Now I can legally use cannabis, but the options are overwhelming. Help!
May 15, 2020 11:58 AM   Subscribe

My cannabis experience in the past was *extremely* limited - a few puffs off of Whatever Was In That Joint At The Party. I recently got access to medical cannabis (PA) for anxiety, but (yes, irony alert) the range of options is making me extra-anxious. Help me get started!

Leaf. Zillions of types! Oils. Vaporizors. Tinctures? wtf? I have... so many options and I don't know how to parse them. Specifically trying to understand:

* What form(s) are useful for what purpose (oils vs leaf)
* Indica vs sativa vs hybrid (I'm aware this is a semi-arbitrary distinction)
* What 'gear' I need or want for each one
* How to interpret THC & CBD levels in each

I am well aware my dispensary has folks who might help guide here but right now my social anxiety is through the goddamn roof and Coronavirus means I can't speak face to face which is normally a much easier way for me to handle this. Asking over the phone makes me want to throw up. (The prescribing doctor themselves has never used it and the prescription was in the vein of "I've heard this might help, why not try it") So I'd appreciate answers that don't send me to a person - though helpful guides elsewhere would be nice.

It'd be helpful to know about what price implications exist for options but I value my (mental) health very highly and my job is reasonably secure, so "this is expensive but good" is a really helpful thing to know.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
As a one-stop-shop for information, with a US-focus, has a nice series of Cannabis 101 guides to terminology, types of products, what you can expect when visiting a dispensary, etc. They also have helpful crowdsourced reviews of many different cannabis strains that cover their positive and negative properties (e.g. good for pain, causes dry mouth). They also published a book called The Leafly Guide to Cannabis: A Handbook for the Modern Consumer, available from stores like Amazon.

Feel free to memail me if you'd like more suggestions.
posted by skye.dancer at 1:02 PM on May 15 [5 favorites]

- I would generally avoid giving a pure-sativa strain to someone if I know they have anxiety issues.

- edibles are a Whole Thing. Getting consistent results is tricky (depends on what else is in your stomach and takes 30-90mins before effects kick in) and if you get your dose wrong, you’re subject to the results for 4-8 hrs.

- smoking a joint or a basic pipe is going to be the easiest & cheapest way to experiment with different strains.

- vaping is a nice gentle delivery, similar to smoking flower but slower and a bit easier to measure doses. Wirecutter has a decent range of recommendations.
posted by sixswitch at 1:03 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]

Hi, I am a reluctant but determined medical cannabis advocate. I use it as part of my toolkit to manage severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder and combat related PTSD, so I think we are a similar match.

Here is my personal experience:

1. I hate smoking it. Hate hate hate it. Hate the smell, hate the feeling in my throat and lungs. I very quickly moved on to oil vaporizers (also unpleasant, but the most palatable way to get it into my system quickly) and tinctures (my preferred form, even though it takes a few more minutes to hit than a vaporizer).
2. For GAD and PTSD, my own experience has been that I mostly want a formulation heavier on the CBD, which helps more with pain and anxiety, as opposed to THC, which produces more traditional feelings of euphoria or "high". HOWEVER, somewhat counter-intuitively, I have also learned that having some THC in the mix helps me more than CBD alone. Cannabis is a very complex organic compound, and evolved to have both THC and CBD work together. My personal sweet spot for GAD and PTSD is around a 10:1 ratio of CBD to THC, although based on what is available I can also get by with 5:1 or 20:1.
3. I don't know if any of the products will be the same in PA compared to where I am in Washington state, but the ones I have had the most luck with are water tinctures by Green Revolution. I like the Relief 1000 line, of which there are AM and PM formulations. It is the strongest stuff for the cheapest price, particularly when I buy it in the larger 3.4 ounce bottle. Also acceptable, but newer and I don't have years of data on, but still OK are the Balance tinctures. I think those actually are a little bit cheaper for the same effect.
Both of these are pretty powerful formulations, so I would definitely start small and see how it effects you. I personally use them just to take the edge off of my anxiety. My wife uses them to treat chronic pain from rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, so we have experience there, too.
4. The good thing about oil and water tinctures are you don't need any special equipment. You dose yourself with the eyedropper that comes in the bottle. If you want to try other types, we found the Launchbox from Magic Flight to be an adequate dry weed vaporizer (you will also need to purchase a grinder). As far as oil vaporizers, the technology on those are improving so much each year and it has been a while since we purchased one I don't have a solid recommendation for you.

Finally, some personal advice: It took me 45 years plus legalization to overcome my parents' and Mormon church programming and try medical cannabis. I wish I hadn't waited that long. (Ironically after I had wrestled mightily with my conscience, a few years later the Church came out and said cannabis is OK for medical use. Thanks a lot. Where were you when I needed you?)

