Imagine your father (or if you’re a Gen Zer, your grandfather) walking into a cannabis shop today, not having smoked since the 70s. He would probably appreciate the accurately-weighed grams with their strain name, farm, pesticides and potency clearly listed on the package – a far sight from calling a guy in a poncho for a dusty Ziploc of uncertain provenance – but many of the products on the market today would be unrecognizable to your dad as weed. He might clock the brownies, but how about the artisanal mints, gummies, snack mix, soup, soda, and tea? What would he make of vape pens, dab rigs and topicals, of CBD ratios and microdosing?
You might not be as out of the game as this hypothetical dad, but perhaps you haven’t used cannabis for a long time either. You have good reasons: maybe you had a bad experience, or enough mediocre ones that it just didn’t seem worth it. Even though a majority of Americans have tried cannabis at some point, many have decided it just isn’t for them. But the post-prohibition landscape is an exciting new place! With all the change and diversity brought about by legalization, it’s a perfect time to give cannabis a second look.
In my experience, a lot of people gave up on cannabis after they had That Brownie In College. The story is some variation on this: intrigued and excited, you ate a brownie-sized brownie from a pan your stoner friend brought to a party. Not feeling anything 40 minutes later, you had another. Just as you’re finishing it, the first one starts to kick in, and you spend the next four to six hours feeling like you’re falling helplessly backwards down a staircase. Hopefully you didn’t call the cops.
Fortunately, there’s an easy explanation for why you had such a bad time: following the standard internet recipe and assuming moderate potency bud, the average pot brownie clocks in at about 60mg THC. For a new user that is, scientifically speaking, just way, way too much. 5mg would be a more appropriate starting point; there’s a reason the standard edible dose is 10mg in most legal states. Edibles are extra risky because of their delayed onset time (sometimes upwards of 2 hours) and increased potency. After absorption in the small intestine, the liver converts THC to 11-hydroxy-THC, which packs a much bigger wallop and takes the body longer to clear. The good news is, edible dosage was one of the first problems the legal industry was tasked with solving (probably because this brownie story is so commonplace, if you ask me). Even though dose standardization is imperfect in many cases, you are far less likely to have a Staircase Incident than in years past, as long as you pay attention to the label.
Then there are the legions of people who simply do not care for the effects of cannabis. They complain that it makes them anxious, paranoid, or uncomfortable. While I would never want to pressure, it is these folks that I would most encourage to reconsider.
The stresses of prohibition have, until recently, determined what strains were grown and how. Indica strains (not a genetically supported category in most cases but a useful descriptor for the purpose of this history) dominated due to their higher yield, and selecting for potency is only logical in a black market. This bang-for-your-buck thinking led to the privileging of high-THC Indicas to the exclusion of all else. Unless you were lucky enough to have a friend growing organic Maui Wowie in her backyard, they were literally the only option. Indicas tend to have higher levels of components that give a sleepy, stoney high, and growers generally used whatever pesticides worked best, with little consideration of toxicity. If you smoked in the prohibition era, your conception of cannabis is likely exclusively a high-potency Indica experience seasoned with unknown pesticides: drowsy and dopey, with unpredictable chemical side effects.
So maybe your dad was on to something. In the 60s and 70s, cannabis was more likely to be sun-grown, which diversifies the cannabinoid profile in the flowers, and even lends terroir to the smoke. The average THC potency was only 8%, the less pleasant effects of THC balanced by other cannabinoids and phytochemicals. Forty years and a drug war later, our average THC potency is pushing 19 percent. But legalization has revitalized the market for Sativas and heritage/landrace strains, and more customers are interested in lighter potencies as cannabis becomes more cosmopolitan. In fact, there’s even a name you can give your budtender to ask for low-potency cannabis: dad weed.
If these updates have your interest piqued but you’re still nervous, here are some guidelines for going back into the green:
- Start low, go slow. Aim to use the minimum amount necessary to feel an effect. If it’s been years since your last experience, that could be as low as 3mg of an edible or a single small puff on a joint. Take your time and really settle in to the feeling before adding more. Sublingual sprays, mints or lozenges are a great way to have a more immediate sense of how high you are, since they absorb through the vascularized mucous membranes of the mouth rather than going through the digestive system. And if I may be a blatantly self-promotional, beverages, such as those powered by SoRSE, have a faster uptake time. If you find yourself wanting a stronger effect, increase slowly and intentionally. You can always take more; you can’t take less.
- …but you can help yourself come down if you overdo it. There are things you can do if you find yourself too high. This mostly happens on edibles, so avoid them if you’re very concerned about it, but it’s possible to get too high from smoking or vaping as well. Inhaling freshly-cracked black pepper or, if you can handle it, chewing on black peppercorns, can bring you down due to their high concentration of beta-caryophyllene, one of the natural anti-anxiety terpenes in cannabis. A waft of lemon rind can also help. Recent orthodoxy advocates for CBD as a ballast to THC, and this is true, but it is dosage- and timing-dependent. Taking small amounts of CBD can actually make your THC high more intense. Still, knowing there is a parachute available can keep anxiety about over-imbibing from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Pay attention to the terps. Terpenes are the flavor and smell compounds present in cannabis and many other plants. But they do so much more than lend a pleasant bouquet; they also guide the tone of your high and even affect how much of the THC your body can utilize. A novice user should look for products high in beta-caryophyllene, linalool and limonene, and lower in myrcene and humelene. Most companies don’t go to the extra expense of testing their terps; the ones that do are more likely to be aligned with the values of a newer user. And as always, the more fully-articulated a product is, the more natural chemical safeguards exist to offset the less pleasant side-effects of THC.
- Consider a vape cartridge. Oil vaporization cartridges are a fantastic option if you don’t care for smoking. Most cartridges no longer use the dangerous additives that originally plagued the medium, but read the label just in case. Many also have reinfused terpenes that provide a tasty, strain-specific experience without the harshness of smoke. Vaping also tends to have a shorter duration and gentler descent.
- You don’t even have to get high. The non-inebriating cannabinoid CBD is really having a moment right now, but it’s not the only cannabinoid that won’t get you high. Nor is ingesting it the only way to get the benefits of cannabis. Topicals such as lotions and balms (and lube!) offer localized relief without a noticeable high. You might also consider microdosing, which can be so subtle that you don’t feel high–you just feel better.
Of course, some trial and error is in the very nature of cannabis. Everyone’s Endocannabinoid System is different and you are virtually guaranteed to have some experiences that aren’t your favorite. But there are so many choices now that the odds are in your favor. As you take this journey, keep notes of what methods and products seem to work best for you. It’s a wide new world of weed out there.
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