What you should know before shopping for marijuana

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Cannabis products are becoming more accessible across the United States. Hemp and hemp-derived CBD products are legal at the federal level, a majority of U.S. states now permit medical cannabis use, and more and more states are considering legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use. With access to cannabis products expanding and evidence for its health benefits increasing, many people are considering purchasing marijuana for the first time. Buying marijuana can seem intimidating, but if you know this important info before, during and after your visit to a dispensary, you can easily be a smart, savvy shopper.

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There are hundreds of strains

Part of why marijuana can seem so daunting is that dispensaries often offer many different kinds of marijuana. These are known as "strains," and there are thousands of them on the market. Rather than being distinguished by their THC or CBD content, strains are categorized by their terpenes, the aromatic oils that give off different tastes and smells. Different terpenes are recommended for different effects. For example, citrus-like terpenes are thought to be energizing, while more herbal-smelling strains are considered to be more relaxing. While different strains can affect people in different ways, they ultimately have pretty similar makeups.

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There are two types of marijuana plants

Within marijuana, there's another type of distinction apart from strains. Marijuana plants are separated into two main subspecies: Cannabis indica and Cannabis sativa. These different types vary in physical characteristics as well as chemical makeup. Sativa plants have higher THC content and lower cannabidiol (CBD) content, while indica plants have higher CBD and lower THC. THC is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, while CBD is non-psychoactive. Depending on your desired effect from using marijuana, a dispensary employee might recommend indica, sativa or a hybrid between the two.

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There are hybrid marijuana plants

Marijuana plants have also been cross-bred to produce hybrids that are half-indica, half-sativa. There are also hybrids that contain different percentages - they can be either indica-dominant or sativa-dominant. These plants have been created to have chemical compositions that induce combinations of effects.

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Today's marijuana is not what you'd find at Woodstock

If it's been a decade or two (or more) since you last used marijuana, you might be surprised to learn that today's cannabis strains are significantly stronger. According to Leafly, today's marijuana is 57-67% more potent when compared to samples from the '70s. Technology, decades of cultivation experience and domestic growing operations have led to stronger marijuana becoming the norm. According to an article in Missouri Medicine, marijuana typically contained 2% THC in the 1970s, but today, popular strains range in THC content from 17-28%.

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Not everyone reacts to the drug the same way

Finding the marijuana type and strain for you will involve some trial and error. Everyone reacts differently to marijuana depending on a variety of factors, including overall health, medical conditions, tolerance, genetics and more. Men and women even experience cannabis differently. While recommendations from friends, publications and dispensary employees are a great place to start, you might have a few misfires before finding a strain that works best for you and your needs.

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There is more to it than THC

Shopping for marijuana based solely on THC is like ordering drinks at a bar based only on alcohol content. The aromas, flavors and effects of a plant have an impact on how enjoyable your marijuana experience will be. And many of the plant's effects stem from combinations of the more than 100 other cannabinoids found in cannabis besides just THC. While scientific research is limited, many growers have honed in on strains that they believe balance THC, cannabinoids and terpenes to achieve specific benefits.

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How you consume affects your high

Smoking marijuana delivers cannabinoids through your bloodstream to your brain within minutes. Edibles, on the other hand, take longer to kick in because they have to pass through the stomach, intestines and liver before eventually reaching the brain. The duration of the high from edibles typically lasts much longer than the "head high" of smoking. It's important to start with low doses when it comes to edibles because of the higher risk of overconsumption. Edible products are responsible for the majority of health care visits due to cannabis intoxication, according to a study published by RTI Press.

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Medical marijuana and recreational marijuana differ

Medical marijuana is bred to maximize the health benefits of cannabis with less psychoactive effects. Thus medical marijuana generally has higher CBD levels and low THC. Recreational marijuana, on the other hand, prioritizes the drug's ability to create a "high," so it has higher THC and lower CBD. You need to have a doctor's recommendation and a registration card to obtain medical marijuana, whereas anyone older than the legal age of consumption can buy recreational marijuana where it's legally sold. Some dispensaries cater specifically to medical or recreational use, while many do both.

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Buying CBD oil does not mean you are buying marijuana

Cannabis oil, marijuana oil and THC oil are different than CBD oil. Cannabis oil, marijuana oil and THC oil all have large concentrations of THC in order to produce a high. CBD oil is derived from hemp plants, so it contains 0.3% or less THC. It has concentrated amounts of CBD, a cannabinoid found in the cannabis flower that interacts differently with the brain than THC, in order to deliver the compound's potential health benefits.

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It's important to shop around

Look around online to get an idea of what prices to expect for marijuana in your area. Prices vary by city or state based on taxes as well as supply and demand. Don't be surprised to see some prized, high-quality strains fetch luxury prices. As with most things in life, however, price is not necessarily an indicator of quality. For a ballpark idea of what to budget, though, the national average price for an ounce of high-quality marijuana is $326.06 and for medium-quality is $265.58, according to Oxford Treatment Center.

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You might not be able to pay with a credit card

Call the dispensary you plan to visit or check their website ahead of time to see what payment methods they accept. Because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, purchasing it with a credit card or bank card might not go through or could lead to the cancelation of your account. Even if you're shopping at a legal, legitimate cannabis business, cash might be your only option.

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Know your state laws

Marijuana laws vary drastically from state to state, and sometimes a state's laws are confusing and contradictory. That's why it's important to do some basic research to protect yourself. There are regulations on how much you can personally possess at a single time, how much you can give as a gift, whether or not you can cultivate your own plants, if you can consume it in public and more. While some laws are virtually unenforced in certain cities or states, it's important to be aware of the consequences before engaging in behavior that's technically prohibited.

