How I Faced My Dispensary Fear—and Found Serenity

Photo by Elsa Olofsson

I’ve always felt like the worst person at a party. Not because I cause a ruckus (the fact that I say “ruckus” should tell you that I never cause one), but because the opposite is true. Whenever I’m offered anything—whether a joint or a red cup of something foamy—I rarely partake. I’m the anomaly, saying, “Oh no, thank you. Addiction runs in my family.” This often elicits looks of disappointment in friends who want to see me let loose. And while I’ll dance and sing and socialize, it never feels like enough. I’m the sober sore thumb, the lightweight who’s never tried pot and has only been drunk a handful of times. Never have I ever fully “let go.”

Addiction does run in my family, that’s true. But it wasn’t until recently, when I began exploring the world of weed, that I realized my rejection of drugs and alcohol runs deeper. It runs straight to my desire to be in control and my fear of losing that. Pushing me in my quest for control is my anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which I take Prozac for. The medication helps, but it isn’t a cure-all. Therapists have helped me accept that I will never be cured and that, in addition to the prescribed pills, I must find ways to cope. Enter CBD.

This past year, it seems like CBD has been everywhere. Even back in 2016, Forbes stated that the CBD market could increase 700 percent by 2020, becoming a $2.1 billion industry. And that growth is for good reason. CBD (or cannabidiol) is one of 500 compounds that can be found within cannabis. It is a key part of what makes pot therapeutic. Though unlike THC, another cannabis compound, it is non-psychoactive.

"I think there's good evidence to suggest that CBD could be an effective treatment of anxiety and addiction," psychiatrist Dr. Esther Blessing told NPR. "But we need clinical trials to find out." Though additional research is needed, a 2011 study found that CBD reduced anxiety in those with a fear of public speaking. A 2016 study also suggested that CBD has “great potential utility” to serve as an anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety resource. And now, Dr. Blessing and colleagues have been given funding to start a clinical trial testing whether CBD can help those with post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol use disorder. This, clearly, is just the beginning.

"My whole body calmed down and I stopped feeling like I wanted to buy a punching bag for my period."

After I started small with a super soothing CBD massage—and found that puff on my partner’s CBD vape pen helped me fall asleep—my desire to try additional forms of CBD piqued when my friend stopped by a multi-location dispensary after having a panic attack at work. It was then that I decided to acquaint myself with a weed dispensary for the first time.

The only time I’ve ever been in a dispensary was when a Bumble date insisted we check it out because they thought it was a bookstore. Upon entering, we both felt out of place and immediately took a step back out the door. Based on that experience alone, I became anxious about taking my weed-illiterate self into a dispensary.

According to the website of the dispensary my friend visited, they “do not run pot shops, we manage class-leading retail stores that happen to sell marijuana and marijuana products.” That’s why I chose their Downtown Los Angeles location as my target.

Since CBD is known to be a calming pain-reliever, I wanted to see if it would help with my cramps and my hormonal behavior, so I went on the day my period was due. Aside from being hormonal, I was feeling extra anxious about trying something new, so my partner came along to support me.

The moment we approached the storefront, we were asked for our driver’s licenses and were told to keep them out after they were inspected. We entered once the security guard opened the door and were welcomed at a registration desk where they logged the information on our IDs. We weren’t immediately approached by an employee, which I greatly appreciated. We actually had a few minutes to explore on our own before a staff member asked if we needed help. At that point, I was looking at a vape pen and CBD topicals.

I told the employee (it was her first day!) that I wasn’t a big fan of inhaling vapor, so I wanted to try a different intake method. I expressed that a little THC is fine, but that I’m scared of there being too much in the mix. Oh, and I emphasized that I didn’t want to spend a lot. Though me and my partner planned to share our bounty and split the cost, I am not at a place where I can drop some major dough on gold-plated vape pens.

After mentioning that she likes inhaling a CBD/THC blend for her sleep paralysis, the employee introduced me to a 62mg Humboldt Apothecary tincture that contained three times more CBD than THC. It was part of a line that included different elixirs for different purposes (cramps, sleep, love potion, brain tonic). The salesperson said that one drop under the tongue would be enough. I chose the one that said “Calm” on the label and asked if she had anything else to recommend.

