Walking into a dispensary for the first time (or even the second or third time) can feel a bit overwhelming. There are so many choices, and they seem to multiply with time. It’s truly a great time to be a cannabis aficionado. However, if you’re just starting out, it can lead to some confusion. That’s why we’ve put together this handy cannabis buying guide to help you find what you need and to consume safely and responsibly.
In this guide, we’ll cover the differences between indicas and sativas, what makes cannabis top-shelf (vs. schwag), and tips on how to consume cannabis (especially edibles) in a manner that is safe, responsible, and most importantly, enjoyable. After you read the guide, you’ll feel confident walking into any of our dispensaries and finding a strain or cannabis product that you’ll enjoy.
Buying Cannabis: What’s the Difference Between Indicas, Sativas, and Hybrids? And Does It Matter?
When you go to a dispensary, you’ll notice that every strain is designated as an indica, a sativa, or a hybrid. The conventional wisdom is that indica-dominant strains are sedative, producing a heavy body high. These are the strains responsible for providing the infamous “couch-lock” effect. Sativas, on the other hand, produce uplifting, cerebral, head highs. And hybrids draw their effects from both indica and sativas.
However, if you expect these designations to be reliable predictors of effects, you might be disappointed. Virtually every strain — with the exception of “landrace” strains like Durban Poison — are hybrids. What you may consider an “indica,” may be 10% (or more) sativa, and vice versa. These trace amounts of other strain types can dramatically alter the effects.
A more reliable predictor — albeit imperfect — is a strain’s chemical composition. How much CBD does it have? How much myrcene (a terpene) does it have? In fact, the latter factor (myrcene) will more likely determine if a strain is racy and stimulating or sedative. Generally, what we’d consider an “indica” has at least 0.5% myrcene and as much as 3%. Likewise, the more CBD in a strain, the more likely that strain will ease anxiety.
Buying Cannabis: What Does It Smell Like?
The nose knows. One of the best ways to assess the quality of good cannabis is by giving it a nice whiff—just like you’d smell a glass of fine red wine. The aroma of a strain will help you identify which strains you’ll like in a couple of ways.
First, it will tell you if a strain is of high quality. A high-quality strain produces an aroma that is pungent yet pleasant. Poor quality strains will smell like ammonia or mold. If a strain is musty or reminds you of straw or lawn grass, chances are the strain isn’t fresh. It’s probably schwag!
Of course, some of the most popular strains — Sour Diesel comes to mind — have a chemical, almost gas-like scent that many people like but others can’t stand. If a strain has a smell that faintly resembles a diesel truck, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad strain. Nonetheless, if a strain does have a potent chemical smell, while it doesn’t mean it was grown with chemicals, it’s essential that it comes from a trusted source. Generally, the unifying factor of a top-shelf flower is that the aroma is pungent and distinctive. The stronger the scent, the better the flower.
Second, the aroma will help you identify strains that you like. Strains produce a wide range of scents that can evoke fruit (like berries or citrus), skunk, sweetness, spiciness, or earthiness. If you don’t like the aroma, chances are you’re not going to love the strain. If you love a strain’s bouquet, chances are good that you’ll also enjoy consuming it.
Third, the aroma of a strain can be good predictors of the effects. If you detect a lavender aroma, the strain will probably help you relax. If it’s more citrus-like, it will probably be more stimulating.
Buying Cannabis: CBD to THC Ratio
Cannabis is a highly complex plant containing hundreds of chemicals, including more than 100 cannabinoids and dozens of terpenes. The unique chemical profile of each strain is what’s responsible for each strain’s taste, smell, and effects.
The two most prominent cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC, as you probably already know, is what’s responsible for producing weed’s distinctive psychoactive effects, the “high.” CBD is the second most prominent cannabinoid. Not only is it rich in therapeutic effects, but many users find strains with a notable amount of CBD (more than 1%) to produce a more pleasant high (free of anxiousness or paranoia).
Most strains that you’ll find at a dispensary have less than 1% CBD. If you like the effects of CBD, ask your budtender for suggestions on strains with a decent amount of CBD or ask to see the lab results to see how much CBD is in the strain or product. Strains with significant amounts of CBD have been intentionally bred to have high CBD with ratios ranging from super high CBD with almost no THC (e.g., 20:1 CBD:THC) to strains with fairly high THC but a decent amount of CBD (e.g. 1:10 CBD:THC).
