Does Cannabis Cause Withdrawal Symptoms?

If I get sick because I don’t take my medicine, which happens to be cannabis, can that sickness be equated to withdrawal symptoms? Does that make me an addict? And what if it does? Is that a bad thing? If it is, what’s the problem? A lack of understanding of cannabis? Or the word “addict”? And if so, can we, daily users of cannabis, reclaim it?

Though no one knows how to talk about it openly, this is a question that dogs the cannabis community and is a lingering source of stigma. Despite all the positive progress, few people, outside Snoop, Joe Rogan, Seth Rogen and a handful of brave industry folk (shout out to Max Simon, Greg Welch and Dustin Hoxworth), are in a position to proudly tout their regular use of weed.

Which leaves space for people who know nothing about using cannabis to talk like they do. Right now, the general public knows little to nothing about cannabis, and is being guided by an industry that doesn’t see any value in the experience of seasoned users. Why would it when it views them as little more than addicts? When the users view themselves as addicts.

Why Use Cannabis?

When I took my 30-day break from cannabis, the biggest effect I experienced was the return of my IBS symptoms. That’s Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and it’s literally a pain in the ass, as anyone who has it knows well. The symptoms vary from stomachache, fatigue, belly bloat, constipation and diarrhea. I experienced most of these about eight days after I stopped using cannabis.

For years, my routine is simple: client work during the day, a joint after dinner and an evening of writing. This is my happy place, joint in the ashtray and me tapping away on my keyboard. I write for hours. The world disappears. My nervous system switches to parasympathetic mode (rest and relax), the food I’ve eaten digests, and I avoid any IBS symptoms.

Without cannabis, my evenings are very different. My appetite shifts, making it difficult for me to eat large meals or dense food. My IBS is linked to my stress levels, so if I have a stressful day, I tend to eat less, picking during the day until hunger forces me to make something more substantial. My symptoms kick in around six or seven in the evening (usually, the hour I have my first joint of the day).

Which may cause a stomachache, followed by fatigue. Then I spend an hour clutching my stomach and regretting eating. With little energy for anything else, I’ll spend the rest of the evening on the couch, half-watching TV, distracted by the discomfort in my gut. Like this, I rarely write.

Without cannabis, I can’t work on anything that demands hours of concentration, such as a piece of fiction or an essay. Forget it. My brain won’t make the connections. My fingers are stiff. My mind flits about like a drunken mosquito. I’m restless and have to move. Like this, I bake, clean house, do my accounts, or maybe for fun, redesign a website. My focus is on the future.

With cannabis, it’s a very different story. I can sit still. I can create the space that’s necessary for sentences to form. I can hold a critical dialogue with myself that enables me to form, select and edit words. I get lost in the process. To use the term popularized by the Hungarian American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, I’m in “flow.”

However, when I resumed consuming cannabis, for the first three to four weeks, I felt deeply uncomfortable. I missed the charge of life without cannabis. I felt as if I’d somehow let myself down. As if I wasn’t trying hard enough to rein myself in. In other words, I was racked with guilt.

Define Withdrawal Symptoms

It was the discomfort of the challenge that got me through those 30 days without cannabis. I lift weights and am accustomed to discomfort, see it as a marker of how much I can achieve physically in the gym. But that level of discomfort should be confined to sets in the gym. It can’t be your whole day. That’s not flow. And that’s not all.

Between food restrictions and being so restless during my cannabis break, I lost six kilos that month. I couldn’t go to the gym because I couldn’t eat enough to fuel my workouts, meaning my usual stress-buster was unavailable to me. I couldn’t write in the evenings, my other stress-buster also out the window. Just me, left to confront me, straight – “Oh, the horror.”

Isn’t this the quintessential idea of what it means to go through withdrawal? Restlessness, longing, craving, uneasy in your skin, worried what the next bump in the road will be, if you’ll make it through, if you’re strong enough, worried, worried, worried. Is this withdrawal, or just life? How many people do you know are a sea of calm, content, unburdened?

A 2021 New Frontier Data report on consumer behaviour showed the number one reason people use cannabis across all demographics is “to relax.” Considering that rates of anxiety are spiking across the globe right now, this is no surprise. But what do they mean by “relax”? Do they mean they’re tying daisies in their hair and hugging the postman? No! They stop worrying. The stress dissipates. They can take a breath, take a moment to reflect and reconnect.

Much work needs to be done to fully understand the role of the endocannabinoid system, but we do know it maintains homeostasis throughout the body and is likely a modulator of the nervous and endocrine systems – the systems that control everything from muscle growth, fat storage, blood pressure, bone density, sugar, energy and stress levels to hunger signals, pain signals, inflammation, memory and mood.

Define Addict

I had this idea that when I stopped consuming cannabis all the wrongs in my life would be put to right, I’d be full of energy and look amazing. None of this happened. I did sort out some money issues but I didn’t enjoy the work, had zero energy and looked awful, tired, pasty, stressed. My eyes were more bloodshot than usual. As soon as I started smoking again, my energy bounced back, as did my skin and eyes.

It took a few weeks for me to make peace with the guilt, digging deep to understand its source. I realized it was tied to my ambition. But that wasn’t all. I seemed to take a perverse pride in the suffering, in being able to wake every morning and say, yes, I did it, another day without cannabis, using the old AA model of abstinence – one day at a time. Matias De Stefano, the consciousness educator, talks about how hard it is for modern people to experience pleasure.

I’m much more conscious of my use now, which was one of the reasons for taking a break. I wait till as a late in the day as possible to smoke. Unless I’m working on something that demands it, and then I spark up before I start. However, I also notice I’m not turning to cannabis simply because I have a quiet moment in the day, which is something I would have done in the past. Now, I’m waiting to make sure my use has a function. Again, this is stigma at play.

I want to justify my use as constructive. Like you, I operate under the notion that the “addict” is a marginalized person hell-bent on self-destruction. Are all addicts the same? Well, yes. In fact, this is how the dopamine system works. Once it finds a rewarding activity, it wants more of it. We all have the same system, it’s just some of us point it towards constructive activities, and some destructive.

In his book In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts, the addiction specialist, Dr. Gabor Mate, explains how childhood trauma hi-jacks the dopamine system, resulting in unhealthy behaviours. He writes that rather than being a threat, addicts are amongst the most vulnerable people in society, and need to be treated accordingly, with compassion. When I allowed myself a touch of compassion, the guilt faded.

I realized I was so used to seeing my cannabis use as a negative I had no way to quantify it as positive. Even three weeks into better health after resuming cannabis, I was still beating myself up for doing “something bad.” But towards the end of week 4, as evidence of my improved health mounted, I accepted the reality my body simply functions better with THC in it.

