What is a Dab Pen? How They Work and How to Use Them

whats a dab pen
By Rebecca Olmos Updated May 1st

Fact-checked by Deb Tharp

Dabbing is a popular way to consume cannabis, especially for consumers looking for an experience with potency and flavor. The traditional way to dab requires a specific glass piece called a dab rig, designed to withstand the high temperatures needed to heat cannabis concentrate. A dab pen is a more portable version of the dab rig.

Like vape pens, dab pens are modern portable instruments created to heat cannabis extracts. However, while vape pens traditionally use vape oil cartridges, dab pens are designed for the specific consumption of concentrates, like live resin, sauce, or rosin. 

This article will discuss further what makes dab pens unique and how to get the best experience.

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What is a Dab Pen?

parts of a dab pen

A dab pen is a portable device to heat and consume cannabis concentrate. Each machine will be slightly different, depending on the manufacturer, but they will have three similar components: A battery, a heating chamber, and a mouthpiece. 

Check the user manual for specific instructions on your device, but the general idea is to open the chamber, place the concentrate inside, close the chamber, and hit a button that will trigger the device to heat up. Through the mouthpiece, you will inhale the vapor. 

Dab pens often come with varied heating temperatures that can affect the flavor and intensity of each inhale. Some even have changeable chambers that can accommodate dry flower. They are sold at different price points and made with various materials; some are more user-friendly than others.

You’ll want to consider all the different features before deciding which to purchase. It is ultimately a matter of personal preference which one suits your needs. 

Once you have decided on a battery, there are a few things to remember. Keep your battery charged, but avoid overcharging it. Keep your chamber clean. It’s best practice to clean between each session. And if you’re unsure or new to dabbing, start at a low-temperature setting before trying the higher ones.

The concentrate you choose to consume is also up to your taste. Concentrate categories include: live resin, live rosin, diamonds, sugar, shatter, crumble, sauce, badder, etc. Each of these is extracted using different techniques and provides unique flavors and consistencies. 

All variations of these concentrates should be okay to use in your dab pen device, but refer to the user manual before loading the chamber. Some dab pens allow dry flower to be placed in the chamber, but this is a unique feature and won’t be offered on most devices.

What’s the Difference Between a Vape Pen and Dab Pen?

whats a dab pen

The terms ‘dab pen’ and ‘vape pen’ are sometimes used interchangeably but are technically two different devices. 

While on the exterior they may share similar designs and features, the main difference is that vape pens are made to heat vape cartridges, or “carts,” and pods, while dab pens are designed with a heating chamber for small amounts of cannabis concentrate or extracts. 

Vape pens are incredibly user-friendly. There are different types of batteries, but most dispensaries offer a 510–the universal option–or disposables. These pens usually just require you to twist the cartridge to the pen or plop a pod in the battery and press a button while inhaling. 

Dab pens are also user-friendly but may take a try or two to get used to. Concentrates are sticky, so a dab tool is required to transfer the cannabis material into the chamber. Once the concentrate is inside, a button (once pushed) will trigger the device to start heating up, and you’ll inhale through the mouthpiece. 

While both devices can deliver potency, and all cannabis experiences are subjective,  dab pens are known for producing rich flavors and long-lasting effects. Vape cartridges are made from oils that are frequently stripped of other cannabinoids that can help to provide a more rich experience via the entourage effect. Concentrates, like live rosin and live resin, usually have remnants of other cannabinoids and are rich in terpenes for a fuller experience.

Which device you use will be up to you. Vape pens are easy to carry around and consume on the go, and dab pens require a moment to set up and clean. Vape pens use cannabis oils, which have THC levels ranging from 60 to 96% in many cases. Some oils used in vape pens and prefilled cartridges may only contain a partial cannabinoid profile, but full-spectrum oils are available, as well as vape pens that vaporize dried flower. Dab pens work primarily with high-potency concentrates which many consumers claim produces a stronger effect, complete with a richer cannabinoid profile that can last much longer.

If you’re new to portable cannabis consumption, starting with a vape pen may be best to see how you like it. There are usually disposable options that can be great for testing the experience. 

What Do You Put Inside Dab Pens?

whats in a dab pen

Dab pens are designed to hold cannabis concentrates in their heating chambers. There are several different types of concentrates that come in a variety of different strains. Which one you choose will depend on your specific needs and tastes. Each is made using a slightly different process that yields different consistency and textures for the final product. Options for concentrates include:

  • Live Resin – This material is made from cannabis bud frozen right after harvest. This process ensures as many trichomes as possible are preserved before the extraction process to maximize the flavor. 
  • Sauce – This material has a wet saucy consistency.
  • Badder –  This concentrate is thicker and more malleable.
  • Shatter – This is a solid translucent material similar to glass.
  • Diamonds – This is a form of pure THC that looks like tiny diamond-like crystals.
  • Rosin – Rosin is known as a superior cannabis concentrate because it’s extracted using minimal solvents. Rosin is traditionally used for other concentrates. It’s usually extracted using heat, ice, water, and pressure. This results in a super flavorful experience. 
  • Wax – This term is sometimes used interchangeably with concentrate and extract, but it usually refers to a material similar to the consistency of badder. 
  • Crumble – This material is a drier consistency.

These are just some options; each may come in different strain assortments. Which consistency you use may depend on your preference and the type of battery you’re using. Different concentrates are made using different extraction methods, and each creates a different flavor and experience, depending on the type of cannabis strain and additives, like terpenes, used. 

It’s essential to store concentrates properly to maintain flavor and consistency.1 It’s best practice to keep leftover material in a cool dark place when you are done. Some users place them in a refrigerator. 

