Updated: Feb 17
Your first time visiting a dispensary can be intimidating. Cannabis isn’t just flowers and edibles. Menus are full of diverse products like tinctures, vape cartridges, topicals and concentrates or dabs. The key is knowing what you’re looking for and finding what is right for you. In this article we will demystify the dispensary experience and prepare you to shop like a pro.
Adult-Use vs. Medical Market
Currently in the United States there are 18 states and Washington DC that have legalized adult-use, there are 37 states that offer medical use only. Adult-use (or recreational) dispensaries only require a valid state ID to enter, while medical dispensaries will require you to have qualifying conditions to get a medical card. Here in Hawaii we are still a medical-only state so shoppers will need a 329 card to enter a dispensary.
Just remember each state has different requirements and qualifications to get your card. Some states allow you to use your local medical card when visiting an out of state cannabis dispensary. Others require you to get a visitor card through a reciprocity program. You should always search the laws of the state that you are planning to visit before visiting just to be ready. You can learn about how to get a card while visiting Hawaii.
Before You Leave the House
Although it's a very exciting idea to go out and purchase cannabis through a dispensary there are a few things that you won’t want to forget. You’ll need a government issued ID or a passport, and some cash. With the legal industry still evolving, a lot of dispensaries still don’t accept credit cards, although most dispensaries will have an ATM of some sort. Cash just makes the process a little quicker, easier and you can avoid inflated convenience charges.
Having a goal in mind helps narrow down what you’ll be looking for in the dispensary. There’s so many products and effects that it is hard to keep track of and it can be intimidating. Luckily you don't have to be a cannabis expert to shop at the dispensary because dispensary staff is there to help you. Knowing the specific effects (ie. pain relief, relaxation, sleep aid, etc.) is useful information that can be relayed to your patient attendant or budtender to help you find the right product. Most companies have an online menu that you can browse and preorder from before you visit the dispensary.
Check In Time
The first step in the door can be the most intimidating moment. Fear not, a patient attendant or security guard will be there to check you in and walk you through the process. With your ID and cannabis card in hand you can enter the dispensary. Even if you're a regular you still have to present your card every time. Regulations on the cannabis industry are stricter than most. Everything is on camera so expect to play by the rules. Remember, the dispensaries and their staff don't make the rules they just follow and enforce them to stay compliant.
Most cannabis dispensaries carry an assortment of product that fall into 5 basic categories:
Flower is the term we use for the cannabis bud, instead of using words like ‘weed’ or ‘buds’ we say flower, and is still the most commonly used product in the cannabis industry. Even though we have electronic vapes and concentrates for dabbing, sometimes you can’t beat the classics.
Cannabis flowers have historically been categorized into three different groups; Sativa, Indica, and Hybrids. While many will argue that these titles are not as significant as they once were (more on that later), they are a good starting point for new patients.
The first one is Sativa, which is more associated with an energetic, uplifting, and euphoric experience. Most time Sativas are recommended for patients that want to be active and productive with their day.
Indica is on the opposite end of the spectrum of sativa. Most people report relaxing body effects, pain relief, and an overall feel of calmness and relaxation. Indica is usually used for night time/end of the day use.
Lastly we have Hybrids, which is a cannabis plant that was crossbred with a Sativa and an Indica plant, so they have a little bit of each of those effects. The truth of the matter is that almost all strains nowadays are hybrids of some sort. Each hybrid will vary and sometimes they lean a little more toward a sativa, while others may feel a little more Indica. It's always useful to speak to your patient attendant to see how each flower varies.
Vapes are battery powered cartridges with cannabis concentrate in them. When activated the cartridges heat up, vaporizing the concentrate to produce a smooth hit that doesn't have the strong aroma as smoking flowers. Many people love using vape cartridges because they are so easy to use and discreet.
You may have heard the term ‘dabs’ before, and that's referring to a cannabis concentrate. Concentrates are made by processing cannabis and separating the good stuff like cannabinoids and terpenes from the unneeded things like that plant material, chlorophyll, and plant waxes. Concentrates are very potent and pure, but often require special equipment to use.
