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A couple kissing and holing up a picture of weed.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting (to Buy Weed)

June 8, 2022

By Colin Curran

If you read my last post, you know I could be considered a connoisseur of alcohol from my extensive history. If you didn’t read my previous post , long story short: I used to drink, and now I don’t. I’ve come to realize quickly that there’s so much to know and I’m starting from the beginning when it comes to different categories, strains, terpenes, benefits of CBD, and levels of THC content. Having transitioned into cannabis as a relative newbie, trying to become an expert in the category can be daunting.  Knowing every category and subcategory of IPA, New England Style IPA, West Coast IPA, and many more becomes impractical when I need to know the difference between Sativa, Indica, and Hybrids and the different strains in every category.

I started going to dispensaries frequently about six months before joining the cannabis industry. I moved back to Massachusetts from a non-legal state just one year before joining Cantrip, and it has taken some time to learn what’s right for me.  

In this blog series, I will take you through the journey of being a new cannabis consumer and the knowledge I’ve gained. I’ll talk about its relative similarities to the beer industry and what it is like to learn this complexity. For today, let’s talk about how to decide what flower to buy when you walk into a dispensary.

Active and non-active THC

The first bit of knowledge I had before entering the industry is that Sativa, Indica, and Hybrid strains are the equivalent of choosing whether you want to consume a Bud Light or a White Claw at the party; it all depends on the occasion. In general terms, Sativa strains will give you more of a head high, whereas Indica strains will give you more of a body high.  Hybrid strains are a combination of the two. These are guidelines for the strains and not hard facts, just like some people prefer how Bud light makes them feel over White Claw; THC will affect each individual differently at the end of the day.

After deciding what variety I wanted, I was lost when picking the actual strain. There are so many different names. So, the easiest thing to do to differentiate between them is to check the amount of THCA in the flower.

You may be asking yourself, “Why am I looking at how much THCA is in weed? Shouldn’t I look for how much THC is in it?”  When buying weed or pre-rolls in Massachusetts, there will be a label listing every active ingredient in what you just purchased. This list of acronyms you will read is all cannabinoids.  Without starting a chemistry lecture, there are a few terms that helped me understand the back of the packaging a little better.

If you do a google search, you will learn that cannabinoids are “any of a group of closely related compounds which include cannabinol and the active constituents of cannabis.” In simple terms, cannabinoids are everything in and around cannabis, including Delta-9-THC, THCA, and many more.  These are the symbols and percentages that you will find on the back of all packaging.

THCA, which is the highest percentage on almost every flower packing you will purchase, is not psychoactive. THCA converts into Delta-9-THC, which is psychoactive and is what you inhale when lit on fire in your bong, joint, or bowl. So, where is the THC? Delta-9-THC is the default form of THC after we just lit the weed on fire. Think of it like this: you start with THCA, burn off the A with your lighter, and are left with THC. If you are a scientist or my boss, you are pulling your hair out currently because that is not the exact science of it all. (if you want more of the science or want this to be more specific, I wish you the best of luck on your google searches). If you are like me and you are okay with a general understanding, you now know Delta-9-THC and THC are similar, and THCA is just the precursor to it all, which is why it is on the packaging, among many other acronyms.

THC isn’t the only thing to shop for

Previously, when I was buying alcohol, I was a guy who enjoyed a low ABV beer for any occasion and high ABV tequila on those extra special nights. Like in alcohol, where everyone has their preference of beverages, people prefer higher or lower levels of THCA for different occasions.

Since I had heard the myth that higher THC content was better, I initially started buying joints that ranged between 23 and 30 percent THCA. I learned my personal preference for flower is Hybrid/Sativa strains for when I go out, and Indica strains for when I stay in. I would smoke the high percentage joint before hanging out with people and then sip a Cantrip or non-alcoholic beverage during any outing or get-together.

I noticed that after I smoked, I would get nervous or anxious while seeing my friends. I initially thought it was just the strain or kind of weed, so I tried different types, like finding which new hard seltzer is suitable for you.  Eventually, through a LOT of trial and error, I found that higher percentage joints were not for me. Just as many of you probably gawked when you read that I drank tequila regularly, I remain baffled how some people smoke full joints that are 25% or higher.

My go-to range now? Anything between 10 and 20 percent. I find I get a better taste of the flower, and the high is much more enjoyable.  The nights I go out, I can enjoy myself without feeling too high or anxious; the nights I stay in, I can pick a strain based on whether I want to sit and watch a movie or be more active and focus on learning how to DJ.

Just like people do not pick alcohol solely off of ABV, you should not choose a strain of weed strictly off of THCA percentage. You want what you are smoking to taste good and get you high!

Depending on the dispensary you go to, you may be able to buy flower that has also been tested for terpenes. I will detail terpenes in another blog post, but here are the quick basics. “There are about 400 known terpenes in cannabis, but experts have only linked a handful of them to specific effects.” Besides effects, terpenes play an essential role in the taste and aroma of cannabis. Due to strict state laws, you may not be able to smell the flower you want to purchase before you buy it. Terpenes can be a way of gauging the taste of flower before smelling them!  I recommend asking your budtender what terpenes are in the weed you are looking to purchase.

Besides THCA percentage and taste, the last factor I would consider before purchasing weed is how fresh it is. If we go back to the label with all our cannabinoids, you will also find a section listing when the flower or pre-roll was tested and packaged. The tested date was the day when the grower sent that specific batch of flower to the lab. At the lab, they test the flower for the exact amount of THCA and other cannabinoids within it. The results are then sent back so the grower can fill out the remainder of the label. The flower is then packaged (packaged date) and sent to the dispensaries.

This process can take some time, and dispensaries may have back stocks of product, so after the flower is packaged, it might not reach a dispensaries shelf for weeks or months. Just like you want the freshest batch of Mcdonald’s fries because the taste is much better, you should also enjoy the freshest flower possible.  This will provide you with a better taste and an overall better experience.

Try new things to find what you like

If you are newer to consuming THC, I recommend trying new categories and strains even if you think you know what you like.  For the longest time, I told myself I only enjoyed smoking Sativas until I had an Indica pre-roll that was better than any Sativa I had tried previously. I also suggest keeping a list of what kinds you enjoy. Once you find one you like, you can reference it at any dispensary.  Similarly to when you go to a restaurant, and they don’t have the exact kind of craft beer or whiskey you are looking for, not every dispensary will have the same types of weed. Still, knowledgeable budtenders can steer you in the right direction to another product you may fall in love with.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to smoke a particular strain or that the higher THCA content is better.  It’s all up to how you feel and what makes YOU happy; be open to trying new things and asking questions when unsure. Many people in the cannabis industry have been just as uncertain about what to buy as you are, including me.