Street scene showing the front of a cannabis dispensary which carries cannabis flower, pre-rolls, concentrates, edibles and topicals.

The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Cannabis: Understanding Flower, Concentrates, Edibles, Topicals, and More

Check out our comprehensive breakdown of popular cannabis product types before you head to the dispensary

If you’re new to the world of cannabis, the wide range of options on dispensary shelves can be exciting… and overwhelming! Even with cannabis flower (bud) which is typically smoked in bongs or pipes or rolled into joints, you’ll find all kinds of strains and options available in legal cannabis dispensaries these days.

While exploring new cannabis products can be a lot of fun, it can also be frustrating when you end up with a product that’s way too strong or not a good match for your needs. That’s one reason the Leaf411 hotline exists — to save you money and time by helping you find the best options for your cannabis experience level and wellness goals.

As a first step, though, it can be helpful to see what types of cannabis products are available today. This is easy to do using online dispensary members. Take a look at our fully-vetted Leaf411 Cannabis Dispensary Members list and pick an option in your state, then click through to the dispensary website to find their online menu.

Whether you’re looking at online menus or preparing to visit a dispensary in-person, our guide below can help you understand the potency, pros and cons of various product types:

Cannabis flower, or buds, in a jar and on top of a grinder.

Cannabis flower

Description: Flower is the dried cannabis plant buds that are typically ground up and then smoked in a pipe, bong or rolled joints. This is the most traditional form of cannabis consumption. Cannabis flower can also be consumed using specialized dry herb vape devices which is the route most clinicians would suggest for inhalation since, with some devices, you can control the temperature for optimal results

Average THC: 10-30%

Beginner-friendly: Yes


  • Easy to use
  • Wide variety of strains available
  • Immediate effects


  • Requires additional accessories like a pipe, bong, rolling papers or dry herb vaporizer
  • Smoking may be  irritating to the lungs
  • Smoking may create carcinogenic byproducts as a result of combustion
  • Odor may be strong

Five cannabis pre-rolls. Pre-rolls are convenient, portable and beginner-friendly.

Cannabis pre-rolls

Description: Pre-rolls are pre-packaged, ready-to-smoke joints containing ground cannabis flower, usually rolled in a paper cone. Recently, there’s been a lot of innovation in this category, with live resin or hash added to pre-rolls, offering a higher-potency alternative with more pronounced effects.

Average THC: 10-30%

Beginner-friendly: Yes


  • Convenient and portable
  • No rolling skills required
  • Immediate effects
  • More brands are offering 0.5 gram pre-rolls in addition to the standard 1 gram size. The 0.5 gram pre-rolls are ideally sized for single use


  • Some (but not all) pre-rolls are made from shake, which is lower quality than flower
  • Limited strain selection compared to flower
  • Can be irritating to the lungs
  • Smoking may create carcinogenic byproducts as a result of combustion
  • Infused pre-rolls may be overwhelming for beginners due to higher THC levels
  • Odor may be strong

Cannabis vape cartridge filled with cannabis extract in front of a vape pen with a 510-threaded battery.

Cannabis vape cartridges and specialty pods

Description: Vape cartridges and speciality pods are pre-filled containers of cannabis oil. Most vape cartridges, or “carts,” require a separate battery heating element that the cart or pod attaches to,  making up the parts of the vape pen.

Average THC: 60-90%

Beginner-friendly: Yes (start with a low dose, taking only 1-2 puffs)


  • Discreet and portable
  • Can be less irritating to the lungs than smoking
  • Wide variety of flavors and strains


  • High THC content may be overwhelming for beginners
  • Requires a compatible battery
  • Cartridges can be expensive

Cannabis sugar extract on a dab tool, being lifted out of a clear glass jar. Sugar is one type of cannabis concentrate made by extracting and concentrating plant compounds including THC.

Cannabis concentrates

Description: Concentrates are highly potent extracts of cannabis, such as shatter, wax, sugar, and rosin, which can be consumed through methods like dabbing or vaporizing. Some concentrates can also be added to joints before smoking to boost potency.

Average THC: 60-90%

Beginner-friendly: No


  • Extremely potent
  • Long-lasting effects
  • Variety of textures and consistencies


  • Can be overwhelming for beginners
  • Requires specialized equipment
  • High cost per gram

Cannabis chocolate edibles that contain THC, molded into the shape of a cannabis leaf.

Cannabis edibles

Description: Cannabis edibles are food products infused with THC. These may include gummies, chocolates, baked goods and even popcorn.

Average THC: 5-20 mg per serving

Beginner-friendly: Yes (start with a low dose)


  • Discreet and easy to consume
  • Easy to cut or section into smaller doses (start low, go slow!)
  • Wide variety of flavors and products
  • Most have long-lasting effects
  • Some fast-acting edibles like Wana Quick gummies use nanotechnology to deliver a faster, shorter high that’s similar to smoking cannabis


  • Most have slow onset of effects (30 minutes to 2 hours)
  • Easy to accidentally overconsume
  • Effects may vary widely from person to person. A 5 mg gummy may be just right for one person, but too much for another.

Cannabis topical salve in a metal tin in the foreground, with a man rubbing the salve on sore arm muscles.

Cannabis topicals

Description: Topicals are creams, balms, and lotions infused with cannabis, designed for direct application to the skin.

Average THC: 1-10 mg per application

Beginner-friendly: Yes


  • Targeted relief for localized pain and inflammation
  • Non-psychoactive
  • Discreet and easy to use


  • Limited to external use
  • Can be expensive

Older woman in glasses with creative, arty style looking at her laptop, researching cannabis products.

How to choose the best cannabis product for your needs

Understanding the different kinds of cannabis products is just the beginning when it comes to finding the best option for you. You should also think about things like your tolerance level, what kind of effects you want, and what you personally like. If you’re new to cannabis, always start low, using a small amount, and slowly add more until you get the feeling you want.

Not sure where to begin? Don’t worry! Our friendly, fully licensed, cannabis-trained RNs are here to help you. They can provide guidance on picking the right products, doses, and ways to use cannabis, all based on what you need and like. Also, if you have concerns about how using cannabis might affect your health or if you just want to find relief without lots of trial and error, they can answer your questions and guide you in the right direction.

To get started setting up your consultation with one of our cannabis-trained RNs, visit this link.

The Leaf411 cannabis nurse hotline provides education and directional support to the general public about the safe use of legal cannabis. We partner with select business members who meet our rigorous standards to extend our education and outreach efforts.