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How to Read a Dispensary Menu

LED neon light showing cannabis leaf, OPEN and medical signs

So, like more than 4 million other Americans all over the U.S., you decided to get your medical cannabis card. That’s awesome! After all, research has shown that cannabis is effective in treating and managing symptoms for illnesses and conditions like anxiety, Alzheimer’s, chronic pain, eating disorders, epilepsy, and many, many more conditions besides.

So now that your card has come in the mail, your next stop is your local dispensary. But taking just a quick glance at a dispensary menu for the first time can be long and wordy, full of phrases and industry-specific terms that you don’t fully understand, and totally overwhelming at their worst.

Thankfully, we here at Leafwell are all about making your cannabis-related life easier, whether that’s helping you get your card with only a brief, digital consultation with one of our licensed cannabis doctors, or giving you a full breakdown of how to read a dispensary menu.

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What to Know Before You Go to the Medical Marijuana Dispensary

As exciting as it can be to get your card in the mail and be able to go buy from the dispensary for the first time, you’ll need to do a little bit of research and start thinking about a few things before you even set foot in line and look at a menu.

You should first think about three things: What time of day are you going to be using your medication, what effects are you looking for from your cannabis, and what method of consumption are you going to go with? Let’s take a closer look at each of those questions.

What Type of MMJ Product?

Before you head over to the dispensary and spend a single dime on cannabis products, you should put some thought into what type of product you’re looking for. For example, if you already know that you don’t enjoy smoking cannabis, or have breathing issues like asthma, you should probably consider using edibles or tinctures instead. Also cannabinoid-based inhalers for those who need relief from sudden asthma attacks.

It’s not the 60s anymore, so you can get cannabis in nearly any form you can imagine. Standard flower, prerolls, dry leaf and oil vapes, tinctures, oral and suppository pills, transdermal creams, and edibles are just a few of the options you’ll see on a dispensary menu depending on what state you’re in.

Those who need immediate relief from their symptoms (e.g. a panic attack or spasms) may wish to try vaporizers and/or tinctures. Those who need long-term relief may prefer edibles and/or transdermal patches. Different symptoms/conditions require different forms of treatment. Knowing what type of cannabis product you’re interested in will help you narrow your focus to that specific part of the dispensary menu, making things less overwhelming as a whole.

Download 5 Tips For Choosing A Medical Marijuana Product

What Time of Day?

While this question might not be one that most casual cannabis users think about, it’s one worth exploring when it comes to medical patients. Medical cannabis patients have access to all different strains, terpene profiles, and cannabis products packed with complex cannabinoids, not just the seeds and stems that come standard in your black-market dimebags.

That means that you can be selective with your cannabis, picking a product that’s best suited for you, your needs, and your lifestyle. For example, if you’re dealing with insomnia and some back pain after a long day of sitting, slumped over a computer at your 9-5 job, you may want something with a little THC and cannabinol (CBN) in it in order to help you eat and get to sleep. For daytime use, something with less THC and more CBD may be more appropriate, as you are not intoxicated.

Knowing your goals and catering your medical cannabis purchases to help accomplish them is the best way to go.

What Feeling Are You Looking for from Your Medical Cannabis?

As previously mentioned, you should be choosing cannabis that helps you accomplish your goals. That is, after all, the point of medical cannabis. So before you ever go to the dispensary, talk with a budtender, and glance at a menu, make sure you do a little bit of research into what products work best to treat your symptoms. A good budtender is also likely to know the limits of their knowledge when it comes to solving more complex health problems, and should be able to pass you more resources if you need to know more.

After all, it wouldn’t make sense to take medication for a heart condition when you’re dealing with kidney failure, right? Medical cannabis is no different. Getting the right concentration, strain, and form of the product itself will help you better treat and ease your symptoms.

For those needing help with insomnia, products containing THC, CBN,  and terpenes like myrcene, humulene and linalool may be more useful. For those needing help with things like anxiety, cannabidiol (CBD) may be better. Many conditions are likely to require a little bit of both!