If you stick with a tincture, the cost of entry is low, maybe $20-40 (don't know PA prices) and you can try it and see if it even works for you. No need to worry about grinders or vaporizers or bongs or the horrible smoke and its horrible smell.

Cannabis has done wonders for me. There is some compelling medical evidence that cannabis can help replace missing neurotransmitters in the brains of people who have experience trauma and suffer from PTSD.

If you need more information and aren't comfortable putting it here, send me a Memail and I'll answer. I'm even willing to talk on the phone or Zoom first time you try it if that would help you. Best of luck and I hope you get some relief. You deserve it.
posted by seasparrow at 1:22 PM on May 15 [9 favorites]

This is highly individualized so you are going to need to do some experimentation to see what works for you, but I agree that Leafly has good basic education and good specific strain info.

Since this is for anxiety I would recommend against edibles/tinctures until you get your bearings - they're great when you know what effect they're going to have and how long they'll last but generally I find them annoying unpredictable, even within the same brand and same package.

Actual smoking has never appealed to me, due to the smell and fiddly-ness factor, but your mileage may vary with that.

I think oil vaping (as opposed to vaping actual plant) would be a nice easy start for you - no smell, no mess (everything comes in a little sealed container), and you can take a tiny puff and see how you feel because the effect is very quick (unlike edibles). There are a bunch of different vape types:
- There are "all-in-one" pre-loaded ones that just look like a little plastic cigarette and you throw them away when they're done. This might be a nice entry point for you since they're super simple.
- The most common and basic non-disposable vape is a 510-threaded battery (sometimes called a universal battery or something like that). You can get one for around $10 from any dispensary and any dispensary will have cartridges that work with it.
- I prefer one of the slightly nicer vapes (all of which are still under $40) like a G Pen Gio or AiroPro, but each of them require their own specific type of cartridge (the Gio needs Gio cartridges, the AiroPro needs AiroPro etc.) Given that, if you're interested in one of these you'll want to pay attention to what kind of cartridges your local dispensaries carry (it would be annoying to get a vape pen and then not be able to get cartridges for it). I think the Gio would probably be a nice fit for you - it feels nice in the hand, is super discrete, and you literally don't have to do anything other than insert the cartridge and inhale.

Happy to discuss further if you want to memail (clearly I have lots of opinions!)
posted by wuzandfuzz at 1:33 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]

If your local dispensary is on it, I super recommend dutchie for browsing for product. They have a live menu system that auto-updates with what's in stock and give a bunch of detail on what kind of high you're looking for.
posted by zsh2v1 at 2:09 PM on May 15

In MA, the dispensary folks are very good and knowledgable. Like sommeliers. I haven't been since the pandemic (I'm kind of stocked up) but the staffing has always been reassuring and comforting--sort of like the opposite of a doctor's office.

But I get you. It's a kind of leap of faith to lean on the hope you'll find someone cool.

What form(s) are useful for what purpose (oils vs leaf)
* Indica vs sativa vs hybrid (I'm aware this is a semi-arbitrary distinction)
* What 'gear' I need or want for each one
* How to interpret THC & CBD levels in each

So I have a med license and live in a legal state. I do not find indica versus sativa versus hybrid to be all that meaningful to me, but on the other hand, I can't talk with a lot of subtlety about wine, so maybe it's just me. I've done pure CBD and again, maybe it's just me, but I felt a net neutral and go with indica/sativa/hybrid but titrate carefully. I go more by taste/scent - they are often named intuitively. 'Grape Stomper' pretty much tells you what you're getting.

Smoking pre-rolled joints and having them around is nice. Here, we can get an assortment of a few strains, five per a box. They last me forever. Smoking hits faster, and sometimes that's nice, and the smell is nice. I don't smoke them all at once, just a little at a time. Sometimes smoking is not realistic though.

Tinctures are great and what I take most frequently. I do five drops or so at a time (5mg). This is a low dose, but I find I get dumb and paranoid over that. I also find three to five hits on a smokable is about right.

Edibles are fine if you know going in what your mg tolerance is -- so I would experiment with tinctures and then play with edibles, which have less margin for error. If you get a tincture and try it out and you feel like '5mg is just great for me' you know what edible to buy. That's a vast difference between '50mg is great for me' (I'd be up, blinking into the abyss all night.)

I like hard candies and gummies as edibles go.

Vapes give me the creeps.

FWIW I used to find marijuana somewhat anxiety inducing but then I realized, what the hell, I'm a dork anyway....what's going to happen? I'll be socially awkward? Well, I'm familiar with that. And then realizing I could take small amounts, that I didn't have to get baked beyond belief.

Anyway: fan of weed; feel free to DM me if you'd like to ask anything specific. "Start low, go slow" is generally the rule.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:18 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]

"Start low, go slow" is generally the rule.

