Whether you’re an old pro or brand new to medical marijuana, your first dispensary visit can be intimidating! With a dizzying array of strains and products to choose from at dispensaries, a few tips and tricks can help you narrow down your choices to make the best selections. 

Before You Get There

Talk with your doctors and care team about what products might be best for you and your particular condition. Do some research about what others with your condition have used, keeping in mind that your body may respond to cannabis differently. 

Unfortunately, medical cannabis products are not covered under insurance plans. Most dispensaries require a cash payment for cannabis, so you may want to go to your bank first to assure you have enough cash on hand to pay for your products. While many dispensaries come equipped with ATMs or point-of-sale debit transactions, those often come with high fees attached. In some dispensaries, third-party payment apps can streamline the process and add to a greater sense of security than if you were carrying cash. Some even offer rewards. 

In most medical marijuana states, obtaining medical marijuana is a two step process. First, you need to visit a doctor and obtain a recommendation or certification. Once you’ve paid the medical marijuana doctor’s fee for services and received your recommendation, you still need to go through the state’s registry to receive your license. 

When visiting a dispensary, make sure you have your unexpired identification and your valid state medical card. If you live far from the closest dispensary, checking to make sure you have these (and that they are valid) can save a lot of time. In many states, your medical marijuana license is electronic, so patients often save a screenshot of their state medical card to their smartphone. While many dispensaries keep a copy on file, you still need to have your card present for each visit. 

Before choosing a dispensary, it’s a good idea to peruse menus of a few local dispensaries in your area. Get to know the different categories of products. Cannabis is sold in flower, concentrates, tinctures, edibles, and other forms like lotions and topicals. The percentage of THC is something important to pay attention to as well. It’s a misnomer that higher THC percentages will “get you higher” or equate to a more therapeutic effect. Typically, most medical marijuana patients who find THC helpful, find strains between 20-25 percent to be optimal, though preference will vary. If you’re unfamiliar with or don’t want to experience the psychoactive effects of THC, look for menu products that are high in CBD and low in THC. 

Learning about the various strains of cannabis can be aided by sites like Weedmaps and Leafly, where many popular strains are profiled. A little research on these sites can go a long way toward preparing you for your first dispensary visit. 

Once You Get There

Ask Questions. Your dispensary budtender can pick up where your doctor left off when it comes to recommending a product that’s right for you. Here’s a few questions to come armed with for your first (or fiftieth) dispensary visit:

  • What products do you recommend for beginners?
  • What products do you recommend for my condition(s)?
  • How do you use this product?
  • What Is your favorite product? What do you like about it? 
  • May I inspect the product before I purchase it?
  • Any deals or sales right now?

You may also want to inquire into the ingredient content of certain products or know more about the growing methods used by the cultivator. Typically, a budtender can help you source this information. 

Check out the dispensary’s website to see if they offer online ordering or curbside pickup. This can help speed up the process and allow you to pick up your order when it’s ready. 

Preparing to Go Home

It’s important to review products with your budtender as they are packing your purchase during checkout. This is your chance to carefully inspect the product, read any labels that didn’t appear on the online menu, and ask any further questions you may have before forking over your money. All dispensary purchases are recorded via video surveillance, so if you have any discrepancies about the amount paid and what was received for that amount, rest assured that the dispensary can review footage if an error was made during your transaction. In this case, simply go back in and ask to speak with the dispensary manager. 

State and federal laws prohibit traveling with open cannabis, even if it’s legally purchased. The best way to protect yourself is to keep your medical marijuana products sealed and stored in a glove compartment or trunk until you are safely home. Be careful to obey all traffic laws and if you are stopped by police, these tips from Road Affair may come in handy.

At Home

Keep in mind that packaging may be difficult to open as it’s meant to be childproof. If you damage the packaging upon opening, keep your label affixed so that you can easily remember what it is. 

If you open your product and notice damage, do not use the product. Instead, go back to the dispensary and show them. Typically, a refund can be issued for products that are damaged. Unfortunately, if you are just unsatisfied with the product for reasons of personal preference, you typically won’t be reimbursed. 

Consider children, pets, and roommates when using your medical marijuana products at home, especially if you vaporize it. You should avoid doing so in close proximity to your pets, as it can be damaging to them. Vaporizing outdoors is often the best way to reduce the odor, but some patients swear by products like smoke filters (also called sploofs). These filters work by allowing you to exhale the smoke into the device after you take a hit.

Store your medical marijuana in an area where no one else has access to them. A product like a stash box is important to have if you live with others, and many models come with locks. 

Journal Your Results 

Cannabis journaling apps like Tetragram and Releaf have risen in popularity in recent years. There are many different ways to journal your cannabis use, from online apps to simply writing it down in a book. What you get out of journaling will depend on your goals of treatment but also what information or insight you hope to gain from journaling. By detailing how a particular cannabis product is working for you, you can make informed decisions the next time you visit the dispensary. A product that was effective for you might not be on the shelf the next time you need it. Journaling can help you develop an understanding of what similar products might be available. 

Don’t Get Discouraged

For some people, cannabis simply just does not help their condition. There’s a number of reasons why this could be. But for many, adjusting your dose, strain, or form of administration can often lead to medical marijuana being an effective therapy when it wasn’t before. If you’re new to cannabis, don’t get discouraged if the first few things you try aren’t working. Some patients take more time than others to manage their maximum effective dose.


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  • Gabrielle Dion

    Medicate OH's Founder and Publisher is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio and holds an undergraduate degree in journalism and a master's degree in public administration, both from Northern Kentucky University. She has more than 20 years of experience writing and editing professionally for the medical and wellness industries, including positions with The Journal of Pediatrics, Livestrong, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and Patient Pop.