While ratios can vary dramatically, it’s probably helpful to simplify. Cannabis products will fall under one of three categories, THC-dominant, Balanced CBD:THC, and CBD-dominant.
THC-Dominant Cannabis Products
THC-dominant products are, as they sound, high in THC with no-to-low CBD content. Ideally, you’ll want to find a strain that has some amount of CBD as CBD provides numerous benefits.
Of course, there are some high-THC strains that are irresistible and despite having super high THC are appealing even to novice cannabis users. Durban Poison is one that comes to mind. Despite THC content regularly clocking in at 25%, most users find Durban Poison to be a highly sociable strain that produces few undesirable side effects.
CBD-Dominant Cannabis Products
Thanks to all the media attention (and the fact that, well, CBD is freaking awesome!), demand for CBD-dominant products is skyrocketing. CBD-dominant strains and products provide a wide range of therapeutic benefits without making you high. A CBD-dominant product can help ease anxiety, promote alertness, and help you relax. Plus, it can also offer benefits for patients with inflammatory conditions or epilepsy. CBD-dominant products range anywhere from 5:1 to 20:1 CBD:THC. Of course, you can even find CBD products with little (>.3% THC) to no THC.
Some of the most popular strains with higher levels of CBD include:
- Stephen Hawking Kush
- Ringo’s Gift
- Sour Tsunami
- Charlotte’s Web
Balanced CBD:THC Cannabis Products
Balanced CBD:THC strains and products are becoming increasingly popular because you get the best of both worlds. You’ll feel the psychotropic effects (the “high”) from THC, but the CBD will keep you from feeling too high. Moreover, few people will experience any adverse effects like anxiety or paranoias from a balanced strain or product, no matter how much they consume. CBD is like your designated driver, metaphorically speaking, of course!
Buying Cannabis: What Does It Look Like?
Have you ever been to the produce department in your local grocery store? Of course you have! What does fresh, high-quality produce look like? You can tell a lot by their appearance, there are visual hints. And just like produce, the appearance of cannabis can tell you a lot about its quality.
All top-shelf cannabis will be aesthetically appealing with a wide array of vibrant colors and crystals. It will appear robust and fresh. A top-shelf flower may be a deep seductive green or possibly a sparkling lighter green rich in fiery red hairs or even bold blue or purple. Look for glimmering crystals; those are the strain’s trichomes that appear on the bud’s surface. The flower’s trichomes are the carriers of cannabis’ aroma, flavor, and effects. You can’t have too many trichomes!
A fresh, top-shelf strain will never look dry, aged, or brown. That’s what we call “schwag!” Likewise, strains that are discolored or have a visible amount of stems or seeds are considered dirt weed. These properties are strong indicators that the strain was grown with pesticides and nasty chemicals. No reputable dispensary will carry dirt weed.
Safe Consumption: Buying and Consuming Cannabis Edibles
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that edibles are one of the fastest growing segments in the cannabis market. Long gone are the days of homemade brownies. Move over brownies, say hello to baked goods, pastries, candies, chocolates, mints, energy drinks, teas, coffees, and even THC-infused non-alcoholic beers!
People love food and drinks. And they love cannabis. Combining the two is a taste of heaven! Edibles have quickly become popular among medical cannabis patients and lifestyle users. Edibles are also more discreet and convenient than other consumption methods. However, consuming edibles for the first time can be, well, a bit scary. Why? Because unlike smoking or vaping — both of which hit the user immediately and are easy to self-titrate — edibles take a lot longer for the user to feel the effects. Depending on one’s metabolism, edibles rarely affect the user in less than 15 minutes and generally take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half to produce effects.
Due to the slow onset of edibles, novice consumers often overdo it. They don’t feel anything after 20 minutes and take a bunch more. Or they start to feel the effects (before peaking) and they consume more. While overconsumption won’t kill you — the lethal dose of THC is much higher than any human could possibly ingest — you can easily overdo it. And when you overdo it, the feelings can be incredibly unpleasant. You can feel paranoid, anxious, and even nauseous.
