The Colorado amendment to legalize recreational marijuana was approved in 2012 by voters, and sales became legal in 2014. Colorado state officials are required to regulate recreational cannabis, much like alcohol is regulated. Colorado residents and out-of-state tourists aged 21 and over can buy one ounce of cannabis. A valid ID, like a driver’s license or passport, is required for purchase. Colorado does not have any type of registration system; you simply need to present your ID when purchasing. The entirety of this article is based on Colorado State law. Always check with your locality first before venturing down this road.
The amendment actually specifically allows possession of 1 ounce of THC rather than just one ounce of marijuana. Because it is worded this way, buyers may not only purchase the flowers (buds), but can also enjoy edibles, topicals, and concentrates. You can even buy cannabis seeds.
Because THC amounts and potency vary depending on whether you are purchasing buds, edibles or concentrates, Colorado introduced equivalency guidelines in late 2016. For example, concentrates by nature have a much higher THC level. The state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) therefore doesn’t allow retail sellers to sell the same amount of concentrate as flower buds.
1oz flower = 8g of concentrate (wax, shatter, and similar products)
1oz flower = 800mg of edibles
Legally, a person can possess up to 28 grams. The law changed in June 2016 to allow a person to purchase 28 grams in a single purchase transaction (the limit was previously 7 grams.) Colorado law also allows residents to grow cannabis and cultivate up to six plants, but only three of the plants can be in flowering stage, and all plants must be in an enclosed and securely locked location.
It is important to know Colorado law regarding consumption. Cannabis cannot be consumed in public areas. Remember that cannabis is still illegal on the federal level, so you cannot be in possession of it in one of Colorado’s many national parks, forests or monuments. Furthermore, many Colorado ski runs are built on federal land, so be cautious of that as well. Since recreational use was legalized, hundreds of people have been reprimanded for possession on federal land. Most park rangers are nice about it, particularly if it is a first offense, but you can be jailed for a year with a fine of $1,000, even for a first offense. After the first offense, jail time can increase to two or three years and thousands more in fines. You also cannot take cannabis with you if traveling out of state.
Colorado has strict laws regarding driving while impaired by cannabis. The offenses are called canna-DUIs, and Colorado’s open container law does not just apply to alcohol, it also applies to weed. If you are impaired and have children in the car, you can be charged with child abuse. Cannabis cannot be given or sold to minors under age 21.
THC is stored for long periods of time in your body, even for daily consumers. That means you could have consumed cannabis hours before driving, but it still shows up as a detectable level.
Many factors, such as body weight and metabolic rate, affect your retention of THC and there is great variability from individual to individual regarding cannabis blood levels. Tolerance levels vary greatly from person to person.
Most law enforcement agencies use oral swabs inside the mouth or an evaluation called the Drug Evaluation Classification (DEC) Program that is based on observing the driver. Blood tests are actually the best indicator, but invasive measurements are of course not used at routine traffic stops.
What’s Your Limit?
The biggest question we get from first-time users is “how will cannabis affect me”? Cannabis does affect people in different ways, and it also depends on the strain you are using. Most consumers find it very relaxing, but some get more outgoing. Others find that it makes them highly anxious or highly groggy.
There are several things you can do to prepare for your first time. Allow yourself enough time afterwards. Don’t schedule an important meeting or dinner right after! If at all possible, try to be in your own home the first time you try it. If another person you trust can be with you, like a friend or family member, it is ideal. Make sure that person is serving as a “designated watcher”—not partaking, just monitoring. You also should drink a lot of water and eat something before your first use.
Everyone is different. You have to develop a sense of your own impairment level. Novice users should start with a very low dose until you know how it affects you. When smoking or vaping, take only one puff and see how it affects you. For edibles, Strawberry Fields recommends starting with 1-5mg edibles for novices, 5-10mg for occasional consumers, and 10-15mg for frequent consumers. Remember that it can take two hours or longer for edibles to take effect. Never mix cannabis with any other substance.
What happens if you become too high? It’s called “greening out” and sometimes, new consumers inhale too deeply or choose an edible or concentrate that is too strong. Many novice users are surprised and even perhaps overwhelmed by the potency.
The main thing to do is don’t panic. You can’t overdose on cannabis. It can make you feel anxious and uncomfortable, but you won’t die—we promise!
Start by staying calm. You might sweat profusely. Try to breathe deeply and find a quiet place to relax. You might feel groggy. You can try to sleep, but some people find that they have a hard time turning off the brain switch to sleep. Sometimes fresh air and a nice walk to get the blood pumping works well, but don’t walk outside unaccompanied if you feel dizzy or unstable.
Drink plenty of water to hydrate. Whatever you do, don’t drink alcohol; it increases your blood’s concentrations of THC. Some consumers chew on a few black peppercorns to relieve any symptoms of anxiety or paranoia that might occur.
Always contact the Colorado Poison Control Center at 1 (800) 222-1222 in cases of severe overconsumption.
How Do I Consume It?
You don’t just have to smoke marijuana. There are many ways of consuming it—vaporizing, topical, oils, concentrates, edibles, sublingual (under the tongue) sprays, and transdermal (through the skin) patches. There are even cannabis-infused beverages like teas.
