Cannabis Culture V Alcohol Culture

A Shift in Cannabis Culture

All self-medication is not created equal.

Alcohol culture and cannabis culture come from two distinctly different places. Their hold on Americans are both distinctly different. One has always been incredibly unhealthy (fun as hell — make no mistake — but damned unhealthy). The other is cannabis culture. Both inspired prohibition but cannabis’ prohibition endured long beyond alcohol’s. That wasn’t a coincidence. It had to do with who, in the early days, was using cannabis — which was why the nascent Federal Bureau of Narcotics under its first Commissioner Harry Anslinger flip-flopped on “marihuana”; the FBN stopped seeing it as a very minor, innocuous Mexican habit brought across the border by Mexicans fleeing the Mexican Revolution and, instead (almost overnight, in fact) started seeing it as an invented crisis with racism at its core: “reefer madness”.

The very reason Harry Anslinger hated marijuana and declared war on it was because white people started to smoke it. The vector between Mexicans smoking it and white people smoking it was Black people smoking it. And the Black people who drove marijuana’s growing popularization — as it literally travelled up the Mississippi from New Orleans — were the musicians who’d invented jazz, many of them while smoking marijuana. Anslinger was both a die hard racist and a brilliant bureaucrat. Turns out, he also fancied himself a good pianist with a passion for European classical music. Jazz was anathema to Anslinger. He hated the musicians who created jazz. He hated the Blackness of their music. He hated the marijuana they smoked before and during their playing. But, he especially hated the fact that this Mexican and now Black habit was spreading from non-white usage to white usage.

Harry Anslinger personally invented “reefer madness” — that bizarre way of seeing and thinking about cannabis, divorced from any sort of practical cannabis experience. But Harry had a problem. He may have hated marijuana because of the people he saw smoking it in his mind’s eye, but no one else did. The law didn’t hate marijuana, quite the contrary. The law was rather pro-hemp. It didn’t care whether or not anyone smoked it. And the Constitution gave Harry no openings either. Nothing in our Constitution supports marijuana prohibition whatsoever.

That’s what everyone told Harry as he tried to formulate a law that would give him the power to arrest and prosecute people he hated because of racism.

But, as I said, Harry was also a great bureaucrat. Instead of quitting, he went bureaucratic. Our federal government didn’t nail Al Capone for being a gangster. It nailed Capone for being a tax cheat. That was Harry’s tack.

First, he seeded the ground with racist bullshit. Harry would go to the press and tell them — with all the gravity and authority of the Commissioner of the FBN — that Black men were smoking marijuana and then getting sexed up and raping white women. Or getting white women to smoke marijuana themselves — and then getting so sexed up that they’d give themselves to these Black men! Oh, the horror! The press — and in their defense, why would they doubt Harry? — printed Harry’s bullshit in their newspapers which Harry would then hold up as proof that what he was saying was absolutely true.

This collection of clippings grew quickly into what Harry called his “Gore files”. Slowly, but surely, Harry’s racist magic worked its way through Congress. Now, the law was still the law; no one was going to indulge Harry by writing law that would get them laughed at. But, being a clever bureaucrat who understood how to catch a mobster, Harry proposed a tax instead. Every time anyone bought or sold cannabis — and, just to be safe, Harry through hemp into the mix, too — they would have to pay a tax. In order to prove they’d both paid the tax, both would have to get a stamp designed just for this purpose. Here’s where it got complicated. No organ was set up to collect any such tax — and none was going to be created. And (the cherry on top), no actual stamp was ever created either. The stamp was literally unattainable.

Any time anyone bought or sold marijuana or hemp, they were going to violate the tax code. The Marijuana Tax Stamp Act of 1937 sailed through Congress (despite considerable opposition to it by organizations like the AMA who were keenly aware of marijuana’s considerable positives as a medication). Interesting story? Within twenty four hours, the Stamp Act had its first criminals. In Denver.

Samuel Caldwell got arrested on October 2, 1937 for possessing marijuana for which he could not provide the stamp as evidence that he’d paid the tax in order to possess that marijuana. Now, to be fair, Caldwell was no prince; he was a criminal with a fair-sized rap sheet. But that simply made it easier to prosecute Caldwell and establish a precedent.

For the record — a Mexican man named Moses Baca would have been the first arrestee except his arrest happened two weeks before the Tax Law was enacted. It was only after the law was enacted — and Baca couldn’t produce a stamp to prove he’d paid the tax — that he became a “drug criminal”.

Everything — literally everything — about cannabis prohibition was based on racist bullshit. For contrast, as stupid and doomed to failure as alcohol prohibition was, at least it was based on reality. While we think of the teetotalers and Temperance Society wackos who drove prohibition as old fashioned and repressive, in fact, they were being very progressive about a very real social problem: drinking. Then, as now, alcohol addiction ruined lives. Ruined whole families. Whole communities. Prohibition’s misguided aim was a better society. It used a sledge hammer when micro-surgery was in order.

When prohibition finally met its well-deserved end, America made damned sure such a thing could never, would n ever happen again. They put the liquor manufacturers in charge. And the distributors. They began the process of indoctrinating Americans from a very young age into thinking that alcohol is a right of passage. It’s the organizing principle around which most socializing revolves. A restaurant will almost never be profitable without alcohol sales to make it profitable. Bars are built on selling alcohol. The more, the better. Being big, corporate businesses now, alcohol manufacturers think globally. And they dutifully invest in keeping America’s youth fixated on that key rite of passage — legal drinking. That’s why alcohol manufacturers invest so much in creating products that make alcohol seem innocuous, fun, and candy-flavored.

No one reads a warning label on a beer bottle (or a packet of cigs) and thinks “Oh, wait — I hadn’t thought of that!” A better warning would be to point out something practical: “After consuming this alcoholic beverage, please wait at least twenty minutes before deciding you need another because you probably won’t”. It’s one of the weird things about alcohol and drinking. It’s like drinkers forget (after drinking) how alcohol works inside their own bodies. They drink — and keep drinking — like they’ve never had a drink before. Like they’re surprised to find themselves as over-the-limit as they are.

That’s a big part of our collective problem with alcohol: it screws with our memory. Screwing with our memory screws with our perspective. We keep forgetting all the dumb things we do when alcohol is inside us. We get it into our heads that they’re all isolated incidents rather than tiles in a mosaic that says: your relationship with alcohol isn’t what you think it is and alcohol’s the alpha.

I stopped drinking alcohol in early 2017. The mood stabilizer I started taking to deal with a decade long depression that was literally killing me gave alcohol a terrible, grapefruit skin-like aftertaste. That was heartbreaking at first. I loved the taste of a perfect gin martini (depending on the gin). I loved every aspect of a glass of big, dark, inky red — from first tentative sniff to last, satisfying swallow. An aversion to alcohol wasn’t one ofA the possible side effects the literature warned about. Lamotrigine was developed as an anti-seizure medication; its mood stabilizing effects were a ridealong. From the first moment that grapefruit skin aftertaste hit, I turned away from alcohol and never, really, looked back.

I’ve felt better since I stopped drinking. I sleep better. I work better. Let’s be clear however — alcohol was never my problem; I was. Now — to be fair — have I merely swapped one self-destructive bad habit for another? Isn’t cannabis just as bad in its way as alcohol is in its?

I’d answer it this way: there’s a very good reason we actually think of cannabis as a medicine while we only jokingly think of alcohol that way. It’s just a stone cold fact — alcohol and THC are entirely different chemicals that act in entirely different ways inside our bodies and especially our brains. Alcohol depresses our inhibitions by uniformly suppressing our motor skills and our ability to process information. Our reaction times slow and then our vague motor skills fudge the rest. THC, on the other hand, isn’t a depressant. Our thoughts are caused by electrical impulses flowing across our synapses. THC causes more of those synapses to be open (they’re a lot like digital circuits).

The reason everything seems a little more intense (colors, tastes, smells) is because our brains are literally processing more information than we’d be processing without the THC. That’s what some people experience as paranoia. They’re conflating that awareness of more information with someone outside of them. Because of cannabis’s bad boy past, that “someone” is inherently threatening because they “know”. That negative aside, for most cannabis users — especially those who recognize the difference between sativas, hybrids and indicas — the whole point of using cannabis is to achieve a particular effect. For instance, when I wake and bake every morning, I light up from a collection of sativas that I know will focus my brain and get it ready to write coherent thoughts. When I get to the end of my writing day and it’s time to chill, I’ll break out my hybrid collection (though some hybrids –Trainwreck especially — are excellent for work). When the evening is coming to its end and bedtime approaches, out come my indicas. I know that not only will indicas put me to sleep, they’ll give me a good, solid, restful night’s sleep from which I’ll awake the next day ready for battle.

Once I wake n bake, of course.

Alcohol culture isn’t going anywhere. There’s way too much money in it. And humans really like alcohol. But cannabis culture is on the come. The moment our government removes cannabis from schedule one — and the banks can finally invest their money in it? The cannabis business will boom like nothing before it. This is not a terrible thing except for the corruption that will ride shotgun alongside it. And it will suck when Big Cannabis becomes the power vortex and all the mom n pop operations get run out of business.