A lot of people don’t want to smoke cannabis at all, and ingestibles or edibles offer people the option to consume rather than smoking it. Ingesting cannabis offers different effects to smoking cannabis. Because the cannabis is being digested through our stomach rather than being absorbed through our lungs, it takes a little longer for us to feel the effects. Most people feel the effects in 45 minutes to 2 hours, but with nano-emulsion technology becoming more prevalent some products kick in as quickly as 5-10 minutes. Edibles can last for hours depending on how much was taken. That's why it's always important to know your dose. Remember the general rule, Low and Slow. You can always eat more, but you can’t eat less!
Topicals are good for localized aches and pains. Most of the topicals come in a cream or balm and sometimes come in patches. Some topicals are made with pharmaceutical compounds that help penetrate the skin for quicker and better effects. Topicals are also great if you have to pass a drug test but are still looking to utilize cannabis medicine.
Sativa vs Indica vs Hybrid
As long as cannabis has been cultivated the desire for new genetics has been around. This hunt for new and exotic strains led to the cross breeding of Sativas and Indicas. It's hard to say what something really is and a few studies have shown that there really isn't too much of a difference in how they're made up. There are some sites that try to log the lineage of the cannabis strains that have been bred, but because of varying phenotypes, the chemical make-up of cannabis cultivars is ever-changing.
A study in 2015 tested over 400 samples of cannabis and 35 different strains to find out that there isn't much of a chemical difference between the sativa and Indica samples. The study goes on to state that “ubiquitous interbreeding and hybridization of “Sativa” and “Indica” has rendered their distinctions almost meaningless.”
With that being said it's still a good place to start for beginners. Having cannabis strains categorized as Sativa, Indica, and hybrid will help you keep track of that particular strain and its effects on you personally. You have to remember that each strain will affect everyone differently based on your own endocannabinoid system. Each person is going to find their own connection and effects with a strain. One benefit of buying from a dispensary is that you can depend on a certain level of consistency and begin to develop a relationship with specific strains. More important than any name or classification, listen to your body.
Know the Vocabulary
Cannabinoids are mainly found in cannabis plants and pertain to any chemical makeup, regardless of its structure or where it came from, that connects to the cannabinoid receptors in the body and brain (CB1 and CB2 receptors). I’m sure you already know the two main cannabinoids, THC and CBD. Research has found that the cannabis plant produces between 80 and 100 cannabinoids and about 300 non-cannabinoid chemicals. Each cannabis strain has its own ratio of these cannabinoids and terpenes which cause very unique effects. That is why it’s important to get to know the strain or product you use because there is more to it than just THC testing. Buying craft cannabis based solely on THC% is like buying Craft Beer based solely on ABV%.
If you're ever wondering what gives your cannabis its pungent smell, it is from the terpenes. Terpenes are the naturally occurring chemical compounds found in plants (not only cannabis), and even some animals. Common terpenes that you might have heard of include limonene, myrcene, and pinene but there are over 20,000 terpenes that have been discovered in nature.. It is believed that terpenes help enhance THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids in an entourage effect. This is why whole plant/full spectrum products are often preferred to isolated compounds.
Know the Grower
One of the benefits of purchasing cannabis through a dispensary is that you have a lot of information at your disposal. Asking your patient attendant who grew your flower and how, is useful information. In fact, a lot of information like Harvest Date, Package Date and testing results will be on the label itself.
Not everyone grows their cannabis the same, think of it like your fruits and vegetables, there are multiple growers of apples and they all have their own unique traits based on how they were grown. While there is no one way to grow cannabis, how it is grown, handled and packaged is all relevant. This cumulative energy is what the patient winds up with.
Now it's time to choose your cannabis. Potency, flavor, aroma, packaging are all factors for you to take into account. Finding the flower or product that is right for you sometimes takes more than one try,, but when it comes to cannabis trying new things is usually a fun experience!
On Your Way Out
Now that you've secured your package, please be mindful to not use the product in the dispensary or in the parking lot. You also have to be careful not to use these products in public places since it's still not federally allowed. Some states however have consumption lounges or dedicated places to consume cannabis. You should always do your own research to follow local laws.