If you’re someone who uses cannabis and wants to have a no-holes-barred chat about real cannabis use, feel free to hit me up, email thehealthyhashhead@gmail.com. Discretion assured 🙂

The Truth about My Tolerance Break

The best thing about setting myself the goal of not using cannabis for 30 days was the intensity of achieving it. The worst thing was not having any cannabis for 30 days. Was it worth it? Did it make me a better person? A more productive person? Did it make my life better or worse? Like most things, the answer isn’t so simple.

BACK STORY

Here’s the strange thing, I’m not sure when I became a daily user of cannabis, and it’s only recently become my norm. In the early days of my use, three decades ago, access was a big issue, making daily use impossible. When I moved to Spain 20 years ago, access became less of a problem. I live next door to Morocco.

But I drew a line, reserving my cannabis use for weekends or special occasions. Even back then, I was under no illusions, cannabis was a drug and I ran in drug circles to “feed my habit.” A big shift came in 2014 when I quit alcohol, and used cannabis to soften the punch of sober life. But that wasn’t my real motivation for using it.

I’ve never been much of a social smoker, and don’t like getting stoned with friends. I smoke when I write and don’t want to be disturbed. With alcohol out of my life, my old circle of friends trickled away till there was no on left but my laptop and a spliff. Between them, cannabis and writing kept loneliness at bay.

The next shift came when I started writing for the cannabis industry in 2017. Daily use seemed a prerequisite of the job when really it was just an excuse to indulge. But I was following the lead of American tokers who had a different attitude to cannabis than me, seeing its use as medical.

I started learning about the many benefits of the marijuana plant and was shocked by how little I knew of the substance that had shaped so much of my life. I stopped seeing cannabis as a drug, stopped seeing my use as a “habit,” and started looking for ways to buy “legal.” Cannabis was more than a job it became my identity.

STRONG START

The first week was the easiest of the four. Rather than pick a fixed date to start my experiment, I let myself run out of cannabis, forcing myself to smoke my hidden reserves, removing all temptations. I ran out on a Thursday, meaning Friday was my first day without cannabis, my first weekend without cannabis in I can’t remember how long.

When I say “easy,” I mean physically, not psychologically. Friday is my go-to smoke day. My favourite way to spend a Friday evening is at my laptop, smoking a jay, writing. But daily use made every evening Friday night to me, a private party for one, a party that was losing its sheen.

However, to make it easier to abstain, I removed certain triggers, cancelling my Netflix subscription and allowing myself not to write. This was the scariest part for me – what would I do with myself instead? My lack of work/life balance has been a bugbear for years, as usually I write in the evenings.

Those first nights I kept busy with house chores, cleaning, baking, and I smoked some hemp flower given to me by a friend weeks previous, thinking it might help calm me. It did not calm me. It made my body tingle with nerves. I slept badly for the first three nights, tossing, turning, flinging blankets and sweating into the sheets.

Sweating is normal for me. As a woman in my forties, my hormones are a circus, hot flashes the main act. I was curious to see how a lack of cannabis would impact my hormones, as well as my kettlebell training, eating habits and digestion, in particular my irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). None of the outcomes were what I expected.

UPHILL AND DOWN

By the end of the second weekend without cannabis, I was feeling mighty proud of myself and psychologically strong. I can do this, I thought. To celebrate I made a video of me working out at home and posted it. Me? Who hides behind her screen? Something was happening. But I wasn’t as strong as I thought.

In Week 2, an extreme tiredness hit me. I didn’t have to worry about how to spend evenings, as all I had the energy to do was watch YouTube videos. Tired as I was, I found it hard to go to bed before midnight because my mind was taut, waiting for something familiar to happen, refusing to switch off till it did. My eyes burned with fatigue.

But my sleep improved, and when I went to bed, I fell asleep quickly, and had vivid dreams, full of weird sea creatures, floating cars and epic drama. By week 3, my health nosedived. My appetite was gone. My IBS symptoms were back. I couldn’t eat anything after six or seven in the evening without getting stomachache.

Each morning, I’d look in the mirror for signs of improvements, clearer skin or eyes. I looked tired, like a woman fighting a battle. And I was. But now the fight was of my own making. I felt my activity served no other purpose than to distract me from doing the thing I wanted to do: get stoned. Despite the fatigue, I was getting work done, and work was oddly on the up.

An old client asked for extra work. A new client had a brand with vision. I was picking up on the time-wasters quicker during the day. At night while I slept, my dreams spoke to me. After a nasty phone call with a potential new client, I dreamt a new factory opened near my house, seeping toxic waste into the surrounding land. I said goodbye to the client, didn’t want his business.

HOME STRETCH

The last week demanded Herculean stamina. A million reasons to smoke a jay bubbled at the back of my mind, egged on by comments on social media, “don’t forget your quality of life,” and “cannabis is medicine.” I missed my medicine but I also couldn’t deny that some aspects of my life had improved without cannabis.

For starters, money was flowing into my bank account and I was planning a holiday for my birthday. The lure of that holiday was the thing that got me through this last week, enabling me to ignore the constant headache, depressed appetite and fatigue. Every time I felt low, I could count the days till I was in my van and driving towards the beach to have a toke at sunset.

In the meantime, I was using breathing techniques to stave off my anxiety, which was on the rise. Part of the source of this anxiety was mostly my inability to write. The other was my heightened sense of vulnerability in the world. And even though my hot flashes had pretty much disappeared, I was going to the gym less because I wasn’t able to eat the food I needed to fuel my workouts.

In short, a major shift occurred in my day-to-day activity. Whereas my week usually included many hours given to working out and creative writing, without cannabis, most of my time was spent on paid work and running errands, and my downtime was mostly spent dealing with the symptoms of IBS, meaning I was too tired to do anything but chill and/or watch TV.

Here’s a summary of physical and psychological differences cannabis brings to my life:

WITHOUT CANNABISWITH CANNABIS  
Psychological
Eye on the future
Apprehensive about the future
Hungry for connection and knowledge
Focused on solutions
Better work/life balance
More patience, more anxiety
Nicer to people, smile more
Less motivation to go to the gym  
Psychological
Unafraid of the unknown
Lost in the present
Connected to self
Space for creativity
Absorbed by creative projects
Have a way to switch off
Feel at one with self
Less anxiety  
Physical
No hot flashes
Clearer eyes (finally, in week 4)
Weight loss
Less strength in the gym
A riot in my stomach
Bad gas
Headaches
Tired  
Physical
Can eat a lot more
More motivated to go to the gym
Sleep more, feel rested
Dreams are rare
Daily hot flashes
No headaches
Rare stomachache
More energy

COMING HOME

To say that cannabis makes my life better is not entirely true. It makes it different. Mostly, it means that I spend more time on creative projects, getting lost in them and forgetting about paid work, which brings money worries. But the quest to get paid is the bane of every creative life so this situation makes me far from an outlier – actually, it makes me the norm.