But, I believe, the culture cannabis will slowly impress upon us will be much more civilized than alcohol culture ever could be — because of alcohol’s nature. Think about it: if we stopped serving beer at sporting events and sold cannabis instead (hybrids, let’s say), violence would NEVER break out at sporting events ever again. Instead of screaming at each other at game’s end, opposing sides would be hugging, telling each other how well they played (regardless of the final score). Some fans might be dozing peacefully. No one would spill out into the streets ready to rumble.

People who smoke cannabis do not go home and beat their loved ones. They don’t get argumentative. They don’t get belligerent or combative. They do get funny though. And they do get the munchies.

Harry Anslinger hated jazz because Black people invented it. But — here’s the key — guys like Louis Armstrong and King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton all used cannabis as part of their creative process. These musicians were attempting to draw an abstract idea — jazz — out of their heads and into the air via their instruments. And they did this while ON CANNABIS. They knew from experience that no one can create music or play it well with a drink inside you. Heroin? Forget about it. Heroin turned the amazingly talented, handsome Chet Baker into a hollow shell of himself. It did not make him better at anything other than self-destruction. If only he’d been exclusively a dope fiend, he may have come to a happier ending.

Long before Big Alcohol turned to Big Advertising to improve its image, people had it in their heads that “in vino veritas” — that alcohol would lead to truth. I can only speak from personal experience. Alcohol, at best, leads to angry truthiness. That’s baked into its culture.

If I want real veritas? I’m tapping some Durban Poison into my Genius pipe and sparking it to life!

At No Point Was America’s “War On Drugs” EVER About Drugs; It was Always About Racism


Remember Prohibition? That was America’s attempt to wage war on the “drug of choice” of most white people: alcohol. Prohibition failed miserably as we know. Not only didn’t it stop anyone from drinking, it made drinking sexier. And, because legitimate providers couldn’t provide during Prohibition, illegitimate providers filled in the vacuum. It was Prohibition that gave organized crime its first real foothold in America. Prohibition gave them a product to sell, a public anxious to buy and no one to regulate what anyone was doing. America put up with Prohibition for thirteen years. But, to be fair to the prohibitionists — judgmental as they were — they weren’t wrong about the harm alcohol abuse was doing to America, Americans and their families. The prohibitionists weren’t conservatives, they were progressives! Prohibition was an attempt to force a moral choice upon a population that wanted a drink instead. Being as the population was mostly white, in the end, that population had its way. Prohibition ended relatively quickly.

We cannot say the same for marijuana prohibition though — even as decriminalization spreads with remarkable speed across the country. Marijuana was effectively “illegalized” by the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act of 1937. The law didn’t make marijuana illegal because, as first drug czar Harry Anslinger found out, there is literally NOTHING in the Constitution that makes any substance illegal. In order to make opiates or cannabis illegal, lawmakers had to perform a whole Olympics worth of gymnastics. None them completed a single routine successfully — except for the fact that they did illegalize the drugs they were going after.

When Harry Anslinger became the first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930, he brought a couple of things with him. First was his skill as a bureaucrat. Whatever else Anslinger was (and we’ll get to what he really was momentarily), he was exceptionally skilled at working the bureaucracy to get what he wanted (even when the law wasn’t on his side — as the law wasn’t when Anslinger put a target on marijuana’s back). Anslinger began as a railroad cop for the Pennsylvania Railroad (where his father also worked). During World War I, Anslinger turned that success into a burgeoning diplomatic career. Working for the US government, Anslinger became deeply involved in the battle against international drug trafficking. Now, let’s be clear about something: in 1920, the “international drug trade” consisted of opium. That’s it.

But, if we dig a little into even that — our battle with the international opium trade — we find racism lurking. The opium wars of the 1840’s were fought because China (knowing opium smoking was problematic to peoples health and productivity), had made opium illegal while the British wanted to be able to trade in opium (in part to make up the massive trade balance they were experiencing with China). China wanted to end the trade in opium while Europe wanted it to continue — because it was enriching Europe. Jump forward a few years. When America wanted cheap (bordering on slave) labor after slavery was finally illegalized, we brought in thousands of Chinese men. We made them keep their families at home because heaven forbid we ever treat workers like human beings — especially when they’re “different”.

Had Europe not insisted on keeping the opium trade open, there wouldn’t have been anything for American racists to worry over when they saw communities of Chinese men — perhaps using opium, perhaps not — who would blame them; we left them with little to do in their off hours other than eat and sleep. The first anti-drug law in American popped up in San Francisco in 1875. It made smoking opium in opium dens illegal. Was that for a reason associated with anyone’s health? No. The law itself is pretty specific about WHY it exists because: “”Many women and young girls, as well as young men of a respectable family, were being induced to visit the Chinese opium-smoking dens, where they were ruined morally and otherwise.”

“Ruined morally or otherwise”. That’s the LEGAL underpinning. When Harry Anslinger started setting up shop in 1930 at the FBN, most drug laws (if there were any) were local not national. Though opium use was being limited at the local level, there was no national law giving Anslinger any comparable power. To go along with his minimal enforcement power, he had a small work force of bureaucrats and an even smaller one of field agents. He was competing at the time with J. Edgar Hoover who was much better at public relations at first than Anslinger was.

Anslinger didn’t care about marijuana when he started working at the FBN. Prior to 1910, marijuana doesn’t really register. It scores some notoriety after Hugh Ludlow publishes The Hashish Eater in 1857 but the whole experience is exotic and foreign. In 1910, the Mexican Revolution sends a gush of people fleeing the war Many settle north of the border and begin new lives in America. They bring with them their food, their religion, their cannabis. As they know culturally, at the end of a work day — or even going into one — cannabis is awesome.

So long as marijuana remained something Mexicans did among Mexicans, Anslinger didn’t care about it. Eventually, marijuana made it over to New Orleans where a bunch of Black musicians were in the process of inventing jazz. Guys like Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver and Louis Armstrong knew (perhaps from experience) that you couldn’t invent anything on opium. You couldn’t make music with heroin in your head. Ditto alcohol. That didn’t mean plenty of musicians (jazz or otherwise) didn’t try to combine music an alcohol. But, as the rest of us know, the person hopped up on hops has lost all perspective. In vino veritas? Not really. In vino lack of candor. In vino lack of judgment. In vino crap motor skills. That’s not the case with marijuana.

The Black musical artists who invented jazz loved cannabis because it opened up their creativity like nothing else. It allowed them to bridge all kinds of jumps they were making in their brains while creating jazz — while inventing music on the fly. Jazz was the first authentically American musical idiom. It couldn’t have come from anywhere else or have been produced by anyone other than the people who made it. And they made it, many of them, while using marijuana.

Among the people who hated jazz — and there were people who despised it because of who created it — was America’s first drug czar, Harry Anslinger. In addition to being a very skilled bureaucrat, apparently Anslinger was a skilled musician, too. He played piano. Loved European classical music. Hated jazz and every single jazz musician for having helped create it But, even so, it wasn’t Anslinger’s hatred for jazz and jazz musicians that spurred him to finally go after marijuana.

When Anslinger heard reports of white people using dope? THAT was the bridge too far for Anslinger. White people using a drug that Black and brown people use? That’s white people being “perverted” by people of color. That, to a racist like Harry Anslinger, could not happen. It’s precisely why Anslinger decided that marijuana was a far worse threat to America than heroin.

For a very thorough telling of Harry Anslinger’s story, I suggest a few of the Blunt Truths pieces I wrote for Weedmaps News (when there was a Weedmaps News). Though a few chapters are missing (one got purloined by one of my editors at Weedmaps News — Nicolas Juarez — that effing scumbag!), the thirteen chapters and 25,000 words tell the only story one can truthfully tell about marijuana prohibition. It happened because of who, early on, was using it. No one ever cared about whether it was good or bad for anyone’s health. No research was ever commissioned to prove such a thing because health was never a factor.

One of the nicest things to experience is the slow, chillin’ demise of “Reefer Madness” as an idea of how people are when using cannabis. Think of how many more millions of Americans across the country are now using cannabis on a regular basis — integrating it into their lives — without their lives falling apart. Or Wester Civilization collapsing.

Frankly, if my young adult daughter quit drinking tomorrow and used cannabis exclusively for recreation and self-medicating? I’d be thrilled. I quit drinking because my mood stabilizer gives all alcohol a terrible, grapefruit skin-like aftertaste. As I was already using cannabis for sleeping, I upped my cannabis use — and discovered almost immediately that just by quitting alcohol, the quality of my sleep improved even more than it had when I quit over-the-counter sleeping meds for nightly indica. If sporting events sold cannabis instead of Budweiser, there would never be another drunken brawl at a soccer game that spills out into the streets. Instead, a crowd that just watched a sporting event while stoned would end up hugging each other even if they supported the other side. It’s just hard to feel that shitty with THC sprinkling you gently with euphoria.

Ever Tried “Platforming” Your Cannabis?