Almost all dab pens will offer the user different heat settings. Lower temperature dabs are said to burn off fewer terpenes in the heating process to deliver a better-tasting smoke.2 You’ll want to make sure you place the concentrate in the most central part of the chamber, being careful not to get any material on the sides.

Most dab pens won’t come with additional dab accessories, like tools (dabbers), cotton swabs, or cleaning solutions. All these are necessary to prevent messes and damage to the dab pen. 

A dabber is a stick-like tool used to carry the cannabis material from its packaging to the heating chamber. These are a necessary part of the process, but you can substitute makeshift tools with any stick-like device if you don’t have a dabber available. 

Cotton swabs and rubbing alcohol are also highly recommended for cleaning the device. Heating the cannabis material will leave resin residue in the chamber that needs to be cleaned between sessions to ensure you get the tastiest hit each time. This will also preserve the device.

How to Use a Dab Pen

How to use dab pen

While dabbing may appear intimidating, it only takes a few times to get the hang of the process. Traditional dabbing takes a few more steps, and electric dab rigs require a power source. The dab pen makes the experience more portable and accessible. So, it’s usually a preferred device for those who are beginners and/or enjoy the portability. 

After a dab or two, you should feel comfortable with the process. Remember to take your time, and there’s no need to rush. 

Each dab pen device will come with instructions, but below are the basic steps to keep in mind.

Step 1: Charge your battery – The most frustrating thing that can happen is loading a pen to take a dab, and the battery isn’t ready to go. 

Step 2: Make sure the heating chamber is clean – Clear any residue from previous sessions with a q-tip and rubbing alcohol. You should do this step at the end of each session, but it doesn’t always happen. You’ll want to ensure you have a clean device to get the best flavors. Make sure the alcohol has completely evaporated before using the device again. You don't want to inhale rubbing alcohol!

Step 3: Choose your concentrate and gather your materials – You’ll need to grab your concentrate and dabber tool to transfer the material to the heating chamber. 

Step 4: Load the heating chamber – Open the device to reveal the heating chamber. Then using your dabber tool, carefully transfer your desired amount of material from the packaging to the heating chamber. 

How much concentrate you use is up to you, but remember, because of the extraction method, concentrates tend to be more potent than flower. You also want to be aware not to overload the chamber. Usually, a piece the size of a half-grain of rice is an okay place to start. Be mindful not to scrape off the material onto the sides because this can damage the dap pen. 

Step 5: Heat the material – Place the mouthpieces back on the chamber and (depending on the device) set it to your desired temperature, and hit the ignite button to trigger the heating process.

Step 6: Inhale and enjoy – You may need one inhale or a few more. You should feel the effects within a few minutes. Start low and go slow till you reach your desired results. 

Step 7: Clean and properly store the device – It’s easiest to clean the heating chamber shortly after you use it. Plus, it makes taking a fresh dab a quicker experience the next time you’re ready for a session. Dab pens are tiny fickle devices, so store them where they can sit upright and not be moved around too much.

Since they are tech devices, sometimes they may not work as they should. The way the light blinks is usually an indicator of any troubleshooting problems. Refer to the device's manual to fix any issues. 

Safety Tips When Using a Dab Pen

using dab pen

Dab pens are devices users love for their portability and ease of use. There are a few safety tips to keep in mind to make sure you have the best experience.

  • Be mindful of the temperature – Different devices have different heat settings. If you’re new to dabbing, keep the temperature low. While low temperatures are great for maintaining flavor, it’s also less harsh on the throat. 
  • Be mindful of your inhale – Even at low temperatures, inhaling concentrates can take some getting used to. Start with small hits to prevent coughing or consuming more than you’re ready for.
  • Start low and go slow – New users or those coming off a tolerance break are always prompted to start low and go slow. Try one hit and wait to see how you feel. 

If you feel like you’ve consumed too much, stop consuming. Find a safe space to chill, grab a beverage, and maybe a snack. The effects of dabbing should only last a few hours at most. CBD may also help mitigate some of the intoxicating effects of THC.

If you are having trouble finding the proper dosage for your needs, consult with a doctor and/or a cannabis professional.

  • Take care of your materials – Store your device and your concentrates properly to maintain quality. Handle your device with care to make sure nothing breaks.

Make sure caps and lids are sealed and placed in an area that won’t be bothered too much. Spillage of concentrates can be tedious to clean because of their sticky nature. Cleaning the dab pen after each session is best practice. 

Depending on your state, dab pens and/or concentrates may not be available for purchase. Check your state’s laws to see if dabbing is an option for you. 

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Final Thoughts 

Dabbing may be a suitable option for your cannabis needs, and a dab pen provides added ease, convenience, and portability. Dabbing concentrates can give users a flavorful, potent experience. While THC-rich concentrates are the widely popular options, CBD options have made their way to the market, although rare.

There are several dab pens to choose from, each with different designs and settings to match your preference. Once you decide, charge it up, select a concentrate, and dab away. Keep your device clean, your cannabis appropriately stored, and handle your pen carefully. 


1  FAIRBAIRN, J. W., et al. “The Stability of Cannabis and Its Preparations on Storage.” Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, vol. 28, no. 1, Jan. 1976, pp. 1–7, 10.1111/j.2042-7158.1976.tb04014.x.

2  Meacham, Meredith C., et al. “Frequently Asked Questions about Dabbing Concentrates in Online Cannabis Community Discussion Forums.” International Journal of Drug Policy, vol. 74, Dec. 2019, pp. 11–17, 10.1016/j.drugpo.2019.07.036. Accessed 17 May 2021.

The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

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