I’ll be looking into the connection between cannabis and my hot flashes, suspect a thyroid problem that I put down to symptoms of menopause, which happens to a lot of women my age. However, there’s no question cannabis alleviates the symptoms of my IBS, making it possible for me to live without constant stomachache.

What’s clear is that cannabis facilitates two things that are important to me: writing and exercise. It’s also clear that time without cannabis means I give space to priorities that benefit my future and the importance of that cannot be overlooked.

Yes, I had that toke at sunset and it was heavenly. It felt like coming home. I went on that holiday but it wasn’t as bliss-filled as I imagined. I gave myself a few days to over-indulge and then I was eager to get back to work, noticing I missed the charge of life without cannabis. Like anything, it’s about finding a balance that works.

If you’re a cannabis brand that wants to connect with users in a real way using language they can relate to, get in touch and let’s talk about a campaign that works for you, email thehealthyhashhead@gmail.com

IS CANNABIS A CREATIVE PORTAL?

The only time I enjoy getting stoned is when I’m sitting at my laptop crafting a sentence. This is the only time the high is satisfying. Sure, I smoke on other occasions: when I park the van at the beach to watch sunset; before taking the dog for a walk; in the evening watching TV; after a workout, but none of these highs are as enjoyable or as potent.

I have a toking routine. I lift the lid on my laptop, open the text I’m working on, could be anything from a poem to a blog post. I lift the joint from the ashtray, spark it, take a drag. With my right hand, I scroll down the text I’m working on, re-reading it. I read and smoke. Until I get an idea, a way in, a word, maybe a sentence. This usually happens after the fourth of fifth drag. Then I put the joint down, start writing.

Sometimes it takes hours to smoke one joint because of all the interruptions – the writing of words on the page. The interruptions are the point. The joint is a portal, cannabis allowing me to get out of my way, to stop thinking and just write. Without the joint, I stare at the screen churning words over in my head, dismissing them as crap before they can reach my fingers and fill the page.

When I’m stoned, I can see inside my imagination, live inside the emotions of my characters, be in the scenes I’m crafting. It’s like watching a movie but the movie is in my head. The trick is to capture it as I see it. When the writing is flowing, I’m not a writer but a reporter, charting actions, describing scenes and recounting dialogue, all of it taking place in my mind.

CANNABIS AS A CREATIVE TOOL

This is my favourite way to spend a Friday night. There’s something about giving myself space to connect the loose threads of my thoughts and aim to give them shape in sentences that alchemizes my high into a potent head-rush. In these moments, I am not of or on this earth. I am not myself and yet, am most my Self. I feel nothing and everything.

I am a vessel with a heartbeat living a thousand lives in a breath. I am nonsensical and could care less. I’m lost in the words. They are flowing through me, electrifying my limbs, asking nothing of me bar my presence, forcing me to be present. I am now, unthinking, unquestioning, unblinking. I trust myself completely. I let myself write the crap because every thing can be edited. I let the words fill the page.

This is key to the writing process. You can’t edit a blank page. There has to be words on the page in the first place in order to create any piece of text. A misconception of the writing craft is that what people read is writing. No. What people read is the edited version of a piece of writing, a very different animal. Lack of editing is what weakens self-published books or online writing such as, ahem, blogs, like this one.

Writing and editing are not the same thing, different functions that demand different brain power. I write well when stoned. I prefer to edit straight. That’s when I read the words out loud, assessing them for accuracy and flow. When I edit stoned, I got lost in the corrections, going off on tangents inspired by new random thoughts I can’t rein in. Cannabis is great for starting projects, not so great for finishing them.

CANNABIS AS A DOOR TO CHAOS

In my attempts to give order to chaos in my head, cannabis is a tool, but not always. As well as when editing, I tend not to toke before client work, as it’s also a different kind of thinking. If I smoke while writing for a client, I get stressed, annoyed by my fuzzy thoughts and questionable logic. Instead of giving myself free reign, I question everything.

In these moments, I need urgency to get the work done. I’m not a last-minute person, not at all. But I draw on the frantic energy created by a deadline to push myself to limits. I used to tell myself I liked operating at the limits created by the uncertainty of the freelance writing life. This is no longer true, and maybe never was. Like most things, the truth is more nuanced.

It’s not easy being a writer. That said it’s not difficult in the way being a miner or surgeon is difficult. The difficulty comes from the willingness to commit to craft and to keep going even as doors are slamming in your face. And until recognition comes, it means all the work is in service to a future paycheck that may or may not come, a set up that can feel both thrilling and threatening.

Cannabis is helpful here, allowing me to get centered, focus on the process, and forget about outcomes. This is both a good and a bad thing. It means I can get up again after a fall. It means I have a habit of getting lost in lots of projects. It means I don’t see an end to projects so they just keep going. And as the projects linger unfinished, bit by bit, the chaos seeps out of cannabis and into my life.

CANNABIS AS A CREATIVE LIE

I spent seven years on a novel. Ditching it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Once I did, it opened up the space to write another novel. I’ve finished the first draft on this new novel and am working with an editor. This one is not going to get away from me. To get it finished, I not only have to cut back on cannabis (I’m entering into the editing phase soon), I have to rethink my creative life.

I truly admire writers who can work as journalists or copywriters, and keep their creative projects on the side, using one work to fire the other. For years I told myself I could do some version of this though I’ve never thought as myself as a journalist, and I’m not. I’ve zero interest in reporting on the blunt facts of daily events. What interests me is truths that can’t be seen or measured, a bigger picture.

As an Aquarian, I’ve always been drawn to the mystical, as it’s here that my imagination is most alive, and cannabis adds to that fire. But it’s not the work of journalism or even copywriting, both of which are writing as profession with clearly defined parameters and restraints that challenge my creativity.

Yet, I tried for decades to maintain the illusion that I could juggle a creative writing life and a professional writing life because it was a way to earn money from writing. In that way, I could tell myself I was a “writer.” It wasn’t the writing goal I wanted but writing paid my bills and that made it real. I was also riddled with shame for being too cowardly to commit to my true goals.

