Navigating a Dispensary While Autistic: A Thorough How-To Guide from an Autistic Stoner

Okay, so you’re ready to start exploring cannabis, but you’ve never been inside a dispensary before. New social situations can be extremely nerve-wracking for autistic people, and it definitely took me a long time to get comfortable with speaking to budtenders and selecting products. So how can you mentally prepare to get your goods? Luckily, this blog post contains scripted scenarios and tips that you can use, and it’s all based on my real life experience visiting dispensaries in both Washington and Montana. I’ve had to make quite a few dispensary runs in the course of running this blog, and before that I made my first purchase in 2017 (before I knew I was autistic) while visiting my brother in Washington. So take my hand, and let’s get ready to buy some weed together with minimal stress.

Some Things to Keep in Mind:

The Budtender is Your Friend: Budtenders are not there to judge you, and they talk with inexperienced cannabis users every day. Their job is to make sure you have the best experience possible so that you’ll come back. In fact, many budtenders actually enjoy helping new people because they can use all the knowledge they’ve gained to get someone started from scratch.

There is No Rush: This is my biggest anxiety in every store. I always feel like I’m not moving fast enough, falsely believing that the employees just want me in and out as fast as possible. The truth is that taking your time is fine and even encouraged. Don’t feel pressure to decide to quickly. Budtenders might ask you a lot of questions, but their intention is to figure out what they should recommend to you.

Dispensaries are Less Busy in the Morning: If you’re nervous about crowds pick a time when there’s less people in the store. Any time before noon is the best – there’s rarely anyone in there.

Let’s Get Scripting

The first thing that I do is look up pictures of the dispensary online. How is the floor plan laid out? Is it a small dispo or a large one? How is the product displayed? Does it look like they have menus out? It can help you visualize walking into the place so it’s less shocking.

Reduce anxiety by having your ID in your hand when you walk through the door, because most times they will require it before you’re even allowed to peruse. Personally, I get anxious and fumble with my wallet when I don’t get the ID out first. There is usually a host stand or someone posted up near the door if this is the case. Occasionally if these things aren’t present someone will call you over to the register to check your ID.

When You Walk In, Check Out the Displays: You’ll get a greeting coming through the door, and most times they will let you take a look at the displays before asking follow up questions. You don’t even have to think about what you’re looking at, just peruse. If the budtender is helping someone else, this is how you act casual. Whether you’re making any decisions or not, just check out what they have.

If they have menus out, you can start flipping through it. My favorite dispensary, Greenhouse Farmacy in Missoula, has binders on the counter with all of their products and prices clearly listed, and you are free to flip through it at your leisure. This is honestly the biggest reason I keep going back there, because you can just say “I need some time with the menu” and they will leave you alone until you’ve gathered your thoughts.

Budtenders will ask you specific questions, so here’s some information to noodle before you go (and remember, if you don’t know what you want someone will always help you):

What Form of Cannabis Do You Want? The first question they will ask you is if you’re looking for anything specific. This will depend on what implements you have, if any (You can buy these in some shops, more on that later). Are you looking for bud, carts (for electronic vape pens), edibles, dabs, pre-rolls (joints), tinctures, or topicals (lotions, salves). If you say you want bud, they may point you to the display of bud or to a strain menu. Or they will follow up with the next question:

What Type of Experience Are You Looking to Have? I usually ask for one of three things: something on the energetic side, something relaxing, or something for sleep. Do you want a strain you can use to get stuff done? Say you want a more energetic high. Dealing with a lot of anxiety? Say you want something calming. I also usually specify, no matter what I’m looking for, that I do not like couch lock. You don’t have to disclose that you are autistic, and you don’t even have to say why you want something, just lead with the FEELING you want to have. Other ways to phrase this are: evening strains (relaxing, sleeping) and daytime strains (energetic, uplifting). You can also say things like “I want a happy strain,” or “What’s a good strain for creativity?” All of these things will make total sense to your budtender. It might also be worth it to mention your tolerance level. If you’ve never smoked before, mention that – they will help the budtender recommend products. They will not judge you for being a noob.

Have Any Strains in Mind? Maybe you’ve read my review on Euphoria and want to give it a try. They might not have that exact strain, but you can say something like “I’m interested in [Strain] or something similar to that.” and the budtender can take it from there. You can also check on Leafly to see if any dispensaries near you stock that strain. It might not be 100% up-to-date, so be ready for them to not have it.

