With the majority of Americans now living in a place where cannabis is legal for medical and/or adult use, it’s no surprise that the “canna-curious” segment is continuing to grow.
Around half of the country’s adults have admitted to trying weed and for the first time in history, more people now use cannabis than tobacco. The number of cannabis consumers grew by 20 million between 2009 and 2019.
For newcomers, it can be difficult how to know what type of weed to buy. Dispensary shelves are jam-packed with tons of different cannabis strains, product types, and brands.
Curious about what you should know before you try cannabis flower (and how to make an informed decision)? Read on for our definitive guide to weed for newbies.
The cannabis plant defined
Marijuana has existed on this planet for thousands of years. The buds that female cannabis plants produce are what we smoke. However, the leaves and stalks can also be used for finished goods such as edibles or concentrates.
There are many different strains of weed (also called cultivars). They are usually divided into indica, sativa, or hybrid categories. The way the plant grows and the concentration of different compounds like cannabinoids and terpenes typically defines which category a cannabis strain falls into.
But what are the main compounds in cannabis?
Cannabinoids are the main active ingredient in cannabis. They are responsible for how the plant makes you feel. Cannabinoids are processed through the body’s endocannabinoid system, made up of hundreds of receptors called CB1 and CB2.
These compounds all have their own benefits and work together synergistically in a phenomenon called the entourage (or ensemble) effect. Another group of active ingredients called terpenes also play a role in this effect.
Cannabis terpenes also play an important role in any strain of weed and their effects. Found in all plants, terpenes are responsible for the rich aroma, delicious flavor, and unique effects weed is known for.
There are thousands of different terpenes in the natural world, but there are eight terpenes that tend to show up in the majority of weed strains. Myrcene, caryophyllene, limonene, and pinene are among them.
If cannabinoids are the gas powering your high, then terpenes are the GPS system guiding where it’ll take you in terms of effects.
Different ways to consume cannabis
Now that you know a bit more about cannabis, it’s time to explore the different ways to consume it. There is no one-size-fits-all in the weed arena, but fortunately, there is something for just about everyone nowadays.
Smoking and vaping
Smoking weed is the most common way to consume the plant. Ground bud is placed in a pipe, bong, or joint, then lit with a lighter or match. The smoke created is inhaled, seeing the cannabinoids processed through the lungs.
Pre-rolls are a very popular product at dispensaries thanks to their convenience. Instead of having to make your own joint with rolling papers, prerolls are joints already crafted for sale.
You can also vape cannabis flower. It’s similar to smoking except that vaping does not use combustion to heat the weed. Instead, a special conduction or convection oven inside a special vaporizer device brings the flower to the perfect temperature to create vapor, which is then inhaled.
Meant for more experienced cannabis consumers, dabbing offers extremely potent effects. Cannabis flower is turned into oil through one of several different extraction methods.
The cannabis extract is consumed via a contraption called a rig. They often resemble bongs, but use electric heating elements or blow torches to bring the “bowl” to the right temperature. Vapor is created and inhaled by the consumer.
Vape pods, carts, and pens
A more streamlined and simple version of dabbing, hitting a vape pod, pen, or cart is an extremely popular method of consumption. Small devices are pre-filled with cannabis oil, and are activated by inhaling through a mouthpiece or pushing a button.
When the pod, cart, or pen is empty, it can be thrown away and replaced. Many versions are powered by a vape battery, but some are all-in-one devices.
Vape pods and similar cannabis products have gained an enormous amount of traction over the last decade. People flock to them thanks to their convenience and the fact that they pack a punch in a tiny package.
Eating and drinking
Edibles are another extremely popular method of consumption. In fact, products like weed gummies capture a ton of market share for dispensary owners thanks to their ease of use and discreet nature.
Weed edibles work in the body by traveling through the digestive system. The cannabinoids are processed in the liver. This means that the onset of effects can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, and can be far more potent than inhaling.
There is a wide range of edibles on the market, from sweet weed gummies to savory snacks to beverages like soda and tea. Most come in doses of 5 mg but can be lower or much higher.