CANNABIS AS HOLDER OF DREAMS

Cannabis is a great balm in these moments too, fudging the reality of any bleak situation, and captivating the mind with the illusion of the greatness you will one day achieve when you reach your elusive goal. But this is also exactly how I spent so long doing the wrong kind of writing, and editing a novel that was going nowhere. Instead of using cannabis to fire my creativity, I misused her to get me through the drudgery of work I hated doing.

In the end, it doesn’t matter that I misused her because even the misuse didn’t drown out the cry of my psyche for something different, or mute the sheen of my true goals. If anything, it amplified them, tormenting me daily with an ever-growing sense of shame, a continuous reminder there’s something else to which I want to dedicate my time.

I’ll give you an example of how she works. There’s a song called Time In A Bottle by Jim Croce that goes, “There never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do once you find them.” This song has been on loop in my mind for years. The push of it is so strong, sometimes, I find myself singing it out loud when I’m walking the dog or in the supermarket, my psyche bursting out of me, uninvited, always present.

This is what she says: I’ve spent the last thirteen years learning the craft of creative writing. I’m willing to spend another thirteen more. I am a poet. I’m a performer. I’m a sensitive soul in search of connection. I thank cannabis for getting me this far. I thank her for holding my voice and giving me a story. I thank her for making me present. But she can’t make me brave. Only I can do that.

I’m currently working on a collection of poetry inspired by cannabis. I’m working with a music producer to produce a hour-long audio that tells a story of cannabis use and misuse in poetry and sound. It’s a magical tale I can’t wait to share with you. I’m looking for a sponsor so if you know of a brand who wants to get on board with a project that speaks to the conscious cannabis consumer, get in touch here, email thehealthyhashhead@gmail.com.

Stay true, my freaky friends, and Happy Holidays xo The Healthy Hashhead

The Difficulty of Talking about Cannabis

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.

The Stoner’s Ball: A Poem

The Stoner’s Ball

This party is not a dry run:

We trek full on off-road down

A riverbed in vintage

Campers with names Like Lola,

Betty and Betsy Allegro,

To meet the vanboy with a monster

Set up on a scrub of patch land

In the middle of a vineyard.

*

This party is not a dry run:

We arrive with packed pockets,

Pills, powders, and pre-prepared potions,

Mama coca and sister crystal,

And decades of vinyl burned onto

Hard drive, hooked up to jumbo

Decks pumping Grunge Swing

And Deep Techno with dusty vocals.

*

This party is not a dry run:

We learned not to give a fuck

On a dank dance-floor,

And about what matters in life,

The simple things: sunset, sunrise,

A dirty beat, and seeing God

In the face of a friend

Lit up by the flash of strobe lights.

*

This party is not a dry run:

We are brothers, sisters, cousins,

Tipping the fatal line together,

Till synthesis sweeps through us,

Tunneling a thrilling transcendent

Reconciliation with self:

Bam! We are part of the cosmos,

And dancing till our feet bleed.

*

This party is not a dry run:

We are awake and carved to pieces

We are cut open and undisturbed,

A voluntary sojourn into the abyss;

Earth-chasers in the zone in between

Life and ecstasy, our minds and blood

Synced up, in rhythm, limbs imbued

With mystical consciousness.

*

This party is not a dry run:

We used a red disco ball to light up

The sky and replace the sun,

We could dance for a thousand nights

And then dance a thousand more,

Living the high life twice because

We didn’t know we were crafting

Memories – we were just having fun. 

By Tasha Kerry (c) 2021

Listen to the audio version of this poem put to deep house by DJ Julia Tamzyn. For maximum listening pleasure use headphones and spark up 🙂

How to be the Kim Kardashian of Cannabis

In this panel talk on investing in cannabis, Jennifer Drake, COO of AYR Wellness, points out that the future of the industry lies in branding.

While it’s important for someone of Drake’s caliber to make this statement – AYR being a publically traded company that garners industry respect – to find out what she means the last place anyone should look is AYR’s website.

A blander example of branding is hard to find. AYR’s strategy is clearly to target the canna-curious AKA people who know nothing about cannabis. What I see when I look at their website is a lazy copy, wishy-washy colours and stock photos about as enticing as a dead plant.

Yet, they claim to sell Wellness and Wonder. Well now, I’m wondering how much they paid some Fiverr smuck to come up with that catch-all-means-absolutely-nothing-and-everything concept? But AYR is far from alone. Bland branding is the hallmark of cannabis today. What’s the solution? It’s in your story.

As lifeless as their website looks, even AYR has a story; for God’s sake they’ve created a public traded company that seems to sell air. They’re Kim K circa 2013 when she married Kanye – if nothing else you’ve got to admire the sheer balls on them.

Don’t be the old Kim

To date, the only company that’s achieved awareness is MedMen, and for all the wrong reasons. Right now, they’re the old Kim K, circa 2007, just after her sex tape leaked – sure, customers know the name and are hella-curious but no one takes it seriously. Brand awareness is not the same as loyalty.

Of course, a much bigger problem is the plant’s legal status, which restricts the language cannabis companies can use on and offline, and makes it challenging to educate customers on the benefits of using cannabis.

But there are other damaging ideas floating around the space, ideas like cannabis sells itself, and the black market has been selling shit for years so users will buy shit. Not only are these ideas wrong, they’re dangerous, spurring a trend in high THC strains that confuse consumers, giving them a false barometer for quality.

In this instance, what cannabis brands need to understand is that your product is not your brand. Right now, companies are looking for ways to innovate product based on legal loopholes. As a result, focus is on the plant, how to make it better, bigger, stronger, or cheaper.

A growing trend in legal US States is price-cutting, with record low wholesale prices in California. At the same, there’s a boom in edibles, beverages, concentrates and extracts, a rush to squeeze as much juice as possible from the plant. But is it the best strategy? Is it what the consumer wants? Is it what Kim K would do?

How to be the Kim Kardashian of Cannabis

What does Kim K know that cannabis companies don’t? She knows her market. When she launched Skims, her form-fitting underwear line, she created a product that she not only needed for herself, but one she’d been hunting for forever.

For years, she’d been using Spanx and similar brands, and was constantly frustrated that she could never find colours other than black and that sickly beige colour typical of women’s under-garments. She used food coloring to dye that sickly beige red, blue, green or whatever colour she needed.

One morning she woke up, thinking, wait a minute, if I need this, other women must need it too? She was right. Today, Skims is worth US$1.6billion.

Yes, Kim created an awesome product but the market made it a success. And Kim put the market first. How? She does extensive research.

