Visiting a dispensary for the first time is an intimidating experience for many. With the vast array of products and terminologies, newcomers might feel overwhelmed or confused. However, understanding how to navigate this new world can significantly enhance your dispensary visit. 

Let’s demystify the dispensary shopping experience, providing you with the knowledge needed to make informed choices and feel confident during your visit.

Maybe you’re seeking relief from specific symptoms, looking for recreational use, or curious about exploring new cannabis experiences. Whatever your case, this guide will empower you with the essentials of how to shop in a dispensary.

Understanding Dispensary Basics

Dispensaries serve as retail outlets where people can purchase cannabis and cannabis-related products for medical or recreational use. They offer a wide range of products, including flower, concentrates, edibles, topicals, and more, catering to various preferences and needs.

Medical vs. Recreational Cannabis

The primary distinction between medical and recreational cannabis lies in the purpose of use and the purchasing process. Medical-grade cannabis is typically defined by the higher potency, and in order to purchase these larger volumes, you must have a valid medical marijuana card.

Recreational cannabis, on the other hand, is available to anyone 21 years and older (in states where recreational use is legal). There are plenty of recreational cannabis use cases and tons of products to match. 

Before You Go

Before visiting a dispensary, it’s beneficial to do some basic research on cannabis and its effects. Understanding the basics can help you communicate your needs more effectively and make choices that align with your desired outcomes.

  • Identify Your Needs and Preferences – Consider what you’re hoping to achieve with cannabis. Are you looking for relief from specific symptoms, interested in recreational use, or curious about exploring new experiences? Knowing your goals can help guide your product selection.
  • Familiarize Yourself with Cannabis Terms – Learning some key cannabis terms and product types can make your dispensary visit smoother and more productive.

Taking these steps can help reduce feelings of intimidation and equip you with the confidence to navigate the dispensary landscape.

shop in a dispensary

Navigating Different Product Formats

Dispensaries offer a diverse range of cannabis products, each with its own characteristics and methods of consumption. Understanding these formats can help you find the right product to match your needs and preferences.


Cannabis flower, the most traditional form of cannabis, can be grown outdoors (sungrown) or indoors. Sungrown cannabis is cultivated under natural sunlight, often resulting in a broader terpene and cannabinoid profile due to the plant’s exposure to a natural environment. Indoor cannabis, grown in controlled conditions, can produce high-quality buds with specific characteristics tailored by growers.


Concentrates are potent cannabis extracts made by isolating cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant material. They come in various forms, such as oils, waxes, and shatters, and are consumed using a cartridge, vaporizer, dab rig, or added to flower in a joint. Concentrates offer a more intense experience and require smaller amounts for noticeable effects.


Edibles are food products infused with cannabis, ranging from gummies and chocolates to beverages and baked goods. They offer a smoke-free consumption method, with effects that are longer-lasting but also slower to onset. Common dosages vary, typically starting from 5mg of THC (or lower!), allowing for controlled consumption.


Topicals are cannabis-infused lotions, balms, and oils applied directly to the skin for localized relief of pain, soreness, or inflammation. They are non-intoxicating, making them an appealing option for those seeking therapeutic benefits without psychoactive effects.


Cannabis-infused drinks are less common but available in some dispensaries. They offer an alternative to traditional edibles and smoking, providing a discreet and convenient way to consume cannabis. Like edibles, the effects of cannabis drinks are slower to onset and longer-lasting.

Asking About Terpenes and Cannabinoid Profiles

Understanding the chemical composition of cannabis products, including terpenes and cannabinoids, is crucial for selecting a product that meets your needs. These compounds significantly influence the effects, flavor, and aroma of cannabis, making them key factors in your decision-making process.


Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in many plants, including cannabis. They contribute to the plant’s scent and offer various therapeutic effects. When shopping in a dispensary, asking about the terpene profile of cannabis products can help you find options with specific aromas or therapeutic benefits. For example, limonene is known for its mood-elevating properties, while myrcene is noted for its relaxing effects.


Cannabinoids are the compounds in cannabis that are primarily responsible for its effects. THC and CBD are the most well-known, but there are many others, like CBG and CBN, that play a role in how a product might affect you. When inquiring about cannabinoid profiles, you’re looking for information on the levels of these compounds. This helps determine the potential impact on your body, from psychoactive effects to therapeutic benefits.

