraction is dangerous

While not a danger for most end-users, extracting concentrates using butane is potentially deadly. Butane is volatile and highly flammable.

If an extraction goes wrong, several burns and injuries are likely to occur. The whole property could end up burned to the ground. According to the DEA, 126 people in California have been injured since 2014 as a result of hash-oil fires with at least 19 people killed.

Dabbing vs Smoking Weed

Many man-made drugs have jarring side effects, and dabs are no exception. 

Often referred to as the crack of cannabis, the main difference between dabbing and smoking weed is in the potency and onset of effects. While smoking weed hits you quite quickly, the effects of wax and shatter are felt near-instantaneously. With up to 90% THC content, dabbing also delivers a much more powerful high.

The downside of the rapid delivery of this powerful, THC-laden substance is an overwhelming sense of paranoia triggered even in habitual smokers.

As outlined above, shatter users find tolerance builds more rapidly.

Dabbing also calls for more specialized equipment than smoking marijuana.

The final core difference between marijuana and shatter is the price. Concentrates are much more expensive. Where weed in a dispensary costs around $10 per gram, shatter costs $60 per gram and upwards. Prices are higher still on the black market.

Can You Overdose on Dabs?

Now, given the potency of THC extracts like dab wax and shatter, is it possible to overdose on concentrates?

The good news is, it’s impossible to die from a cannabis overdose. The bad news? Go overboard with the shatter and you could experience some seriously unpleasant physical and psychological side effects. From sickness through to waves of paranoia, you should always start with a very small dab of wax if you’re committed to trying this stuff. Take too much and you’ll wish you had exercised more caution.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that we don’t have any data concerning the long-term effects of dabbing as the delivery method has only recently burst onto the scene. Research into the ongoing use of dabbed extracts, cannabinoids, and residual solvents over the coming years will give us a clearer idea of the long-term risks of dabbing.

Withdrawal Symptoms from Dabbing

If you’ve been dabbling with dabbing and you want to stop, the withdrawal symptoms you experience will vary depending on how long you’ve been dabbing and what sort of amounts you’ve been dabbing.

The main shatter withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Sleep disorders
  • Confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Tension
  • Irritability

When you dab, you alter your brain’s cannabinoid receptors and they start relying on THC to feel calm and relaxed. Dabbing too many concentrates can impact your central nervous system.

How about if you’ve tried to stop dabbing and found it harder than you imagined?


Can you overdose on dab?

While too much THC in dabs can lead to paranoia, discomfort, and anxiety, it’s not a known substance to cause particularly dangerous overdose symptoms. 

How potent are dabs?

Dabs are made of concentrated cannabis extract, meaning that this drug can be significantly more potent than the traditional marijuana flower. The THC levels in a dab can range from 60%-90% or more. 

What are the risks of marijuana dabbing?

Marijuana dabbing risks include increased risk of overconsumption, risk of high anxiety & paranoia, respiratory dysfunction, long-term health risks, and legal risks as the substance is illegal in many states. 

renaissance recovery logo

Treatment for Marijuana Addiction at Renaissance Recovery

Due to the potency of cannabis concentrates, dabbing can lead to dependence and adverse side effects when use is discontinued. 

If you are already struggling with an underlying health condition, you may experience other negative side effects when you abruptly stop dabbing.

You may have come to concentrate innocently enough after starting out with some medical marijuana to treat chronic pain or another condition. You may then have found your tolerance building, and you started experimenting with stronger forms of marijuana like shatter or dab wax.

It might be that you started dabbing in an attempt to get as high as possible once or twice, and you now find yourself with a costly habit and some unwanted side effects in place of the euphoria and relaxation you were hoping for.

However you came upon that dab rig, Renaissance Recovery can help you to decommission it and to start living without the constant need for cannabis.

If you or a loved one needs help stopping the shatter, call us today at 866.330.9449 and we’ll guide you through your options for recovery at our Costa Mesa rehab.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

Close this search box.

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

Text a Recovery Expert

Text our team to get the help you need ASAP.

Close this search box.

Use Our 24 Hour text line. You can ask questions about our program, the admissions process, and more.