His attitude to cannabis didn’t surprise me. On the phone to an ex-client last week, and he asked what I was up to these days? I said, writing for the cannabis industry. His response was a long pause. Sensing his judgment, I added, it’s an interesting time for cannabis. Oh, I’m sure it is, he said, laughing, making no effort to conceal his derision. Welcome to talking about cannabis.
The judgment is thick and never-ending. And it comes from all quarters, both in and outside the industry, a century of stigma that lives on – most of all, inside the minds of people who use cannabis on a regular basis AKA stoners. Stoners? Who are they? You’re right to ask. We don’t hear a lot from people who use cannabis on a regular basis, which points to the difficulty in talking about it.
What are we talking about when we talk about cannabis use? We’re talking about addiction, a crutch, a way to face the obstacles of life with a smile, a way to wind down, to shut out the noise, to feel at peace with self. These are deep topics that go to the core of everyone. No one fakes being depressed. People fake being happy. Cannabis helps maintain the façade.
It’s my belief that finding a way to break the silence on this side of cannabis use is a way for the emerging industry to break the hold of the black market. Dealers don’t give a toss about the mental health of their customers. So if the industry wants to be different, this is a good place to start. But how do we come at this difficult topic?
UNDERSTAND THE BAD
People who don’t use cannabis have no way of identifying with the stigma that comes with its use. By the same token, people who are drawn to cannabis tend to be people who have experienced some sort of marginalization in their life and seek out cannabis use as a way to maintain that sense of marginalization. They may not even be aware they’re doing this.
I know I certainly wasn’t. Not until I took a step back and looked at all the ways I judge myself or see myself as different because of cannabis use. Knowing these things and acting differently as a result of knowing these things is clearly not the same thing. I’m aware I judge myself, that doesn’t mean I can stop. And I’m not alone.
Speaking to a cannabis influencer recently, someone well known in the space, and he admitted he’d never talk about his cannabis misuse publically though he conceded it was a problem. “I wake up, smoke a bowl,” he said, attributing his heavy use to an “addictive personality.” “I wish I could do moderation,” he said, “it’s just not an option for me.”
Having researched this topic, I explained the dopamine cycle at work, which illustrates that everyone has an addictive personality, it just a matter of attuning it to positive things. But us humans aren’t so straightforward, and the reality is the negative things hold the biggest draw. Put simply, if you feel bad you’ll go towards the bad to feel more bad. There’s no one definition of “bad” – each of us has our own version.
UNDERSTAND THE GOOD
I can write without smoking a jay but it’s so much easier to write stoned. What’s the difference? I smoke a joint and I can sit at my laptop for hours. I can push through indecision and trust that the words will come. It helps me ask difficult questions and hear difficult answers. It forces me to be honest, giving me space to view the world and my interactions in it with distance, detachment.
When I’m stoned, I’m not really of this earth, I’m on a different plane, looking down, feeling a little smug that I get to be here and you don’t. Also, a little sad for you because you don’t get to give yourself a much-need mind-break every once in a while and see what I see: the colour and energy of nature, the line and sweep of buildings, the rise and pulse of a crowded street.
Fitz Hugh Ludlow wrote that to be stoned is to “be burned by salt fire, to smell colours, to see sounds, and much more frequently, to see feelings.” Inside the stoner matrix, we’re hyper-attuned to feelings. We see emotions in panoramic, the sadness, anger, frustration and deceit. So, we detach, smoke, float back up to the happy place, to where our emotions transcend and inspire all sorts of imaginative frescos.
For many stoners, self-awareness is a source of creativity, an exploration of self through craft – anything from writing to stone masonry. It doesn’t matter the form, what matters is the impulse and the urge to follow through facilitated by cannabis. This is why it’s so wrong to deem stoners as unmotivated. In fact, they’re on an incredible journey of Self-exploration. You’ll never find anyone happier in their own company than a stoner.
UNDERSTAND THE UGLY
Everything has an opposite and no one understands this better than cannabis. I go back to Ludlow’s observation: to be stoned is “to see feelings.” Two years ago, I got a new neighbour. She arrived in our small patio determined to take it all. She honed in on my cannabis plants and use as a way to smear me. From the get-go I sensed her greed, pungent as the tang of cheap aftershave.
And our relationship evolved accordingly, acrimonious. I’d like to say this is a one-off experience. In truth, there are a rash of people I don’t speak with because, to my mind, they ooze conceit. But if I’m drawing these people into my life, what am I oozing? If I’m busy on another plane, busy looking down, can I possibly begin to understand the energies I’m emitting? Can I see what’s true?
Now, what is or isn’t true, is a subject of great philosophical debate for centuries, and I’m not going to answer it here. I bring it up because I know if this is happening to me – and I’m not special enough to be the only one – I’m sure it’s happening to others, lots of us. And I know from talking to other cannabis users that many feel isolated, alienated and/or misunderstood.
And these things affect how we move through the world, cutting us off from much-needed resources, forcing us to find solace in bad choices, a vicious circle. A question plagues us: is the problem cannabis? Or am I the problem? A better question is how do we create a space to talk about these things in a way that’s free from judgment?
DIVERSITY IN CANNABIS
How do we create a space for true diversity in cannabis? That’s the real question. What’s evolved in the last five years is a whitewashed monoculture that’s driving a wedge between the industry and its customers and pushing growers towards product no one wants, not to mention potentially dangerous side effects. The rot has already set in.
Right now, the market is establishing itself without the voices of its most profitable customer base, regular cannabis users. They’re still buying black. Ironically, no one wants this, not governments, not the industry and not the users. Yes, we’d much rather buy legal weed. But if the industry adopts the same fuck-you attitude as the black market, guess what, we’ll stick with what we know.
Right now, the industry is obsessed with innovating cannabis. Listen guys, you don’t own cannabis, and with time, she’ll show you, she’ll kick your ass. In the meantime, for anyone still reading, if you really want to innovate, turn your attention to mental health. That’s how you connect with a cannabis audience.
This is not an easy ask. It means total personalisation of product. However, post-COVID, 71% of consumers expect brands to deliver personalised interactions. How do you personalise cannabis? By seeing each person as unique terrain with their own map of where they want to go, how they feel and how they interact with the world. Another word for this is empowerment. It’s the future of cannabis.