Smoking is of course the most well known and traditional method of consuming marijuana. People use bongs, joints or pipes to smoke it. Marijuana smoke provides immediate effects, but it also wears off very quickly.
Vaporizing (vaping) is heating, but not burning, cannabis. When heated, active ingredients are released into a vapor created by device called a vaporizer. It’s vapor, not smoke though, since no burning is taking place. Vaporizing, just like e-cigarettes, has grown very popular, but many consumers wonder about its safety. It is less harmful than smoking, and vaporizers are designed for inhalation without smoke toxins, meaning they heat cannabis to temperatures below combustion level, so carcinogens and toxins like tar and ammonia are never generated. Research studies over the years have indeed shown that fewer carcinogenic compounds are produced when vaporizing compared to smoking marijuana. Cannabis smoke is much better than cigarette smoke. It’s less toxic, but inhalation of any type of smoke still means that gases and particulates go into your lungs, and that can create irritation and lead to respiratory problems.
A concentrate is any cannabis product made from an extraction process. This process involves use of a solvent (like ethanol) to strip the plant of its compounds to make a power-packed concentrated product. Some of these extracts have very high levels of THC (like 80 percent). Here are some of the types of concentrates you will find:
- Hash is a concentrate made from compressing plant resin.
- Kief is a pollen or dry sift product made from the trichomes of the buds. Kief is usually used to make hash.
- Tinctures are actually a very old method. In fact, cannabis tinctures were very common in America until 1937 when cannabis was outlawed. Tinctures are also made from an extraction process that uses alcohol to create a liquid concentrate of the plant’s beneficial compounds. Tinctures are usually taken sublingually and come in many different flavors.
- Sap, wax, shatter, honeycomb, and crumble are other forms of extracts. Shatter resembles amber glass and is a very pure and clean extract. Cannabis wax produces a more cloudy opaque oil.
Oils are also extracts made from a complicated extraction process. Oils are named based on the solvent used to extract them:
- Butane Hash Oil (BHO) is very potent and normally used in vaping or dabbing. Butane extraction is used and the resulting oils can have as much as 80 percent THC content.
- CO2 Oil is made from a process using carbon dioxide and pressure to extract the plant material, a process called supercritical fluid extraction. This is an extremely effective process in reducing the cannabis plant down to essential active compounds. This oil is usually vaporized.
- Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) is derived from a home extraction process used by Rick Simpson in 2003 to treat his own skin cancer. It uses solvents of naphtha or isopropyl alcohol; the plant is soaked to release the therapeutic compounds that are taken orally or topically.
Edibles are an increasingly popular alternative to smoking. They can be used more discretely and are more convenient. Basically, they’re made by infusing cannabis into food. Cannabis is absorbed through the intestinal tract; this method takes longer to work (up to an hour), but the high is much more intense and lasts much longer (4 to 12 hours depending on the dose).
Of course, brownies come to mind when you think about edibles. There are still brownies to be sure, but there are a whole host of other edibles including gummy bears, chocolate bars, cakes, cookies, lollipops and many others. Colorado has label laws requiring THC total milligrams and number of servings on the label. State law dictates that one serving is 10 mg THC or less.
What Strain Do I Use?
Marijuana falls into three major categories: indica, sativa, and hybrid. Indica and sativa have different geographic origins, different morphologies, different crop yields and flowering times, and different flavor.
All these differences mean very different effects: indica is known to be calming and relaxing, producing an overall full body sedation effect. Sativa strains are uplifting and give people that clear-headedness to focus. Hybrid strains are engineered to include sativa and indica strains in different combinations.
Physical sedation comes with indica strains, while sativa is known to invigorate and uplift the brain. Hybrids fall in the middle, depending on the two strains used to create the hybrid.
What Are Cannabis’ Active Ingredients?
The active compounds are extracted from the processes described above. Cannabinoids and terpenes are the main active components.
Our bodies actually have a built in system to keep us functioning in a balanced state. It is called the endocannabinoid system. Our organs and cells have chemical receptors, and our bodies make our own cannabinoid substances that bond to these receptors to perform vital functions like synthesis of other substances or reduction of inflammation.
Plants have their own similar system, and plant-based cannabinoids, or phytocannabinoids, are chemical compounds secreted by the plants. The magic is that these chemicals also can bind with our endocannabinoid receptors, and that is why cannabis has worked so well for medical use. Amazingly, these plant compounds imitate our own compounds. In short, the plant compounds produce the same natural effects that our body does on its own. Over 80 cannabinoids have been identified thus far.
Terpenes are aromatic oils in the cannabis plant resin. Basically, when you smell marijuana, you are smelling the terpene oils. They are part of the plant’s natural mechanisms. The strong smells attract insects to pollinate the plant, while at the same time repelling insects or other creatures that are predators to the plant. Different plant strains have different terpenes which are responsible for creating the unique strain flavors like berry, mint and citrus. Scientists have identified over 100 different terpenes to date.
