Using cannabis responsibly: Tips for newbies

“Cannabis is just one substance where you really got to be in the driver's seat because knowledge is advancing so fast,” says Leafly’s David Downs. Photo by Marketeering Group (CC BY 2.0).

The pandemic has changed the national cannabis landscape. While many other businesses buckled, some of the industry was deemed essential, and sales over this past year have contributed to what has now become a more than $18 billion industry in the United States.  

First-time users could have driven some of that boom. One California delivery service says purchases from beginners were up more than 50% early in the pandemic. And now that stimulus checks have started to roll in, some newbies may be thinking about buying more green. 

David Downs, Senior Editor at, shares tips for budding connoisseurs.

KCRW: Some states, like New York, are close to allowing the legal purchase of weed for recreational purposes within their borders. What has been happening on the legalization front?

David Downs: “Basically, the south of the United States is surrounded by states that are now fully medical or in the process of transitioning to medical or adult use. 

So, I mean, South Dakota is tussling over its implementation. New York legislators and Governor Cuomo have come to an agreement to legalize cannabis in New York. That is going to be huge. It's a huge market. 

There's a ton of people in New York, and they've had a really long history of discrimination with regard to their marijuana arrests. And New York's going to lead the way in terms of trying to do racial justice, social justice, equity provisions in their legalization. 

Other states are right behind them. They have bills filed. I mean, Virginia talked about legalizing cannabis. I mean, they are going to legalize it starting in 2022. But now they're thinking about moving that up because people are wondering what's the sort of hold up.”

I imagine those legalization efforts will come with more first-time users. How can they dip their toes into cannabis waters without overdoing it?

“I think people need to know that cannabis can be strong, and just like alcohol, there's a period of experimentation where people overshoot their limits.

One drink or one beer’s worth of cannabis starts at one to two or three milligrams of THC. So that's just a nibble of the standard gummy that's on the market. For example, the Kiva Gummy is 10 milligrams. You want to be nibbling a piece of that in April if you're thinking about trying cannabis. 

Other products are solving for this issue as well. There's a lot of low-dose sublingual strips on the market. And so those are products that go under your tongue and dissolve in your mouth like a breath strip to provide a very exact dose of cannabis that comes on fast enough for you to ... know how much of an effect you're getting and stop where you want to stop. 

Another product that you're seeing do the same thing are THC drink mixers. So you can take a specific amount of THC that's measured on a particular package and pour that into a drink of your choice, and enjoy 420 in a way that's controlled and is familiar to you and doesn't involve necessarily combustion or even getting ‘high’ in a way that you would feel uncomfortable.”

If you’re buying cannabis for the first time, is your local dispensary a good place to start? Should people be doing research before they go?

“The amount of the gap between consumer desire for knowledge and their ability to fill it is so wide right now. Now more than ever, as new states come online and people are turning to cannabis for a variety of wellness and sort of recreational uses. 

We see all the traffic in the world around the most basic cannabis 101 info. … Every day is still the first day for people with regard to cannabis, and sites like Leafly are solving that gap. 

And then there's a huge corpus of literature you can turn to and more consuming books than ever to orient you to the cannabinoids and the terpene. 

But it's hard to do, and I understand where people are coming from. It's not like they can turn to their doctor for a great pharmacological advice regarding cannabinoids. Doctors aren't really taught this in school and to this day, it really is on the consumer to seek out validated, credible information and be an agent of their own care and their own mental well-being. 

Cannabis is just one substance where you really got to be in the driver's seat because knowledge is advancing so fast. The research is advancing so fast, there's no guarantee that an expert is ahead of you on a particular topic that you really care about.”