At some point, every experienced stoner was a total greenhorn. Cannabis culture has been developing for millennia, and you don’t learn everything there is to know about bud the first time you take a toke. It is natural to have questions about a substance, especially one as potentially contentious as cannabis, but many newbies feel too embarrassed to ask budtenders or their stoner friends. Fortunately, you can find answers to all your starter stoner questions here, from what to call it to why does weed make you cough.
1. Is It Cannabis or Hemp or Marijuana?
All three of these terms are commonly used to refer to the same plant, though not always in the same settings. “Cannabis” is the Latin name for the plant; “hemp” is the same word in Old English; and “marijuana” comes to English through Latin American users.
Traditionally, cannabis has been used in scientific settings, hemp in reference to non-psychoactive cannabis and marijuana in reference to psychoactive usage — but in recent years, these conventions have changed. Much of cannabis culture has dropped use of the term “marijuana” because it traces its roots to the beginning of cannabis prohibition, which was the result of racist practices across the U.S. “Hemp” is still largely in use to describe cannabis products like fiber and edible seeds, which don’t contain THC, but “cannabis” is always safe to say.
Other common names for cannabis include bud, weed, pot, and the occasional ganja.
2. What Are the Differences Between Indica and Sativa?
Scientifically, there is no difference between indica and sativa strains. Still, because you are likely to see these terms in use at every Colorado dispensary, you should know how they are typically used among cannabis consumers.
Before there was sufficient funding (and public will) for cannabis research, stoners categorized strains using two factors: how the plant looked and how the bud made users feel. Sativas are tall plants with thin leaves, and they are believed to give users energy and effects centered in the head. In contrast, indicas are short, stockier plants with wider leaves, and they offer sedative effects that weigh down the body. Though recent research has disproved any genetic or physiologic distinction between strains labeled indica and strains labeled sativa, these terms are still commonly employed to communicate the type of high a user will experience when consuming a certain strain (even if the high has more to do with terpenes, not cannabinoids).
3. Do Edibles Cause Different Effects?
No and yes. Edibles use the same cannabis compounds as flower, extracts, and other inhalables to get users high, and the compounds do the same thing to the human body once they reach the bloodstream. However, the method by which those compounds reach the bloodstream is much different, which might make the effects feel different for different users.
Edibles require cannabis compounds to be absorbed through the digestive tract, which isn’t an optimal absorption method. It can take an hour or more for cannabinoids to reach the bloodstream in sufficient quantities to cause a high. And because absorption is prolonged, users are likely to feel the effects for much longer.
Unfortunately, edible overdoses are relatively common because users are so eager to experience intense effects that they consume too much too quickly. But as long as you are careful about consuming small doses at a time and follow the instructions (you’re consuming cannabis, not building a bar stool from Ikea), you should be able to enjoy an edible high in the same way you’d enjoy a high from smoking or vaping.
4. Can I Get Too High?
This is a common concern among cannabis newbies. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to get too high — it is even technically possible to overdose on THC (though not fatally, as you can with alcohol and many other drugs). A cannabis overdose happens when too much THC is in a user’s blood stream; the receptors that bind with THC get overloaded and the effects of the high become more intense than the user is ready for. You are likely to experience “getting too high” as feeling confused or uncoordinated, but in rare cases the effects can be as severe as vomiting, low blood pressure and an elevated heart rate.
A THC overdose won’t kill you. Deaths attributed to cannabis often involve avoidable accidents, like vehicle collisions or drownings. As long as you don’t do anything risky while you are high, you should be safe. In fact, you might want to designate a sober person to watch over you and your group while you get high the first time, just to be certain you don’t get into any potentially dangerous shenanigans.
5. Why Does Weed Smoke Cause Coughing?
Coughing is the respiratory system’s way of protecting the lungs from potential irritants. Cannabis smoke contains particulate compounds, which enter the bloodstream through the pulmonary vessels to get users high. Some degree of coughing is to be expected if your lungs aren’t used to any type of smoke, but coughing should abate as your body becomes accustomed to using inhalables. If your cough is persistent and painful, you might need to revisit how you are lighting up and inhaling — are you breathing in combusted plant material with the smoke? Is your vape pen set to a higher temperature than you need? It might also mean that you should take a smoking break and opt for other cannabis products, instead, like edibles or transdermal patches.
You won’t be a new cannabis user forever. The more you visit your local dispensary, and the more you talk to budtenders and fellow stoners, the more information about weed you will pick up. For now, all you need to know to keep your cannabis experience positive is your preferred method of consumption and your tolerance level.