Cannabis 101: What forms does medical marijuana come in?

If you’re new to medical marijuana and you have a lot of questions, don’t worry—it’s perfectly normal. With a sea of products out there and myriad methods of consumption, it’s understable if your first trip to the dispensary is a bit overwhelming. It helps to arrive prepared, so we’ll break down the details and help you gain a general sense of what you’re looking for. Before you know it, it’ll be second nature!

First, here are a few things to know before you visit your local medical cannabis dispensary.

Medical marijuana terms to know before you go

Indica vs. sativa

Most dispensaries label their products as “indica” or “sativa,” which are two different species of cannabis. Cannabis sativa is a tall, slim plant with skinny, light green leaves; cannabis indica is a short, bushy plant with broad, dark green leaves. It’s commonly said that indica produces more relaxing effects, while sativa is more stimulating, but there is little evidence to confirm this claim. When searching for the right products for you, it’s more important to focus on the effects of individual strain and the cannabinoids it comprises.


There are over 100 cannabinoids, or compounds, in the cannabis plant. As research continues, we’re learning more about different cannabinoids that produce various effects, but there are two that are best known and sought out in higher quantities: THC and CBD. The biggest difference between these two cannabinoids is that THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, produces the psychoactive effects associated with marijuana, while CBD does not make you feel “high.” Both have many potential benefits, including pain relief, anti-inflammatory properties and easing symptoms of nausea and vomiting. For patients who are seeking treatment for their symptoms without any psychoactive effects, products high in CBD and low in THC may be the best option.

Forms of medical marijuana


Cannabis in its most raw and natural state is called flower, and is usually sold by the eighth, or ⅛ of an ounce, or sometimes by the gram. There are a multitude of strains available, and these will vary depending on which dispensary you visit. Flower can be smoked many different ways, so you’ll need to choose your method, too. For example, you may want to purchase a pipe, bubbler or bong; or rolling papers to pack a joint.


Pre-rolls offer you all the benefits of a rolled joint or blunt, without any of the work (is there anything better?). They’re beneficial in their convenience and the fact that they don’t require you to purchase additional equipment. Pre-rolls are usually sold individually, or sometimes in packs, and are offered in many different strains.


Vaping is appealing to those who prefer not to consume through traditional smoking. When using a vaporizer and a cartridge with the strain of your choice, the cannabinoids are vaporized upon inhaling. There’s no combustion involved, and no lingering smell.


What’s more appealing than a yummy snack that makes you feel good? The edible market has exploded in recent years, and now there are plenty of options: cookies, brownies, fruit chews and gummies, hard candies, drinks, you name it. Just make sure to check the label for the serving size—it might be delicious, but you don’t want to over-consume.

Delicious homemade pot brownies with marijuana leaf garnish.


Extracts are made by separating the cannabinoids from the plant matter, resulting in a mass of highly potent cannabinoids. They come in different forms with names that refer to their textures, such as crumble, shatter and sauce. Some extracts can be added to marijuana flower before smoking (for example, in a pipe or a joint) for a stronger effect. Most often, they’re consumed by dabbing, a process that involves heating the extract with a dab rig and letting it vaporize.


Tinctures are cannabis oils containing varying amounts of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids. You may have heard of “full-spectrum” tinctures, which are made using many types of cannabis plant extracts, such as essential oils, terpenes, and cannabinoids like CBD. To get the full effects of a tincture, it is best consumed with a dropper under the tongue.


There are a range of topical products made with cannabis that can be applied to the skin, like lotions, gels and muscle rubs. Like other products, they contain different levels of THC and CBD. Topicals are especially helpful for reducing inflammation and soothing muscle aches and pains.

What symptoms can medical marijuana help with?

Marijuana has not yet been approved by the FDA for medical use, with the exception of one cannabis-derived drug for seizures, and three synthetic cannabis-related drug products for chemotherapy symptoms.

But existing scientific studies and anecdotal research shows that it may be helpful for many different health conditions, such as the following:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Migraines
  • Chronic pain
  • Epilepsy
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Inflammation
  • Sleep management

In order to obtain a medical marijuana card, check your state regulations to confirm that your symptoms qualify you for medical cannabis use.


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