How Much Stronger are Dabs vs. Vape Pens?

Scott Jones

The world of cannabis is growing like a weed, pun intended. There are more options than ever when you’re looking to enjoy your favorite cannabinoid. In addition to the classic flower we all know and love, there are now a variety of edibles, tinctures, topicals, and a whole world of concentrates to choose from. The convenience of vape pens and the potency of dabs have helped both emerge as popular choices today, but what is the difference? Are dabs stronger than vape pens? If so, how much stronger are dabs than pens? Can I vape a dab? These are all the right questions, and The Green Dragon is going to help answer them for you. Let’s fire it up.

Extracts and Concentrates

Before we dive deep into the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of vape pens and dabs, let’s get a better understanding of the concentrates that are used in them. More and more states are legalizing cannabis for medical and recreational use, and in 2018, Congress passed the Farm Bill which made hemp plants and their byproducts federally legal nationwide. This increased legality has led to the proliferation of cannabinoid extracts and concentrates.

Extracts and concentrates are made by taking cannabis and hemp plants and applying scientific principles to get the good stuff out while eliminating some of the less necessary elements (like organic matter). This is done by the application of heat, pressure, and/or solvents so that you are left with just the cannabinoids and terpenes, the chemical compounds that give these products their therapeutic effects. The entire plant can be used in the extraction process, or just the trichomes of the plant, the potent glands that become known is kief once they are separated from the bud.

You may see the terms extract and concentrate used interchangeably, and there are no hard and fast rules that define the difference between them. All concentrates are extracted, and most extracts are concentrated. For the purposes of this conversation, we’ll use one characteristic to separate the two: viscosity. Extracts have a lower viscosity, meaning they are more fluid and have the consistency of oil. Concentrates have a higher viscosity, with a thicker consistency that can resemble wax, butter, or hardened syrup. The different consistencies are indicative of the contrasting potency between the two, as well as whether they are used in a dab rig or vape pen. 


A dab is more than just a dance move your little nephew likes to do whenever he successfully does a bottle flip. These highly potent hits are how your thicker concentrates are inhaled, and it involves a lot of heat.

How do Dabs Work?

Dabs involve taking a high viscosity concentrate and exposing it to a heating element, called a nail, that is heated to between 500 and 600 degrees. By comparison, the combustion of flower occurs at around 350 degrees. This super-heated nail flash vaporizes the concentrate into a thin smoke. Traditional dab rigs are heated by applying a butane torch to the nail before adding the concentrate, but electronic rigs (also known as e-rigs, e-nails, or dab pens) are also available for a more portable option. With these, a battery uses electricity to heat the ceramic or titanium nail, which is then exposed to the concentrate of your choice. While they are like vape pens, dab pens require higher temps and are typically larger and need more powerful batteries.

Advantages of Dabs

Dabs are a popular choice for seasoned cannabinoid users. The combination of extremely pure extracts and incredibly high temperatures creates a set of advantages that are desirable for the experienced, but maybe not ideal for the uninitiated.

  • Potency – The most popular reason to choose dabs over other options is their strength. Whether it is because of a higher tolerance or a desire to take your high to the next level, the potency of dabs makes them ideal for experienced users.
  • Onset – The strength of dabs also means that the therapeutic effects happen almost instantaneously. This makes dabs great for people with medical conditions that can come on without warning, allowing for quick relief of pain and nausea.
  • Clarity – Because the extraction process eliminates the plant material from the end product, dabbing creates a cleaner smoke that doesn’t contain the unwanted byproducts of combustion. 
  • Flavor – Clean smoke with no organic matter to muddy the waters means that you’re only getting the tasty goodness of cannabinoids and, more importantly, terpenes. Because terpenes give cannabis its smell and flavor, concentrating them in the form of dabs allows them to shine. 

Disadvantages of Dabs

Dabs are not the perfect choice for all people in all situations. There are a few drawbacks associated with both the potent extracts and the rigs that make use of them.

  • High temperatures – Because dab rigs are heated to such high temps, there is an inherent risk that you may accidentally touch a heated nail and burn yourself. It is important to exercise extreme caution when using a traditional dab rig.
  • Maintenance – Because you are superheating a highly concentrated substance, it is important that the chamber of a e-rig and the nail of any rig be kept clean to ensure the rig works properly and no off-flavors are added.
  • Cost – Buying a rig set up, whether traditional or electronic, is not cheap. Additionally, sometimes parts need to be replaced, especially if they are not regularly cleaned.
  • Potency – Wait, potency was an advantage, how can it be a disadvantage? Well, sometimes you may want to enjoy a more casual high, especially in more public environments. Also, the strength of the dab can lead to an unpleasant high if you aren’t experienced with cannabinoids.

Vape Pens

One of the most popular new choices for cannabinoids is the vape pen. Vaporizers have been around for a long time, but the options available today allow for users to hand-pick their ideal vape experience. A vaporizer can take the form of a box mod, cartridge pen, disposable pen, dry herb pen, or a tabletop vaporizer.

How do Vape Pens Work?

Vape pens involve passing superheated air through extracts or flower to vaporize the cannabinoids so they can be inhaled without the byproducts of combustion. A heating element, usually a ceramic or metal coil, is raised to the desired temperature and air passes through it and into the extract. Unlike with dabs, the extract is not directly exposed to the heating element. This means it must be a lower viscosity so that it can be absorbed by the wick and vaporize.

