The scene is the shop floor of my favorite marijuana dispensary in Sin City. The store is bright and, clean. Customers range from business people in suits and ties, senior citizens with canes and walkers, hippies, college students, to a couple dudes who look like they are stocking up for Burning Man.

And then there is me. A bearded Army vet, covered in tattoos, sporting my sweat stained baseball cap, checking out the new goodies on the shelves. Minding my own business like an anti-social combat vet should, I’m taking notes on the new products and getting further educated on the revolution happening in this newly legal and exciting marketplace. I catch an old guy out of the corner of my eye, looking completely lost and confused among the customers and products. We make quick eye contact, then he looks away. But I can tell he took note of my not so subtle veteran tribal markings, and he begins a slow walk towards me. I know what is coming, so I give him a welcoming smile and await the question that is about to break the awkward silence.

“Hey, you look like you know what you’re doing here, can you help me figure out all this stuff. I’ve never gotten high before, but my doctor told me to try the stuff, and I have no idea what the hell I am looking for.” Usually the questioner in these scenarios is sporting his own version of self-identifying veteran swag.  More times than not its an older World War 2 or Korean war vet who approaches me. But this scene has also played out with youthful GWOT peers.

The irony of these encounters is that despite the fact I may look the part with the long hair and ragged ballcap, I am a total newbie to weed. The first time I ever used the stuff was about three years ago at the age of 45, after I retired from the military and sought something to help me put my nighttime anxiety issues in check.

Before that, I avoided weed for the same reasons most veterans do: I never liked Hippies that much, I was a runner and valued clean healthy lungs for my daily fitness regimen, and my line of work involved drug testing.

Since I joined the ranks of Cannabis Company, I have learned how far too many veterans still shy away from the stigmas and stereotypes of cannabis. Cannabis is becoming an accepted and medically validated treatment option for both mental health and physical health problems that combat veterans are prone to deal with. So in order to assuage some of this stigma, let’s go over a couple quick critical points relating to modern cannabis products and usage.

First, cannabis is now available legally in large parts of the country and world.

If you are buying from a licensed dispensary it’s not like purchasing from the Black Market, so there is no criminal exposure and taxes levied fund public coffers, not murderous cartels. Because it’s legal, it is regulated and tested. Your purchase comes with the knowledge that what you are buying is in fact what is described on the packaging.

The institutions that for years scared us away from cannabis are now singing a different tune. State and federal politicians from all political stripes are pushing legislation to allow for large scale studies into the usage of cannabis for veterans (the Veterans Equal Access Act is an example). “Our antiquated drug laws must catch up with the real suffering of so many of our veterans” said Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R). “This is now a moral cause and a matter of supreme urgency.”

More and more medical research is suggesting that cannabis can replace some of the current medications used by the VA and civilian providers to treat veterans’ problems. This is highly needed, given the plague of addiction and even death that has accompanied the explosion of usage of opiate based medications. Many argue that Cannabis is far less addictive than such opioids and less dangerous to overdose on.

So with all this in mind, here is a fast and dirty on the basics of cannabis products available today. This will answer the most common questions I get from vets who are new consumers of weed:

First, now that it’s legal and regulated, the variety and options of weed have radically expanded. One can still go old school and roll up a joint, but if you are like me, and have an aversion to smoking, then cannabis vape pen cartridges offer a cleaner smoke free inhalation experience.

These concentrated vape oil pens can clock in anywhere from 20% to 80% THC (the psycho-active ingredient in cannabis), so a user will need no more than one or two hits to get the desired effect.

This compares to an average 18% THC content when you smoke old school rolled leaf cannabis. Vape pens also provide the benefits of being cheap, clean, easily transported and discretely used in many public venues (the smell quickly dissipates).

There are also edible and drinkable options to consume cannabis (from candy to cookies to sodas to cannabis infused olive oil for cooking). The most important rule of edibles is that they take time to kick in (sometimes up to an hour or more). The rookie mistake is to eat a dose of a cannabis infused chocolate bar, feel nothing, conclude it didn’t work, and eat another. And another….

An hour later you can’t figure out gravity, your grasp of the English language is fading, and that nice mellow buzz you were looking for feels more like a solid case of mental retardation.

So once you have decided if you are smoking old school, vaping, or eating cannabis, the next important question is what strain will meet your desired effects?

Back in the day, if you asked someone what weed they were smoking, the answer would be “Dave’s weed”, because that’s who grew it, some dude named Dave. Today, if you ask someone who shops at a dispensary what weed they are smoking, you will get a detailed response which can pinpoint not only who grew it, but an accurate knowledge of how much THC is involved, as well as the plants belonging to the sativa, indica, or hybrid classification.

This classification is critical to achieving your end goal of high, because the strain of plant can have a wildly divergent effect on each of us. While there are obviously some exceptions to this, the general rule of thumb is sativa strains tend to be stimulating, making you want to dance and talk and explore the world around you. Indica strains will put you on the couch where you will remain for hours, “couch locked”, in a blissful state of contentment and relaxation, and most likely in need of a good nap.

Somewhere in between these two polar extremes are “hybrid” strains, which blend both indica and sativa plants into a generalized pleasant experience. If you are not sure what you are looking for, start with a hybrid and venture forward from there. Most people have a favorite option and avoid the alternative.

Finally, perhaps the most interesting aspect of cannabis is the rise of Cannabidiol, or CBD. Legal in every state (because it lacks any of the psychoactive aspects of THC), anyone can access this product and its wide range of benefits.

In closing, if you are not sold on the potential of cannabis to improve your quality of life and health, then at least consider another equally enjoyable and beneficial aspect of the plant: investing in the wide range of cannabis related stocks that are surging in value as large swaths of the world moves toward legalization of recreational and medical use.

Investing does not require a degree in business, it requires an internet connection, the ability to do a quick google search, and the spirit of adventure as you put your fist full of dollars into a rapidly growing market.

About two years ago, I set up a stock account with USAA (it’s easy, cheap, and most of us already have a USAA account so why not put it to use). I threw about $4000 at a wide range of cannabis stocks. I did literally no research, and picked a wide range of companies involved in marketing, growing, and distribution. Most would be considered “penny stocks” with per share prices (at the time) at or under a buck each.

Today, that initial investment into companies like CARA, CRON, and IGC is worth close to $12,000. As with all stocks, the market can be volatile, and there are ups and downs, but the long term arc of the cannabis market is pointing higher than an OEF Vet buying an ounce of Afghan Kush.

Whether you smoke it, vape it, eat it, or invest in it, cannabis is something that can have a positive impact on your life and lifestyle.

Ben Tupper
Ben started his 20-year career as an enlisted medic and ended as an Infantry Officer. The zenith of his misadventures and maladies was a tour with an Embedded Training Team (ETT) in Afghanistan, where he earned his military badges and bobbles, but also cut his teeth as a writer and author. You can find his offerings and appearances on NPR, BBC, Slate, PBS, Fox, or read the long-form of his experiences in his first book Greetings From Afghanistan- Send More Ammo. You may find him checking in on his bar The Beer Belly Deli and Pub in Syracuse NY, where he will happily buy you a round.