She quickly pivoted over to the refrigerators and pulled out a bag of Dr. Norm’s 100 percent CBD vegan cookies in the peanut butter chocolate flavor. Each bag contains 10 cookies (15mg per cookie), which the employee recommended we eat half of when we want a dose. Though she’d never tried them herself, she said that many people had been purchasing and loving them.

After leaving us to explore some more, my partner and I wandered back over to the oils, which is when I spotted a Papa & Barkley Releaf Tincture that is 30:1 CBD to THC. That sounded more my speed, so I put the Calm one back. Next, my partner wanted to survey their weed selection, which was arranged inside various plastic containers that were attached to the store’s tables. Each one had a slot that allowed you to smell what was inside. And at the center of the samples was a touch screen that offered more information on the products. So if you were too anxious to talk to a staffer, you could do some research on your own. Appreciate it, guys.

Armed with both the cookies and the tincture, we approached the checkout counter, which was also monitored by a guard. There were bath bombs, chocolates, bongs, and T-shirts being sold nearby. The cashier asked for my name and pulled up the info that was logged at the registration desk. I handed him my debit card—major credit card platforms don’t allow for marijuana purchases, since federal law still deems it illegal—and purchased the two items for $88.15. The cookies cost $20 and the tincture was $50.

On our way home, my partner and I split a cookie (which tasted average) and a few minutes later, I began experiencing the effects. My whole body calmed down and I stopped feeling like I wanted to buy a punching bag for my period. You know how, during yoga, they say something along the lines of, “Relax your tongue and remove it from the roof of your mouth”? I was finally able to do that. The tension in my body dissipated and the moment I got home, I melted into our bed.

At that point, my partner started feeling the effects, which they said were “stronger than expected,” and laid down next to me. We spent the next few hours relaxing in bed, which is rare for us, since we tend to feel the need to DO ALL THE THINGS when we’re both not working.

The next day, I was dealing with some intense period cramps, so it felt like the perfect time to give the tincture a try. It recommends that you start with a .25ml dose, which gets absorbed under the tongue, but I decided to ease in with half that amount. My partner took the full amount. Though it can take up to two hours for it to work, my partner and I didn’t experience any noticeable results during that time. What we did notice, though, is that the liquid tastes exactly like what it is: plant extract. When we went to bed a few hours later, it wasn’t any easier for either of us to fall asleep.

That Monday, when I came home from work, I was in a mood. My period cramps were making themselves known and I was feeling extra angst-y. In defiance, I took the full .25 ml dose of the releaf tincture and began looking up reviews of the product. The Californian gave it a 9/10, mentioning that it’s best for those who deal with pain and mood issues. A reviewer on Leafly said that it’s a game-changer for their friend with pain.

The brand itself states that the product is for “those needing strong pain and anti-inflammatory relief.” In that moment, I understood that my expectations were off-base. I anticipated that the product would relax my entire body (maybe I should have gone with the employee’s initial pick?) and at that point, I noticed that my period cramps weren’t as bad. Instead of wanting to scream, I was feeling more serene. The outcome was pretty subtle, but it was there.

As for my partner, they also took double the previous dose and noticed the effects after about 30 minutes. They told me, “I feel relaxed. I feel at ease. I feel like I can’t be bothered.”

Products aside, I am grateful for our entire experience. While facing a fear of mine, I was able to try new coping mechanisms—and am happy to say that the cookies are here to stay. It’s reassuring to know that there is a resource out there for people who cope with anxiety and sleep troubles, inflammation and pain.

To those out there who find themselves nervous to enter a dispensary, I would say that it’s a fear worth facing. Especially because you’ll likely find something to help you quell those exact worries—one puff, bite, or drop at a time.

Anna Gragert is a senior editor at First Media and her work has been published in Bust Magazine, Nylon, Catapult, and more. She is based in LA.