After generations in the shadows and long nights of “still waiting on the guy, what’s up with the guy, should we call the guy again?” anxiety, buying legal cannabis is becoming a way of life in America. Recreational weed is now legal for adult use in 10 states and the District of Columbia, and medical use is allowed in 33, while even more states have decriminalized possession. The new legal menus at dispensaries can all be a little overwhelming, but in a good way, kind of like looking at the cost of medical care in a European country. So many options! So cheap! It comes in granola form now? What on earth is a “shatter”?
To take the edge of taking the edge off, we talked to a few experienced budtenders—yes, that is exactly what it sounds like—to explain the basics of different intake methods and who they’re for: Bethany Weisbacher, a budtender at the Farmers’ Market in Denver and author of the book Dispensary Life: A Survival Guide to Budtending in Cannabis-Legal States, and Troy Fimbres, a budtender at Exhale Med Center in West Hollywood, Calif.
Consider this a first-timer’s guide to putting weed in your body. Read up on and follow the local laws wherever you live, and if you’re brand new to this, please remember that it’s good etiquette to share.
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What they are: Efficient delivery systems for weed oil. The oil is made from cannabis plants, distilled down to their THC and cannabinoid base, then mixed with a harmless cutting agent, such as coconut oil or vegetable oil. You can buy cartridges of oil in myriad varieties at a shop. Usually the base of the pen itself is sold separately and is available in many forms, sizes and power—but they’re available everywhere, from regular smoke shops to bodegas.
Who it’s for: The discreet stoner on the move. Weisbacher recommends them for social gatherings and situations where carrying around a stinky bag of weed or joint would be too obtrusive. They’re light and elegant, a lightsaber compared to the laser blaster that is a joint. People use them at baseball games, the beach (that beach wind makes lighting a joint or bowl a real pain the ass), taking quick hits while walking down the street, and yes, even airplanes. It’s not, it should be noted, any more legal to hit one of these at a stadium or on a plane than it is to hit a Juul or other e-cig in a public space. But the whole point of these is that no one notices when you use one.
“It’s good for the discreet smoker, in-between-work break, when you don’t have time to bring a joint, or don’t want anybody to know,” Troy Fimbres said. “It’s easy, accessible, a nice light high.”
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What they are: Cannabis baked or cooked into snack items, or mixed into other foods. You might be picturing the classic brownie, but the assortment of edibles at shops now is as varied as an actual supermarket: gummies, truffles, lozenges, the aforementioned granola, lollipops, icicles, nuts, soda, taffy, espresso beans, cold brew coffee; if you’re lucky, maybe this weed-infused pizza delivery service will go nationwide one day. THC and CBD are fat-soluble, which means any fat can hold them, like butter, or coconut oil for vegan edibles. Thanks to the magic of oils, basically any food can be drizzled or mixed with cannabis now.
Who they’re for: People with lung issues, anyone who wants a long-lasting body high. But first timers beware!
Edibles can be very strong, and it’s easy to keep eating a bag of delicious gummies and forget that they’re little time bombs of incredible stonedness waiting to go off in your stomach. The internet is rife with stories of people who overdid it on edibles, most famously the Maureen Dowd of the New York Times.
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Weisbacher recommends starting with 5 or 10 milligrams (dosage is usually listed on the package), then waiting up to an hour and a half to feel the effects. Smoking weed goes straight to the brain but edibles dissolve in your stomach, taking longer to kick in but also lasting much longer.
“You can always eat more but you can’t take it back,” Weisbacher said.
An edible is perfect for the situations where you can’t, or don’t want to, keep taking puffs to reup your high: a movie, concert, long hike or flight, for instance. But dear lord, don’t be the person who freaks out from edibles on an airplane. (One way to help ensure you don’t accidentally overindulge: buy a non-weed-infused version of whatever edible you’ve chosen, so you can keep snacking without accidentally ingesting way more THC than you’d bargained for.)
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What they are: Cannabis-infused products absorbed through the skin, including lotions, balms, oils, body washes, patches and body rubs.