Kim is an avid user of Twitter, using it specifically for market research. She lets her fans know what she’s thinking about and posts pictures of designs in progress, encouraging customers to vote on their favourites. Kim makes the whole process as interactive as possible. She’s always in conversation with her customers because they both care about product quality and getting it right. What can cannabis brands learn from her?

Don’t be afraid to tell your story

Kim is famous for flashing her wealth and successes but she’s also not afraid to show her mistakes and course-correct when necessary. Her clothing line, Skims, was originally called Kimono but she changed it when an outcry of cultural appropriation forced her to do so. This only endeared her more to her fans.

So Kim’s product is quality form-fitting underwear in a range of colours but her brand is making every woman who wears Skims feel as special as Kim Kardashian, and she reinforces that concept with her transparency and willingness to communicate.

And look at Kim today, now that she’s studying for the bar and fighting for prisoner release, she’s become a force in her own right, a woman with real power. As a result, more women want to identify with her. Imagine if AYR got some principals, could they achieve the same? Think I’m being too harsh?

It won’t always be like this. As soon as new laws open new markets, and more players get into the game, differentiating product based on the niche it caters to will be the only way to survive. There will be mass weed brands, a handful of them, but everyone else will be more profitable adding value in niche markets. How do you find your niche? It’s in your story.

Here are some cannabis brands that are turning heads by harnessing their story to target niche markets:

CompanyProductDemographicUser typeGenderProduct knowledge
LOWD (Love Our Weed Daily)FlowerMillennialRecreationalMaleHigh
Miss GrassFlowerMillennialRecreationalFemaleHigh
Red Belly HoneyEdiblesGen XWellnessFemaleMedium
Canna BrewBeveragesGen Z RecreationalMaleLow
Wild Atlantic HempCBDGen X WellnessFemaleLow

Check out the sites of these brands (links in table) and you’ll see how each one is branded in a way that appeals to its audience. Branding is so much more than product. It’s a chance to flex your creative juices, get you and your market excited about what’s coming, build engaging conversations with your audience, and ultimately breed loyal customers for life.

If your cannabis brand is struggling to find its niche, the best place to start is with your story. To find out more about how to turn your story into your brand’s USP, get in touch today, let’s talk: CLICK HERE.

Deep Diver

A poem about cannabis inspired by 19th century hasheesh-eaters:

Deep Diver

I’m a deep diver,

Inhaling my shadows

And plumbing the depths

Of my darkest fears on the daily

Courtesy of cannabis

My leafy guide,

Dragging me down, down, down,

Lifting me up, up, up,

Forcing me to see

The tensions that pluck my nerves,

Make me tick tock and tremble

With taut truths pulled

From the low-down

On my unconscious.

*

Beware, the naysayers warn,

Don’t trifle with unnatural

Forces we scant understand.

Don’t let the idols in your heart

Seduce you, they say,

Deriding my guide,

Their speak pinched and littered with

Cannabis fallacies.

Ha! I bark back, spare me

Your lies and spun-dry tricks.

I’m busy, diving down, down, down,

Unafraid of what I’ll find,

Sure the smoky path I follow

Leads up, up, up, to the Most High.

*

To the doubtful, I say:

Science can’t give you the answers

You seek. But do you have the courage

To look in the places you most fear?

You mock my story, past

And professionalism

With your natural world nihilism,

While patrolling cannabis with an army

of tech-bots hopped up on dogma.

Do you know anything

Of my fellow deep divers?

De Quincey, Coleridge and Ludlow?

Know this. We are one. We are Legion. 

We are chasing something higher.

© Natasha Kerry Smith September 2021

Listen to the audio version of this poem put to deep house by DJ Julia Tamzyn. For maximum listening pleasure use headphones and spark up 🙂

Mess With My Cannabis And You Mess With My Trauma

In his book, In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Dr. Gabor Maté, the world-renowned addiction specialist, discusses the prevalence of addiction across society, referencing a Bible quote to illustrate how susceptible us humans are to addictive behaviors: “We all have idols of the heart.”

Dr. Maté has worked with countless addicts over a decades-long career in some of the roughest neighborhoods in Vancouver, Canada. He’s in recovery. He knows addiction.

He writes convincingly on a trend amongst addicts, identifying trauma as a common denominator, which impairs childhood brain development, leading to life-long dopamine imbalances. The result is addiction and mental health conditions such as attention deficit and compulsion disorders.

Dr. Maté is intentionally unclear on the definition of trauma, pointing out that what is traumatic will be specific to each individual. In one case, it may be physical abuse, in another, it may be verbal. But the outcome is the same, dopamine imbalances that affect life-long decision-making.

“What we call personality is often a jumble of genuine traits and adopted coping styles that do not reflect our true self at all but the loss of it,” writes Dr. Maté.

WHAT IS ADDICTION?

Dr. Anna Lembke has also worked with addicts over a long career, and in her new book, Dopamine Nation, she demonstrates how dopamine deficits are the driving force behind addictive behaviors. She defines addiction as a “narrowing of the things that bring pleasure.”

In this interview with Joe Rogan, she describes how she’s noticed these days “everyone is addicted to something.” She blames the conflict between our over-stimulated environment and what she refers to as the monotony of “cubicle life.” She’s not surprised so many people want to self-medicate at the end of each day.

Rogan suggests that part of the problem is people don’t have enough “friction” in their lives, and Dr. Lembke agrees. In her practice, she sees people addicted to everything from pills, cocaine and porn to video games, weed, sex, and work. She says, people rotate their vices, Monday booze, Tuesday coke, Wednesday grass, etc., and tell themselves they’re not addicted to anything.

The problem is we’re all living in a “dopamine deficit,” she says, which she equates to a state of clinical depression. This begins a vicious circle. In order to reset the dopamine threshold and restore balance or homeostasis, the brain will crave more of the substance or behaviour to eliminate the pain of the dopamine deficit.

WHAT IS DOPAMINE?

Interestingly, Dr. Lembke says, the same brain mechanisms that drive the kind of focus needed for success also drive addictive behavior – in effect, Naomi Osaka is addicted to tennis. She identifies “tenacity” as the character trait addicts have in common and explains how this works by defining dopamine as the modulator of the brain’s pleasure/pain centre.

This is an over-simplification of the process but illustrates it well: think of the pleasure/pain axis as a seesaw and when there’s a pleasure influx, the pain side shoots up. And in order to get it back down to level, it’s necessary to load onto the pain side, usually twice the amount of pain to restore balance. But people don’t do that.