Advantages of Vape Pens

There aren’t many easier ways to enjoy cannabinoids than a vape pen, but there are also several other advantages to choosing pens as your go-to.

  • Affordable – Compared to dab rigs, vape pens are relatively low-cost. Batteries can be reused by recharging and adding a fresh cartridge, or disposable pens can simply be tossed and replaced with a new pen altogether.
  • Convenient – All you need is a charged battery and fresh cartridge, and you are ready to vape. No need to heat a nail or scoop your concentrate, just inhale and enjoy.
  • Discreet – Vape pens have less odor than flower and are easy to transport, making them ideal for situations where a little extra discretion is desired.
  • No clean up – Cartridges and disposable pens don’t require any clean up. When the cartridge is empty, just remove it from the battery and apply a new one.

Disadvantages of Vape Pens

Vape pens may be convenient and easy to use, but they also have their own drawbacks when compared to dabs.

  • Potency – Vape pens aren’t going to pack the punch of using a dab rig, for a variety of reasons we’ll discuss later on.
  • Environmental impact – If you are concerned about waste, vape pens can be problematic. Because disposable pens and cartridges are not recyclable, when they are spent, they must be tossed in the garbage.
  • Malfunction – While it is rare, it is possible for either the battery or the cartridge to not function correctly. This can lead to inconsistent hits, off flavors, leakage, or an inability to reach the desired temperature. If your vape pen isn’t working, you may be able to troubleshoot the problem, read our article about how here.

How Much Stronger are Dabs than Vape Pens?

This is the real question, and one of the hardest to answer. Dabs typically have a concentration of between 80% and 90% of the active cannabinoid, like THC or one of its cousins like Delta 8 or Delta 10. While vape pens can have a wide range of potencies, it’s not uncommon to see vape pens, like those made with live resin, that boast similar concentrations to dabs. So, are dabs stronger? If so, how much stronger are they than pens?

The short answer is yes. Most cannabinoid users would agree that the intensity of dabs is more potent than that of vape pens. There are a few reasons why this is the case.

Conduction vs. Convection

Dabs and vape pens apply heat differently and this creates variation in the rate at which cannabinoids are vaporized or combusted. Dabs heat concentrates conductively, exposing them directly to the heat source and converting them instantly. Vape pens heat extracts with convection, which means the heat is applied indirectly by heating the air first, then passing the hot air through the chamber where it is applied to the liquid. While convection is more efficient, the direct application of heat allows more concentrate to be converted at a quicker rate. This contributes to the strength of dabs.


Like the comparison of the methods of heating, we must also consider the temperature. Vape pens function best between 390 and 490 degrees, depending on preference. If you have an adjustable pen, you can learn more about your ideal range here. Dab nails, on the other hand reach temperatures of between 500 and 650 degrees. This higher temperature will convert more concentrate, faster, helping to make dab hits more potent.


THC concentration isn’t always the best indicator when predicting the strength of a hit. Because of the higher temps of a rig and higher viscosity of the concentrates, one dab can be the result of more weight than one hit from a vape pen. This also plays into why dabs are stronger.

Different Kinds of Concentrates

Extracts and concentrates come in all shapes and sizes. If you are thinking of getting into vape pens, dabs, or both, you should know what you’re looking at when time comes to make a purchase. Let’s go over some of the most popular.

  • Shatter – Shatter is a concentrate with a brittle texture and a thin, glassy consistency. It is a golden or amber color.
  • Budder – Budder (sometimes called badder) is a golden concentrate with a smooth, light consistency that is easy to apply to a rig.
  • Crumble – A cakey or fudge-like concentrate known for its potency. Crumble comes in a variety of colors ranging from yellow to light brown.
  • Rosin A concentrate made by extracting cannabinoids through heat and pressure, rosin can be dabbed, baked, smoked, or vaped when prepared properly.
  • Live ResinLive resin is a concentrate that uses solvent to extract the cannabinoids and terpenes of flash frozen “live” plants. It is a golden color and can be made into a liquid viscous enough to be vaped in a pen. 

These are some, but not all the concentrates available today. You can read our full article on the different kinds of dabs if you want a more in depth look at these and more. 

The Takeaway

While both vape pens and dabs get their goods by extracting cannabinoids and terpenes from plants, they offer very different experiences. Vape pens have a lower temp, indirect heat that is applied to a more liquid cannabinoid extract. Dabs involve applying higher temps directly to thicker, more dense concentrates. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but hit-for-hit, dabs are going to provide a stronger high. Still, vape pens are generally more affordable, and are more convenient in terms of ease of use and clean up. You really can’t go wrong when it comes to picking your favorite extract and your favorite method of consuming it. Try them all and decide for yourself what works best for your needs! We’d love to hear about your favorite dab and vape products in the comment section below. If you still aren’t sure where to start, reach out through our contact page and let one of our helpful and educated team members point you in the right direction. 

How Much Stronger are Dabs vs. Vape Pens?
The convenience of vape pens and the potency of dabs have helped both emerge as popular choices today, but what is the difference? Click here to find out.
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How Much Stronger are Dabs vs. Vape Pens?
August 14, 2023
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