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Your cannabis questions answered

The first recreational dispensaries in Massachusetts are poised to open. Here is what you need to know.

In case you missed it: Recreational marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts in 2016. That means consumers no longer have to be qualified, card-carrying medical patients to buy marijuana from a licensed retailer—they just need to be 21 years or older and have a valid government-issued ID.

So where are all the retailers? The slow roll out of the state’s recreational cannabis program has delayed stores from opening for a myriad of reasons. But the industry is finally poised to launch after the Cannabis Control Commission recently issued four final recreational marijuana licenses to two dispensaries.

As marijuana’s place in Massachusetts’ culture becomes similar to that of a bottle of wine or craft beer, it’s high time to understand the basics of the plant and how it might affect you should you choose to partake.

How weed works

Cannabis interacts with the body by altering the endocannabinoid system, a collection of receptors that help regulate hunger, motivation, stress, emotion, and more. Everyone’s endocannabinoid system is unique, so reactions to that molecular process can vary. It’s common for one person to feel relaxed and another to feel energized, or even anxious, after using the same product.

Although it’s difficult to predict how a specific cannabis product will affect you, understanding the plant’s properties can give you a sense of how you’re more likely to respond.

The compounds in marijuana that affect the body are known as cannabinoids. THC and CBD are the most prevalent cannabinoids in every plant. THC is responsible for the cerebral high associated with pot, as well as the anxiety for some. CBD, on the other hand, is responsible for marijuana’s anti-anxiety effects.

“It’s a good idea for those starting out to begin with low-THC, high-CBD products to minimize the anxiety or paranoia that some people feel from using high-THC marijuana,” says Christopher Beals, president and general counsel at Weedmaps, a marijuana discovery and directory resource that provides cannabis education to businesses and consumers.

The right dose is different for everyone

“A common misconception is that a dose that works for one person will work for anyone else, too,” Beals says, “but we all have different metabolic rates and other biological factors that have a big impact on how weed will make us feel.” A dose that works perfectly for one person could easily be too much or too little for someone else.

The method of consumption also matters. “Five milligrams of smoked or vaped THC will not feel the same as a five milligram edible product,” Beals says. The best way to find the right dose of any product, he advises, is to “start low and go slow.” It’s easy to consume more over time, but if you do too much you may have to wait out an uncomfortable high and try again another day. It’s important to note that while the effects of smoking can be felt quickly, effects from edibles can take up to three hours to become apparent.

Remember, too, that a five-milligram product with a high THC:CBD ratio will feel stronger than five milligrams of a lower THC strain, not unlike two twelve-ounce beers with different percentages of alcohol.

Don’t rely on strain names

OG Kush. Purple Haze. Girl Scout Cookies. These creative titles, which are meant to classify cannabis by strain, don’t necessarily describe the product and can be misleading. “There is a huge amount of variety between cannabis plants, and their chemistry is very sensitive to growing conditions,” Beals says. So one brand’s OG Kush could be different than another’s as the result of even minor variations in the plants or growing conditions.

Take the common notion that indica versus sativa plants will give you a sedating versus energizing high with a grain of salt too. There’s little evidence to suggest these categories are predictive of the high they’ll produce. “It’s a more useful taxonomy for cultivators classifying a plant’s physical characteristics,” Beals says.

Nowadays, lab test results are available for many retail cannabis products, so customers can get down to grass tacks and see products’ exact chemical makeup for themselves. Look at the ratios of THC and CBD when choosing a product.

Also consider the product’s terpene profile. A combination of terpenes gives each plant its distinct scent and flavor and helps produce various effects. Terpenes alpha-pinene and beta-caryophyllene, for example, work with CBD molecules to help reduce inflammation. This combined benefit of different elements of a cannabis plant working together is known as the “entourage effect.”

“Keep track of how certain strains by specific brands affect you,” Beals advises. “There could be 10 types of Blue Dream at a dispensary, but only a couple are the ones that give you the high you are looking for.”

Cannabis may be stronger than it used to be

Some studies have found that THC is more potent in cannabis today than it was several decades ago, but it’s hard to say for sure since, as the Atlantic reported in 2015, data on marijuana from eras past may be inaccurate.

It does seem plausible though, since growers are able to produce weed with unique traits, such as high THC levels, through selective breeding. Better knowledge and technology for growing and processing weed “gives them complete control over the environment in which their cannabis is grown,” Beals says. “Recently, research has revealed the benefits of CBD,” he says, “so we’re seeing more cultivators dial in specific ratios of THC and CBD to achieve better overall medical results too.”

Overall, the legal marijuana market means that there is a wider range of potency for consumers to choose from—whether they’re looking for something strong or mild.

Get the benefits of cannabis without getting high

Since THC is the intoxicating ingredient in marijuana, products without it can provide consumers the benefits without the high. These days, “it is quite easy to find products that have little or no THC,” Beals says. Many products contain only CBD, the relaxing, anti-anxiety chemical from the plant. CBD products can be used to alleviate pain, inflammation, nausea, anxiety, and more.

Other products, like topicals, can contain “the full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant,” Beals says, “but their use normally doesn’t come with the high associated with smoking, vaping, or ingesting weed.” These products can be used to provide localized assistance for aches and pains.

Raw cannabis flowers, which some people like to juice and drink, also provide benefits without the high. In order for cannabis products to contain THC they must be decarboxylated (in layman’s terms: heated up to a specific temperature) for the intoxicating compound to form.

How to find cannabis nearby

The Weedmaps app allows consumers to see which retailers are nearby, no matter where they are. They can adjust filters to show recreational retailers, medical dispensaries, or delivery services and details such as whether they accept credit cards or carry lab-tested products. Menus, customer ratings and reviews, available deals, and store hours are also provided.

Look for the Weedmaps Verified Seal

Weedmaps also helps prevent consumers from buying counterfeit products through the first product-verification system built in collaboration with cannabis industry brands and retailers. When using the Weedmaps app, look for the WM Verified Seal to appear next to a product name. This tells consumer it has been confirmed by the authentic cannabis brand.

Expand your marijuana knowledge with Weedmaps Learn

Still have questions? Weedmaps built Weedmaps Learn to be a trusted educational resource for all things cannabis. Visit to find more information on how cannabis works with your body, different product types, and laws and regulations.

This content was produced by Boston Globe Media's Studio/B in collaboration with the advertiser. The news and editorial departments of The Boston Globe had no role in its production or display.