Can we please, agree on one thing before we start: what THC does to our brains is entirely different from what alcohol does to them. It would be absurd to discuss ways drinking can improve your work product. While many famous drunks have produced much greatness, they all did that in spite of the alcohol that sustained them. I’ll produce my own lab data momentarily. Jazz was invented by musicians who knew that about alcohol — and yet invented one of the quintessential American idioms with more than a little THC in their blood. The THC helped where the alcohol couldn’t have — because the two chemicals work so differently inside our brains.

I have been hammered. I have been tipsy. I have been somewhere in between and sat down to write, thinking I was producing genius. I wasn’t. That happened one hundred percent of the time. By the same tokin’, I sit down to work every single day AFTER having lit up a bowl of my favorite sativa. People have paid me good money for that work — and been happy as hell with it, too. I could not have produces any of that work if I’d been drinking. Have I made my point yet?

Though I never set out to, I now use cannabis literally from the start of my day to the end of it. I have never been happier. I’ve never been more productive either.

One of the first things I learned — as my total ignorance waned — was that a thing called “sativas” exist and that they’re very different from indicas. Just as these two variations on cannabis grow a little differently (indicas tend to be stocky and bushlike while sativas tend to grow taller and get stalker, its leaves a lighter shade of green than indicas), so, too do their effects differ. Not completely, but significantly.

One of the things that separates the cannabis experience from the alcohol experience (in my personal experience) is the fact that it can be heady in the first place. Virtually all cannabis stokes my creativity. I can be well into my third bedtime indica hit (my night time regimen is three bowls to get my brain to slow the hell down) with sleep tugging at me when, suddenly, I’ll get a burst of creative energy. Words will spew onto a pad of paper (by then I’ve turned off the computer and, frankly, I like spewing in long hand). Fifteen minutes at the most and the spigot will suddenly run dry. Sleep will beckon and this time there’ll be no putting it off.

When I go back in the morning, nine times out of ten, it’s not only useable but, aside from typing it up? It’s ready to rock. That’s because cannabis doesn’t cloud the mind, it focuses it. And, it turns out, each sativa strain focuses your mind in its own particular way. The gold standard is Durban Poison, a landrace sativa from South Africa. The DP in your local dispensaries may differ in the exact amount of THC each has; that’s a product of the grower’s art. But the DP will have the same effect on your brain regardless: a distinct sense of focus. Some strains — Tangie Cookies for instance — produces a more energized focus. Thoughts don’t necessarily wait for you to “think them”. Tangie Cookie and The Fork (another racy sativa) can get you thinking a handful of thoughts all at the same time. For me? That’s the best ride in the amusement park.

While one can easily think about multiple things at the same time with a hit of Durban Poison, that would be you and not the DP driving the process — a subtle distinction to be sure but, inside one’s mind, a clear one. So, what happens if one, say, combines DP with a more vigorous sativa like The Fork? That’s when platforming happens: you get the benefit of both strains at the same time. To a large degree, growers already do this when they create new strains that combine the attributes of the parent strains. That process is painstaking and takes years. The same effect can be achieved just by opening two different strains and blending them before smoking them.

This morning, I put together an ass-kicking cannabis cocktail containing Lemon Sour Diesel, Pineapple Thai and Platinum Green Crack.. Smoked separately, the Lemon Sour Diesel would have produced a mellow focus, the Pineapple Thai a more energized high and the PGC a full-on wake-n-bake eye-opening. The resulting mix produced a sensational, productive buzz that lasted about an hour and a half. I wrote almost relentlessly and published it earlier today.

Cannabis continues to surprise me. It’s not one thing; never was. It’s a variety of things. It can make you super productive or deliver truly restful sleep (far more restful than any sleep you could get on alcohol or OTC sleep meds). It puts a remarkable amount of control into the user’s hands — and whatever piece they use to get that THC into their brains.

Alcohol On Airplanes Was NEVER A Good Idea Actually; Now, Cannabis, On The Other Hand…

On May 29, American Airlines joined Southwest Airlines in suspending alcohol sales on their aircraft. Southwest did it because its passengers were becoming increasingly abusive over mask issues and when those abusive passengers started drinking… . We live in alcohol culture’s thrall the same way we used to live in Big Tobacco’s thrall. It wasn’t that long ago that people smoked on airplanes. There were “smoking sections” and “non-smoking sections” (as if the smoke could read the damned signs). In retrospect, it sounds even stupider. The non-smokers were lucky to get that — a row or two where the smoke wasn’t directly in their faces and eyes and all over their clothes. I’ve never gotten tobacco’s appeal. It eludes me completely but I appreciate how addictive nicotine is. Addiction will cause the addict to use any justification they can think of no matter how silly. The sky was blue that day so I “had to”. Looking back at old movies, I’m always amazed by who smoked and where and when. Everyone did — and everywhere. Smoking was ubiquitous. Kinda like how drinking is now.

Until I started taking a mood stabilizer to deal with a massive depression, I drank every single day of my life. I didn’t consider myself an alcoholic. But, I drank every day of my life. Kinda like an alcoholic. See how I lied to myself? That’s what alcohol does. It encourages you to lie to yourself. Alcohol does not improve anyone’s decision-making just as it doesn’t improve their motor skills. My mood stabilizer gave all alcohol an unpleasant. grapefruit skin-like aftertaste that simply made it unpalatable. Just like that, I stopped drinking. Fortunately, I had cannabis to fall back on — and we all need something to fall back on.

When you no longer drink, you get cut off from a big piece of American culture. A lot of our socializing is built around drinking alcohol together. That’s been the case for a long, long time. I have experienced more exquisite, alcohol-fueled conversations than I can count that rambled from cocktails to red wine to grappa or desert wine or scotch over the course of many, many hours. I wouldn’t trade them in for anything.

Or, would I…?

It used to be habit when I traveled long haul (from LA to the East Coast or out of the country) to anticipate certain alcohol moments: the bloody Mary at the departure lounge bar, the bloody Mary on the airplane followed by the little bottle of crap red wine on the plane followed by whatever liqueur miniatures they might have. The goal was to pass out and sleep as much as one could so as to awaken “fresh” on the other side. I don’t think in my entire life that ever happened — where I drank and drank — then slept — then awoke more focused than a Tiger Mom. That includes the many trips I got to make flying First Class for business. Getting liquored up is even more fun when flying up front where the alcohol is served in actual glass.

The reason I never arrived anywhere in the best shape I could be in was because I drank before and during those flights. I arrived everywhere dehydrated. Dehydrated brains don’t think nearly as well as hydrated brains. In fact, dehydrated bodies don’t do anything better than hydrated bodies. Both flying and alcohol dehydrate you. To do them together is — every which way you look at it — counter-intuitive. It’s not even that the alcohol one drinks on an airplane is great, craft alcohol. So many things are interfering with your ability to accurately taste or smell anything — there just wouldn’t be any point to it. I say that as someone who loved alcohol — and the craft that went into making it.

Using cannabis, for the record, does not dehydrate you like alcohol does. THC works very differently in our brains and on our brain chemistry than alcohol does. In fact, alcohol’s impact and THC’s impact bear no resemblance to each other whatsoever. THC does not diminish one’s motor skills. It just doesn’t. Does it impact your motor skills? Absolutely! It improves them. Now, I can only speak for myself (though other cannabis users will tell you the exact same thing): when I use sativa strains like Durban Poison (instead of, say, indicas like Northern Lights), my motor skills improve appreciably. I use Durban Poison when I play tennis.

Within about a minute or two of smoking a little Durban Poison on the tennis court, I feel my mind slowing down — not in a foggy way but, rather, in a calm way. If I allow myself the opportunity, I can see the spin on the tennis ball coming at me. I can see its fuzz even. My timing improves. My ability to see the ball coming off my opponent’s racket improves as does my ability to track the ball to the exact place where I need to be — attacking that ball — if I want to win the point we’re playing. With Durban Poison in my brain, I become very coachable. I see the mistakes I’m making and grasp the adjustments needed. Now, I’m not a pro athlete. And I’m in my 60”s so I don’t have the energy I had when I was 25 and I do tire a little more quickly. Aside from that? I’m playing far better now than I have in my life.

Part of that is because I’m no longer depressed — thanks to the mood stabilizer. It’s also thanks to the cannabis.

Being depressed and drinking alcohol is a terrible, fraught, perilous combination. Alcohol cannot improve your depression. “In vino veritas”? No, in vino whatever’s in your head right this second. The veritas part is highly debatable. I know for a fact — my wife told me all about it afterwards — that on multiple occasions, liquored to my gills — I went on a tirade that killed a social evening. I couldn’t even tell ;you what “veritas” I was spewing at the time. That doesn’t speak well for it.

While my mood stabilizer has successfully dealt with my depression, I’ve used THC to handle the other part of my bi-polarity, my hypomania.

