Editor’s note: This article was written before the COVID-19 pandemic, and some information might be out of date. With the situation continually evolving, we strongly encourage you to check ahead to determine the status of any business, park or activity you are interested in. To find the most up-to-date information about current health and travel mandates, check with the state of Alaska online and adn.com.
The cannabis industry in the 49th state has evolved in recent years, providing Alaskans and visitors with a wide array of consumption choices. From infused ice cream to concentrates and locally grown flower, there are options for first-time users and daily smokers alike.
Flower and pre-rolls
In marijuana shops, customers can choose between sativa, indica and hybrid strains, all of which are known to have varied effects.
Traditionally, indica strains have had a reputation for creating a more full-body, relaxing effect whereas sativa strains are reputed to be more cerebral and energizing. Hybrids have traits of both.
But predicting the effects of a strain is far more nuanced, and there’s far from a hard and fast rule. If you aren’t sure where to start, consult a budtender at the shop who can provide you with recommendations suited to your taste.
Randy Wells is the owner of The Tufted Puffin in Seward. He said one thing he and his employees spend a lot of time educating his customers about is terpenes — the compounds that contribute aroma and flavor in plants, including cannabis, and can influence its effects.
He encourages customers to ask questions to budtenders about certain terpenes in strains.
“Having no idea what all the terpenes are that are in that same strain, you’re not necessarily going to get the effect you’re shopping for. If they’re looking for sleep, that doesn’t necessarily mean you want an indica," because the dominant terpene in the strain could changes the effect it has on a user, Wells said.
Kevin Schwan, co-owner of Denali’s Cannabis Cache, says his store puts a lot of emphasis on terpene profiles, too.
“There are so many great cannabis strains, and some strains that kind of outperform a lot of cannabis strains (with) high THC numbers because they have really high or terpene numbers,” Schwan said.
For local strains
Gavin Spudwills is a budtender at Uncle Herb’s, which has locations in Anchorage and Homer. If visitors are looking to test out some local strains, he recommends Xtra Tuf, which is grown at Herb’s Garden in Anchorage. It’s an indica strain that Spudwills says has a “great, aromatic smell.” He also likes Mercy Fruit Haze, a sativa grown by Mercy Tree of Alaska, and Jolly Rancher by Ace of Spades, a CBD-heavy strain.
“(Mercy Fruit Haze has) a fruity taste, it’s not terribly strong. It’s a good dog-walking joint,” Spudwills said. “(Jolly Rancher is) a generally nice, pain-relieving, anxiety-inducing strain that has a great taste to it overall.”
Although it tends to test pretty high in THC, Schwan enjoys a strain by Catalyst Cannabis Co. called Rain Dance, which he says has some great aromas and terpenes. He also recommends some strains from GOOD Cannabis.
“If someone is really looking for a highly energetic experience, we carry (GOOD Cannabis’) Durban Poison. Our one budtender calls it the espresso of cannabis.”
Michelle Cleaver, owner of Weed Dudes in Sitka, says you have to match each person with the effects they prefer. From strains that are over 30% THC to CBD strains that tend to be lower in THC — less than 10% — she thinks new users should fall somewhere in the middle.
“On the sativa side, one of our favorites is Smile, and it’s a hybrid but it’s kind of sativa-oriented,” Cleaver said.
For new users
Schwan has a saying for those who either have never smoked or haven’t in years: “Start low and go slow.”
“I say to take maybe one to two puffs, and then you put it out and wait 15 minutes ... see how you feel and if you want any more,” Schwan said. “If it’s a first-time user, I always go with some pretty low THC numbers. They can always go up from there.
"We really like Rosie Creek Farms, and Rosebud is one strain in particular … it’s just really nice. It’s actually a staff pick for us.”
For newbies, Spudwills recommends CBD prerolls; he says they have a great taste, aren’t “crazy stoney” and “can ease you into what cannabis has to offer.”
“It won’t shock your system and you won’t get too high or anything like that and scare yourself away from a good experience,” Spudwills said.
Cleaver notes that top-shelf items may be a bit strong for first-time users; she recommends Pineapple Express.
“(It’s) a daytime weed … so they can go out and have fun with their activities and not be sucked into the couch,” Cleaver said.
