Turning 21? What you need to know about cannabis

Published on October 1, 2021 · Last updated October 15, 2021
Millions of new cannabis initiates can avoid a bad time with some basic tips below. (SDI Productions/iStock)
Millions of new cannabis initiates can avoid a bad time with some basic tips below. (SDI Productions/iStock)

While more college students than ever before are trying cannabis and enjoying the benefits of ever-expanding legalization, every single one of them had a first time.

Scores of soon-to-be or newly-turned 21-year-olds are attending university in the 18 states where cannabis is legal for all adults, and understanding how to navigate weed can be overwhelming. Doubly so when you don’t qualify for medical cannabis, or it’s flat-out illegal in your home state.

Leafly asked cannabis educators their best advice for newly turned 21-year-olds navigating cannabis for the first time. Here’s what they had to say.

Dispensaries are nice now. Act right. Above, the luminous interior of GorillaRX Wellness in California. (Courtesy GorillaRx Wellness)
Licensed stores like GorillaRX Wellness in California only carry tested products. (Courtesy GorillaRx Wellness)

Living in an adult-use market means anyone aged 21 and older may purchase cannabis from a licensed retailer by showing their valid state-issued driver’s license, identification card, or passport. And as owner of Gorilla RX dispensary in South Central Los Angeles Kika Kieth points out, this should help new consumers feel comfortable about trying things. That’s different than weed from the traditional market, where no testing means potential contaminants including pesticides, mold, mildew, or other drugs.

“When you go into these legal stores, you know that your product is being tested,” she says. “[From] the accountability of the retailers, to the accountability of the manufacturers and the testing facility, the thing that [you’re] consuming is being documented and there’s some responsibility.”

You can still be busted on other people’s property

Dr. Amanda Reiman, a social scientist with 20 years of experience studying cannabis use and founder of therapeutic plant education website Personal Plants, mentions another key consideration when it comes to legality.

“Don’t assume that just because cannabis is legal in your state, that means it’s legal on your campus or that smoking is permitted,” she says.

While getting kicked out of school for smoking weed on campus in a legal market is unlikely, Dr. Reiman says being aware of what’s allowed will not only impact what you are able to consume—but also the kind of experience you’ll have while doing so.

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“You don’t want your setting to be full of anxiety because you don’t know who’s around the corner, or whether you’re going to get in trouble,” she says. “We legalized [cannabis] so that you don’t have to feel that way.”

Set your intention for cannabis use

Once the legal landscape is clear, it’s time to visit a licensed cannabis retailer. But with multiple methods of consumption and thousands of products to choose from, where do you even start?

“What is your purpose in coming to cannabis?” is the first question Michelle Mendoza, Director of Buying for Sweet Flower dispensaries, asks newbies. “It’s really important for the consumer to define for themselves: ‘I have anxiety, I want to sleep, I want to stay calm’.”

One puff and about a minute's time will let you know if THC agrees with you. (Courtesy of Lowell Farms)
One puff and about a minute’s time will let you know if THC agrees with you. (Courtesy of Lowell Farms)

Having intention behind your cannabis use then opens the door to conversations about dosage and method of consumption. Educators guide new customers through the different options by emphasizing easy-to-titrate, low-dose methods first—like smoking or vaping whole flower. By contrast, edibles can be long-lasting impact or too intense; ditto high-THC options like wax, shatter, and other concentrates.

Understand THC dosing

DeJanae Evins, founder of cannabis education website Green Goddess Glow and the Cannabis Education/Wellness Advisor at Gorilla RX, makes clear that, “higher potency doesn’t matter much. There are various different cannabinoids, terpenes, secondary compounds that impact the way we experience cannabis. THC alone is not going to be the driver of that experience.”

For Rebecca Olmos, a cannabis writer serving dual roles as a Beginning Product Knowledge Specialist and Budtender at San Jose’s Caliva dispensary, it’s important to convey to newbies that our unique endocannabinoid system is what makes cannabis dosing “subjective.”

“[For some consumers] 2.5 milligrams is it,” she says. “However, I see a lot of regular customers who have been using cannabis for many years, and a hundred milligrams does not do anything for them.”

All of our sources agree that when it comes to everything from potency to frequency of use, the general rule of thumb is “start low and go slow.”

“Start with five milligrams [THC] and see where that gets you,” Dr. Reiman suggests.

Smoking a joint causes effects within seconds—making it the easiest way to titrate THC. Edibles take 90 minutes or longer for full effects, causing folks to impatiently overload on THC.

“I always encourage flower first, [but] I know smoking can be overwhelming,” Olmos says. “Edibles are more easily digestible, less harsh on the lungs, so if they want to go the edible route I try to steer them towards beverages.”

The CANN 2021 Hi Boy. (Courtesy CANN)
The CANN 2021 Hi Boy. (Courtesy CANN)
Pot girl summer drinks of 2021

“A lot of cannabis drinks are coming out that have two, three milligrams THC in them; start with that, see how sensitive you are, then build up from there,” said Dr. Reiman.

Mendoza agrees that the easily dosable liquid format is a great way for newbies to experiment, especially if they prefer not to smoke.

“Tinctures are a really great way to go because they’re taken sublingually, and you don’t have to wait that hour to see what the effect is,” she says.

Avoid negative interactions

A big part of educating newbies about cannabis use is helping them understand the importance of set and setting. Check in with your mindset and surroundings before you consume. If you’re upset, or in an uncomfortable environment—wait.

And in a college environment, taking care not to combine cannabis with alcohol is key. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, causing the cannabis-naïve to brave their first toke. But drunk is not the time. You’ll get dizzy and puke.

How to avoid the dreaded crossfaded high

“Using cannabis for the first time when you’re wasted on alcohol is a bad idea. Don’t do it,” Dr. Reiman says. “Alcohol and cannabis have a synergistic relationship, so it’s going to enhance the effects of both the alcohol and the cannabis when used together.”

Monitor your consumption

As consumers start to integrate cannabis into their lives, it’s important to also regularly check in with their original intentions. After all, even if no one has ever died from a cannabis overdose, it is possible to consume too much. About 9% of cannabis users will at one point in their life have trouble stopping. That’s lower than alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, or other drugs—but it’s not zero.

“Cannabis is supposed to make you more present with yourself, and it heightens all the senses in your environment which can be very pleasant and fun,” Evins says. “If it doesn’t feel like that anymore, time for a tolerance break.”

If you find yoga too boring, ganja yoga may be right for you. (RyanJLane/iStock)
If you find yoga too boring, ganja yoga may be right for you. (RyanJLane/iStock)

Olmos agrees, suggesting that newbies should reevaluate their consumption habits,when it starts to affect your life negatively and impede [upon] your regular responsibilities.”

At the end of the day, discovering cannabis for the first time as an adult is one of the many rites of passage awaiting you at college, Kieth says.

“I think the most beautiful thing about being college age is that your brain is growing in a different way, and you can enhance it by educating yourself about what you’re ingesting in your body, and enjoying that experience.”

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Kaisha-Dyan McMillan
Kaisha-Dyan McMillan
Kaisha-Dyan McMillan has been writing for and about the cannabis industry since 2016, and has written multiple articles centering the stories of BIPOC and social equity entrepreneurs in the industry. She currently serves as the Senior Content Manager for cannabis production platform AROYA and co-moderator of the crop steering and cultivation podcast, Office Hours. IG: @ahsiak
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