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What Are Dab Pens, And How Do They Work?

close-up of a woman's hands using a dab pen with a wax concentrate

Dab pens are portable vaping devices designed for users to consume dabs easily, with “dabs” defined as an unspecified amount of cannabis concentrates. They’re much easier to use than a traditional dab rig, offer more convenience and portability, and, with little maintenance, will last for years.

This article explores everything you need to know about dab pens, how they work, and whether one is worth adding to your cannabis arsenal. If you are thinking of purchasing a dab pen, it is wise to do so from a licensed dispensary where products are tested for safety.

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What Is a Dab Pen?

Dab pens, sometimes called wax pens, are portable vaporizers designed explicitly for someone to consume cannabis concentrates, colloquially called “dabs.” So-called “dabbing” is a cultural term for consuming highly concentrated cannabis products and one of the most popular ways to use wax.

Traditionally, one dabs with a blow torch, glass pipe, and a nail (a small metal plate connected to the pipe). The blow torch heats the nail before the user places the cannabis concentrate into the glass bowl. When the concentrate hits the heated glass, it instantly vaporizes and is meant to be inhaled, delivering high amounts of vaporized cannabis directly into the lungs.

Dab pens are a portable version of the same premise. While different styles and brands are available, each contains a chamber for cannabis concentrate, a heating element, and a mouthpiece from which to inhale the vapor. Dab pens usually reach much higher temperatures than regular vape pens and require regular cleaning to keep them functioning well.

How Dab Pens Work

Most dab pens feature the same components, though there’s some variety in design, brand, and functionality. Each dab pen contains a chamber or atomizer where you place the wax, badder, shatter, or whichever concentrate you prefer. A battery powers the heating element, usually one that’s rechargeable via a USB cable.

When turned on or (in some cases) when you inhale, the heating element activates and vaporizes the cannabis concentrate in the chamber. The vapor then flows through to the mouthpiece, where you can easily inhale the cannabinoids.

How to Use One

While it can be tricky to learn how to use a dab pen, once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s a simple and practical way to consume concentrates.

  1. Start by making sure your dab pen’s battery is charged. Most will come with a charger or charging cable, so plug it in and fully charge the pen before use.
  2. Once your battery is charged, remove the dab pen’s cap and unscrew the atomizer, which is the chamber where you place concentrates.
  3. Load your wax or other extracts into the atomizer. Be sure not to overfill it.
  4. Replace the atomizer and reattach the cap.
  5. Turn on your dab pen by pressing the power button. Some dab pens don’t have a button and turn on automatically when you inhale.
  6. To start your dab, put the mouthpiece to your lips, press and hold the power button, and inhale slowly. Gradually release the power button when you’ve inhaled enough of a hit.
  7. When finished with your dab pen, turn it off and screw the cap back on to ensure your concentrate doesn’t leak.

Cleaning Your Dab Pen

Cleaning your dab pen will keep it in top shape and functional for years to come. It also helps prevent bacteria or mold from building up in the chamber, keeping your cannabis concentrate clean and safe to inhale.

To clean your dab pen, you’ll need cotton swabs, rubbing alcohol, warm water, and paper towels to do the job. Then, follow these steps:

  1. Set your dab pen to the highest temperature and turn it upside down over a paper towel. This will allow the heating elements to melt off any sticky residue and make cleaning easier.
  2. Next, fill a small glass bowl with isopropyl alcohol.
  3. Once your atomizer has cooled down, disassemble the device into the battery, atomizer, and mouthpiece components.
  4. Soak a cotton swab in the alcohol and wipe down the insides of the heating chamber, avoiding touching the coils. If there’s more than a swab can remove, place the atomizer in the small bowl and let it sit for at least 30 minutes.
  5. While your atomizer is soaking, use the tip of a cotton swab dipped in alcohol to clean the thread of the battery. A cleaning brush may also help scrub the residue off.
  6. Use an alcohol-soaked cotton swab to wipe the mouthpiece and remove any residue or clogged material.
  7. Once everything’s clean, rinse with warm water and allow to dry before reassembling and using again.

Pros and Cons

Dab pens are somewhat challenging to learn and require regular upkeep to function correctly, but they offer more flexibility and ease of use than traditional dab rigs. Compared to dabbing with a full-scale glass rig, all you do with dab pens is load concentrate into the heating chamber, set the temperature to your preferred heat, and enjoy.

However, remember that cannabis concentrates are highly potent forms of medical marijuana. Extracts like wax concentrate contain some of the highest levels of THC and other cannabinoids. They are best left to experienced marijuana users or those who require high potency for their needs.

The Bottom Line

Dab pens are portable ways to benefit from highly concentrated recreational or medical marijuana and are easier to use and more convenient than other methods of using concentrates. Once you’ve learned the basics, dab pens are valuable and powerful devices to add to your cannabis toolkit.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between dabbing and vaping?

Dabbing involves vaporizing and inhaling cannabis concentrates using a complicated dab rig setup or a portable dab pen. A dab pen is a type of vaporizer, but more traditional vaping involves cannabis oil in a pre-filled cartridge.

Is a dab pen the same as smoking?

A dab pen is more closely related to vaporizing than smoking, as the cannabis material is vaporized instead of combusted by flame and occurs at a lower temperature.

Where can you buy dab pens?

Most licensed dispensaries will sell dab pens, but some online retailers will sell and ship dab pens direct to consumers. Some states have laws governing the purchase of cannabis consumption devices. Be sure to check with your medical marijuana doctor or local dispensary to see if there are any limitations on buying dab pens. Do not purchase dab pens from unlicensed sources, as these can be improperly made and pose health and safety concerns.