The inside of my head feels like a “black box theater” (a non-traditional theater space that can be converted into virtually anything with audience and performers virtually anywhere within that space). At any one time, a dozen or so things are being projected onto the walls, flor and ceiling. Lasers of various colors blast this way and that. Holographs come and go amid the music and movie sound tracks and running Marx Brothers routines. It’s exquisite chaos. But, trying to work with all that going on can be challenging even to an experienced hypomaniac. Cannabis, again, works wonders. And, again, Durban Poison epitomizes what cannabis can and does do for me. All cannabis has the effect of dropping scrims in front of most of that sound and fury. Sativa, hybrid or indica, cannabis has the effect of bringing a pervasive sense of calm and control. While indicas will slowly develop a feeling of sleepiness, sativas will (more quickly) evoke a feeling of mental focus. In the midst of the calm, I see more, hear more, taste more. And I think more.

Our thoughts occur as electricity moves from synapse to synapse inside our brains. Our synapses operate a lot like digital circuits: they’re either open or closed. THC causes more of our digital circuitry to be “open”. We process more information, more input, more thought. That’s why food tastes so good when you’re “high”. You literally are tasting the food more. That’s my music sounds soooooo good when you’ve got THC in you. That’s why things seem funnier. In a way, you’re seeing how much funnier things really are. It’s also why some people get paranoid on strong pot: they, too, are processing more information. They’re thinking more deeply about it all, too. That crush of information can create feelings of paranoia.

Is cannabis right for everyone? Hell no! But then, neither is alcohol.

No one gets violent on marijuana. That was the most perverse part of “reefer madness” — it portrayed cannabis users in exactly the opposite way that cannabis was causing them to feel or act. It was screamingly uninformed.

If, for example, they stopped serving beer at sporting events and, instead, served cannabis, no one would erupt in violence at the end of a soccer match or football game. Rather, people would be hugging or high-fiving each other, saying “great game, dude!” Some (in the stands) would probably be asleep — not drunk off their asses, just asleep. Easily roused and sent on their way, too.

Out in the streets beyond the sports stadium? No one would burn a storefront or overturn a car. They’d be too mellow — because that’s what cannabis does.

Now, imagine for a second, that we let people (or, better, ENCOURAGED people) to use cannabis. Its understood we can’t have people smoking their dope at the airport. That means we’ll have to get much better at dosing ourselves with edibles. But that ain’t rocket science, is it?

I’ve flown stoned. It’s wonderful. You put in your ear buds, crank up the tunes and nothing bothers you. You’re entirely compliant (going along to get along) and happy as can be when the plane finally lands and you get to move on with your life. It’s a pleasure, actually — and no one knows you’re doing it. Unless someone uses too much of an edible, it’s pretty hard to overdose on pot. You certainly can’t poison yourself as you can with alcohol.

No college students ever die from a hazing incident where they got too stoned and fell asleep.

No one on an airplane (and, trust me, I’m not the only one flying with loads of THC in me) has ever gotten rowdy because they had THC in them.

They got to their destination and got on with their lives. Had they been drinking the whole flight? They would have done the same thing — but, oh, the headache that would have accompanied it.

It’s 4/20 — Here’s Why I Celebrate Having Cannabis In My Life

It tickles the hell out of me that marijuana has its own day in our collective consciousness. It tickles the hell out of me that I have the relationship with cannabis that I do — and I do have a “relationship” with cannabis. I use it from the start of my day to the very end of it. I rely on sativas to get my brain focused and indicas to make my brain stop focusing so I can sleep. That sleep, by the way, is the best sleep I’ve ever had and I am a terrible sleeper. Or, I used to be. I’ll get to how cannabis changed my relationship with sleeping I also use cannabis when I’m in between work and sleep — when I’m just “being”. Mostly hybrids fill those spaces. I’ve done my share of cocaine. I know what that “needling” feeling is — the edgy “c’mon, c’mon!” inside your head that wants you to tap out another line and snort it — screw it — tap out everything ya got! There’s no urgency to my cannabis usage over the course of a day. It’s more like… the “thought” of recharging the high crosses my mind like a hot air balloon rising in the distance. Hmm, I think, that might be nice — and off I go. I don’t spend my day chasing a high. That’s no way to have a relationship. That’s why having a relationship with cannabis works for me. I always feel like cannabis is meeting me halfway.

Stone cold fact. Our brains like cannabinoids. In fact, our brains make their own kind of cannabinoid, endocannabinoid. One little squabble with the source — they use the word “disrupting” to describe the effect THC has on our brains and the resulting mental and physical functions. That’s true in the broadest possible sense — THC changes the normal pattern of events inside your brain. Here’s where subjective experience speaks far, far louder than any data set from a lab. It’s why cannabis is being legalized so swiftly across the nation and why those standing in the way look stupider and stupider. THC effects every person’s brain chemistry in its own way. There are people who can’t tolerate having THC in their brains. Fair enough. This product is not for them. I can’t tolerate cilantro or tarragon, two other herbs. For those of us who can tolerate THC, the majority of us experience very similar things when we smoke the same strains of marijuana. Our collective experience of cannabis wouldn’t use the world “disrupting” to describe what’s happening inside our heads when the THC starts to work. In fact, “disrupting” might be the last word we’d use.

I can only speak for my own experience and what THC does for me. I don’t use edibles often. They’re a little harder to predict both in terms of effect and longevity of effect. Not that the effect would be negative. It’s just that, with smoking as a THC delivery system, I have far more control over every aspect of using the product. I just like that better — for our “relationship”, I mean. I guess I should tell you how me and pot ended up so tight in the end.

The first time I ever did pot was at my cousin’s bachelor party when I was 16. I think the testosterone in the room had more impact on me than did the THC in the ditch weed. THC levels back then were both unknown and far lower than now. I didn’t smoke anything when I was a kid. Never touched tobacco. I hate the smell of tobacco smoke. Hated that my parents smoked (they quit in large part because of my and my sisters’ loathing of it). The one thing I know that first encounter with marijuana did to me was put me to sleep. Yeah, I passed out because of the pot just as the stripper arrived.

That’s what pot did to me the few times I tried it after that all through high school and college: it put me to sleep. Coke appealed because it did the opposite. Ecstasy was awesome the dozen or so times I did it. Shrooms! I did them once with my friend Johnny Solomon just before a U2 concert we attended with our wives here in LA — at the Coliseum in 1987 and I’d do them again right this very second without so much as a thought. The last drug on my radar as I slid into middle age was marijuana — even as I continued to live in a state where it slowly became legalized. I always thought, “Yeah, of course dope should be legal! The Drug War is bullshit to begin with!” But, I didn’t think, “Hey, I live in a state where dope’s legal — I should be smoking it therefore!”

For reasons I won’t go into here, I found myself toward the tail end of a deep, dark depression. This was before I was diagnosed as bi-polar with episodes of hypomania. Years of worries about money had exacerbated an underlying emotional issue. Sleep had become a nightly struggle. I used OTC sleep meds for years and years pretty much on a nightly basis — and I took those pretty much every night on top of the ridiculous amounts of alcohol I was consuming. I’d “awaken” in the morning feeling unrested and unready to face the day, already mentally exhausted. Finally, I came to my senses. I live in California. I was over eighteen (by a thousand miles). My insomnia was an acceptable symptom with which to walk into a doctor’s office — well, those doctors who prescribed.

So, off I went — a little trepidatious, I admit. The doctor and doctor’s office were, frankly, seedy. Though every bit of this was regulated, the experience made legal cannabis feel deeply connected to its time as an outlaw. The doctor took his fee, wrote my prescription and off I went again — to my first marijuana dispensary. That, too, felt shady back then (this was 2015) between the gates and the buzzers and the scowling security guards. But, my first budtender was enthusiastic and very helpful to this total newbie.

“Insomnia”, I said.

“Skywalker,” he replied.

Inside my head, I smirked: “Cute name,” I thought, assuming — not knowing a damned thing about the business I was about to become acquainted with — that “Skywalker” was this dispensary’s cute name for the cannabis that was sitting in this large jar. All the large jars had names on them. I had no idea that those names had lives beyond this pot shop. I took that Skywalker home and, that night, I smoked it outside my house after everyone else had gone to bed so my kids wouldn’t know what I was doing (one was in high school, the other in middle school). The wooziness came on slowly. Skywalker’s an indica; their impact, in general, comes on more slowly than a sativa’s does. I went to sleep and woke up the next morning feeling more rested than I had in a decade at least.

When the exact thing happened the very next night? That changed everything. I stopped caring whether my kids knew I was smoking pot every night to get to sleep. We lived in California, for Christ’s sake! Most of their friends were smoking pot or vaping. As my first buy of Skywalker began to run out — and a return visit to the Silver Lake Care Givers loomed — a question had begun to form in my head: I now knew what the pot in the Skywalker jar could do for ME. There were sooooo many other jars (two dozen total!) Did all the marijuana in those jars do the very same thing? Or did they do something different?

Turned out, they did both. It depended on what strain of cannabis was inside the jar. For the record — hybridization has hit most of the legal cannabis we use. That said, there are pure sativas and pure indicas. Depending on strength (a combination of THC level and terpene content), a pure sativa can reliably focus your thoughts while a pure indica… it’s complicated. One can experience a period of mental activity where suddenly a thought blossoms and you find yourself thinking it in an expanding way — until a wave of relaxation comes over you and suddenly, you couldn’t care less about any of that fancy thinking of a few minutes ago. You’d like to curl up on the couch or in bed and surrender to the most delicious feeling of wooziness imaginable. Hybrids capture elements of its parent strain’s effects. The head buzz they produce will usually lean toward the more dominant parent strain.

