Cannabis for newbies: An overview for people just trying (or coming back to) marijuana

It’s a brave new world out there when it comes to cannabis. With nearly two years of full legalization in several states, and more states expected to vote on legalization this November, many people are looking at marijuana from a fresh perspective.

All this talk about legal marijuana is bringing more newcomers into dispensaries, wanting to see what all the fuss is about. We welcome you “newbies,” as well as the countless folks who are rediscovering marijuana after years away. And we want you to enjoy your first experiences with modern, legalized cannabis.

So with that in mind, here are some tips:

First of all, relax.

Marijuana is currently legal in some form in at least 25 states and the District of Columbia. A growing number of Americans now understand that cannabis has legitimate medical applications for a wide variety of ailments. And many more are seeing the successes that legal marijuana – both medical and recreational – is having in states like Washington, Oregon and Colorado. So you’re in good company if you want to try cannabis.

There is a wide range of ways to consume cannabis.

Smoking marijuana, while still popular, is no longer necessary. Along with edibles – cannabis-infused foods, candies, beverages or snacks – there are topical ointments and lotions that can be rubbed on the skin. Another popular method is “vaping”: electronic pens that resemble cigarettes and that heat cannabis oil into an easily-inhalable vapor. There’s also “dabbing,” which involved heating and inhaling wax-like concentrates of cannabis oil. This “wax,” also known as “shatter” or by other names, is very strong and not recommended for beginners.

Start slow.

This is not your parents’ or grandparents’ weed. Current strains of cannabis can contain very high percentages of THC, the chemical compound that gives marijuana its “high.” Be sure to ask your budtender about your purchase’s potency when buying “flower,” or cannabis in bud form. One toke may do the trick.

And when buying edibles remember a little can go a very long way. It’s recommended most people start with 5 milligrams (MG) of an edible – which often is just a small, single segment of a cannabis-infused cookie, candy bar or soda. And most importantly, wait. It can take over an hour for most people to feel the effects of cannabis after ingesting it; and then those effects can be quite strong. Do not take an additional bite of a cannabis-infused food, in the mistaken assumption that you haven’t consumed enough. That extra bite could lead you into a stronger and potentially uncomfortable high.

Know your strains.

You’ll hear experienced cannabis consumers talk about indica and sativa. Those are two of the most common marijuana strains, and they can have very different effects. Cannabis sativa is usually associated with an energetic head “rush” and is often recommended for daytime use. Cannabis indica, on the other hand, is considered by many to be the best for a relaxing “body” high.

If you have trouble remembering these differences, here’s a memory trick used by a lot of cannabis consumers: “Indica = In the Couch”.

Not all cannabis gets you high.

Researchers are starting to unlock the medicinal benefits of another chemical compound in cannabis: Cannabidiol, or CBD. Unlike THC, CBD does not give consumers a euphoric high. But scientists are acknowledging that CBD has potential as a treatment for a wide variety of ailments; including insomnia, anxiety, depression, epilepsy, chronic pain, rheumatoid arthritis, nausea, Crohn’s Disease and more. A lot of dispensaries now stock cannabis which contains high percentages of CBD, and low amounts of THC.

And then there’s hemp, another strain of cannabis that has only trace amounts of THC. An important crop in colonial America and up through World War II, the production of hemp is currently banned under U.S. federal law. But that is changing, as farmers and activists wake up lawmakers to the notion that the country is missing out on a major economic opportunity by keeping hemp illegal.

So there you have it. We hope you enjoy your cannabis: whether it’s for the first time or just the latest in a series of present and future experiences.