Instead, they seek out more pleasure to offset the pain not realizing the more they shoot for pleasure, the higher the dopamine deficit. Dr. Lembke explains that once a person has been addicted to one substance or behaviour and those neural pathways are set in place, the result is a heightened vulnerability to addiction in general.

Rogan’s hack for this is to set himself weekly endurance challenges in his workouts, effectively piling onto the pain side of the seesaw, causing a spike in pleasure. This type of physical exertion is something Dr. Lembke advocates for in her treatment plans. In her experience, the path to successful management of addiction is voluntary “self-binding protocols” i.e. putting restrictions in place.

CANNABIS AND ADDICTION

Unlike Dr. Maté, Dr. Lembke is not interested in the why of the situation; she’s looking for ways to manage the condition. But she’s noticed other traits that are unique to the addicted community, in particular, how much they want to talk about both their addiction and later, their recovery.

She says that addicts are wired for big highs and big lows, an overall more intense life experience. They’re deeper, and need the kind of relationships and intimacy that comes from exposing self, warts and all. Russell Brand, arguably, one of the most famous recovering addicts in the world, is a good example of this. For a long time, cannabis was his drug of choice.

In this episode of his Youtube podcast, he discusses the rise in global labour shortages due to large numbers of people testing positive for cannabis post-Covid. The response from the corporate world is to end drug testing. Brand doesn’t see this move as progress, but rather a sign that so many people are so miserable at work they need to be high to get through the day.

How does the likes of Rogan fit into this frame? Is he an addict? According to Dr. Lembke’s definition, that depends on how many things are the sources of pleasure in his life. Rogan clearly has a busy life, so it’s unlikely he has tons of time to sit for hours, playing video games and getting blazed. When he does, he enjoys it more.

This is true for many cannabis users who use weed to enhance rather than create pleasurable experiences. Rogan is candid about his marijuana use, saying he smokes three to four times a week, usually when he writes. This is an example of a self-binding protocol in action. But what happens when restraint isn’t possible.

I know cannabis users who have used weed for years but are not users of any other substance. If anything, they’ve used cannabis to eliminate more damaging vices and live healthier lives. I also know users who spark up when they wake up and sidestep their lives to be stoned all day, every day.

CANNABIS AND TRAUMA

There are some of us who have the power to adhere to self-binding protocols, and some of us who spit on them. I hover somewhere in the middle, and so can speak from both sides of the fence. Like Rogan, I use cannabis primarily to write and never get stoned before certain activities like working out or professional meetings. I do, however, write every day.

I know writers who praise the focus they can achieve with cannabis, and have heard coders, bankers and doctors praise it for the same reason. However, in recent years, I’ve noticed a key shift in my use. In 2019, I had a breakdown due to hormonal imbalances and malnutrition (long story, another post), forcing me to embark on a journey of healing and confront past trauma.

This changed my relationship to cannabis, the most significant difference being I now prefer to write when I’m not stoned, as I find the process easier, more fluid. It’s only on those days when I’m agitated that I find myself reaching for an old balm. However, a caveat, if I’m writing fiction, and really stuck, the one thing I know will unglue me and get the ideas flowing is a joint.

I can only talk from my experience but to date, there’s no room to talk about my experience because if there’s one word you’ll never hear the emerging canna-industry use it’s “addiction.” Yet, in a 2021 report by New Frontiers Data on trends amongst contemporary cannabis users, 67% cite relaxation is their primary reason for use. Relaxation is the primary reason for use across all demographics.

Isn’t relaxation another word for pleasure? To bring cannabis use into the mainstream and not talk about addiction is only telling half the story. But as Dr. Lembke pointed out, addicts love to share their story, and as we move towards a world of legal weed, there’s no question it’s a story that needs to be told and a story that cannabis users are dying to tell.

If you’re a cannabis brand that wants to connect to the community through untold stories, get in touch today and let’s talk about a campaign that works for you and your customers, click here.

Going Back to Black While Waiting for Legal Weed

It took me a long time to start buying “legal” weed. I live in Spain and was introduced to the concept in 2017 through the country’s cannabis social club (CSC) model – for a history of the model, click here. I’ll never forget the first time I walked into a CSC in Barcelona.

The darkened entrance in the middle of a non-descript terrace on a side street was not what I expected. But once I stepped inside, the air pressure shifted – like being sucked into a time capsule.

The painted brick walls and exposed ventilation system on the ceiling; the pool table in the corner and hip hop on the sound system; the guys in caps spread out on long leather couches, smoking, chatting, chilling. The beer bottles and dirty ashtrays on low coffee tables. The sweet smell of weed.

It reminded me of that garage my brother used to jam in back in the 90s. The difference was the weed, stored in shiny, labeled jars, and beautifully displayed in a glass counter. At first, it was a dream.

NEW TO LEGAL WEED

As a long-time hash-smoker, I was keen to buy “legal” hash for the first time. I was also overwhelmed by the choice of bud, unfamiliar with the strain names, and had no way to discern one from the other.

“This one’s a sativa. This one’s indica,” said the budtender (in Spanish, us being in Barcelona) pointing a fat buds, and holding up jars for me to smell. He might as well have been talking Mongolian.

“Nice,” I said, taking a sniff of a potent Diesel. “What hash you got?” I asked, except I used the word, “chocolate,” the street term I’d used for years, a clumsy bid on my part to demonstrate I knew “cannabis.”

CSC Hash 2017

Unimpressed, the budtender slapped some hash on the counter. His attitude was disconcerting, but determined not to leave empty-handed, I made a small purchase and smoked it like it was a new experience though it wasn’t.

Over the next few months, I visited more clubs, wrote about them for a cannabis webzine, and befriended club owners. I spoke with cultivators, learned the strain names and found my preferences. I picked up grow tips, and learned how to grow.

I went to Spannabis, meeting with seed banks, soil experts, extraction engineers, activists, industrial hemp growers and craft cultivators. I learned the new language of cannabis: endocannabinoid, terpenes, trichomes, full spectrum, concentrate, extract, and so on.

They were so different from my old words: spliff, pipe, solid, smoke. Even the word “cannabis” was new. I was no longer a “stoner.” Now, I was a “cannabis user.”

GONE TO POT

In 2018, I visited Canada just a few months before cannabis was legalized there. My friend promised me a lively weed scene, and I was looking forward to testing my newfound knowledge in a local dispensary.

Again, what I found was not what I expected. The weed scene was in the grips of a slow and ugly death. The cottage industry that had created the market was on its way out. Cannabis was being sanitized.

My first dispensary experience was as challenging as my first visit to a Spanish CSC. After a long search on a hot day, I found one on a side street with the by-now familiar non-descript entrance and not so familiar bulletproof door.

