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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Weed 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Medical Marijuana - by Joe Dauphinais

     If you are a new medical marijuana patient, you’ve come to the right place. This new column is going to explain the different options available for the novice marijuana patient. While there are many different ways to medicate, this month we will focus mostly on smoking flowers, and how to make sure you are getting a quality product.


     So, you got your Doctor’s recommendation, filed the proper paperwork with LARA, and your MMMP card just came in the mail. It’s official: you’re legal. But what now? Time to get some meds. Perhaps you are preparing to grow your own, but it could be months before your plants are ready.  If you don’t have a caregiver or a friend who grows, your next option is to seek out a safe access point.

     First, before you buy anything, I would like to point out that you always need to secure your meds in an acceptable fashion. Since you will have to drive home with your marijuana, you should invest in a lock box. A lockable container is necessary if your vehicle doesn’t have a trunk. Besides keeping you out of trouble when transporting cannabis, a lock box can prohibit unauthorized access to your meds once at home. Unless you live alone, I would highly recommend locking up your meds, especially for patients with children. Be sure to have a secure location established before you obtain your medicine.

   Finding cannabis can be a potential challenge depending on where you live. Some areas in Michigan seem to be more pot friendly than others. One quick glance at Leafly or any of the many ‘locator’ maps available to patients shows some areas with dense concentrations of provisioning centers, yet the vast majority of the state has not a single dispensary in sight. If you live in one of these areas, you may have to make a drive.

     Okay. Now you’ve done the research,  and have found a dispensary that seems suitable for your needs, and you are planning a trip to obtain some cannabis. Your first visit to a decent dispensary is sure to be an experience to remember. Prepare to be overwhelmed with options. It can be a little bewildering at first, smelling and checking out all of the different samples. Most bud-tenders are understanding and considerate when helping you narrow down a selection, but you have to be able to help them help you, so it is a good idea to have some understanding of what you are trying to achieve.

     Depending on your particular needs, your bud tender or caregiver can help you decide whether you should choose an Indica, Sativa, or a Hybrid to best treat your symptoms. The therapeutic uses for these different types of cannabis is an entirely different subject that warrants its own article, which we will feature here in a future issue. Whether you are choosing an Indica, Sativa, or a Hybrid, they all share common factors to consider when it comes to quality. Just like when shopping for produce at the supermarket, there are signs you can look for to help you differentiate between the high grade and the shwag.

     It can be beneficial to have a little bit of knowledge before shopping for weed. In an ideal world, all marijuana on the market would be clean, top quality buds that burn evenly and taste great. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. You should be armed with a little knowledge beforehand, to ensure you will be getting your money’s worth.

     Your first impression of a bud will be visually. Take a good look at the bud. Is it nice and fluffy, or is it pressed into a brick? Fluffy buds with unbroken trichomes signify a caregiver that takes pride in their work. On the other hand, broken crystals and buds that are falling apart into dust with the lightest pinch should be avoided. Broken, crumbly buds that are disintegrating show a product that is at the end of it’s shelf life. On the flip side, buds that are very springy, with stems that bend instead of snap, show a product that is too moist. Too moist of buds means that as they dry out over the next few days, those buds will weigh less than when you bought them. Also, moist buds are difficult to keep lit. A little bit of stickiness in the buds, and a stem that snaps when bent are good indicators of a quality product.

    When medicating with smoked flower, I personally don’t often choose the highest concentration of THC that is available. While the effects of a very high THC bud are undeniable, it can be easy for a beginner to go overboard and end up having an unpleasant experience. Remember, THC isn’t the only active ingredient in cannabis, and the study of different active compounds in the cannabis plant is a new frontier in medicine, with new uses and benefits for the various cannabinoids  being discovered all the time.

     In my opinion, a less potent smoke that tastes phenomenal leads to a much more therapeutic experience. While each individual patient is going to have unique preferences and requirements, I recommend starting small and increasing dosage incrementally until you achieve the desired effect.

