Let’s say it’s been 38 years since your last bong hit. (It was a Police concert, you think. You never could resist Sting.) Fast forward to now. Your state has just ended cannabis prohibition. You find yourself crossing the threshold of a legal dispensary for the very first time in hopes of sleeping through the night or easing middle-age pain.

As the Flower Child has learned, it’s an exhilarating but daunting experience. 

First, there’s the computer I.D. scan, inducing an anxiety that feels like TSA just called you out for a pat down. Then, you enter the dispensary’s inner sanctum where you’re greeted with a profusion of plants, potions, pills, and pastries that would make Alice in Wonderland’s eyes pop.  

Suddenly, you’re face-to-face with a busy budtender who asks, “What’ll you have?”

What’s the answer when you don’t know what you don’t know? 

“Be clear and say, ‘This is why I need the medicine. I need help with sleep, anxiety, depression, nausea’ whatever the ailment is,” says Laurel Schmidt, veteran budtender at Green Goddess Collective in Venice, California. “Being open and communicative is really important. And, if you’re in a room full of people, take your budtender aside and have a private consultation about whatever is going on.”

Some dispensaries even have private consultation rooms, just ask. 

If only I’d known that before my first time. It was three years ago at a tiny roadside dispensary in Frazier, Colorado. I couldn’t tell a Sativa from an Indica to save my life. Terrified of edibles, I was dazed and confused by endless jars of smoking herbs with names like Gorilla Glue, Master Kush, and Yoda’s Brain Asking about a specific strain’s effects, I got answers like “cerebral head high” and “serious couch lock.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t speak stoner. All I want is to sleep through the night.”

Since then, I’ve learned it’s not necessary to know the cannabis vernacular as long as you ask the right questions. 

“A formal vocabulary is by no means required when looking for a product to help you feel good,” says Lisa Kawamura, Director of Product Marketing at Sunday Goods, a cannabis company in Arizona and California. 

 “There are two key things to think about,” she says. “First, what brings you to cannabis? You might be looking for something to help you relax after a long day or to enhance a dinner party with friends. Answering the ‘why cannabis?’ question will give the budtender insight to help you find the best products.”

Keep in mind that today’s cannabis is exponentially more potent than that ditch weed you bought from your ex-boyfriend’s cousin’s roommate in 1976. Be sure to ask your budtender about proper dosing or you might spend the next 48 hours attempting to count the threads on your bed linens … like someone I know who will remain nameless. 

“For newbies, I say you can always do more, but you can’t do less,” says Schmidt. “I advise them to start with the smallest amount possible – one little puff or a tiny piece of an edible. Then, wait for it and, if you don’t have the effects you desire [after 30-60 minutes], take a tiny bit more until you arrive at your optimal dose. It takes patience, but no one wants a bad first time with cannabis.”

So, here’s to being clear and assertive with your budtender, patient and cautious in your dosing. And, I hope you have that old Police album lying around. It still sounds really good. 

Photograph by Allie Beckette, Canna Obscura, of Whistling Sister Green Goddess dispensary in Oakland, California.