S10 Blog

What is a Dab Pen versus a Vape Cartridge?

Published Date:
July 25, 2022

Over the last decade or so, technology in and around the marijuana industry has advanced rapidly. Gone are the days of options for consumption being limited to smoking and edibles – not that technology hasn’t improved in those areas as well. THC, CBD, and other hemp products are now available as tinctures, topicals, vaporizers, dabs, capsules, wax, and more. Maybe the most significant development, at least when it comes to marijuana as an inhalant, is vaporizer technology. 

“Vaporizer” is an all-encompassing term that isn’t always accurate, but generally refers to a device that heats an oil extract over a coil, and produces an inhalable vapor. Along with advancements in the hardware itself, the extract and our ability to harvest it, once broad and rudimentary, is now diverse, robust, and innovative. 

Their dosage is consistent, which can be difficult to achieve with flower and edibles. It’s easier to “start small” with a vaporizer than it is with many other products. Flower’s efficacy can change from joints to bowls to water pipes. Edibles can be notorious when it comes to navigating dosage, even for veteran users. 

There are generally two parts two a vaporizer: the battery and the cartridge, sometimes called a vape cart. They tend to be small and/or slender, maybe just larger than the palm of your hand. The battery can be any shape, but it’s traditionally a slender shape that resembles the lower three-quarters of a pen – thus the name. 

These vape batteries are reusable, and often activated simply by inhaling. They may also be press-the-button style, which allows for variable voltage and a more customizable experience for interested users. They’re rechargeable and usually sold with a USB charger.

Obviously there are similarities with e-cig technology, but e-cig setups (sometimes called “rigs” – a term that has its own association with marijuana) tend to be more cumbersome. They look like behemoths compared to marijuana vaporizers. 

Think of it like the difference between a desktop computer and a laptop. Remember also that tobacco products and marijuana procuts have many similarities, but the consumption of the two is often very different.

It’s no secret why vaporizers are as popular as they are. The conveniences are almost too numerous to list. A vape is transportable, discreet, clean, and fast. It’s unfussy. The only prep required is charging the battery. With a disposable battery, that last part isn’t even an issue. The vape is ready to use fresh out of the packaging. 

The process of “smoking” is over in a matter of seconds, which is, comparatively, incredibly fast. Vapes offer portability and speed that other products just don’t have. 

And for someone who’s the sole user in a situation, a vape can feel less antisocial than using a traditional bowl, or even a water pipe, that requires more setup, creates a lot of smoke, and maybe even more odor. In well-ventilated areas, vape devices create little to no odor, even indoors. Traditional smoking also requires transporting flower/dry herbs and a lighter. Maybe even a grinder.  

A vaporizer eliminates the need for any kind of checklist. 

The term dab pen is often used interchangeably with the other terms for a vape, but they aren’t exactly the same. This is probably because “dabs” and “vapes” can both be “pens,” and less because of any similarities between dabbing and vaping. And while there’s crossover between the tech, one isn’t necessarily a subset of the other. The relationship between the two is less like a rectangle and a square and more like an octopus and a squid.

The reason for this interchangeability, and sometimes confusion, is the lack of dried flower. Whether the user’s device is a dab pen, a vape pen, or a full rig, there’s only extract. 

A “dab” is a high-concentrate extract. Its texture can be putty-like or something more akin to caviar, and it’s usually somewhere on the golden-brown spectrum. This extract is dabbed in a rig. Unlike a rig for an e-cigarette, a dab rig looks more like a bong. Instead of a slider, a rig has a “nail.” The concentrate is placed on the nail, heated, and voila.

All of this makes traditional dabbing a pretty advanced form of smoking. It’s an involved process that results in a formidable high.

Some of the ritualistic specificities involved in the dabbing process carry over to a dab pen, which is why a dab pen is different from a traditional vape. There are “live resin” vape cartridges that are described as hitting like a dab, but they work with vaporizer batteries and their technology is identical to that of other cartridges. To some degree, dab pens still involve a rig, but without any water or torch component.

That being said, a dab pen has more parts than a vape pen and involves loading in the concentrate. Because of this, the process of learning how to use a dab pen is more complex than that of a vaporizer, which at most involves replacing a cartridge or charging a battery. The dab pen battery is still transportable and concealable, but it’s heftier because it has to heat the concentrate to a higher temperature. 

For comparison, the medium vape temperature floats around 375 degrees Fahrenheit. This would be a low-end temperature for dabbing (but keep in mind that things like temperature preference can be very subjective, regardless of their proven effectiveness). Heating vape carts at too-high temperatures can destroy terpenes in the extract and cause the extract to harden – an effect sometimes called “sugaring.” 

On top of the battery, literally, is a chamber for heating the extract. The top for the chamber is another separate piece, and the user has to supply extract. Depending on the type of extract, it may not be able to go into the chamber without a tool.Dab pens are heating a higher concentrate at a higher temperature, and because they do, dab pens smell. It isn’t as potent as smoking dried herb, but it may linger more than a traditional vape. 

They’re not interchangeable. Even if you can you put dab in vape pen, the vape’s coil would not get hot enough for the dab. Similarly, even if you can you put vape juice in dab pen chambers, the dab pen would destroy the vape extract, which is meant to be heated at lower temperatures.

For consumers that want a more intense high, the products they’re going to get the best results from are dab pens – better than vape pens. The trade off is in the bit of extra work. While vape carts can achieve high potencies, they also aren’t as pure as the dab extract. Users asking for the highest portable highs might be comparing vape carts with a high potency.

The answer, no matter how much, is a dab pen. 

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