Do You Need Supplies? Not all shops sell supplies, so make sure you look that up online ahead of time. If you’ve never used cannabis before, you will need some equipment. If you don’t want to have to buy any special equipment, get pre-rolls, tinctures, or edibles. Pre-rolls only require a lighter, which you can get anywhere. Edibles and tinctures only require caution and your mouth. Let’s go through what equipment you need for each type of cannabis:

  • Smoking Bud: To use weed in bud form, you will need a grinder to crush up the weed. You will also need a lighter to smoke with, and some kind of smoking implement. This can be rolling papers, rolling tray, and filters to make joints, a bong, or a pipe. Just a heads up – I do not recommend pipes as they tend to be harsh. Bongs and water pipes are a little better.
  • Carts: You will just need an electronic vape pen (called a battery) with charger. Vape carts all have the same bottom, so they work with any vape. I have a Ganesh Vapes, G-GO 650mAH battery. These batteries have adjustable settings based on how blasted you want to get. A word of warning to newbies – carts will hit you HARD and FAST. I can get high off of 2-3 inhales. I’m serious, you can’t just sit there and puff on those if you’ve got a low tolerance. That said, they are less harsh on your lungs than smoking if you take it slow.
  • Dabs: I do not recommend this to first-time smokers. They are a baseball bat straight to the dome, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you have a higher tolerance, you’ll need a dab rig. You can either get a full dab rig or buy a banger to use with your bong. I do not do dabs, as a rule. My husband likes them, and he had me try it recently and . . . yeah that’s not my thing. I get too high too fast and it makes me cough really hard.
  • Dry Vapes: Dry herb vapes use bud. I personally like the Aerizer Solo 2. It’s beginner friendly and it’s what I use for all my reviews. I’ve also used the Pax two, which is a nice portable vape but a little more confusing to me.

A Note: You may be tempted by weird novelty pipes and things like that, but it’s best to start basic with a higher-quality product. You can also purchase any of the equipment you need online or from a headshop that specifically sells glass and smoking implements. Budtenders are ready to discuss equipment with you too, if you need.

Do You Have a Budget? If you have a specific amount you can’t go above, let them know. Don’t ask “What can I get for $x?” Instead say “I’m looking to spend about $X here today.” There will also be prices listed on displays and menus.


Figuring out when to hit that ATM was a very stressful experience my first time, even though no one was being weird about it except me. Dispensaries ONLY take cash because of federal laws, so you will need some. If you want less stress, take the money out somewhere else first. Ask if the prices are pre or post-tax. If it’s post tax the prices are exactly as labeled so you can tally it up in your phone as you go. If you need to get more money out of the ATM that won’t be a problem.

In almost all dispensaries, you can go to the ATM after you’ve made your selections. You can’t handle products yourself, so you will tell a budtender the exact list of products you want and they will repeat it back to you. The budtender is happy to work with you to sort out your list, and ordering multiple things is fine – they can handle it. The budtender will then gather up your product. This gap in time between ordering and gathering product is your opportunity to visit the ATM. They will usually confirm the price before they go to grab your stuff. If they don’t, say “How much is that? I have to go to the ATM,” and they will get that price for you.

Now that we’ve got all that information, let’s take a look at an example:

An Average Trip to the Dispo

I walk into a dispensary and nod at the first employee I see.

Employee by the Door: “Can I see some ID?”

Me: *hands over the ID to be checked or scanned*

Employee: “Alright, you’re good to go.”

Me: “Thanks!” *Walk to the display case*

Budtender: “Hey, how’s it going?”

Me: “I’m good, how ’bout you?”

[Insert varying amounts of small talk, usually not a ton]

Budtender: “Looking for anything specific?”

Me: “I’m looking to buy some bud, something a little more on the energetic, uplifting side.”

Budtender: “This is all of our sativa strains.” *points to a display or menu* “If you’re looking for a more functional high I’d go with x,y, or even z.”

Me: “Thanks” *takes some time to look at the menu, the budtender might walk off at some point* *Checks the prices for a gram, eighth, fourth, half, and ounce and compiles my wishes in my head*

Me: “So I’m torn between strain A and strain B. I want something with a mood boosting effect, and I’d like to be able to get some stuff done. I have a lower tolerance so I want something that won’t knock me out.”

Budtender: “Honestly both of those strains are good for that, but my personal favorite is strain A.”

Me: “Okay, I’ll take an eighth (1/8 of an oz) of strain A, and I think I’d like to look over the edibles menu as well if you have one.”

Budtender: *directs me to edibles case and will either go back to grab the eighth I ordered or stay and talk to me about the edibles they have*

Me: “Okay, so I think with that eighth I’m also gonna go with a box of the chocolate truffles, and that’ll be all for me.”

Budtender: “Alright, so with the eighth of strain A and the edibles that is *price*”

Me: “Sounds good!” *I walk to the ATM after they start to walk away to get my stuff and take out the money*

During this time, the budtender will bring your items to the front. They won’t expect you to be there right away, they’ll ring you out whenever you get to the front. They might even help other customers in the meantime. Don’t feel the need to rush, they expect customers to visit the ATM while they are getting product.

The budtender might ask if you have a go bag. This is the childproof bags that are used to take product out of the dispensary. In Washington I always just got a paper bag, but in Montana they use the special go bags. If you don’t, they’ll either give you one or sell it to you (one dispensary near me charges $2). Once you have a go bag you can keep reusing it for dispensary trips. In fact, they would prefer if you reused them.

And once you’ve paid, you’ve done it! You’ve successfully purchased weed at the dispensary.

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