Reading the Dispensary Menu

Once you’ve put some thought into when you’ll be using the product, what symptoms you’re looking to treat, and what form of product would be best for you, it’s now time to actually set foot in the dispensary and take a look at that menu.

While we all know how stressful it can be to be scanning the menu for exactly what you want as you stand and line and get closer and closer to the moment of truth at the counter, there are some key things you should look out for at are universal across every menu, in every dispensary, in every state.

THC/CBD Content and Chemotypes

Now, we know that this is the part where a lot of people get lost. It can be wordy, full of cannabis-industry buzzwords, and flowery names like “Sweet and Sour Widow,” “Granddaddy Purp,” or “OG Kush” that don’t really tell you much about what you’re actually getting.

While there are a ton of complex and interesting mixes of terpenes and cannabinoid profiles that you can explore, (that’s what the research prior to heading to the dispensary is for) we find that it’s easiest to break the menu items down into three categories: THC-dominant strains, CBD-dominant strains, and hybrid strains.

THC-dominant strains, as the name would suggest, have more tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in them than CBD which makes them great for easing pain, encouraging sleep and appetite, and are typically highly psychoactive. These are going to be the strains where you’ll want to load up on munchies and be prepared for the relaxing, stress-free couch lock to come.

CBD-dominant strains, on the other hand, tend to not get you very “high” in the traditional sense, but still have some profound effects. CBD-dominant strains, for example, are great for easing inflammation, reducing stress and anxiety associated with issues like PTSD, and helping take the edge off of sore muscles all over your body. Varieties with equal amounts of THC and CBD may be of particular use for chronic pain, muscle spasms and tremors.

Hybrid strains are strains that are bred using both indica and sativa varieties. In somecases, these are ideal for medical cannabis patients because they’re specially created with them in mind, mixing terpene and cannabinoid profiles for varied effects on a massive array of illnesses and conditions. Most varieties can be considered hybrids, as many of today’s strains have been developed by breeding many other varieties of cannabis together.

Generally, these three categories do a rough job of breaking down strains but, since cannabis impacts everyone differently, you should still talk with a budtender (and your medical marijuana doctor or pharmacist beforehand as well) after you’ve taken a look at the menu and find out which strain is right for you and your particular needs. Remember: the distinctions between “indica” and “sativa” do not necessarily tell you what’s in the plant. Read the label for cannabinoid and terpene content if you want a true gauge of what the effects may be like. Strain names, at best, may give you some indication of the plant’s genetics and flavor profile and cultivar, but in general it is best to look at lab test results.

Brand Name/Product ID

Another thing you’ll notice about the menu at your local dispensary is that they tend to have the same big brand names nearly universally. Of course, those brand names will depend on what state you’re in but the point stands.

So here’s another moment where that preparation you did before you ever set foot in the dispensary will help you. If you’ve done your research online, you’ll know the quality, chemical make-up, and price of that particular brand’s strain of cannabis before you even get to the front of the line – this sort of information can be found out on dispensary menus on websites or from the product manufacturer websites. If you can narrow down what you want from each brand, you’ve taken most of the stress off of navigating a dispensary menu in the first place. Do your research online and try to learn which brands make the best type of product you’re looking for.

Dosage – How Much Cannabis Do You Use Everyday?

Just like any other medication, your dispensary menu will give you some idea of the quality of whatever product you’re buying. For example, if you’re looking at dried flower it will likely be sold in ounces or grams. If you know that your dosage is a few grams a day, all you have to do is a little bit of mental math to figure out exactly how much cannabis you need over the course of the week or month. This is particularly important to figure out in states that have monthly maximum purchase and possession limits for medical marijuana patients.

Check out our guide for more information on dosing cannabis here, and/or download our simple guide below!

Download Our 1 Pager Guide to Dosing Medical Marijuana


In the end, a trip to the local dispensary and figuring out their menu is only as complicated as you make it. Do your research in advance, understand what you want, in what form, and when/how you plan to use it, and, if you’re still having trouble figuring out the menu don’t be afraid to ask questions! That’s what the budtenders are there for and they’re always game to help you figure out what’s best for you.

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