A beginner’s guide to cannabis
05.31.22 - 4 min read
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A plant known by many names, cannabis sports a complex legal status, history and chemistry.
In recent years, the status of cannabis has gone through rapid changes in the U.S. Currently, 18 states have legalized recreational marijuana use, and 37 states have legalized medical marijuana. As stigmas about cannabis continue to change, more and more people are becoming curious about the plant.
For anyone who is newly interested in cannabis, there’s plenty to learn—and our guide will walk you through all the basics you’ll need to get started.
So, ready to grow your knowledge? Then let’s dive in.
Cannabis, or marijuana, is a variety of cannabis Sativa genus—a psychoactive plant that has been cultivated and used for thousands of years for a variety of purposes. Another common variety of this genus is hemp. Marijuana and hemp are sometimes used as interchangeable terms, but these varieties are quite different from each other. According to US law, cannabis plants that produce less than 0.3% THC are considered industrial hemp and are legal under federal law. [Source]
Marijuana is a resilient plant that can be grown indoors or outdoors. It thrives in most regions, but does especially well in warmer climates.
Historically the use of marijuana has been documented in ancient China, India, Greece, the Middle East, and many other cultures around the world. Recent research has indicated that the origin of domesticated cannabis can be traced back to the early Neolithic times in East Asia. Cannabis was used for religious, medicinal and recreational purposes for centuries.
While cannabis is still not legal at the federal level in the U.S., some states have legalized medical marijuana use, while others have opted to legalize both medical and recreational cannabis use. Because cannabis laws vary from state to state, it’s important to stay informed, know your rights and keep up with current regulations in your location.
Managing discomfort is the most common application of medical marijuana. [Source] However, it has a growing number of other possible applications that are currently under review in the medical community. New potential benefits of the plant are being discovered regularly as more studies are conducted. [Source]
In states that allow recreational cannabis use, adults 21 and over can typically purchase marijuana in a variety of forms at dispensaries. Because recreational cannabis isn’t prescribed by a medical professional with specific dosing, we recommend that new users start low and go slow when it comes to determining appropriate dosages. (In other words, start with the lowest dose possible and gradually increase it over time—as you can tolerate, and only as needed.)
Cannabis strains are often referred to as being either indica or sativa. However, due to widespread crossbreeding, you’re more likely to encounter sativa-dominant and indica-dominant strains on the market (rather than pure sativa or indica strains). You’ll also see strains that are labeled hybrids, which are intended to provide a balance between these categories.
Cannabis indica is a short, bushy plant with wide fan leaves that are dark green. You may have heard that indica-dominant strains produce relaxing, body-specific effects—however, it’s important to note that strain categorization isn’t this simple. The effects of a cannabis strain are not dependent on its categorization of indica or sativa; rather, this is determined by its terpene and cannabinoid content, the interaction of these compounds, your own body, and many other factors. [Source]
Cannabis sativa is a long, tall plant with long, thin leaves that are light green. You may see sativa-dominant strains being described as energizing and cerebral. However, just as with indica-dominant strains, the truth is much more complex. Cannabis experience can vary widely depending on the chemical profile of a specific strain, your body, and additional factors. [Source]
For years, indica and sativa strains have been crossbred to cultivate a strain that provides a combination of effects. Therefore, you’ll discover that there are thousands of hybrid strains, and that each has its own unique properties.
Did you know the human body has special receptors that respond to the active chemical compounds of cannabis? The endocannabinoid system is believed to be responsible for regulating sleep, memory, mood and appetite. As a result, marijuana can affect all of these functions simply because it stimulates your endocannabinoid receptors. There are two main types of cannabinoid receptors known to science: CB1 and CB2. Different cannabinoids interact with these in their own unique way, thus creating different effects. [Source]
The most well-known cannabinoids include CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). However, there are actually over 100 different cannabinoids and each has different effects on the human body. [Source]
CBD and THC are both natural cannabinoids known as phytocannabinoids but they have different effects on the body and mind.
If you’ve ever wondered why cannabis has such strong aromas, the answer is in terpenes.
These are the aromatic oils found in plants that give them their unique smell and taste. These terpenes originated as a way for the cannabis plant to fend off predators, but they likely play a role in the plant’s potential benefits as well. Terpenes in marijuana have been known to interact with cannabinoids, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), to amplify or balance the effects of various cannabis strains. [Source]
This type of interaction is commonly known as the “Entourage Effect.”