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Bring your ID

No matter what state you're in, you have to be 21 to purchase weed. And chances are, even if you're 80, they'll still card you. Unlike supermarkets and liquor stores that card you at the point of purchase, many dispensaries will ask for your ID at the door if marijuana products are being openly displayed. The only exception is for medical marijuana. Patients 18 or older can receive medical marijuana cards that they can use to obtain products from a dispensary.

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Ask questions

Instead of flying blind while shopping, don't be afraid to admit you're a novice. Take advantage of the expertise and experience of a dispensary employee, known as a "budtender," and ask for their help. If you're just looking to get your feet wet, you could ask them what their favorite product is, what's one of their best-sellers or what's a good option for beginners. If you're looking for a particular effect, ask what strains are known to achieve it. Once you've picked something, make sure to ask about the most effective way to use the product and how to store it.

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Be ready to answer questions

You don't have to disclose your full medical history to your budtender, but the more information you give them, the more precise a recommendation you'll get. They're not being nosy - marijuana sellers ultimately want customers to have the best experience possible. Be prepared to answer questions about what type of high you want, what method you plan to consume your marijuana and even when and where you plan to use it. This all affects what product suits your needs.

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Don't only look at strain names when purchasing

Just like when you're shopping at the grocery store, it's easy to be convinced to buy something thanks to clever marketing. Many marijuana strains have fun food- or pop-culture-based names. However, don't buy Lemon Meringue just because it's your favorite pie or pick up Death Star because you're a "Star Wars" fan. Focus on the strain's mental and physical effects as well as how it was grown, its chemical makeup and how it's best consumed.

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Trust your budtender

Think of your budtender like a sommelier or coffee expert. He or she should be well-informed on what they're selling you, and they should be willing to answer your questions and help you make the right purchase. After all, you're buying a mind-altering drug. While some dispensaries have a casual atmosphere, your budtender is a professional. If you feel like they're being impatient, condescending or pushy, that's bad customer service and you should feel free to take your business elsewhere.

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Don't touch the bud if a grower offers a sample

Rookie marijuana shoppers might make a major dispensary etiquette mistake if they don't know any better. Your budtender might pull out a sample of product for you to smell or examine. You can look, but don't touch. Treat the product like you would food or medicine. Your budtender is planning to put that flower back and sell it if you don't want it.

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If the bud smells like mold, don't buy it

You don't need to manhandle marijuana to ascertain its quality. Perhaps the easiest way to tell if you should buy a bud or not is its smell. Bad weed will smell like must, mold or mildew. Plenty of strains have bold, funky smells that might not appeal to you, but that doesn't mean they've gone bad; it just means it's not the type for you. There are strains that reek of a tangy cheese aroma, while a strain named Cat Piss lives up to its name - on purpose.

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If the bud looks like unhealthy produce, don't buy it

Even if you're not a weed expert, you can apply your intuition about picking out good produce at the grocery store or healthy plants at the nursery to marijuana. Most flowers should be colorful, with green, blue or purple hues and bright orange or red hairs, rather than looking dry, brown and discolored. The bud should look sticky and have plenty of clear little crystals on the surface called trichomes. Trichomes that have turned amber or the presence of lots of stems and seeds are clues that the weed has gone bad.

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You can't return your buds

If you're new to marijuana, it can be tempting to go on a bit of a buying spree in all your excitement. However, it's important to take it slow and not over-purchase, especially of one particular strain or type. While some stores let you return worn shoes or half-used makeup, you generally cannot return marijuana to a dispensary if you decide you don't like it. Some might allow you to exchange for a different kind, but that is not the norm.

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What you're smoking out of matters

Just like method of ingestion affects your experience, so do the accessories you use. If you decide to smoke your marijuana, you also have a choice in your means of doing so and should experiment to find what you like best. Glass pipes come in different shapes and sizes but are perhaps the most popular option. Rolling papers come in many brands, types, sizes and even different flavors. Water pipes, including bongs, filter the smoke through water, making the smoke easier on the lungs, according to Civilized, but are more complicated to set up.

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There are negative side effects

While cultural acceptance of marijuana might be on the rise, cannabis does still come with both short-term and long-term risks and side effects that you should be prepared to experience. Smoking marijuana can lead to inflamed airways and shortness of breath, according to the American Thoracic Society. THC affects the brain's ability to process short-term memory, so your memory could be temporarily fuzzy. Marijuana can also stimulate appetite and impair motor skills as well as potentially lead to addiction, according to an article in the The New England Journal of Medicine.

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If you have anxiety, cannabis could make it worse

Using marijuana can induce paranoia and anxiety or worsen your anxiety, especially if it's your first time or if you don't use it regularly. Even if you choose a strain that's supposed to make you feel relaxed or euphoric, it could have the opposite effect. On the flip side, marijuana does help many people with PTSD and other mental health conditions manage their stress and anxiety. It all depends on how cannabinoids interact with your brain, so using cannabis is a bit of a personal chemistry experiment that has higher risks if you already experience anxiety.

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It's not like being drunk

If you've never used marijuana before, you might be concerned about the "high" sensation THC causes. This compound is psychoactive but it's not an intoxicant. An intoxicant, such as alcohol, reduces your mental and physical abilities. A psychoactive is more like caffeine in that it alters your mental state by impacting how your brain functions. If you're using marijuana for the first time, you're still going to be in an impaired state, but it won't feel like being drunk. You also won't have a hangover and don't have to worry about overdosing, a near impossibility with marijuana. If you don't live in a state with legal recreational use, consider taking a trip to these 21 destinations for cannabis tourism.

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