On subsequent visits to my first dispensary, I began to explore all those other jars. I also began to explore other dispensaries not out of disloyalty but because I’d discovered that different dispensaries had different strains on hand and the more I began to experiment with different strains — sativas, hybrids and indicas — the more I began to discover the nuantial differences between them all — effects that were absolutely discernible. Repeatable every time I smoked the same strain.

By then, I had learned that names like “Skywalker” weren’t local. Strain names were like brands. Or, like wine varietals. That’s how I started to think of them all — like cabernet sauvignon clones, each with their own distinct characteristics that cold be “utzed” this way or that by the person growing them. Being a natural product, cannabis can be manipulated, its qualities heightened. The evolving cannabis business, it struck me, was evolving of necessity away from its “I don’t know what’s in the baggie” mentality to something more “corporate”. For cannabis to succeed as a business, its customers needed to experience the product more like they’d experience a Big Mac. In theory, the Big Mac “experience” here in LA is the same Big Mac “experience” anywhere. A Big Mac is a Big Mac. And Skywalker, in theory, is Skywalker.

That pans out mostly. It’s why reliable growers and sellers will win and the old way of doing things will lose. Hey, there’s money to be made. A lot of money. Once everyone stops stumbling over their greed and the old way of thinking of cannabis, America and then the world will realize and accept the terrible mistake we all made illegalizing this thing. We’ve spent incalculable amounts of money prosecuting people for using something that does far less harm to its users than alcohol or even saturated fats in our food. We’ve destroyed millions of lives for no reason. I recommend Blunt Truths, the 13 part, 25,0000 word series I wrote for Weedmaps News (and, he’ll know what this means – Nicolas Juarez, you should be ASHAMED of yourself, you effing thief!) about the true story of marijuana prohibition. Racism and nothing but caused it to happen.

The whole reason I got to write that series is because a journalist friend (who’d been let go by the then shrinking LA Times) had been hired to create a legitimate news division for Weedmaps. By then, I’d immersed myself in cannabis and had become an advocate within my large social circle. By coincidence, years and years ago, I had tried to sell the story of Harry Anslinger and how he forced marijuana prohibition upon us as a TV movie to HBO. Given the chance suddenly to a deeper — journalistic — dive into the subject? I jumped. And I learned things that opened my mind even wider to what cannabis was, what it had done for people and what it could do for me.

That is what I celebrate most of all about cannabis and the fact that I can legally use it whenever, however I like. Cannabis DOES THINGS for me. Not “to” me, but FOR me. Several cannabis companies — the Canndescent Company is one — approach their product lineups in that exact way. They make proprietary blends using proprietary strains to create specific effects. That is the exactly right way to think of cannabis: what specifically do I want it to for me right now?

And so — I start my day with sativas: Durban Poison delivers a clear, bright beam of mental focus you can apply to anything. I use it to write (with great specificity). I use it to play tennis, too. I’ve experimented with other sativas on the tennis court and found the focus they produced was too fine for tennis. Being such a subjective experience, it’s hard to describe but through trial and error, I discovered that a hit of DP either before or while playing will, within minutes of my smoking the DP, improve my game perceptibly. It doesn’t go from being shitty to good. I play well. But, with DP in my brain, everything slows down. If I focus, I can see the fuzz on the tennis ball before I hit it. My timing becomes precise. My inner player hears my inner coach and complies precisely. THC does not impair one’s motor skills. It doesn’t. It’s not alcohol.

Plenty of people drive with plenty of THC in them. Try as they might to produce data that says THC impairs driving, the data simply won’t go along with them. People with THC in them, it turns out, stay within the speed limit, stay within their lanes and drive safely. That’s both compared to drunk drivers and to drivers in general.

I recommend reading this study. Oh, they desperately want to say that cannabis impairs driving but the data itself keeps fighting them. The analysis of why people with THC in them drive more carefully wants to believe the THC users are overcompensating for their being high rather than just being able to drive more carefully BECAUSE OF the THC in them. The researchers’ bias is clear — but the data overcomes it regardless. Here’s a small sample of what I mean —

3.3.1 Culpability studies — 3.3.1.1 Studies that do not show culpability

Some reviewers have concluded that there is no evidence that cannabis alone increases the risk of culpability for crashes, and may actually reduce risk.66 Drummer’s review of blood samples of traffic fatalities in Australia found that drivers testing positive for marijuana were actually less likely to have been judged responsible for the accident.67 Several other studies have found no increase in crash risk with cannabis.6870 Williams’ California study of 440 male traffic accident deaths found that while alcohol use was related to crash culpability, cannabis use was not.71 Terhune’s study of 1882 motor vehicle deaths calculated an OR of 0.7 for cannabis use, 7.4 for alcohol use, and 8.4 for cannabis and alcohol use combined.68 Lowenstein and Koziol-McLain’s study of 414 injured drivers admitted to a Colorado E/R found an OR of 1.1, indicating that marijuana use was not associated with increased crash responsibility.

The reason Black musicians like King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong took up marijuana smoking is because they realized, having tried the drug, that while no one can write music or play music when drunk (and trying to do anything on heroin is impossible), that’s not the case with marijuana. With THC in your brain, suddenly you think more. You hear more and see more. And one can articulate what one’s thinking or hearing or seeing. Food tastes amazing. Your senses really and truly do come alive. Biochemically, the THC is causing more of the synapses in your brain to fire. You’re experiencing more thought — processing more information. That’s why some people feel paranoid. The THC is increasing their “awareness” and sometimes, to some people, that hyper awareness can produce feelings of paranoia.

For the rest of us — fortunately — instead of paranoia, we feel wonderful! That’s the bottom line where cannabis is concerned. It conveys a feeling of euphoria and in this freakin’ world? Euphoria’s a blessing. It doesn’t cover up the pervasive rottenness of our time but it does make the rottenness endurable. Fact: if we stopped selling alcohol at sporting events and sold only cannabis instead (along with all the food and soft drinks), there would NEVER be violence at the end of a sporting event ever again. City blocks wouldn’t suddenly find themselves aflame because the local sports team won a championship. Fistfights between competing fans would not happen. That’s not what cannabis does to anyone.

Instead, sportsmanship would reign. Teams that had been competing would be shaking hands — as they do. But, so would the fans in the stands. Cannabis causes people to bond, to want to hug each other and talk. It makes people more social, not more anti-social. And people high on cannabis don’t puke all over the place. They don’t have to empty their beer-filled bladders repeatedly. They don’t pass out in puddles of their own vomit. Oh, pot users may well “pass out” — but, if they do fall asleep, they’re not unconscious. No one has ever died from smoking too much pot as they have from drinking too much alcohol. People smoking dope don’t regularly engage in drunken sex that they’re not sure whether they actually had they were so “blotto”.

When I finally dealt with my depression, the mood stabilizer I started taking gave all alcohol a grapefruit skin-like aftertaste. Unintended but a fact of life if I was going to beat my depression. I stopped drinking — which wasn’t doing my depression any good anyway. I started smoking more marijuana instead. The THC, it turned out, moderated my hypomania just fine. That’s why I’ve maintained my marijuana prescription. I really do think of cannabis as a legitimate medicine.

And I think of it as the best work aid in the world. And the best sleep aid in the world. And the best chill agent in the world. It’s 4/20 — and I, for one, am celebrating cannabis all day — as I do every day. I can hardly wait for the whole rest of the country to be equally chill. Then the world.

And, no — I ain’t “high”.

Never Mind Walking A Mile In Someone Else’s Shoes, Try Seeing The World Through Their Eyes

The reason organizations like the ASPCA use pleading, wide-eyed dogs in their fundraising appeals is because they work. Maybe those people who fear photography captures something of their souls are on to something. Even a photo of a pleading animal’s eyes touches us deeply (as compared to the actual animal itself, pleading directly to it with its eyes). Something of us flows from our orbs. Look deeply enough into them and you’ll even see past any attempts to deceive about who or what we really “are” to “us” — the real, honest-to-goodness US.

An honest-to-goodness “us” really exists inside each of us. It’s that entity behind our eyes that we spy in the bathroom mirror whenever we take a moment to acknowledge that it’s there. That is what we all do when we gaze past our reflection and into our reflection’s eyes — we acknowledge the stone cold fact that there really is a presence inside our heads that knows us even better than we know ourselves. Its voice sounds like ours. Its habits and peccadilloes — ours. In every way imaginable, it’s us! And yet, as we gaze at it — as we converse with it even — we can’t get past the weird sensation that as much as we know that “it’s us”, it’s also a weird sort of “separate us”.

It is bloody hard being a sentient creature, isn’t it? Thinking is exhausting. Even more so when your brain sees everything as a problem to be solved. More so still when the problem to be solved is “why me?”

We know what we know about us. We know where our bodies are buried — somewhere between us and the person staring back at us in the mirror. Not only does that person staring back “know what we know” about us, that person knows what we know about the world beyond the mirror.

