Buyer’s Guide for the Novice Medical Cannabis Consumer

Buyer’s Guide for the Novice Medical Cannabis Consumer

You’ve met the criteria to be a medical marijuana patient, found a great doctor, jumped through the appropriate hoops to get your medical marijuana card/prescription. Now what?

First, it helps to know the characteristics of the two primary strains of cannabis -- Sativa and Indica -- and how a range of hybrids might be suitable for your particular medical diagnosis.

New research evaluating the effect that cannabis components have on the endogenous endocannabinoid system has found that the characteristics of these two strains are not as cut-and-dried as once believed.  In general, though, users describe the primary difference as follows:

Cannabis Sativa

  • Appearance: Tall, loosely branched with long, narrow leaves. It’s usually grown outdoors and can reach heights of up to 20 feet.
  • Origins: Sativa strains originated in an area around the equator and can be found in Colombia, Mexico, Thailand and Southeast Asia. 
  • Effects: Generally used during the day, Sativa is described as making its users feel euphoric, energetic, cerebral and confident. It acts with the central nervous system to affect mood, appetite and sexual function. Those with anxiety or other mental health issues are advised to proceed cautiously.  
  • Symptom Relief:  Generally, Sativa is described as being beneficial to increase focus and creativity, ease chronic pain and muscle spasms and, for some people, works as an anti-depressant. (This is only a partial list of symptom relief.)

Cannabis Indica

  • Appearance: Short, densely branched and have wider leaves. Indica fares best when grown indoors.
  • Origins: Indica strains originated in high altitudes and are found in countries like Morocco, Afghanistan, Nepal and Turkey.
  • Effects: Generally preferred in the evening, Indica is described by users as having a sedative/relaxing effect that has been known to induce “couch lock,” or listlessness. 
  • Symptom Relief: Described as helping slow things down, beneficial for depression, mood disorders and sleeplessness; good as a muscle relaxant and for increasing appetite. (This is only a partial list of symptom relief.)


Hybrids are genetic crossbreeds between Sativa and Indica that have been developed by growers to produce specific medicinal qualities.  Some of these hybrids are Sativa-dominant, meaning they retain more of the euphoric, energetic qualities of that strain; others are Indica-dominant, producing a more relaxed effect.  And some are “even hybrids,” comprised of 50 percent of each strain.

Complicating the picture is that fact that even the hybrids are being crossbred to create new strains known for specific effects, aromas and tastes. 

How do I choose?

Many first-time medical marijuana patients are overwhelmed when they walk into a dispensary and are faced with so many choices of strains, delivery methods and equipment.  Here are some tips for doing your research before you make that first trip.

  1. Ask your prescribing physician if he or she has a recommendation about suitable choices for your particular medical situation.
  2. Do some research ahead of time.’s Strain Directory, for example, offers a very comprehensive overview of options that can be filtered by Variety, Effect, Symptom, Aroma and Flavor. 
  3. Research the dispensaries in your area.’s Dispensaries are organized by area, and each one includes reviews from other patients, available strains, and price points.

Once you feel you have a basic understanding of the choices for your medical situation and lifestyle, head over to the dispensary.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the dispensary staff.  They will be able to answer questions about strains best for your symptoms, explain the different methods of using marijuana (smoking, vaping, edibles, etc.), and give you demonstrations on how to use any equipment. 

Start small.  Start comfortable.  Purchase the smallest amount of cannabis (most stores require between 1 - 3.5 grams), and try the delivery system you feel most comfortable experimenting with.  Remember that if your first choice doesn’t relieve your symptoms, there are many alternatives. 

When purchasing edibles for the first time, keep in mind that it can take an hour or longer for the effects to begin. Don’t be tempted to eat another dose because it “isn’t working.”  Also, follow dosing instructions! Most edible doses are between 5 – 10 mg of THC per serving.  Make certain that you know how many doses are in each cookie, brownie or energy bar.

How do I know what to look for?

  1. Color. High-quality marijuana is green to deep green with possible hints of purple. Brown generally is not a good sign.
  2. Sticks and twigs are not smokable. There may be a few, but they should be scarce.
  3. The aroma should be strong.  Different strains have different flavors and aromas based on the terpenes, but regardless of which strain you choose, the smell will be distinctive and strong.

You can find out about the medical marijuana requirements in your state from the “Learn Directory” on the bottom right-hand column of the page.