For the strong stuff
David Parker, owner of Fat Tops in Soldotna, carries several high-potency THC strains that are cultivated from Green Go LLC in Anchorage. He notes that Cupcake and Gas Monkey are flower options for visitors looking for a stronger choice of cannabis.
“They consistently test over 30% THC, so it is some of the strongest marijuana grown in the world,” Parker said. “(The) Cupcake strain tested at 37.33 and (the) Gas Monkey strain tested at 37.69.”
If you prefer a more in-the-couch type of weed, Cleaver likes Gorilla Glue, which can be found statewide.
“It’s a sticky, stoney, fun high kind of weed,” Cleaver said.
From gummy candies to mints, edible options are available in single servings all the way up to 10-packs. Edibles are a way for visitors to consume cannabis that’s smoke-free.
Wells and Cleaver both note the popularity of edibles is due to their set dosage. Each edible is 5 milligrams per dose and 50 milligrams per package. Parker says some options are available on the market for 2.5-milligram edibles.
Wells’ store carries a variety of edibles, including items from Lady Gray Medibles, a company based on the Kenai Peninsula. Lady Gray creates chocolates, cookies, ice cream, nectar, spreads and more. You can find their products throughout stores in the state, including The 420 in Petersburg, Pipe & Leaf in Fairbanks, Weed Dudes in Sitka and numerous shops in Anchorage.
Cleaver says edibles can take an hour, sometimes two to feel the full effects. Schwan says it can take as long as 2 1/2 hours, depending on the person.
“It stays with you for a very long time, six to eight hours, which is more than, say, if you’re just smoking off a pipe, where that effect may only last an hour,” Cleaver said.
Parker carries gummies and chews from GOOD Cannabis and Einstein Labs AK, two Alaska marijuana manufacturers that have products across the state. Capsules and topicals are also options.
“(Edibles are not) a real strong high, but it’s definitely effective to a person who does not smoke,” Parker said.
Marijuana concentrates — highly potent products that have a greater proportion of terpenes and cannabinoids — are an option for more avid marijuana users. Cleaver’s store and many others carry products like shatter and crumble, but the most popular concentrate for travelers is vape cartridges.
“We sell a lot of vape cartridges, which are those concentrates,” Cleaver said. Convenience is a big factor. “It’s easy, but not for your serious concentrate person. Cartridges are an easy way to do it, where you can bring it along. It’s not something that looks really funny, and when you smoke it, it doesn’t smell very bad.”
“I have definitely seen a trend of the older crowd, I’d say the 50 plus, getting the disposable pens,” Spudwills said. “Those are generally cheap, they’re nice and portable and they’re pretty nondescript.”
Cannabinoids — Naturally occurring chemical compounds found in hemp and cannabis, such as CBD and THC.
CBD — Cannabidiol. A non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis and hemp. CBD is used widely in products aimed at relieving pain or anxiety.
Concentrates — Products made from cannabis that have been processed to keep specific plant compounds (such as THC or terpenes).
Crumble — A form of concentrate that has a crumbling, honeycomb-like consistency.
Flower — The smokable part of a cannabis plant.
Hybrid — A plant that is bred to inherit characteristics of sativa and indica strains.
Indica — A cannabis plant distinguishable by its broad leaves and short size. Indica strains traditionally have had a reputation for creating a more full-body, relaxing effect.
Sativa — A cannabis plant distinguishable by its narrow leaves and tall height. Sativa strains have traditionally had a reputation for creating a more cerebral, energizing effect.
Terpenes — Compounds that cause flavors and aroma in cannabis and other plants, and which can influence the effects of cannabis by how they interact with cannabinoids. Some common terpenes: myrcene (herbal, also found in lemongrass, hops, eucalyptus), limonene (also found in citrus peel), linalool (a terpene found in lavender and mint plants) and pinene (familiar from the scent of pine needles).
THC — Tetrahydrocannabinol. The main psychoactive compound in marijuana that gives the high sensation.
Pre-roll — A joint.
Edibles — Food infused with marijuana.
Shatter — A cannabis extract and form of concentrate that has a snap-and-pull type of consistency.