Add a layer of complication: we honestly have no idea how it works — how the electrical activity flashing through our grey matter — does its “perception thing” and creates the thoughts we’re having about ourselves (or about anything else). We know we have feelings. We know that chemicals in our brains cause our feelings (or the feeling that we’re having a feeing) to ebb and flow. We don’t know where our feelings “live” when we’re not feeling them. I don’t know why I feel the way I do and I don’t know why you feel the way you do. While I can empathize with how things feel to your body, I can never know how they feel. I can only know how things feel to my body.

Same goes for pain. We all experience it differently. It is pure arrogance on my part to assume how pain effects me is prototypical, as if my tolerance were some sort of standard that should apply to everyone else; it absolutely isn’t.

One of the things I find interesting about cannabis is the pure subjectivity of the experience. My experience will differ from yours because our brain chemistries are different. It’s only by comparing notes with each other about that experience that we can adjudge 1) how cannabis works on our minds to begin with and 2) how any particular strain, with its own terpene profile and THC/CBD matrix works on our minds. If my experience with the classic sativa Durban Poison is similar enough to yours (a solid, warm, consistent beam of delicious mental focus), then we can agree that smoking Durban Poison will probably produce that particular effect inside a smoker’s head.

For a decade and a half, I struggled with a deepening depression related to an event in my past that I’d suppressed — I was sexually molested twice when I was 14 by the religious director at the synagogue where my family belonged. For the 45 years that I kept that secret from myself (meaning — I knew this thing had happened to me but I refused to acknowledge that it had happened to me), I looked out at the world with this little detail as part of how I saw the world. Having a terrible secret puts you on an island inhabited by just you and your molester. If no one else knows this terrible secret about you, then obviously, they don’t know YOU. How could they? They only “think” they know who you are.

Having survived a suicidal depression, I know for a fact that I saw the world differently than anyone else around me. I understood (well, on some deep, abstract-thinking level) why silly, seemly insignificant things set me off into a volcanic, self-directed rage. My wife and kids would look at me during those moments as if I was a Martian who did things for no understandable reason. Ah, if only they could have understood me the way I understood me — and saw the world through my eyes.

It wasn’t possible for my wife and kids to see my pain my way in part because even I didn’t see the pain correctly. Once I did, I was able to articulate my pain. That helped. A lot.

Now, I have a certain advantage here because I could articulate my pain once I understood it — and that helped me recover from it. Being able to express my pain, what was behind it — liberated me because I no longer had to bear its burden alone. When anyone gets to express their pain, it’s liberating. Sometimes people have to be coaxed though. That’s when they look out at the world in silent desperation. Maybe they’ve surrendered already and given up hope than anyone else will see their pain. Maybe they feel unworthy. They’re not. Maybe they fear being judged.

I have no idea what it “feels like” to be LGBTQ. No one gets a choice about what kind of brain chemistry they’ll have. We don’t stand there as sperm and egg fuse and our two sets of DNA begin to dance with each other. We don’t get to sort among our dominant or recessive genes or snag a predecessor’s skill set. What comes to us comes to us. It makes us who and what we are before we even “are”. And our genome isn’t “perfect”. It’s malleable and fluid and error prone. And that’s just the parts we’ve figured out. There’s plenty we haven’t yet. I know people who were born with external male characteristics but the overwhelming feeling that they were female. That’s not them being “dramatic” of course; it’s how they actually feel inside their heads — because their biochemistry is at war with itself.

I wonder: do judgy Christians judge a lupus sufferer whose immune system is at war with them the way they judge a person whose sexual identity is at war with their biochemistry? Christians are a particularly judge-y lot. That’s ironic considering as the religion’s founder was all about “judge not lest ye be judged”.

Why does sexual repression slow dance with religious fervor? Why do deities inspire all sorts of sexual peccadilloes? Why can’t people who insist their deity connects them to other people, appreciate the people that deity supposedly connects them to?

Sigh… I guess if I could see the world through their eyes? I’d know…

Let’s Play “Desert Island Cannabis Strain”! I’ll Go First…

In the style of that great BBC radio show “Desert Island Discs” — where each week’s guest “is asked to choose eight recordings (usually, but not always, music), a book and a luxury item that they would take if they were to be cast away on a deserted island” — I propose a show where, each week, a cannabis aficionado — imagining themselves cast away on a similar tropical paradise — have to chose three strains that will have to sustain them. I’m still undecided how firm we should make the “one-from-each-type” mandate — wherein the guest must pick one sativa, one indica and one hybrid; there’s so much blurring of many strains already, their genetics a tossup. One could as easily suggest we divvy them a morning strain, an afternoon strain and an evening strain — which is kind of how I see all cannabis anyway. I use particular strains at particular times of the day because I want the expected effects from that strain.

Part of the un-learning we all have to do about cannabis is the idea that it does only one thing — get you high. Yes, absolutely — if you sit down and smoke yourself silly with pretty much any strain, you’ll end up silly — or asleep. But there are remarkable differences between a sativa like The Fork (well, 70% sativa according to Wikileaf) and an indica like Northern Lights. The Fork is not for casual users; but then, I’m not a casual user. It’s great for when you’ve got five thing to do or think of at the exact same time because it brings not only focus (as any good sativa should) but a real capacity for multi-faceted thinking. Northern Lights, on the other hand, is a classic indica strain with crazy high THC, usually well north of 30%. A few hits of Norther Lights plus about fifteen minutes (indicas tend to come on more slowly than sativas) should produce a gentle, warm buzz that eventually evolves into an exquisite wooziness and full on sleepiness. From the day I first swapped my OTC sleep meds for cannabis — about six years ago now — I have slept wonderfully. So, a strain that delivers quality sleep is a strain I’m interested in sampling or even buying.

So — if I was going to be stuck on a desert island (and, hopefully my reading matter and other entertainments was accounted for) — with only three cannabis strains to see me through, which three would I choose?

As waking & baking would be the one thing on my schedule each day, I need my day-time strain — my sativa — here on the island to be not only the breakfast of champions but its lunch, too. DURBAN POISON is a classic; each of my Desert Island strains is. One of my criteria for inclusion is availability. I’ve had some great strains that, it turned out, were one-and-done at whatever dispensary or delivery service I found it. Lucid Blue, Jack The Ripper, Casey Jones, Clementine — I keep the empty vials I use to store my cannabis — each with its own home made label — in the hope of one day finding it again because my experience with it was so extraordinary. Durban Poison isn’t as everywhere as Blue Dream or Jack Herer but it’s around.

Durban Poison… Not merely a good sativa, a great one!

DP delivers a lovely, wide beam of even mental focus that you can turn on anything and increase your productivity. Not only do I use DP as one of my regular go-to workday strains, I also use it when I play tennis (which I do at least twice a week). The DP helps my focus on the court the same as it does when I stare at my computer monitor. On the one hand, everything simply slows down. It’s easier to find my timing with a hit of DP in me. I see the ball clearly. I can even see its spin if I’m really dialed in. My game improves perceptibly because my timing becomes more precise. On the other hand, I become more “coachable”. The cannabis’ euphoric effects prevent me from ever beating myself up. The coaching reinforcement rather is entirely positive.

When it’s quittin’ time, I turn to my hybrid collection. One wants to be chill but not at all asleep. If a movie’s one, the strain should make it even better than you remembered or better than you expected it to be. Food should taste amazing — and the strain itself should make you want to leap into a pile of snack food. If people are around, the strain needs to be highly social. Great for loving and laughing. My go-to here is GG4. Formerly known as Gorilla Glue, this strain is ubiquitous but deserving of its ubiquity. The high is big and euphoric; I’ve used it often in the past as the basis for a “platform” — a strain that I start a session with. Smoking Durban Poison atop GG4 gives a real boost to the already boostful Durban Poison. By the same “toke-en” (sorry, couldn’t help myself), GG4, in addition to being a great strain to spend an entire evening with, also partners well with other hybrids and also with indicas to start one’s evening off perfectly.

GG4
Northern Lights

NORTHERN LIGHTS would be my indica. It could almost just as easily be Kosher Kush, King Louie XIII, LA Confidential, White Empress, Diamond or Suicide Girl. But, Northern Lights — the last batch I bought said it’s THC level was 33% — always manages to squeeze that last bit of compis mentis from my brain. About twice a week, after I’ve taken my second or third indica (I usually do three different ones when it’s time for bed), right when I expect a blanket of wooziness to slowly settle over me, inspiring me to go the hell to bed, I get a sudden burst of creative energy. Suddenly the idea I was struggling with all day, presents a simple and elegant answer. I have found myself a half hour later, pages deep into something I didn’t know I was ready to write but apparently was.

The good thing about writing on cannabis — as opposed to writing on, say, alcohol — is that the work product is almost always what you expected it to be. There’s a reason Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton and all the musicians who invented jazz invented jazz while smoking cannabis. They were trying to reproduce something complex that was inside their heads on a musical instrument. One simply can’t do that with alcohol or coke or heroin. One certainly could create without using drugs; but, as anyone who’s smoked dope and then sat down to be creative knows, there’s simply nothing like it.

