Have you ever found a leftover gram under the couch or in an old backpack and wondered if it was still good to dab it up? While cannabis concentrates don't go bad in a way that will make you sick if you use them, they do have a shelf life. Here's everything you need to know about old dabs and whether or not you can still smoke them.
What are dabs?
Dabs is a slang term for cannabis concentrates— the refined oils extracted from cannabis flowers. They come in many different varieties, from simple hash oils to live resin, distillate, rosin, kief, moonrocks, wax, shatter, sauce, and so much more. They're called concentrates because they're a concentrated form of cannabis, which can be up to 99% THC. They're also called dabs because they're smoked by dabbing them onto a hot banger and inhaling them through a small water pipe called a rig.
Do dabs go bad?
Dabs don't really go bad in the traditional sense, but they can dry out, lose potency, and make for a harsh, unpleasant smoke that won't get you very high. When improperly stored, they may be susceptible to mold or contaminants that can make them unsafe to smoke. So, while cannabis concentrates won't necessarily rot like cannabis flowers might, they can still be unpleasant to smoke after a while.
What happens when dabs age?
When dabs age, they degrade just like flower does. The cannabinoids transform, and the color will change. For example, THC degrades into CBN, which doesn't offer the same type of high and tends to make people sleepy. Your once light yellow or honey-colored concentrates will degrade into a darker amber or rust color, indicating that the cannabinoids are changing and the terpenes are evaporating out.
Speaking of evaporating, concentrates go through what is known as nucleation as they degrade. Simply put, nucleation is when parts of the concentrate start to separate. Factors like time, temperature, and the contaminants and lipids in the concentrates all affect the rate of nucleation.
For example, THC and THCa like to separate during nucleation. Terpenes also like to separate and congeal, which makes a product sugary. Sometimes extractors force this process when making different textures for their concentrates, though, with time, this happens naturally as they degrade.
How long do dabs last before they expire?
For ordinary cannabis flower, one study found that buds lose 17% of their potency kept at room temperature outside of an airtight container for one year. Other reports suggest up to 50% of THC is lost in things like hash or kief in the same amount of time.
However, once crystalized, THC is typically pretty shelf-stable when it is kept away from light in an airtight container. While we don't have an official report, we might assume that the THC in concentrates degrades somewhere in between a year or two.
Ultimately, when dabs age, they lose potency and flavor. They also change color. They don't go bad in a sense that will make you sick, but they won't feel like they did when you first got them.
Proper storage is essential for that reason. Cannabinoids and terpenes are volatile and very susceptible to the environment. Light, oxygen, extreme temperatures, and moisture all play a role in how quickly your concentrates will turn into something you don't want to smoke. You can ruin a gram of concentrates in a few days if you expose it to harsh conditions. But with proper storage, you may be able to preserve them for up to two years.
How to store your concentrates to slow down degradation
Ultimately, all concentrates are better when they're used fresh. With average use, you can usually expect a gram of concentrates to stay fresh for up to 6 months if you keep them in the gram container you purchased them in. However, light, oxygen, moisture, and temperature can make your concentrates degrade faster. That said, minimal handling and proper storage are key to preserving dabs for the long haul.
To slow down degradation, it helps to keep your concentrates at a cooler temperature and away from sunlight and air. Light exposure can transform the terpenes and other compounds or contaminants and change your concentrate from a fresh golden color to a dark brown. It also speeds up the rate at which THC degrades and turns into CBN.
Cooler temperatures increase the shelf life, flavor, and potency of your dab by slowing down the rate at which your concentrates nucleate. It also helps to retain the consistency and texture of your concentrate. Keeping your concentrates in an airtight container also prevents them from being exposed to elements like moisture, which can cause respiratory problems when dabbed.
For short-term storage, the dram your concentrates were purchased in is usually sufficient. Silicone pucks are alright, but they're not very airtight and can actually accelerate degradation. The only reason to really use those is if you're using a dab straw and don't want to melt a plastic container.
For long-term storage, you may want to change your tech a bit. Move your concentrates to a small, airtight glass container and vacuum seal them. Then, keep them indefinitely in a cool, dark, and dry place like a closet until you're ready to open them again. Keep in mind that vacuum sealing may suck out some moisture. This method is best for concentrates like wax or shatter that are already low in moisture. For saucy concentrates, your best bet is to just use them as soon as possible.
Can you store dabs in the fridge or freezer?
While you can technically store concentrates in the fridge or freezer, it's not recommended. Cannabinoids and terpenes are susceptible to breaking down in extreme cold, so they may begin to dry out much faster than they would at room temperature.
More importantly, the fridge is a very moist place. Even with a sealed lid, water may find its way into your concentrates in the form of condensation— and water doesn't mix well with a hot nail. If your concentrates get contaminated with water, you'll need to replace them since they can't be dabbed.
Your best bet is to place your dabs into an airtight, UV-resistant container and keep them at room temperature away from sunlight. Following that methodology, you can keep them smelling and tasting fresh for up to a year.
Should you still use older concentrates?
After a year, things get a little murky. While some types of hash and solventless concentrates have been known to actually get better with age, most don't. Most concentrates become dry, off-colored, and less potent.
However, if you estimate losing about 40% of your potency in 2 years, you can still rely on it to get you high. At that point, 40% of your THC will have degraded into CBN, so the concentrate will feel very sedative. You'll still feel high, though, so it'll get you in a pinch.
Just take care to avoid the lipids. As a concentrate nucleates, the lipids will separate from the concentrate and congeal together in blobs of white and yellow. Don't dab those. Those are bad for your lungs and could make you sick. Luckily, they're pretty easy to spot, so they're pretty easy to avoid.
Final Thoughts: Do Dabs Expire?
All in all, your mama's mantra still rings true: when in doubt, just throw it out. While it's rare for concentrates to go bad in the sense that they'll make you sick, they can still degrade to the point that they're not worth smoking— or worse, dangerous to smoke. With so much good hash out there, there's no need to waste energy on an ancient gram that won't look, smell, or get you as high as well as it used to.