Cannabis legalization has been sweeping the nation. Lifestyle consumers in four states and the District of Columbia can now, without fear of legal retribution, possess and smoke cannabis. Those who were resolved to purchase the herb in a black market, under prohibition, have been doing so for decades. For others, however, who refused to break the rules by buying from black market dealers, legalization provides a new and legitimate environment for safety purchasing and using high-quality, laboratory tested cannabis and related products.
The two major emerging groups of people legally smoking and vaporizing cannabis are the middle aged and seniors; large numbers of those between 45-85 years of age are experimenting with cannabis. Seniors are often stereotyped as using cannabis as more of a medical therapy to treat a variety of diseases and ailments. However, many middle aged and senior consumers do so for recreational purposes and lifestyle enhancement. This naturally involves the management of anxiety and stress, which any medical professional will agree helps to prevent disease and improve health — a major concern of anyone over 40.
Legality Crushes Cannabis Stigma
Regardless of whether motivated by lifestyle enhancement, self-medication, preventative therapy, or simple curiosity, non-traditional cannabis consumers are emerging in large numbers and infusing billions of dollars into newly legal markets, whether as tourists or residents who are regulars at their local dispensary. Also, legal environments encourage friends, family, and co-workers to share cannabis with one another, acting as agents-of-change and influencers with colleagues and peers who might not be bold enough to voluntarily walk into a dispensary or pack their own bowl.
Full legalization is also helping to remove the stigma from cannabis use that was built by decades of Reefer Madness-style propaganda. Many seniors and patients won’t consider cannabis if it is illegal, even in states that offer robust medical programs. However, following recreational legalization and the slow dissolve of decades-old cannabis stereotypes and misperceptions, many conservative citizens and seniors are becoming more open to the idea of using the herb.
For example, during a conversation with a cannabis business owner in Washington State, the author learned of the entrepreneur’s conservative neighbor, a man in his 60s who had been prescribed Vicodin (hydrocodone/acetaminophen) by his physician for pain management. Unfortunately, this use of Vicodin led to an overdose — along with the obvious panic that befell him and his worried wife. Later, the businessman smelled cannabis from his conservative neighbor’s house. He learned that the overdose scare had prompted this pain patient to discontinue using opiates, replacing them with cannabis.
Basics for Beginners
There are some basic rules for those who have never consumed cannabis. It must be stressed that everyone is different; cannabis will affect everyone differently. The same sample of a particular strain may put one person to sleep while energizing another. Also, some may get very high, while others feel relatively little psychoactive effect after having consumed a similar portion of the same strain. Something called receptor expression means that the number and density of CB1 and CB2 receptors scattered throughout the brain, central nervous system (CNS), and immune system varies between people.
Thus, one person could, theoretically, have twice as many CB1 receptors as another. Because this receptor binds with the THC molecule (the two exhibit something called a high binding affinity), those with a brain or CNS that features greater expression (larger numbers) of CB1 receptors may result in a perception of more potent cannabis and increased euphoria. Also, the endocannabinoid system produces its own cannabinoids, like anandamide, that regulate the cannabinoids and terpenes from cannabis. Differences in the endocannabinoid system from one person to another may result in sometimes dramatic differences in individual efficacy.
First Time or First Time in Years Guideline
First-time or novice users can avoid undesired side effects of cannabis such as paranoia, couchlock, excessive appetite, and confusion by following some basic rules.
- First, users shouldn’t ingest edibles for their first cannabis experience. The unpredictability and sometimes amplified potency of cannabis edibles makes them a poor candidate for first timers. Click here to learn more about why edibles are so unpredictable and often extremely potent.
- Second, cannabis newbies shouldn’t indulge in concentrates like BHO, CO2 oil, rosin, or live resin for their first few experiments with marijuana. First-time consumers should stick to smoking or vaping flowers, and only experiment with more exotic extracts and concentrates after gaining more experience.
- Third, newbies should ask their budtender for high-quality, mid-potency cannabis. Stick to strains that are tested at 10-15 percent THC — or whatever one’s budtender recommends — for the first few sessions.
- Fourth, choose a comfortable, relaxing, familiar environment for the first few smoking or vaping sessions. First-time consumers should reflect on their mood, energy level, and general comfort, ensuring that no undue stress or interruptions will taint their entry into the world of cannabis.