Some day — sooner than any of us expected, it turns out — we will all finally get to step out of Harry Anslinger’s long shadow. America’s first drug czar, Anslinger almost singlehandedly created the “reefer madness” mythology that became our drug policy. When that day happens, we may finally get to see cannabis as a remarkable adjunct to living a happy, successful life. Which it is — and always has been.

If you’ve gotten this far — thank you! More to the point, please let me know what YOUR Desert Island Strains would be. Someone oughta start a damned podcast!

Alcohol + A Pandemic = Terrible Decision-Making

I stopped drinking alcohol just over four years ago. I didn’t “have to” per se, but the mood stabilizer I started taking gives all alcohol a grapefruit skin-like aftertaste making it completely unpalatable. Given a choice between drinking and not being depressed, I’ll take the latter, thanks. And anyway — it’s not like consuming alcohol does one’s depression any favors. Alcohol might just be the worst thing for a depression. That’s why no matter how much we drink, we can’t get ourselves out of the dark, frustrating vicious circle the pandemic has us running on like hamsters on a demonic exercise wheel.

Alcohol itself isn’t our problem. Our attitude toward alcohol is. Because we treat it as a vice — like sex — we get squeamish talking about it. Oh, we’re happy to brag about our prowess or relate countless funny stories about drinking and cringeworthy results, but we dare not discuss what alcohol does to our judgment. How many drinking stories have you heard in your life where alcohol caused someone to do the right thing instead of the stupid?

Do I miss alcohol? Occasionally. I’ll be with someone who’s enjoying a glass of something so inky and dense that you can practically see its tannin structure. My mood stabilizer hasn’t hurt my ability to smell any. In a way, that makes the impact it has on my taste buds even more cruel. One of the best parts of a great wine is its long, complex aftertaste. It’s a little like knowing the great meal you’re about to eat will absolutely end with food poisoning. Really, it’s just not worth it.

Though alcohol abuse wasn’t my specific problem, it was a problem for me; I know that now. That’s part of alcohol’s hold on us. Even if you think you have a problem with alcohol, alcohol convinces you it isn’t that big of a problem. And anyway, what would you do if you couldn’t drink — or, worse, go out drinking with your friends? If you’re like most of America, apparently, you obsess over it endlessly.

Though I no longer drink alcohol, I do consume a lot of marijuana. I have a prescription. I don’t need one to purchase cannabis here in California though having one does save me some of the sales tax. That’s not why I keep my prescription active; I do that because THC is the other chemical in my mental health regimen. I use THC to moderate my hypomania (while my mood stabilizer handles the depression). As I’ve written here before, I use cannabis from the start of my day to the very end of it. I wake & bake using a variety of sativas, I chill in the early evening with hybrids and I use indicas to give me a fabulous night’s seep.

In my past, I’ve tricked myself into thinking alcohol and cocaine could add to my productivity. Talk about bullshit! Neither can do that.

As I’ve also talked about here, cannabis is completely unlike alcohol (and cocaine of course). Whereas alcohol is a depressant, cannabis isn’t. Depending on strain, THC content, terpene structure and a few other variables, a hit of THC can focus your mind even as you settle into the couch. Our brains like cannabinoids. A lot. There’s a reason musicians like Louis Armstrong self medicated with marijuana while inventing jazz in New Orleans in the early twentieth century. Alcohol dulls the senses. Opium wipes them out completely. Cannabis, on the other hand, floods your brain with information. That’s, in essence, what THC does. If you think of our synapses as digital circuits — either opened or closed — THC causes more of them to be “open”, receptive to information. The reason music feels richer, colors seem more vibrant and food tastes better on dope is because your brain is processing more of that sensory information in real time. It’s not that the food “tastes better”, it’s that THC allows you to taste the food “more”.

Among the enduring images from our pandemic hellscape is maskless people partying — bleary-eyed and shit-faced past caring. It’s like watching a tragedy take shape in slow motion. Think about how much money Big Alcohol spends on advertising to get people to do something they already like doing. Big Alcohol can’t be happy, it seems, until every single American is plastered out of their mind. If we were capable of making good decisions, the first one we’d make is to stop listening to what Big Alcohol says.

Humans are social creatures and alcohol makes us more social. One plus one equals two. But, when people keep drinking, two plus two equals four — and the next thing you know, the tipsy happiness produced by the first cocktail becomes slurred decision-making by the time cocktail number two gets consumed. Drinkers — even if they’ve been drinking all their lives — seem to forget (once they start drinking) that there’s about a twenty minute lag between the alcohol passing their lips and that specific alcohol’s impact on their brain. It’s the lag that causes most people to drink more and drink more quickly.

And get wasted more quickly.

That’s the strangest experience of all. Back before the pandemic closed bars and made parties verboten, I got to watch my wife and friends (on numerous occasions) morph over the course of a few hours from sensible, moderate people enjoying each others’ company to a bunch of happy, but loud, partiers

What scares me most about watching people drink to excess in the middle of a pandemic is my own experiences drinking. I kept drinking though I knew it was doing me way more harm than good. People who feel compelled to go out and drink socially with friends are answering a call deep inside their heads and livers. It’s hard to deny that call; I know.

But that call is the voice of bullshit. I know — I’m pissing into the wind here. We’re not going to start talking about our drinking problem just because a former drinker has seen the light. But, we should. Also, we should “teach” young people “how to drink”. I don’t mean get them drunk and teach them how to get drunk faster, I mean teach them HOW to drink like responsible people and not like teenagers on a bender.

Drinking responsibly means understanding your own bio-chemistry, your own limits. It means knowing how alcohol changes YOU and your behavior. It means telling yourself “no” a lot more than “yes”. It means owning that alcohol owns you and not you it.

I am absolutely not casting judgment. Been there, done that, guilty as charged. But, the problem with alcohol is it lies to us. It insists we can handle “one more for the road”. Even if we manage to get home safely, that was as much luck as anything else.

Look – there’s nothing whatsoever wrong with drinking. There’s plenty wrong with drinking irresponsibly. Unfortunately, ours is a culture where drinking alcohol to excess is considered both a birthright and a right of passage. But then again, we don’t attach any responsibility to being citizens (we want it to be a non-stop grab bag of goodies). Why would we attach any responsibility to something citizens do to excess?

An Ode To Waking And Baking

Two facts: I have never been busier in my entire life AND I have never been more “stoned” in my entire life. Those facts don’t contradict each other. Actually, they complement each other. Pot and productivity go hand in hand. It’s hard to describe to people who are fearful of pot that it’s not just one thing — a get you impossibly high product. It’s a variety of things. Because it does a variety of things to your brain chemistry. Most cannabis strains have been hybridized one way or another; sativas are more focus forward (like a red wine can be fruit forward) while indicas are more euphoria forward. I wouldn’t use a sativa at bedtime just like I wouldn’t smoke an indica and expect to get any work done.

That I’m busier is pure luck. Some to do with me, some not. Being busier, time management becomes essential. The last thing I need is to feel lethargic, unmotivated or “stoned”. That’s why, even before I’ve had my first sip of coffee, I’m tapping some Willy Wonka into my favorite glass piece (that looks like a banana slug). Sometimes, I’ll wake and bake with GMO or Alaskan Thunderf*ck. I’m also a fan of Canndescent’s “Charge”. In the wine world, they’d call “Charge” a “meritage” — a proprietary blend (of grapes). That’s Canndescent’s approach. They’ve created a series of proprietary strains, each approaching cannabis from an effects point of view: what do you want the cannabis to do for you? If you want it to get your mind percolating, choose “Charge”. Indeed — a couple of good hits of “Charge” and my mind’s percolating.

The cannabis users understand what I’m talking about. That’s one of the challenges of talking about and writing about cannabis. It’s effects are principally cerebral. You may feel like your limbs suddenly weigh a ton as the couch lock sets in, but every bit of that is emanating from your head. A drunk person literally loses their motor skills. A person high on cannabis does not.

As I’ve written here, I “came to cannabis” late in life. It didn’t do much for me when I was a kid except put me to sleep which held zero attraction. Much later in life, when sleep was an issue and over-the-counter sleep meds were doing more harm than good, the idea of pot putting me to sleep suddenly became appealing. Good thing I live in California. From that first night when Skywalker eased me into the most restful sleep I’d had in a decade, sleep has not been an issue. I had no idea that cannabis could do just as much for my waking hours.

We live in the shadow of the mythology invented by Harry Anslinger, America’s first Commissioner of The Federal Bureau of Narcotics (1930) in order to satisfy his racism. As I wrote about in my series “Blunt Truths” (written for now defunct Weedmaps News), every single bit of marijuana prohibition was racist, based on racism and bent on punishing people because of racism. At no point in the “illegalizing” process did anyone doing the illegalizing EVER ask “But, is it bad for people?” Any possible health risks were not the problem (the people in the hearings were all smoking tobacco — during the hearings!) The people using marijuana were “the problem”.

As cannabis legalization spreads across the nation, more and more people are using cannabis and incorporating it into their day without civilization coming to an end. Cannabis doesn’t make people violent the way alcohol can. Imagine if they stopped selling beer at sporting events and started selling reefer instead. There’d never be another fight at the end of a soccer match as the two opposing fan bases — liquored to the gills — pour into the streets together, still feeling the game. If all those sports fans had been using cannabis instead of alcohol, it would never occur to the to fight.