It seems that the good news of terpenes and cannabinoids is spreading, and more and more people are joining the bandwagon as proponents for cannabis’ medical use. The majority of states (39) have voted to legalize medical cannabis. There is promising research and a growing body of scientific evidence to prove that this may be the next great medical breakthrough.
Medical cannabis has been used to treat a variety of conditions ranging from arthritis to ADHD, and including anxiety, PTSD, various cancers, childhood seizures, spinal cord injuries, pain, nausea, digestive disorders like Crohn’s disease, and HIV/AIDS.
Cannabinoids provide full-body pain relief and are a powerful anti-inflammatory substance. Cannabis has also been linked with cognitive performance, so it improves attention deficit and anxiety disorders like ADHD and PTSD.
There is a growing body of global research being done. Israel has long been on the leading edge of that research. For example, Israel is the world leader in cannabis research; they’ve done extensive research on marijuana to look at its effects on cancer and other diseases. Initial research shows that THC has anti-tumor properties that halt cancer cell growth. THC shows great promise in fighting breast, bone, and prostate cancers.
Marijuana has been used as an effective anti-nausea treatment, particularly for cancer patients, who sometimes experience severe nausea as a result of chemotherapy (called chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting or CINV).
Although research is underway on many different cannabinoids, there are three in particular for which most of the research to date has been conducted.
A growing body of scientific evidence is showing that cannabis may be able to stop the spread of HIV. Patients afflicted with the disease have increasingly turned to marijuana to help the symptoms of chronic pain and cachexia, the wasting away and dramatic weight and muscle mass loss seen in these patients.
HIV shuts down the body’s immune system by killing protective white T-cells in the blood. The result is that the body is literally overrun by opportunistic infections like pneumonia, tuberculosis and cancers. As HIV worsens, it leads to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), characterized by chronic low T-cell count and additional infections. Israeli scientists developed a particular cannabis strain that helps AIDS side effects, and it also can be used for other ailments as well.
Another compound is cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive compound used to treat medical patients. It doesn’t produce the hallucinogenic effects marijuana is characterized by. Research studies have shown that CBD is very effective in treating anxiety, epilepsy and many other disorders. Parents who have children who suffer epileptic seizures swear by CBD treatments.
CBD has been studied extensively for cancer reduction. It has been shown to actually impede substances in the body that feed cancer cells and create inflammation. Specifically, American, Italian and Israeli recent studies looked at its potential to cure the incurable multiple myeloma cancers, a disease that affects blood cells. Their research shows that CBD paired with other inhibitor substances strongly inhibited cancer cell growth, and it also sped up the death of the cancerous cells.
The lesser known cannabinoid called cannabigerol (CBG) is on the forefront of research and getting more of the spotlight. While CBG research is limited, scientists think that CBG works in conjunction with THC and CBD to provide body balance.
CBG calms the central nervous system by counteracting the “high” associated with THC, producing an overall effect of decreased muscle tension and anxiety. CBG shows promise in treating glaucoma because it reduces intraocular pressure. A study on mice infected with the neurological disease Huntington’s disease showed that CBG protected against degradation of the brain’s nerve cells. Another study showed significant reduction of the inflammation specific to inflammatory bowel disease, It also might be a potent colorectal cancer fighter.
How Do I Use Cannabis Medically?
Each state has its own list of approved conditions that can qualify you for medical use. Colorado operates medical dispensaries for qualifying patients even though recreational use is also legal. Colorado also maintains a list of specialty clinics and doctors. Medical patients are exempt from paying the additional state and other taxes that recreational cannabis users pay. Minors under 21 will have to apply for medical use.
In Colorado, you can qualify for medical use if you have one of these conditions: (Check With Your Local States .gov Pages)
- Cachexia (wasting syndrome)
- PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder)
If you don’t have a specific disease diagnosis, but you suffer chronic pain or other symptoms, you can also qualify this way:
- Severe pain or nausea
- Persistent muscle spasms
A complete list of conditions is available at www.colorado.gov.
If your medical condition is on the list, the next step is to have a local doctor give you a recommendation. After that, you visit a dispensary; they will help you with a whole host of products that are specially designed for medical users.
Your doctor and dispensary will help you choose the right strain for your condition. It is worthwhile for you to become strain-savvy, too, so do some research. Find out the strains that work best on your symptoms or disease.
Your doctor and dispensary will also help you choose the consumption method that is right for the strain you are using and right for you. Certain intake forms, like smoking, may aggravate your symptoms, so the best medicine delivery mechanism will be found. It is also about personal preference, so if a method isn’t working, ask your very knowledgeable dispensary staff to recommend something else.
And speaking of dispensaries, they are different too. Sometimes they cater to different clientele or specialize in certain conditions, so it’s important that you pick one that you’re comfortable with. Even if a dispensary offers delivery service, visit their storefront to see what kind of establishment your products are coming from; once you’re comfortable and you know the business is reputable, go the delivery route.
Treat your cannabis like the medicine it is. You wouldn’t share a prescription drug, so don’t share your cannabis with friends and family either. Store it away from children and pets, and learn how to properly store it so it is not damaged by sunlight, humidity, or dry air.
Try not to use too much, but if you do, refer to our section above on tips for dealing with an overdose.