- Fifth, those who dislike smoking or find that they experience excessive coughing should use a vaporizer. Also, only cannabis flowers that have been properly dried (to remove the chlorophyll) and cured should be consumed. Curing is critical for a smooth smoking experience and maximum aroma and flavor. Those who preach the 1970s black market cliche “If you don’t cough, you don’t get off” discount the improvements of well-cured cannabis, displaying the ignorance exhibited by many in prohibitionist states and black markets.
Set and Setting
The effects of cannabis depend on many different factors, including one’s metabolism at the particular time and their overall health, as well as the quality of their sleep. But these are all characteristics of the consumer herself. What about one’s environment? Called set and setting, this is a pivotal factor in how one experiences the psychoactive effect of cannabis and whether it is ultimately a pleasant or regrettable experience.
It is recommended that first-time consumers situate themselves in a familiar, comfortable environment, such as a favorite room or on a sofa at home. Often, cannabis newbies indulge in public settings, such as a downtown club in a remote city or a wedding reception in another state. While this may be a convenient time of celebration where cannabis is purposefully made available, it may not be optimal for an opening session for someone with no experience.
Those in legal states should consult a trained, qualified budtender at a reputable dispensary or retail outlet and follow their advice. Customers shouldn’t be shy and need to clearly and honestly inform their budtender of the effects they are seeking. Often, years of experience and thousands of customers enables a budtender to provide sound advice and an obvious first-hand familiarity with all of the strains sold at his or her particular dispensary. Part of a budtender’s job is being intimately familiar with the varieties and products available at their location and the effects that they have on a wide variety of patients and customers.
Those in legal states, where safe access to cannabis flowers and products is available, enjoy a luxury that almost no one on the black market experiences: The ability to choose between sativa or indica and a selection of strains, many with detailed laboratory reports indicating the exact percentages of major cannabinoids and terpenes, including tests for pesticides and other contaminants.
Those pursuing an energizing, cerebral high should seek out sativa strains, while people who want to deal with pain and gain the ultimate in relaxation should consider an indica (also great for the millions of American who suffer insomnia). Indica strains sometimes deliver the infamous couchlock and intense munchies (good for those undergoing chemotherapy who experience nausea and appetite loss). Recreational consumers, especially those with busy lifestyles and family responsibilities, often prefer hybrid strains that deliver more sativa characteristics than indica.
The benefits of hybrids of all varieties include helping prevent the paranoia and confusion that can result from a potent sativa — while avoiding the couchlock and sedative effects of strong indicas. Hybrids, often bred from indica and sativa strains, theoretically offer the best of both of their genetic parents, buffering many of the polarizing side effects experienced with their sativa-dom or indica-dom cousins.
Employ the Edibles Mantra
Experienced cannabis smokers and vapers know that, when it comes to edibles, the rule is start low, go slow. For one’s first few times smoking or vaporizing cannabis, the same advice should be observed. Cannabis smoke or vapor first enters a user’s lungs, where it is delivered to the heart, which pumps it directly to the brain. The time from initial toke to perceived onset is about 2.5 minutes. Thus, patients and lifestyle users can conveniently smoke a small sample of mid-potency cannabis and wait a few minutes to gauge the effect.
If, after a few minutes, a first-time user feels little or nothing, they can easily and quickly smoke or vape more — avoiding the risk of getting too high or experiencing negative side effects. This process is called titration and is simply dosing one’s medicine or euphoriant in an effort to dial it in to achieve the desired effect — but not to overdo it and get spun out. If this happens, click here to learn how to mitigate a high that has gone off the tracks with simple household items like black pepper and oranges.
Those blessed with safe, legal access to cannabis medicine and related products should celebrate by visiting their local dispensary and having a detailed consultation with a senior budtender to ensure that the most appropriate cannabis medicine or recreational flowers are purchased and used properly. If the few basic rules provided in this article are followed, users should enjoy their first cannabis experience. Hopefully it will be filled with wonder and relaxation and be the first of thousands of healthy smoking or vaping sessions, helping people of all ages enjoy more content, productive lifestyles while decreasing their use of alcohol and prescription opiates.
This post was originally published on December 1, 2015, it was updated on October 5, 2017.