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‘Start low, go slow’: Experts walk bud beginners through cannabis 101


11 minute read

With the countdown to cannabis legalization Wednesday ticking towards 4-20, some novice stoners may feel lost navigating this brave new world of government-sanctioned bud. Whether you’re a first-time user, coming back to cannabis after a hiatus, or looking for a refresher, experts say there are basics bud beginners need to know in order to achieve their best buzz.

The chemical “orchestra” of cannabis

Oyedeji Ayonrinde, a psychiatry professor at Queen’s University, says cannabis consists of hundreds of chemical substances, more than 100 of which are known as cannabinoids, which act on receptors in the body to alter a range of physiological processes.

Among this “orchestra” of cannabinoids, said Ayonrinde, there are two main soloists: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Ayonrinde said THC is the more psychoactive compound that creates the euphoria commonly associated with “the high,” while CBD is more “chill,” inducing a relaxing effect.

For new cannabis users, Ayonrinde recommends selecting a strain with less than 20 per cent THC. This may be represented on labels as a CBD-to-THC ratio, he said, and it’s important to know both numbers, because a higher potency of CBD can rein in the effects of THC.

As an analogy, he said to imagine THC being the accelerator of a car, and CBD as being the brakes. A three-to-one THC-to-CBD ratio would be your standard car; a 30-to-one ratio would be like a car with the brakes of a motorbike; a 300-to-one ratio would be like a car with bicycle brakes.

Start low, go slow

This is a common refrain among cannabis connoisseurs, but for Adolfo Gonzalez, co-founder of CannaReps, a Vancouver-based training program for dispensary workers, it serves as a mantra. His philosophy is to encourage users to start with the lowest possible dosage to achieve their desired high.

“To consume responsibly and to stop when you have enough, that’s the cornerstone of the teaching when it comes to safe and effective use, and that’s always where we start,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez said finding your “minimum effective dose,” while most often used in a medical context, has important benefits for recreational users. If a cannabis user keeps consuming past the point of getting high, said Gonzalez, their tolerance will go up, and it will take a higher dose — and therefore more money — to achieve the same effect the next time around.

Is it a sativa or an indica? In most cases, both

Ayonrinde said cannabis strains have traditionally been sorted into two categories: sativa and indica. Sativa plants tend to be associated with more cerebral effects, while indica strains were thought to produce more of a bodily sensation.  

However, Ayonrinde said with the cross-breeding of cannabis plants, most of the strains on the market are not purely indica or sativa, but a hybrid. “If we look at for instance dogs, there may be breeds of dogs, but then with more and more cross-breeding … there may actually be more mongrels than thoroughbreds.”

This cross-breeding, however, has allowed for more potent strains of cannabis — some with THC levels tens of times higher than in decades past, said Ayonrinde. 

For baby boomers who are reacquainting themselves with Mary Jane for the first time since their youth, he warned that weed may be stronger than they remember.

“This isn’t grandma or grandpa’s weed. This is very different,” he said. “If a person probably smoked casually 20 or 30 years ago, and tried to smoke heavily with some of the contemporary preparations of hybrids, they may find themselves quite surprised.” 

Trust your nose, and your friends

If deciding between strains like blue dream, sour diesel and purple haze fills you with dread, Toronto-based cannabis educator Irie Selkirk recommended that novice users ask dispensary workers to help them pick out one or two samples. 

But because varieties of cannabis can be as complex as the people who take them, she said friends with cannabis can provide unique insight into what strain best suits their needs.

If you still feel overwhelmed among a forest of bud, Gonzalez said your nose can be a good tool to help you sniff out the right strain.

“If your nose says ‘no,’ it’s probably not a good idea,” said Gonzalez. “When you smell something and you’re like, ‘Ah, that smells delicious. I would love to sleep in that,’ that’s your body telling you that cultivar (variety of plant) may be well suited to you.”

Get the right equipment

If you’re sparking up on Oct. 17, Selkirk said you can either buy a pre-rolled joint, or go to your “local cannabis artisan” to purchase a range of smoking implements, such as rolling papers, a bong or a pipe. She also recommended that cannabis newcomers invest in a grinder to break up loose bud, and a semi-automatic rolling machine if they’re struggling with their joint technique.

For those who want a more discreet method of consumption, she said using a vaporizer may be a good option, because they are less odious in terms of odours. Vaporizers can range in price between $50 and $300, she said.

Selkirk underscored the importance of storing cannabis in a cool, dry place in order to preserve its intoxicating properties. For parents of underage children, she said cannabis should be stored in a smell-proof bag with a combination lock, and be prepared to explain to their kids why it’s under lock and key. 

If you’re too high, sniff a lemon

It won’t be legal buy edibles or concentrates for about one more year, but you can make food or drinks using cannabis in your own home as long as you don’t use organic solvents to create concentrated products.