Now that we’ve covered some of the science behind marijuana, we’ll dive into common ways to consume cannabis.
Flower refers to the consumable part of the marijuana plant. You can use it in a pipe, bong or vape, or roll it in a paper to make a smokable. Smoking flower is an extremely common consumption method, though beginners will generally need to familiarize themselves with it in order to get comfortable with dosing. As an alternative, you can integrate it into a wide variety of recipes or use it to make cannabutter or canna-oil.
Marijuana vaporizers have a chamber for dried cannabis flower which then releases the active compounds as the device heats up the plant material. You then inhale it as a vapor instead of smoke. Vape or dab pens also work with concentrates like oils, wax, dabs, etc.
Edibles are cannabis-infused food products. Depending on your location, you might see anything from gummies and baked goods to savory snacks on the market. Commercial edibles are easy to consume, and their dosages should be clearly indicated on their packaging, making them popular choices amongst beginners. However, if you’re new to edibles, be sure to start with an extremely low dose, monitoring your physical and mental state before consuming more.
Cannabis-infused drinks are a newer entry to the market. There are numerous types of cannabis drinks that have been crafted to help you enjoy the unique flavors and effects associated with cannabis. Drinks generally have a faster onset than edibles as they are digested quicker. Beginners may reach for beverages because they’re easy to consume and, in many cases, feature clear dosing information.
Pre-rolls are simply smokables that have been rolled in advance. They’re typically sold at dispensaries as paper that contains dried flower and are ready for you to consume immediately. Pre-rolls are useful for beginners who haven’t learned to roll yet, or anyone looking for some convenience factor.
Cannabis concentrates and extracts are highly concentrated forms of marijuana. They come in a wide variety of forms (and the list just keeps growing). Some of the more common categories currently out on the market include:
This form of cannabis is generally more potent than what you’ll find in many other categories, and often allows for a more specific, refined and powerful experience. (When it comes to concentrates, the phrase “a dab will do ya” certainly applies.) For those reasons, concentrates are typically more popular with those of us who have a good amount of experience with the plant vs. newbies.
Cannabis tinctures are made by soaking the cannabis plant material in alcohol or oil and then straining it. The resulting liquid can be ingested orally, usually by placing a few drops under the tongue. Tinctures typically have a quick onset if held under the tongue and are generally easy to measure when it comes to dosage. Because you can administer doses drop by drop, it’s a smart choice for cannabis newcomers who want to ease into their journey.
Cannabis topicals come in many forms such as creams, lotions, balms, salves or sprays. Just as the name implies, they are designed for topical use on the skin and should not be ingested. Some are categorized as localized and are intended to stay in the specific area of the body where they’ve been applied. Additionally, some topicals are considered transdermal and are intended to be absorbed into the body over time.
Does marijuana in pill form sound more appealing to you? Cannabis capsules can contain most forms of the plant but are usually made from a concentrated oil or tincture. These are often created for specific medical applications which means they can contain a single cannabinoid or the whole spectrum.
The cannabis industry is growing at a rapid pace, which means new gear innovations are appearing on the market regularly. Many of these options allow for more refined experiences, and as you become more accustomed to the world of cannabis, you’ll figure out what works best for you. That said, certain consumption methods such as edibles, tinctures and beverages generally require no additional gear, allowing you to keep it simple.
Below is a brief overview of some basic gear categories out there.
The cannabinoids such as THC or CBD attach to the receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Once this happens, these compounds interact with your ECS. The effects, their strength and duration will vary widely from person to person. [Source]
Since cannabis affects everyone differently, there is no single answer. Some people may choose to start with a tried-and-true method such as smoking flower, or an alternative such as vaping. Additionally, some beginners may opt for products that allow for potentially clearer dosages, including capsules, tinctures or commercial edibles. The fast-growing category of beverages also provide plenty of lower-dose options that could be right for rookies out there.
There is no one-fit-all dosage for any cannabis product, and no single product that’s right for everyone. The effect of cannabis depends on a variety of factors such as your own body, the strain and its compounds, and how you actually consume it. Doing your research really pays off—and remember to start low and go slow!
Have more questions? Our knowledgeable staff at your local RISE Dispensary is here to provide answers, recommend products and support your cannabis journey.
Select your state and preferred dispensary to shop .