How to Ask Budtenders About Terpenes and Cannabinoids

Here are some potential points you may want to bring up during your dispensary visit in regards to terpenes and cannabinoids:

  • Ask for lab test results or product labels that list the terpene and cannabinoid content.
  • Inquire about the effects associated with specific terpenes or cannabinoid ratios in products.
  • Request recommendations based on desired effects, whether it’s relaxation, euphoria, pain relief, or other outcomes.

How to Speak with Budtenders

Communicating effectively with budtender staff is key to getting the best product recommendations tailored to your needs. Here are some tips to ensure productive conversations when shopping in a dispensary:

  • Be Clear About Your Experience Level – It matters if you’re a novice versus an experienced cannabis lover. Letting the budtender know allows them to tailor their recommendations accordingly.
  • Describe Desired Effects or Needs – Explain what you’re looking for in terms of effects (e.g., relaxation, pain relief, euphoria) or any specific medical conditions you hope to address.
  • Don’t Hesitate to Ask Questions – Budtenders are there to help. Inquiring about product origins, effects, potency, or anything else you’re curious about can help you make more informed choices.
  • Express Preferences or Concerns – If you have preferences (such as organic or sungrown products) or concerns (like potential anxiety from high-THC strains), mentioning these can guide the budtender’s recommendations.
  • Inquire About New or Popular Items – Budtenders can provide insights into the latest products or what’s popular among other customers, which might introduce you to new favorites.

Examples of Questions to Ask

  • Can you recommend a product for [specific effect, e.g., sleep aid, pain relief]?
  • What are the differences between these two strains?
  • How do these edibles compare in onset time and duration?
  • Are there any deals or discounts today?
  • Effective communication with budtenders can greatly enhance your dispensary visit, ensuring you leave with products that suit your preferences and needs.

Finding Quality Products

Identifying high-quality cannabis and cannabis products is crucial for ensuring safety and achieving the desired effects. The more you learn how to shop in a dispensary, the easier this will become. Here are some indicators of quality and red flags to watch out for during your dispensary visit.

Indicators of High-Quality Cannabis

  • Appearance – Look for cannabis that is vibrant in color, with a healthy appearance. Trichomes, the tiny crystal-like structures on the buds, should be visible and abundant, indicating potency.
  • Aroma – Quality cannabis has a strong, pleasant aroma. The presence of distinct terpenes, which can range from fruity to earthy, is a good sign of well-cared-for cannabis.
  • Texture – The buds should be sticky and spongy when gently pressed. They shouldn’t be too dry or crumbly, nor should they feel damp or wet, which could indicate improper curing or storage.
  • Cleanliness – Ensure the product has been tested for pesticides, molds, and other contaminants. Most dispensaries will have lab results available upon request.

Quality makes a huge difference with any cannabis experience, which is why it’s best to opt for high-quality, sungrown cannabis products when available. 

What’s more, local, sungrown options often represent sustainable and environmentally friendly choices, supporting local growers and offering a pure expression of the plant’s potential.

Red Flags to Watch Out For

  • Poor Aroma or Bad Smell – A lack of smell or an unpleasant aroma, like hay or mold, can indicate poor quality or improperly cured cannabis.
  • Overly Dry or Crumbly Buds – This can indicate that the cannabis is old or was not stored correctly, potentially leading to a less effective and enjoyable experience.
  • Excessive Stems or Seeds – High-quality cannabis products should have minimal stems and seeds. An excess of either can indicate lower quality.

By keeping an eye out for these indicators and red flags, you can more confidently select cannabis products that meet your standards for quality and safety.

Making Your Purchase

  • Accepted Payment Methods – Many dispensaries operate cash-only due to federal banking regulations, though some may offer ATM services or accept debit cards. Always check beforehand.
  • ID Requirements – A valid government-issued ID proving you are of legal age (21+ for recreational, 18+ with a medical card for medicinal) is required.
  • Understanding Product Limit – Be aware of state and local regulations on how much cannabis you can buy per visit.
  • Start Small – Especially when trying new products, consider purchasing in small quantities to find what works best for you without overcommitting.

After Your Visit

Before you start experimenting with your new cannabis haul, consider keeping a journal to track your experience with different products and dosing, etc.

And, of course, experiment responsibly. As you shop in a dispensary, gradually explore different products and dosages to discover your ideal cannabis experience, always prioritizing safety and mindfulness.

Establishing a relationship with cannabis is a personal journey, one that can be deeply rewarding. We wish you the best as you explore and expand your knowledge with this incredible plant.