When cannabis is inhaled, the effects can be felt within a few minutes of dosing, and typically peak within about half an hour, according to Health Canada. However, with ingestible cannabis, like edibles and cannabis oils, the agency said the acute effects may be felt within half and hour and fours hours of consumption.

This lag in onset time is at the core of what Selkirk termed the “rookie move” of consuming cannabis: having a marijuana-infused treat, and taking more when you don’t feel anything, only to have the effects hit you all at once.

If you do get too high, or even green out — a state of discomfort characterized by nausea, anxiety or dizziness after consuming cannabis — Selkirk suggested finding a place to lie down, drinking a sugary beverage and smelling a tart lemon, a peppercorn or a clove, saying the strong scents can mitigate the effects of THC.

Ayonrinde said he did not know of any scientific studies to support the efficacy of these homemade remedies for cannabis overconsumption.

It may be necessary to seek medical help for those who are experiencing severe effects.

Stay safe, have fun

Ayonrinde emphasized that new and even experienced cannabis users should try to avoid mixing cannabis with other substances, including nicotine and alcohol.

He said stoners should also be aware of the potential harms of cannabis, which can include paranoia, an increased risk of psychosis among heavy users and those with a family history of mental disorder, as well the “well advertised risks” of driving while high.

While the legal age for consuming cannabis is at least 18 or 19, depending on the province, Ayonrinde said cannabis users under the age of 25 should take particular caution before sparking up, because their brains are still developing.

“Frequent, heavy use with a developing brain has a complete different risk profile to people with maturing brains,” he said. “If (young people) want their best brain, then they should have their best information regarding cannabis, too.”

The experts were unanimous in encouraging users to enjoy their high and all of the giggling, euphoria, deep sleep and therapeutic benefits that come with it.

“Cannabis enhances our experiences, and it enhances our senses,” said Selkirk. “Foods taste better, are more flavourful. Touch can be more stimulating. Conversations can be more complex… It turns on a light for a lot of people.”  

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Corb Lund and A Night At The Ranch in support of Smiles Thru Lindsey Foundation

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Corb Lund


Corb Lund is a national treasure.  A singer/songwriter from southern Alberta, he has released nine albums, three of which are certified gold. Lund tours regularly in Canada, the United States and Australia, and has received several awards in Canada and abroad.

A Night At The Ranch is an annual rodeo event hosted at The Daines Ranch near Penhold.  So far $35,000.00 has been raised for charities.

Proceeds from the May 8th and 9th events will go to The Smiles Thru Lindsey Foundation.

From A Night At The Ranch website:

We are so excited to announce that we will be having none other than Corb Lund perform LIVE for you at the Daines Ranch as part of his 2020 Canadian Tour!  The performance will follow the Extreme Bronc Challenge at 4:30 PM on May 9th!

Tickets will be available February 14th, 2020 at 10:00 AM local time. You can get your tickets at or at the Innisfail Auction Market !

Proceeds will be donated to the Smiles Thru Lindsey Foundation


The Night at the Ranch Foundation has raised over $35,000 for local charities and hosts an annual event in May at the Daines Ranch in Innisfail, Alberta



Rank horses and tough cowboys are the meat and potatoes of this event! C5 Rodeo brings their award winning roughstock so these cowboys can battle it out in the arena dirt for the cash prize!



The Charity poker Tournament at Night At The Ranch is one you will want to attend! We transform the Daines Ranch Bar into a full on Poker Tournament, with live and silent auction items! Bring your best poker face and play your buddies for the cash prize! All proceeds made from the tournament; as well as auction items, will be donated to the Smiles Thru Lindsay Foundation.

LV’s Vinyl Cafe – DBA Business Spotlight

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Angling and adventure greet our intrepid traveller on Padre Island

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Now that harvest is over, maybe you’re considering a getaway.

By Gerry Feehan, award-winning travel writer and photographer. Here is his latest story, Padre Island, Texas.


“…I peaked through a stack of chili-flavoured pork rinds, past a battered flag of the Lone-Star State hanging in the dirty window, and into the parking lot. Smiley was staring storeward… waiting….”


Padre Island Texas is a long spit of sand dunes guarding mainland Texas from the destructive tornadoes and winter storms that pound in from the Gulf of Mexico. Between this narrow barrier island and the mainland lies Laguna Madre, a shallow hyper-saline sea renowned for sensitive sea grass and world-class fishing.

Padre Island Texas

The end of the road on South Padre Island.

On some Padre Island beaches, camping is free. South of Corpus Christi, at Padre Island National Seashore, free boon-docking extends for over 100 kilometres. But the sandy entrance is also the only exit. So, after you bite off as much of the hard-packed seashore road as you can chew and you’ve had your fill of remote surf and turf, a tight U-turn and a long return drive up the beach is required to get back to civilization.

It was shoulder season, so we and our RV had the whole shoreline to ourselves.

Padre Island Texas

Now that’s remote camping!

The other campers were all outfitted for fishing. “When in Rome,” thought I and asked the park ranger if he knew of any local fishing guides.