Who they’re for: Anyone looking to treat localized pain, soreness and inflammation; often popular with older users.
Topicals are firmly in the more medicinal section of the weed spectrum, often used to alleviate pain from arthritis, fibromyalgia or just general soreness. Even in states where cannabis isn’t legally available, CBD oils (minus the psychoactive THC) are widely available. In legal shops, you can find oils that have both CBD and THC to alleviate pain and give you a little buzz.
Weisbacher likes to suggest a particular method: rubbing cannabis lotion on your feet and then putting socks on, which gives an all-over healing feeling, similar to a classic Vicks VapoRub remedy.
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Concentrates a.k.a. dabs
What they are: Extremely concentrated, all-killer, no-filler cannabis compounds. They come in lots of different forms, from wax to the brittle “shatter” to the buttery “badder.” All these fall under the category of what people call “dabs.” A dab is way more intense: You might get up to 85 percent THC per hit, compared to 15 to 25 percent you get by smoking cannabis. You need a special dabbing rig and a butane blowtorch, like the one used for creme brulee, to use them.
Who they’re for: Power users, plant connoisseurs, people who want to limit their smoke intake.
Concentrates allow for a more potent hit, which means you have to ingest less smoke, and you get a true taste of the plant itself, Fimbres said.
“You really get the true flavor of the actual strain out of those things,” he said. “It’s very surreal the first time.”
Dabs are good for getting a little for a lot: a quick dab will get you very high, and the smell won’t linger as much as smoking weed would. Weisbacher said people who’ve been taking weed for a long time often turn to dabs to mix up their tolerance. Dabs are fun at parties too since they require special equipment. But they can be heavy duty stuff, involving goopy waxes and a dang blow torch, so it’s best to get some deep experience before you try dabbing on ’em.
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Flower, a.k.a. weed classic, the greens, bud, nugs, the sticky icky, broccoli, trees, etc.
What it is: Good ol’ fashioned cannabis in its bud form has been rebranded “flower” in the parlance of our increasingly legalized times. It’s still the standard, and any shop will have a menu with tons of options describing each strain’s effects, in addition to offering expertly crafted pre-rolled joints.
It comes in three forms: sativa, indica or a hybrid of the two. For deciding between them, the line used by generations of pot dealers is still good enough for us here: do you want to ride a bike (sativa, an upper weed) or watch a movie (indica, a relaxing one, a.k.a. “in da couch”)?
Who it’s for: Everyone who can stand a little smoke in their lungs.
Smoking weed, just like listening to vinyl records or reading a print newspaper, will never lose its classic charm, even as it makes less financial, practical and health sense as the industry evolves. Passing around a weed pen, with its antiseptic frill of vapor and seemingly endless toking supply, will never quite match the social and ritualistic aspect of twisting a fat bone to pass around with your crew.
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“Very few people don’t want to smoke flower,” Fimbres said. “Flower is probably the most universally used in our whole dispensary.”
With so many varieties available, you can fine tune your high, or even get low-dosage flower to keep it mellow. Roll it into a joint, grind it into a bowl, use it for baking, stuff it in a one-hitter or load it into a bong if you’re feeling like you missed out on a classic college experience.
Picking which strain can be as complex as picking wine (that’s what the budtenders are for). Generally, Weisbacher said, sativa is an awake, creative kind of high. She calls it “adventure weed,” popular with outdoor enthusiasts in Colorado.
Indica will be more of a body high, a relaxed, almost sleep-like state best for chilling out. Hybrids will give you both the cerebral high and body highs.
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This is all a lot to consider, but budtenders take their jobs seriously and most will spend the time to recommend safe, appropriate methods for all customers. Fimbres said first-time users in newly legal states shouldn’t be intimidated about popping in to check out a shop for the first time. And he pointed out something that’s been true since way before the overdue legalization trend started: everyone is already doing it.
“There’s something in the store for everybody,” he said “It’s more common than actually smoking cigarettes. A lot more people do it than you think.”