Indeed. I talked a little bit about this in the other recent THC thread but I'm actually a fan of edibles. Don't like smoking, don't want any gear, know my levels (they are low, yay stuff is cheap) and since I'm only using it for sleeping really I don't worry too much about other stuff.

The problem with edibles is that they take some time to work. So you would have to spend some time doing some experimentation. Try a little. Wait an HOUR. Try a little more. This is not for everyone. My tolerance is low, like 1-2 mg, and my stoner boyfriend's is more like 5-10x that, so can be tough to judge. Edibles usually come in higher and lower dose formulations, for people like him and people like me, so worth making sure you're starting out small. I think my usual go-to is a 50 mg chocolate bar that I break into ten pieces and have a third of a piece each night. I have not had the issues others have had in terms of variable experience, but I don't doubt that they happen.

Pot shops will give you decent indications of what sort of effects you're likely to have and I tend to lump them into "energizing" and "sleep-inducing" categories. My boyfriend is ADHD so "energizing" for him means "Helps him focus" not "makes him want to run around" or especially not "makes him feel speedy" Also worth figuring out if your local dispensaries do curbside or delivery because if you don't MIND smoking a joint, getting a few different strains as joints, bringing them home and then trying a few puffs at a few time (and hey take seasparrow up on their offer if it will help) may be useful for you.

In short the thing that all anxiety sufferers know is the headache that is worrying about taking new anti-anxiety medications. I have totally been there and I know it's hard.
posted by jessamyn at 2:38 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]

Indica vs. Sativa vs. Hybrid - the classical interpretation is that Sativa is Cerebral and Indica puts you In Da Couch; head-high vs body-high. YMMV. Starting out, a low-end hybrid will do just fine, as in a 'what kind of wine? I dunno, the red kind?' Then try a few different strains, and you'll get an idea of what you personally like.
And if you're getting spendy, there's no reason to stick to just one; this jar is for Movie Night, I like this one for Stoned Yoga, this is etc.

Edibles: preferred by many, but dosage can be tricky. When ingested, it metabolizes differently. This can mean a different high, but also a longer-lasting timed-release effect. So if you want to be kinda high all afternoon vs really high for two hours, that's edibles vs inhalables. The trick with edible dosage is you can 'overdose', meaning get higher than you want to be, not meaning in medical danger. Ever drink too much alcohol and get the 'bed spins', you're dizzy and nauseous and 'ugh, I don't want to be this drunk, make it stop'? That's basically what happens when you find out too late that you were only supposed to eat one square, not the whole chocolate bar at once. Drink a bunch of water and lay down to sleep, you'll be fine in the morning. (That's where edibles differs most from inhalables; smoke and you're as high as you're going to be, right away and it tapers off steadily - edibles can change mood from hour to hour.)

Concentrates: oils, waxes, etc. Same general idea as smoking, but instead of burning leaves, the effective goop has been extracted, and you heat that up until it vaporizes. If you're content to just buy a simple gizmo, there are plenty of 'vape pens' that are a battery, heating coil, and a refillable or preloaded cartridge of cannabis oil. Convenient and discreet. But who's manufacturing that stuff and what's the process?
(I don't know enough about tinctures, but it's the same idea; plant extract dissolved in liquid, in a little eyedropper bottle, three drops under the tongue before bedtime or whatever.)
Leaf/flower: old fashioned smoking. Smoking a whole joint by myself of potent modern stuff is a bit too much for me. So I've been a bowl/pipe person for a long time. Take a big pinch or a small one, light and inhale it, have a snack and watch a movie or take a walk, pretty much wears off by the time the movie's over.
Gear: for pipe smoking, a lighter, pipe, and a grinder. (The grinder breaks up the chunks of flower bud into smaller, more easily handled little bits. Cheap and small, it's something you twist in your hands; a whole bunch at once, you can use one of those countertop coffee bean grinders.) Since burning plant matter for smoke produces something dry, dirty, and hot, it's common to introduce water filtration to make a bong, etc. Get as simple or fancy as you feel comfortable with.
As a product recommendation, but perhaps obsolete now, I had a good time with something made by PAX, forget the name, which was in the category of 'dry vape'. Rather than buying somebody else's concentrated oil product in industrial packaging, a dry vape takes the plant matter and heats it (bakes, not burns) until the oils vaporize for inhalation. The smoking paradigm, but without lighting plants on fire. Found it to be a good compromise.
posted by bartleby at 2:49 PM on May 15

As far as strain goes: I'd just ask your retailer for a recommendation, or find a strain on Leafly that's listed as being useful for your purposes. Don't overthink it – I personally believe that much of the stuff about specific strains having specific effects is just a combination of marketing, drug-culture folklore, and stoner bros getting way too wonkish about their hobby (much as beer bros get way too wonkish about beer, and hi-fi bros get way too wonkish about gold-plated audio cables).