1. Start Low, Go Slow
The range of THC content can vary widely between edibles. It’s not uncommon to find beverages or chocolates with well over 100 mg of THC. For seasoned users, 50, 100, or even 150+ mg might be okay. But for most users, consuming that much THC would be unbearable.
Before you consume an edible, make sure you know how much you’re consuming. The standard human dose is 5 mg. Most people can tolerate 5 mg without any adverse side effects. However, for those who are highly sensitive to THC, 2.5 mg may be a better starting point. Keep in mind that the first time you try edibles, you shouldn’t be dead set on getting high. Your first time should be about finding a dose you’re comfortable with. Start with 5 mg (or 2.5 mg if you’re highly sensitive). If you feel fine, then you can up the dose in 2.5 or 5 mg the next time you try.
2. Take Edibles In a Comfortable Environment
Too much THC can make you feel anxious or paranoid. Being in an environment that is unfamiliar — like a party — can exacerbate symptoms. To be safe, consume at home with close friends.
3. Have Some CBD Handy
Cannabidiol, or CBD as it’s more commonly called, is your best friend. It’s THC’s responsible sibling. CBD actually counteracts the potentially adverse effects of THC, like anxiety and paranoia. If you’ve consumed too much THC, vape a high-CBD strain or apply some CBD sublingually (under your tongue). CBD will temper your high and neutralize any undesirable effects you may experience.
4. Be Patient
As we mentioned, edibles take a long time to take effect. If you don’t feel anything after 15 – 20 minutes, that doesn’t mean it’s not working. Your body probably hasn’t metabolized the THC yet.
5. Don’t Freak Out If You Over Consume
If you take too much THC, it can feel like it will never end. That’s clearly not the case, no matter how you feel. Use your CBD, then chill and relax. You can even take a bath or cool shower to help you calm down.
Safe Consumption: THC
Cannabis, or rather THC, is safer than alcohol and many drugs. It’s generally well-tolerated, it’s less addictive, and you can’t fatally overdose on it. However, that doesn’t mean it’s 100% safe. Nothing is. Not even water is 100% safe!
To enjoy cannabis responsibly and ensure your experience is always a good one, here are two tips:
1. Use Cannabis Products With CBD
CBD can be a wonder drug. It’s therapeutic benefits rival that of its sibling, THC. Even better, it works together — synergistically — with THC to provide a safer and more pleasant high. In fact, most users find that cannabis products balanced with CBD produce a more enjoyable high than just THC. That’s because CBD counteracts some of the effects of THC that you may not want (like paranoia and anxiety).
Moreover, CBD isn’t just non-addictive. Studies suggest it’s anti-addictive. Research is finding that CBD can help people eliminate addictive behaviors. And when it comes to cannabis, CBD can help people overcome their dependence on cannabis or lower their risk of becoming dependent in the first place. Plus, emerging research suggests CBD can prevent the adverse cognitive effects of THC, like short-term memory impairment!
Bottom line: CBD is most definitely your best friend.
2. Take a Periodic “Herbal Holiday”
Again, while you’re less likely to develop a dependence on THC than cigarettes, alcohol, and of course, opioids, that doesn’t mean you won’t develop a tolerance to THC. Nearly everyone who uses cannabis regularly — at least a few times per week — will ultimately need to consume more cannabis to achieve the high they’re looking for. The good news is that if you take a break from cannabis (an “herbal holiday”) you can recalibrate. Most people only need to take a 72-hour break to reset their tolerance. You can take a break quarterly, monthly, or anytime you feel you need a reset.
Buying Cannabis: What Do You Like Best?
Ultimately, buying cannabis is a highly personal experience. Like wine, there are cannabis snobs. Ignore the snobs! Buy cannabis products that you find most appealing. Remember, cannabis is such a complex plant that can produce very different effects depending not only on its cannabinoid and terpene profile but on the user. Every one of us has a unique physiology that determines how we will react after consuming.
Now that you’re a cannabis expert, why not visit your local Have a Heart location? Don’t see a dispensary near you? Don’t worry! We’re one of the fastest growing networks of cannabis dispensaries in North America.