Students’ names have been changed to protect privacy.
Sam, a sophomore, didn’t used to smoke marijuana regularly, he said. Before this summer, he had smoked no more than five times; but ever since his friends introduced him to dab pens, he has been high nearly every weekend and some weeknights. If he and his friends didn’t own dab pens, Sam said they wouldn’t smoke as often, but the easily-concealable device makes getting high easier than ever.
Dab pens are visually and technologically similar to e-cigarettes like Juuls, but they vaporize hash oil instead of nicotine. Hash oil is a highly concentrated form of cannabis that can contain up to 90 percent THC—marijuana’s primary psychoactive chemical—so users get high quickly with very few hits. Traditional cannabis is only about 15 percent THC, according to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation.
In a Black & White survey of 75 sophomores, juniors and seniors, 56 said they know someone who owns a dab pen, and 16 own a dab pen themselves.
Senior Amanda called dabbing an “on-the-go high.”
“If you’re on your way to work or an appointment or school, to pull over and have a joint and smoke the whole thing is a timely activity,” she said. “But a dab pen, you can just literally do it while you’re driving to wherever you’re going, and it’s so easy. There’s no smell, so you can’t really get caught. You can hit it in your room. You can hit it in the school bathroom. You can hit it in the car and no one knows.”
Using a dab pen, which users often refer to as “ripping” or “hitting the pen,” involves inserting small, pre-filled, flavored hash oil cartridges, or “carts,” into a cylindrical vaporizer called a battery. Users press a button to heat up the oil, which often resembles honey or butter, and inhale the vapor through a tapered mouthpiece.
Some batteries are made to resemble car keys; others look like e-cigarettes, and they’re almost all small enough to inconspicuously hide in a pocket.