That just leaves method of ingestion. In your situation, I'd consider these three:


Equipment needed: Just a simple, inexpensive pipe (or rolling papers), a grinder, and a lighter.

Advantages: Dead simple, with minimal outlay for equipment.

Disadvantages: Hard on the lungs. Smelly. I personally find that smoking causes anxiety for me (and other methods do not), but your mileage may vary.


Note that there are two different kinds of vaporizers. Both are battery-powered.

The most common type, these days, is much like a Juul – it takes cartridges containing cannabis concentrate. (These are the "vape pens" that you've probably heard about. Since you're a less experienced cannabis user, I recommend against those. I admit that my knowledge of them is limited – but the one time I tried one, I went insane. Maybe it was just a strong concentrate.)

The other kind – the kind that I do recommend – just takes regular old bud (which you'll want to grind first). These don't actually combust the bud, but simply heat it up enough to turn the cannabinoids into vapor.

Advantages: No coughing – it's like breathing floral-flavored air. Discreet – depending on the vaporizer, the smell ranges from mild and floral, to nonexistent. Provides more bang for your buck – burning bud actually destroys much of the THC, but vaporizing it doesn't. Lastly: I find that vaporizing is much less likely to make me anxious and paranoid, and makes it much easier to calibrate my dosage (sometimes I just want to get a little buzz on).

Disadvantages: None, really. Die-hard stoners have sometimes complained that my vaporizer doesn't do anything for them, but I don't mind having a low tolerance. I spend very little money on bud.

(My Magic Flight Launch Box wasn't cheap, but they're attractive and well made, and mine has served me well for years.)


Equipment needed: None.

Advantages: The simplest, most discreet, and most frugal method of all. Fun as hell. Low potential for anxiety, in my experience. Lasts all goddamn day.

Disadvantages: Lasts all goddamn day (seriously – clear your calendar). Also, it's easy to overdose on edibles – and edible overdoses are famously unpleasant. Start with a low dose – 5 mg, or even 2.5 mg – and wait a full two hours, to make sure you're feeling the full effects, before taking more.

Bottom line

Don't overthink it. All of the complicated details really aren't as important as the wonks say they are. Just pick something that seems reasonable and comfortable to you, and give it a shot. If something about the experience isn't quite right for you, then try something else. The reason that each of these options exists in the first place is that someone, somewhere prefers it. And you don't know what you prefer until you just try something.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:34 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]

I’ve found that dry-herb vapes and full-spectrum tinctures (i.e. a tincture with the full spectrum of cannabinoids present, rather than something made with distillate that will just have THC) are most effective for me.

I’ve got a lot of opinions about vapes, but if I had to keep it brief I’d say:
1. Ignore the wirecutter’s vape recommendations. Especially their #1 pick. Grenco products in general should be avoided.
2. Your local dispensary or headshop will have a very limited selection, and they’ll try to sell you whatever they stock. Figure out what you want, then buy online ( and are my go-to shops for things that I can’t order straight from the manufacturer).
3. The Vapcap M is the cheapest good vape available, at $50-$60, so long as you’re not put off by it being butane-powered rather than electric.
4. The Magic Flight Launch Box is a charming dinosaur. I love mine, but I wouldn’t recommend that anyone buy one in 2020.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 5:55 PM on May 15

I'm in PA and they don't sell the usual edibles like gummies, chocolate, or baked products. The only thing in the edible category is tinctures, which are supposed to work faster (15-30 minutes) because you put them under the tongue. The tinctures usually have names that describe what they're supposed to do, like Dream for sleep and Ease for anxiety. If you want to go the tincture route to start with, each one lists the ratio of THC to CBD.

Another option is a disposable vape pen, which requires no equipment and might be a good place to start.
posted by daikon at 8:20 PM on May 15

You definitely should find a dispensary with a knowledgeable and helpful staff, who can guide you to the right product for your needs.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:00 AM on May 16

I'm the type of person who HAS to look at the menu before going to a new restaurant and find dispensaries very intimidating...does the dispensary you're planning on using have a website that lists their products? The one I use in Colorado does, which includes all of the strains they currently have available - and each strain has a scale showing what it's particularly good for (ie pain relief, happiness, relaxation). It helps me immensely to pick out strains based on that info ahead of time.

As for intake...I started with oil vapes & very low dose (5mg max) edibles and that worked well but I found that i wanted to experiment with actual strains. I can't smoke due to asthma and love using an herb vape combined with a water pipe. The only flower vape I've used is the Arizer Solo II but it's super user friendly and relatively affordable.
posted by kattyann at 4:13 PM on May 16

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