The weather was atrocious: 3°C with a 70-kilometer north wind. Only a Canuckle-head would beach in such conditions; five meters from the raging ocean and sideways to a Gulf gale. The van was a rockin’ all night.

In the morning the weather cleared, the sun shone and the wind ebbed, portending a fine day on the Laguna Madre. We drove back across the causeway to the mainland, toward Arroyo City and a lovely campground along a canal fronting the ocean. We chose a site protected by live oak trees in case (heaven forbid) the weatherman’s prognostication was inaccurate and the wind began to howl anew. As per our typical MO, we arrived at dusk, sans reservation.

The other campers were all outfitted for fishing. “When in Rome,” thought I and asked the park ranger if he knew of any local fishing guides.

“No, I sure don’t,” he said. “Y’all could check with the live-bait store back in town. Look for the big sign – a redfish – out front. They may have a’ idea.” I asked Florence if she’d mind hanging solo for a day while I went angling. “No, go ahead. I’ll spend the day relaxing, reading and knitting.” I wandered down the road.  When I saw red, I stepped in. The shop smelt. After baiting the proprietor with fishing small-talk, I asked, “Do you think you could find a guide to take me out tomorrow?”

“Well, I know of a fella lives right by,” he said, chewing uncertainly on a pork rind, “but it’s kind of late and I doubt he’d be available on short notice. I could call if you like.” He picked up the phone.

Padre Island Texas

Captain Smiley

Five minutes later ‘Captain Smiley’ was walking in the door. He shook my hand and arrangements were made to tackle an early morning. The sun had not yet risen when the Captain putt-putted up to our riverfront campsite and welcomed me aboard. Minutes later, dawn greeted us as we cast our first lines into the shallow, glassy waters of Laguna Madre. A fat red drum hit on my second cast; a fighting day was upon us.

I had a great time with Smiley. Affirming his moniker, he laughed and joked all day long in his charismatic Tex-Mex accent.

The night before I had warned the Captain that I was short on greenbacks and would need to pay by cheque. He hesitantly agreed. When we arrived back at dock he expertly prepped my red-fish “on the half-shell” for grilling. Driving me back to our campsite he diverted his battered pick-up truck toward the bait shop. Pulling up he informed me that there was an ATM inside. Evidently he preferred cash to a cheque written on the reputable but foreign Royal Bank of Canada. I smiled, opened the door and headed into the store.

I had no bank card, just a US Visa. Uncertain if I could withdraw cash or whether my PIN# would work, I shoved the card in, chose English over Spanish as my language of preference and, after agreeing to an unreasonable fee for using the bank machine (“in addition to whatever other charges your financial institution may impose”). I prayed silently as I entered my personal security particulars. The machine sat quietly for a time, made some distant interior rumblings and eventually announced: “Request Declined.”

Padre Island Texas

Roseate spoonbill

I peaked through a stack of chili-flavoured pork rinds, past a battered flag of the Lone-Star State hanging in the dirty window, and into the parking lot. Smiley was staring storeward… waiting.

I checked to see if there was a back exit. The wary owner eyed me suspiciously. The rear door led through a heap of fish offal into an alligator-infested swamp. Preferring embarrassment to an awful death, I thought I’d again ask the Captain if he would accept my cheque. I took a last baleful glance at the ATM and noticed a message: “maximum withdrawal $120.” I had requested too much dinero. I started the process anew, punched in my PIN, agreed to pay the usurious fees and crossed my fingers. The machine slowly spat six tattered twenties at me. A full day of guided fishing is not cheap. I repeated the process a few times. Eventually the tired machine coughed up enough cash to retire my piscatorial indebtedness.

I handed the dough to Smiley. He smiled and asked, “Do you want to fish tomorrow?” I couldn’t envisage enduring another ATM debacle and, in any event, it was time for us to move on from this arroyo.

“No thanks,” I said, “we need to hit the road tomorrow.”

“Aw, that’s too bad,” said Smiley. “Tomorrow’s my day off and what I do on my day off is… go fishing. I’ll take you out on my dime.”

Padre Island Texas

A great blue heron eyes the fishing.

I saw my calendar clearing.

I called Florence to ask leave. She concurred, delighted. (Apparently, one day away from her beloved was insufficient to create any overwhelming desire to be reunited in the confines of our small RV.)

I had another great “caught my limit” day of fishing. As I fried up a delicious speckled sea trout that night, Florence asked, “Are you going fishing again tomorrow?”

“Naw,” I said. “Smiley’s got a customer lined up for the morning.”

“Gee, that’s too bad,” she said, “this fish is incredible.” She was eyeing her knitting.


Close up shot of writer Gerry Feehan

Gerry Feehan

Hope you enjoyed your trip to Padre Island Texas.  Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer.  He and his wife Florence live in Red Deer, AB and Kimberley, BC. You can read more of his stories here.




Read Gerry’s excellent tale – The Long Road to Texas.  Click below.





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april, 2021

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