Shatter vs Wax: What are the Differences?

Shatter vs Wax: What are the Differences?

Posted by INHALCO Editorial Team on

Table of Contents

What are Dabs?

How are Dabs Made?

What Chemicals are Used to Make Dabs?

Shatter vs Wax

Shatter vs Wax Potency

Since ancient times, our ancestors have been extracting THC-rich trichomes from cannabis and compressing them into a product known as hashish (hash). They then smoked the hash using everything from simple pipes to complex hookahs.

The concept of vaporizing and inhaling cannabis is far from a new idea, but modern science has given us the ability to create cannabis extracts with much, much higher potency than hash. Today, we call this extract a dab.

With the full or partial legalization of cannabis across 33 states, the dabbing market has seen considerable growth. The market share of dabs doubled between 2015 and 2018 and now represents a third of the $10.3 billion legal market. Dabbing is growing among recreational users significantly.

What are Dabs?

Dab makers extract cannabis oil primarily through a chemical process, often resulting in a substance generically known as butane hash oil (BHO). While many dabbers still (illegally) make their own BHO, dabbers can also find plenty of corporate BHO products on the market.

This BHO oil contains a high concentration of THC, the chemical that gives cannabis users their “high”. The THC concentration within BHO can be as high as 90%, compared to a normal joint that is about 15% THC. When BHO is vaporized and inhaled, the high comes quicker, hitting all at once, and lasts longer. This potency makes dabbing an expert-level method of consuming cannabis. 

How are Dabs Made?

There are two primary methods of extracting trichomes from cannabis:

  1. Mechanical extraction: Physically beating, rubbing, or compressing the cannabis plant to create products such as hash, rosin, and kief. This method, practiced since ancient times, is considered a more natural method as it involves no chemicals.
  2. Chemical extraction: A modern method using potentially dangerous chemicals to dissolve the cannabis plant matter, leaving behind an extraction of oils. This method is very effective at extracting THC-rich trichomes, and the chemical process can be tweaked to produce different products.

For this article, we will only be discussing chemical extractions, as this is where most of the confusion exists amongst newbie dabbers.

What Chemicals are Used to Make Dabs?

Cannabis concentrate can be extracted using several types of chemicals:

1. Butane: The most common method of chemical extraction, butane is poured over cannabis leaves to dissolve the plant matter. Corporations safely extract with butane using machines that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. DIY dabbers illegally extract BHO using a $4 can of butane, a coffee filter, and some PVC pipe.

The problem with this method is that butane is very volatile and flammable. If someone tries to use butane at home, there is a high risk of explosion. Butane is odorless and heavier than air, so it can quickly fill a room. One little spark and you get a big boom.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), in 2017 there were at least 65 illegal BHO labs that exploded due to the unsafe use of butane, causing dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries. The number of explosions is probably much higher as law enforcement agencies are not required to report butane explosions to the DEA.

Also, if the butane is not cooked-off fully, trace amounts of butane will remain in the BHO. This residual butane may enter the dabber’s lungs and cause immediate and/or long-term damage.

2. Carbon dioxide: The extraction system forces CO2 to extreme pressures and temperatures, allowing the gas to separate the cannabis compounds. The machines used in this process cost a few thousand dollars, but improper use can trigger an explosion. This method of DIY extraction is also illegal in many areas. 

3. Alcohol: This low-cost method uses 151 proof ethanol, which is illegal in many states. This alcohol is highly flammable and prone to dangerous fires. Considering ethanol is relatively safe to drink, any trace amounts left in the BHO should not pose a health risk to dabbers.

Just in case you missed the pattern above -- don’t DIY extract with chemicals; it is very dangerous and probably illegal in your state. 


Wax vs Shatter: How are Wax and Shatter Different?

Cannabis wax dabs are a very popular form of extract due to their taste, purity, and potency. It is typically gold in color and resembles beeswax (hence the name) or coconut oil. It has a soft, sticky consistency. You may find slight variations on wax under the names budder, pie crust, and honeycomb.

Shatter is a very pure extract that is amber-colored and translucent like glass, resembling peanut brittle. This is one of the most expensive BHOs because it is harder to produce. 

Both wax and shatter are made using a butane chemical extraction process. Shatter comes out hard because it is blasted at a higher temperature than wax. And shatter stays smooth because it is not agitated/mixed after cooking like wax is. These differences in heat and agitation cause change at the molecular level, thus giving the substances different physical traits. 

Shatter vs Wax Potency

Honestly, there is not much difference in shatter vs wax potency; both have similar amounts of THC and produce similar highs. Some subtle differences include:

  • Shatter has a longer shelf-life than wax (the potency of BHOs degrades over many months)
  • Shatter has a larger surface area, so does not get consumed as quickly in the dab rig
  • Shatter has fewer terpenes, so it does not have a traditional cannabis smell

Dabbing newbies will find that wax is cheaper and much easier to handle than brittle shatter. We have some guides on how to smoke shatter and how to smoke crumble if you are interested.

Conclusion Shatter vs Wax: This is primarily a matter of personal preferences. Dabbers might try both using different dabbing tools like nectar collectors, dab pens, or dab rigs to see which they prefer.


*This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. All products are intended for legal usage. Before consuming cannabis in any form, please consult with a licensed health care provider, smoke at your own risk.

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