It’s important for new consumers to always “start low and go slow” when it comes to dosing edibles since they tend to be so powerful and can last for up to 24 hours.
Sublingual products like tinctures are similar to edibles. The difference is they are processed through mucous membranes in the mouth as opposed to the liver.
Tinctures are usually made through alcohol extraction. The extract may be combined with a carrier agent like MCT oil to make them easier to use.
The effects of sublingual drops, sprays, and strips come on very quickly. This makes them an excellent choice for medical consumers that need instant relief but may not be willing or able to smoke, vape, or dab.
Cannabis can also be used transdermally—ie, through the skin. Topicals such as lotions, salves, and patches contain cannabis oil and are applied directly to the body.
Most people who use topicals are hoping to ease aches and pains or treat skin conditions. Topicals do not get users high since the active ingredients do not cross the blood/brain barrier. Instead, they see localized relief right where it's needed.
5 Questions to Ask yourself before you try cannabis flower
Once you feel ready to try cannabis, you will need to determine which product is right for you. And it’s not just deciding whether you want to smoke, dab, or eat. You’ll also need to figure out the best strains of weed for your desired outcomes.
Overwhelmed? Don’t fret. Simply ask yourself the following questions to help solve your cannabis conundrum.
How do I want to feel?
The first thing you should figure out before you try cannabis is what you want to get out of it. Are you looking to have a little fun with your friends? Maybe you’re trying to chill before bed, or perhaps you are seeking therapeutic benefits.
Sativa, indica, and hybrid cannabis strains all offer very different effects. Sativas tend to be more uplifting and euphoric, while indicas are usually more relaxing and sedative. Hybrids can go both ways but are typically noted as indica or sativa dominant.
As we mentioned above, the cannabinoids and terpene profile will define which category a strain will fall into. However, you won’t need that information when shopping—you can just look at the menu or consult with the budtender helping out.
How do I want to consume weed?
Once you’ve reviewed the methods of consumption above, you may still be curious about which one is right for you.
If you want to smoke but do not know how to roll a joint and do not own a bowl, pre-rolls may be a good call. If you want to avoid smoking, edibles or sublinguals are a great option.
Topicals are perfect for people who want to reduce pain or inflammation but do not want to feel the effects of cannabis.
Still unsure which method is right? Look to the next question for further guidance.
When and where will I be consuming cannabis?
When trying to make a decision on what type of product is best, consider this: what will the environment be like?
Smoking flower gives off a skunky smell that tends to hang around, so if you need to be discreet, a vape pen or edibles may work well. Will you be at a party sharing with a lot of like-minded individuals? Maybe a preroll is the answer.
You also want to consider how much time you have. The effects of edibles last a lot longer than smoking or vaping. Many people even feel high the day after eating edibles, so make sure you know how long you have especially if consuming THC.
What is my budget?
There are tons of different products at the dispensary hitting pretty much every price point. From $5 prerolls to $100 a gram premium rosins and everything in between.
Having a budget in mind before you shop for cannabis is always a good idea. It will also help the retail staff make recommendations once they know the type of product and effect you desire.
Don’t forget that taxes vary depending on your location. Be prepared to pay up to 35% tax at checkout once they’ve rung up your goods.
What is available in my market?
Much like taxes, the product selection at dispensaries also changes from state to state. The same brands you enjoy in California may not be available in Michigan for example, although some “multi-state operators” do have their products in several states.
Explore your local cannabis laws prior to visiting a dispensary. Some places only have medical marijuana, while others have both medical and adult-use. 13 states still have no legal cannabis, but do allow you to buy CBD.
If your state has both medical and adult use, it may be worth checking if you qualify for a medical patient card. Medical patients often pay fewer taxes and may have access to more products.
There are many high-quality types of cannabis out there, but you want to be sure to only purchase them from legitimate dispensaries or online delivery providers.
Regulations require products to be tested for potency, contaminants, and manufacturing date. This information should be printed on the packaging of the legal marijuana you purchase and will help keep you safe and informed.