     Another thing to look out for is seeds. In general, a plant that has seeds tends to be less potent than ‘sinsemilla’ (no seeds) because a plant that has devoted energy to making seeds generally has spent less energy developing trichomes, which contain most of the active compounds of the plant. Furthermore, seeds add to the weight of the bud, and are not ideal for smoking, since the smoke they produce is acrid, as anyone who accidently burned one in a joint or bowl can attest to. It is best to avoid buds that contain seeds if you have a choice. Fortunately, most provisioning centers only sell sinsemilla.  If you do encounter a rare seed or two, be sure to remove them prior to medicating.

     When smoking your buds, pay attention to the color of the ashes that the burning material produces. Are the ashes a light grey or white color? This indicates a properly flushed product that burns clean. If your ashes are dark black, and the end of your joint looks like charcoal, chances are your buds still contain some nutrients, a sure sign that the plant was not thoroughly flushed prior to curing. Nutrients in your bud can lead to a harsh smoke, unpleasant taste, excessive coughing, and respiratory irritation. Unfortunately there is no easy way to tell if your buds are flushed properly prior to smoking. If you are not sure on quality, I would recommend buying small amounts of several different strains, to avoid being stuck with a large quantity of less than stellar weed.

    This is just a basic guide to help you make your selection. There are a virtually limitless amount of variables that can be considered when judging marijuana. In the end, personal preference is going to trump any advice that seasoned bud smokers may offer. Trust your senses. Smell and appearance are key factors in determining quality, but ultimately all that matters are your own standards for what works and what doesn’t work for you.

     It is a remarkable day and age we live in, where we can be picky about our cannabis. It was not so long ago that many people in Michigan didn’t have much of a choice when it came to buds, often we were left to choose between bush herbs or no herbs. For those finding themselves overwhelmed with variety, keep in mind that it wasn’t always this way. Better to be inundated with choices than be left to suffer without. Happy smoking!

Basic Accessories:
     Once you have your buds, you are now presented with another decision: how to smoke? The options available are almost as varied as the buds themselves. Not to worry. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you don’t need every type of smoking accessory there is in order to relieve your symptoms. If you choose to smoke buds, I would start out with the basics:

• A grinder. Something simple should suffice for your needs. I’ve seen wooden and acrylic ones going for dirt cheap, but for a little more money, you can invest in a metal grinder that will last a lifetime. Plus, most of these things now have a little chamber where the kief can be collected, and used to enhance the potency of joints and bowls. I’ve seen decent grinders like this go for $20-30. If you suffer from arthritis, or find that operating a manual grinder is too much work, you may consider investing in an electric grinder.

• Rolling papers: here is where quality matters. Just like you wouldn’t gulp an 80 year old scotch from a Styrofoam cup, you don’t want to roll that top shelf dank up in newspaper. I prefer the all-natural hemp ‘Raw’ brand rolling papers,  and of course ‘Zig-Zag’ is a tried and true brand that many tokers consider a classic.

• A simple pipe. This doesn’t have to be anything too flashy. While you can really spend as much money as you want in this department, I would recommend something fairly straight-forward and basic that is easy to clean. Skulls and aliens are really cool looking, but for a beginner piece, I would suggest a modest glass hand pipe for quick smoking sessions. Glass pipes are the easiest to clean, they also offer the purest flavor. Metal pipes are also a decent alternative, especially if you tend to drop things from time to time.

• A lighter. While this seems obvious, I do feel the need to mention it here. When it comes to lighters, you really need nothing more than a disposable lighter available at any gas station or party store. More expensive Zippo lighters are nice, but tend to be a bit cumbersome when it comes to lighting a pipe or a bowl.  Matches can be a great way to light up, just wait until the sulfur tip is fully burned away before touching that flame to your herb.

• Some form of air tight container for those roaches. This may or may not be a necessity in your situation, but for me this is critical. If you share a living space with a non-smoker, those marijuana cigarette butts are going to smell offensive, regardless of strain or pedigree. Some people don’t keep roaches around at all, but I find them handy in times of need, or for a quick puff here and there, I can put one in my pipe and smoke it. I keep my roaches in a little tupperware deal like the one shown here. Anything air-tight will do. One big error made too often by greenhorn tokers though, NEVER put roaches back in with your fresh buds. You will make your whole stash taste and smell like a burned out roach. Yuck!

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