A moody employee sat behind a shabby reception desk, directing me to an interior steel door. On the other side of this door were a dark hallway and a second employee behind Perspex glass who asked to see my passport.

My credentials checked I was ushered into a small shop with Mason jars of weed on rows of white shelves. Despite my new knowledge, again, I was overwhelmed by the choice and looked to the budtender for guidance.

She was young with shaved hair, tattoos and a Fuck-You attitude. When none of the jars she offered me appealed, she reluctantly pulled some more.

I wanted to feel at home, banter with her, and check out as many products as possible. Instead, I felt like a divorcee scanning diamonds in Tiffany’s, sad and a little bitter. I wasn’t alone in this feeling. “Who the fuck wants to smoke government weed?” was a line I heard often there.

Old-School Toronto Stoner 2018

During my time in Canada, I bought weed from a corner dealer recommended to me by my friend. I spent $10 in the dispensary. I happily handed $200 to the corner dealer, a character called Sid with a boxy body and missing teeth.

BACK TO BLACK

Back in Spain, it wasn’t until a CSC opened in my local town that I got properly acquainted with the model and started buying “legal” weed on a regular basis. It took me a while to adjust to the set up and the prices but soon, I was happy to pay extra for the superior quality and safe exchange.

Then, the pandemic hit. My local club got shut down, and when they reopened, they struggled to stay in business for as long as possible. They finally closed last December.

At first, I broke Lockdown rules by traveling to an out-of-state club in order to continue buying “legal” weed. But then something else happened.

I noticed the quality of weed had changed. It wasn’t the sun-grown I was used to. It was stronger, had a different taste. I tried a bunch of different strains but in the end, I gave up. That stuff gave me a headache.

By early summer, as travel restrictions eased, I went back to the street, back to my familiar black hash. At first, the options were dismal but after a bit of searching, I found an old-school dealer with some mellow pollen. Boom. I was home.

This guy deals out of a garage on a back street, and is typically naked from the waist up, his chest covered in prison tats. He always assures me he’s got the best stuff but that’s not why I buy from him. I buy from him because he has the product I like at a price I can afford. He has a stream of regular customers.

Even though cannabis has been legal in Canada for three years now, the region’s black market remains strong. According to reports, legal weed is being binned and burned by the ton-load across the nation. For now, Canadian Big C companies have their talons in all major markers.

In the U.S., lines are being drawn between the greenhouse, craft and black markets. While dispensaries sell to the “canna-curious,” hemp-based products like Urb Rocks are breaking old norms by selling online nationally. Amazon is pushing to overturn the federal ban.

Luxembourg, Germany, and Italy are now considering legalising recreational cannabis. Will the same patterns emerge in Europe? So far, there’s a craze for “marijuana lite” in Italy, France and Switzerland. In Spain, the future existence of the CSCs is under threat, as gangs have infiltrated the running of the clubs.

While there’s no question the emerging industry is full of innovative talent and still in very early days, it’s also true that to date, legal loopholes define the market, not customer expectations.

As a result, I often find myself wondering what it would take to stop over-complicating things and just go back to basics? Then I remind myself this is what progress looks like: slow and bumpy. So, I skin up, back to black, my old reliable street hash while I wait for real change and a brand that breaks all the rules.

Natasha Kerry Smith is a cannabis copywriter with 30 years experience in the world of cannabis. For more stories like this one, as well as insights into stoner buying habits and product preferences, sign up for her newsletter, Conscious Consumption, coming soon! Subscribe here:

The Alternatives to the Joint Are Not a Hit

Rolling a joint is a sacred ritual that’s an integral part of my cannabis use. Like most stoners, I have my preferred way to roll, and without the right materials, it’s unlikely the joint will be fully satisfying. The rolling paper must be rectangular, approximately four inches in length and one inch in height. If I don’t have long papers, I stick small skins together to make the required size – I call rolling papers “skins.” They have to be thin paper too, almost transparent, because I don’t want to taste them as I’m smoking. My current favourite brand is RAW.

About ten years ago, I switched to loose tobacco so that’s what I use to roll, preferring the bushier leaves at the top of the pouch, as they have a smoother taste. I smoke hash, and given the choice will choose an oily Kush as opposed to the drier pollens that have become popular in recent years. Rule of thumb: if it’s necessary to burn the hash before crumbling it, it’s bad hash. It’ll get you stoned, but it’s still bad hash. The more the hash sticks to your fingertips, the better its quality. Hash in its purest form is resin so it should be oily and sticky, that’s when you know it’s dank as fuck.

The roach is really important, as a bad filter can destroy the best of smokes. When I first started smoking, we used to rip the inside flap from a box of cigarettes, roll it into a spiral and use it as a roach. Postcards and club flyers also work well but they have to be right paper weight for optimal results. About five years ago, some bright spark had the idea to produce pre-cut roaches, and that’s what I use now. Again, I use RAW, and like their subtle woody taste. All of these items can be found in my stash drawer at all times, as all of them serve a pivotal role in my smoking life. In other words, without them, I can’t get stoned.

Or I can get stoned, but it’s not the same high, doesn’t satisfy my cravings, leaves me wanting more. This is one of the key features that differentiates so-called recreational cannabis users from users of other substances slash drugs: we’re really fussy about our chosen mode of consumption. Junkies will take heroin in any form available, shooting up fentanyl if that’s all they can get. Cokeheads will snort any powder when they’re clucking. Likewise, speed freaks and pill heads will crush up anything that looks pharmaceutical. The cannabis user is far more selective, and must have the preferred strain, and right paraphernalia to fully enjoy the experience.

The more entrenched your preferred mode of consumption is, the more it becomes an extension of your personality. Making a change to it feels as disruptive as being asked to change your personality. This is what I’ve discovered in recent months as I struggle to quit smoking tobacco. I quit tobacco two times in the past, and on those occasions I didn’t struggle so much with my cannabis use because I simply gave it up too. This time I’m trying to find a way to replace my joints with an alternative mode of cannabis consumption, but it’s not working. If anything, it’s making the process of quitting tobacco more frustrating. Here are some of the alternatives I’ve tried, and their rating in terms of cost, convenience, and satisfaction/high.