They might hug. They might tell each other how well they played. They might even have a vicious case of the munchies. But they won’t have it in them to get violent with each other. It’s just now how cannabis works inside our brains. The fact is, our brains like cannabis. We have receptors that, it turns out, are tailor-made to bind themselves to THC.

As my day goes on, I like to layer one sativa atop another. Each sativa strain — between the THC in it and its terpene structure — presents a little differently. There are nuances. Willy Wonka produces a clean focus with good mental energy. Add twenty percent to that focus and you have Strawberry Diesel. One can really bore in on an idea. There’s a little “edge” to it. Hints of more free-associative thinking.

Same goes for Ghost Train Haze and White Buffalo. Green Crack, too. They present evenly.

Then there’s a strain like The Fork. Whoa! The hybrid Trainwreck can create a feeling of hyper focus in your head. Even cleaning the house becomes a satisfying experience you’re so intensely focused on it. The Fork unleashes waves of free associative thinking. And yet, one doesn’t find oneself “all over the place”. The free associations all seem to be circling the thing you’re really thinking about. From the point of view of “thinking”? It’s extraordinary.

The all-time go-to workday strain is Durban Poison.

Durban Poison has virtually no edge. Its “high” is pure, even focus. That’s why I like it for working AND playing tennis. With a hit of DP in me, the ball slows down (everything slows down — but only in the sense that my mind isn’t racing to keep up with all the information coming at it; I feel like I’m seeing, hearing, processing it all just fine and in real time). So — when the ball comes off my opponent’s racket, I’m better able to focus on the ball and track it all the way to where I want it to be when I attack it. I’ll put it this way: I coach myself better and am coached better when the coaching is coated in Durban Poison.

In a later post, I’ll talk about straight hybrids — afternoon and early evening strains. Finding a good hybrid that chills without sedating — that’s a whole other journey.

In Cannabis Veritas

In vino veritas is how the original goes: in wine there is truth. Actually, the original original goes in libris veritas: in books there is truth. Books has it right. Wine… not so much. Oh, the occasional drunk may spew out how they really feel about you or the world in that instant, but the truth is, they’re not “in touch” with themselves. They can’t be with all that alcohol in them. I’m kind of a “control group” on the topic. I used to drink. To excess (if I’m honest with myself). I used to think I was just getting “truthful” by cracking the next bottle. My personal experience says “in vino veritas” is bullshit.

I stopped drinking four years ago, just after I started taking a mood stabilizer to help moderate the deep, dark depression I was in. The personal depression I’d been working on for ten years got subsumed inside the national depression that began when Donald Trump stole election 2016. After coming within literal inches of offing myself, I took the plunge into mood stabilizers (having feared that plunge as much as my depression). Fortunately for me, I leveled almost immediately at the minimum dose. Bullseye. Lamotrigine — at the minimum dose — kept my darkness at bay; it could no longer “get at” me. The bad news: the lamotrigine gave all alcohol a terrible, grapefruit skin-like aftertaste that just ruined the whole experience.

I became like Alex in A Clockwork Orange —

When “dosed”, the violent criminal suddenly couldn’t abide violence — to his own peril. In my case, this lover-of-all-things-alcohol suddenly couldn’t abide the taste of alcohol. Well, the aftertaste. Even a great, structured red wine, its tannins as supple as its fruit was dense suddenly became… grapefruit skin. Just… unbearable.

Good thing my one remaining vice was cannabis. And good thing I lived in California where cannabis is legal. Because in cannabis veritas.

I’ve told my story here about how I morphed from a guy who didn’t really care much about cannabis (sure, it should be completely legal!) into a guy who loudly and shamelessly advocates for the stuff because it’s become such an important part of my quotidian life. Yeah, yeah, yeah — it’s not everyone’s answer (thank goodness we got THAT out of the way). But, for those who cannabis can help? There are myriad ways it can help you. Myriad ways it can improve the quality of your life. I truly use cannabis from the start of my day to the very end.

In addition to being depressed, it turns out I’m bi-polar. My darkness is matched by hypomania. Thoughts don’t just fly around inside my head, they explode into life constantly. I don’t mind that. My only problem is it’s distracting. They’re all squirrels and I’m just a dog. I can chase one or two; I can’t chase them all. Cannabis — sativas during the day time — slows the mania down. My brain is like a black box theater — think of a shoebox, painted black inside, turned upside down. It’s a simple black space inside which anything can happen. At any one time, a dozen or so things are being projected onto the walls, the floor, the ceiling. Some are in technicolor, some black-and-white. A few are even in sepia. Music plays. All kinds. And there are smells and sounds and did I mention the comedians sprinkled through the crowd? Those guys kill.

A sativa like Durban Poison acts like a scrim. It falls gently — quieting most of the projections and noise — allowing me to focus on just one or two. And suddenly — another benefit of the cannabis — I can see or hear or smell or taste whatever I’m focusing on with remarkable clarity. Food really does taste better on weed. Smells are more distinct. Music deeper and more soulful. Or fun. Things “seem” funnier, in part, because you’re appreciating them from a deeper place. It really is funnier than you realized — and the fact that you just realized how much funnier it is? THAT’S effin’ hilarious!

I wrote “straight” most of my professional life. I know what that is. Having written with cannabis in my system now for a half dozen years, I can honestly say — I’m better on cannabis. Maybe that’s because I enjoy writing more on cannabis. Cannabis makes writing easier — because the thoughts come easier. I feel more in tune with where the thoughts are coming from.

As I wrote about in Blunt Truths, the series about cannabis prohibition I wrote for Weedmaps News (back when that was a “thing”), marijuana played a big part in the invention of jazz. When the mostly Black musicians gathering in New Orleans in the first decade of the 20th century tried to get at the music inside their heads, they didn’t turn to alcohol to help get at it. Alcohol dulls. Opioids? Are you kidding? They dull creativity worse than alcohol. Marijuana, on the other hand, takes your creativity in hand and lets it soar.

Louis Armstrong, like the rest of the amazing musicians around him, were imaging what classical European music would sound like if you larded it with African music. What if you filled in all those spaces European music left with more music? What if the musician was allowed to improvise and build on what the music’s composer wrote? What if you tried using diminished keys and odd beat structures?

As I wrote in Blunt Truths, the worst thing Harry Anslinger ever did was invent the whole “Reefer Madness” myth that cannabis is the “Assassin of Youth”. He didn’t care about “marihuana” (his spelling) when he first became America’s first Commissioner of the now defunct Federal Bureau of Narcotics because, at the time, only Mexicans and Black people used it. It wasn’t until marijuana headed up the Mississippi along with the musicians heading north — and suddenly white people were smoking it. White people using something black and brown people used? That was wholly unacceptable to raging racist Harry Anslinger.

It’s a stone cold fact: the reason marijuana was made illegal is racism. Racism, racism and more racism. Not for two seconds did anyone legislating to illegalize cannabis EVER ask “But, is it bad for you?” Anslinger succeeded in making marijuana illegal (actually, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 makes not paying the hefty tax on the sale and purchase of marijuana illegal) over the objections of the American Medical Association.

We have lived in Harry Anslinger’s shadow all this time, thinking marijuana was something that it isn’t.

Yes, I write with loads and loads of cannabis in me. I do everything with loads of cannabis in me. Tennis, for instance. The same Durban Poison that delivers a smooth, focused “high” (ask my wife — I’m never ever “high”; I’m either focused or asleep) that makes writing a pleasure also takes my tennis game up a few notches. With a hit or two of DP in me, the ball slows down. I listen better to my own inner coaching. I spot the ball better off my opponent’s racket and — with everything slowed down inside my head — go through the step-by-step needed to successfully put the ball back across the net where and how I want it.

As my working ends and my evening begins, I turn again to cannabis. I’m not interested in being insensate. But — again — a hybrid like GG4 or Dutch Treat mitigates the cacophony. The feeling of mild euphoria that settles over you — it doesn’t disconnect you from the world, instead, it fuses you to everything.

As we speak, various members of my immediate and extended family are all either turned on to the benefits of cannabis already or becoming aware of them. My mom uses CBD oil to deal with an arthritic knee. CBD was her last stop before opioids. The CBD works great — and she feels better overall and sleeps better too.

If we see a product from the point of view of its benefits versus its detriments, cannabis (in all its various forms) is sliced bread. Why the hell wouldn’t you want it (if you want bread)?

This morning, I tried, for the first time, a sativa called The Fork. Where Durban Poison delivers a stead flow of very even-feeling focus, The Fork delivered strong free-associative thought. My mind went plenty of places — and burrowed into each of those places. This blog post popped into my mind.

And then onto the page.

I’ve written stuff on alcohol and cocaine that, as I was madly typing it, I was sure was genius. When I went back to look at it afterwards, it wasn’t even good typing.

Hey, for all I know, what The Fork inspired in me was pure crap. You’ll be the judge. But (and you’ll have to trust me on this) the typing’s sheer genius.