Mint Leaves

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Lots of people are eager to recommend dried mint, eucalyptus or raspberry leaves as a substitute to tobacco. Let it be known that they are a very poor substitute, and also possibly just as bad for you as tobacco. First of all, any smoke going into your lungs is a bad thing so don’t bother fooling yourself that some kinds of smoke are better than others. Preliminary studies suggest that smoking cannabis does not harm the lungs in the same way tobacco does but further studies are needed. It’s also difficult to roll with mint leaves, making it a challenging task for anyone who doesn’t have dexterous fingers. The mint has a harsh taste that cuts the back of your throat and makes inhaling uncomfortable. There is nothing pleasurable about this experience, meaning you end up stoned but also grumpy.

  • Cost: Low
  • Convenience: High
  • Satisfaction: Low

MJ Brownies

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My brownies are so good that once I eat one, I tend to eat two or three. Yes, I clearly have self-control issues – I’m working on it – but when two addictions come together, in this case chocolate and cannabis, resistance is absolutely fucking futile. I’m exaggerating. It’s possible for me to make a batch, put them in the fridge and eat as need be, but I’ll probably eat a bit more than I should, and before I know it I’m off in another planet. Certain factors will also increase the potency of an edible high. If you eat edibles with a meal, or exercise afterwards, the high will be stronger. In short, anything that boosts your metabolism will boost the high.

Eating cannabis is far more potent than smoking it, which means it’s more important to get the dose correct. I have a high tolerance to THC, but there have been one or two days where even I have exceeded my limits, finding myself suddenly red-eyed at the gym, or floating on a walk with the dog. However, by eating cannabis, I have come to fully appreciate its healing powers, and fully understand that it’s a drug. In the last two years, I’ve corrected my gut issues with edibles, and also use them to soothe muscle ache after a workout. They’ve eliminated my belly bloating, regulated my appetite, and my sleep, and improved my skin health. But if you’re going to eat cannabis, you have to know how to dose correctly if you want to function normally during the day.

  • Cost: High
  • Convenience: Low
  • Satisfaction: Too High

Cannabis Oil

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I was sure this was going to be the option that would work best for me. I was wrong. It was a disaster. First of all, this is currently the most expensive way to consume cannabis because you’re smoking pure resin, which is costly to produce. The extraction process is lengthy, involves expensive extraction equipment, and different processes produce different qualities of oil. Rick Simpson Oil, which Rick started making in the early 2000s, is the most famous kind of resin, and is made with butane, producing a thick oil, 100% THC, with the consistency of treacle, and a smoked earth taste. With the growth of the cannabis industry, there are new extraction options including BHO as well as cleaner options such as CO2 and ethanol. Each process produces a different oil, resin or rosin.

Because we’re still in a very grey market, getting access to oil with consistent quality is practically impossible. I have a contact, and was sure what I was getting was good but not so. The oil came in the form of a cartridge, which was attached to a vape battery. The first morning I pressed the button five times as is the norm with vapes but nothing happened. I kept pressing the button, leaving it for a moment, and trying again, sure it was fully charged, and no clue what was wrong. Finally, I managed to get one hit from it, and it was nice. But it wouldn’t work again. I returned to my guy who graciously provided me with a replacement. This time the device worked but the oil didn’t. I smoked it for two days, and it had no effect on me. 0.5ml of oil is approximately €55, and if it works, the high is smooth, clean and long lasting. The chances of it not working are high due to the inability to check the source of the oil. Legal markets are tackling these kinds of problems but prices and quality still vary widely. This Canadian store charges $45 for 1ml.

  • Cost: High
  • Convenience: Low
  • Satisfaction: Low

CBD Oil

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There’s an urban myth that CBD oil can be used to quit nicotine. This is bullshit. Yes, it’s possible to vape CBD oil as an alternative way of smoking but it’s only going to be satisfying if you’re not doing it as a substitute for nicotine. Smoking CBD oil will not make you feel particularly calm, nor will it stop your cravings. As of yet, the only thing we know for sure about CBD is that it’s effective on kids with epilepsy. Any other claims are based on animal tests, hearsay or wishful thinking. That said, there are millions of people using CBD to treat all sorts of ailments from anxiety to diabetes, and seeing great results. If you’re just looking for a way to just consume CBD, a vape oil is both inexpensive and effective.

  • Cost: Low
  • Convenience: High
  • Satisfaction: Low

Smoking Flower

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In the same way that a beer guzzler has little in common with a wine connoisseur, those who smoke herb are not the same as hashheads. This has a lot to do with market forces but has evolved into cultural differences over time. Traditionally, weed was exported from Mexico to the States, meaning most North Americans prefer green, and tend not to smoke it with tobacco. In Europe, Moroccan hash dominated for decades, and became the norm. So, it’s fair to say North Americans prefer green but a growing number of Europeans are smoking bud these days, too, meaning now the differences are subtler. In Europe, smokers of bud tend to be growers, or have some special plant knowledge or connection to the industry. A selection of bud and oil users are ex-tobacco smokers looking for a healthier option. For many daily users, hash is preferred because it’s the cheapest way to smoke.

I grew up smoking hash, and it’s only in recent years that I’ve developed a relationship with the plant by learning how to grow it. When I smoke my own flower, I’m not thinking about cost because the only direct cost is the seed, which is €2 to €5 depending on the seed. Maintaining a daily habit when you’re not a grower is expensive, as bud costs approximately €5 to €10 per gram. The average cannabis users consumes two grams per day, adding up to a potential €20 per day of flower. Because hash can be crumbled onto tobacco it lasts much longer, meaning €20 of hash, 3 to 5 grams depending on the generosity of your dealer, can last days, if not a whole week. The real reason we smoke hash mixed with tobacco in joints is because it’s affordable. Taste and the high are important but affordability comes first.

  • Cost: High
  • Convenience: High
  • Satisfaction: Medium

Why We Smoke Joints

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The harsh truth is we smoke joints with tobacco because it’s the cheapest way to consume cannabis, and they satisfy two cravings, giving you an extra bang for your buck. Most of us started smoking as teenagers, or in college, meaning these habits were formed when we had no money. Unlike other addictions, such as gambling, cocaine, or even alcohol, maintaining a daily hash habit is relatively inexpensive if you’re also a tobacco smoker. Most of us have jobs that make the habit affordable, and know at least one or two reliable dealers. For those of us who know where to get it, it can be easier than buying alcohol, and usually a more pleasant experience due to the friendly relationship between buyer and seller. I made the decision to start exploring new ways to consume cannabis because I wanted a substitute to tobacco. Turns out, there isn’t one, and searching for an alternative is a fool’s gold.

  • Cost: Low
  • Convenience: High
  • Satisfaction: High

WHAT’S YOUR EXPERIENCE?

What brands are part of your smoking routine? What’s your experience of using alternatives to the traditional tobacco joint? What alternative is your favourite, and why? Let me know in the comments below.