I’ve written here before about my cannabis story. I wasn’t a fan in high school. Cannabis (if that’s what I was really smoking) put me to sleep.
That didn’t appeal to me as a kid. So, I avoided cannabis in favor of alcohol, cocaine and, occasionally ecstasy. Depression made sleep hard to come by as my late middle ages wore on. OTC sleep meds (like Simply Sleep) did nothing for me except make me groggy and forgetful.
I turned to cannabis because I live in California. It was (at the time) medically legal. I needed to fix my problem so I gave cannabis a shot.
“I have sleep problems,” I told that first budtender, feeling very illicit though I was doing a totally “licit” thing. “Skywalker,” they replied.
And, from that first night onward, cannabis became a part of my everyday life. I slept that night — slept well. Slept restfully. Woke up ready to face the day for the first time in years. Literally.
That was a game changer. When I returned to that dispensary a few days later, I wanted to know — what’s in all those OTHER canisters?
Turned out there were other indicas with slightly different flavors and effects. There also were sativas & hybrids.
“Sativa?” I asked.
I had no idea that cannabis wasn’t just a feel-super-good sleeping med. Depending on the strain, cannabis can be an all day product. Keeping in mind that virtually everything our culture “knows” about cannabis was racist bullshit invented first by America’s first drug czar Harry Anslinger then turned into a totally racist “War On Drugs” by Richard Nixon, it’s not shocking that, as a culture, we think cannabis & work are incompatible.
That’s because we have it in our heads that cannabis and alcohol work the same on our brains and bodies. They don’t. Not even remotely.
When cannabis began to spread from the Southwest US (in the 1910’s following the Mexican Revolution) to the South, it found a home in New Orleans where a group of African American musicians were busy inventing jazz. Artists like Louie Armstrong didn’t like to drink & play because alcohol dulls your creativity. Same goes for heroin.
Marijuana, on the other hand, had the opposite effect. Yes, there was that lovely euphoria. But cannabis, though you can get pretty “high”, it NEVER impacts your ability to reason or do physical things. Cannabis does not impact your motor skills & perceptions the way alcohol does.
As many of us have learned (through lots & lots of repetition), sativas especially focus your mind. They focus your creativity to a very fine point. You can get lots of very good work done.
I’ve written while drunk. Written while coked to the gills. It’s always crap.
Cannabis has the exact opposite effect on the mind — and subsequently the work the mind produces. In the exact same way, I discovered that a few hits of Durban Poison just before or while I play tennis takes my tennis game up a good, solid notch.
With DP in my system, everything slows down. I can see the spin on the tennis ball as it comes at me. I can see the damned fuzz on the ball. My timing becomes far more precise. I play better. Consistently. Reliably.
When I think of the destruction we caused — to people guilty of nothing other than using marijuana — I want to scream. We destroyed people — the overwhelming majority of them black or brown. But then, that was always the point of marijuana prohibition.
It should go without saying — cannabis is not for everyone. Nothing on this planet is. Let’s put that away, okay?
For most people, cannabis would be a great alternative to opioids and a great alternative to alcohol. If people attending a sporting event smoked cannabis instead of pounding down beer? Trust me, there’d never be another riot after a game ended. All the attendees would be too busy hugging each other or happily dozing.
The first time a budtender told me that sativas would give me mental energy, I looked at him like a dog asking a question. Say what? What does that even mean — “mental energy”?
If you’ve never experienced cannabis — or only ever experienced indicas (which make up the overwhelming majority of cannabis strains) — that probably sounds like a contradiction of terms. Isn’t cannabis supposed to make you “dopey”? For an extended reflection & rant on how a mythology based entirely on racism stood in for truth, I refer you to Blunt Truths, the series I wrote for Weedmaps News). None of us steps onto the cannabis playing field aware just how profoundly tilted it is.
It’s practically vertical it’s so damned tilted.
Cannabis has a complex structure. THC and CBD play significant roles in how our brains react to cannabis and perceive its effects but they’re only part of cannabis’ palette. Terpenes play an equally vital role in how any particular strain will work. Thus far, we’ve identified about 120 terpenes in cannabis. We know (or have a rough idea at least) how about 25 of them work.
Throwing a little heat into the mix gets the THC, CBD and other cannabanoids to dance with the alpha-pinene, micrene, linolene and/or caryophyllene (among others) in its terpene structure. The synapses in our brains act like digital circuits. They’re either open or closed. If they’re open, thoughts flow through our heads. If they’re closed, thoughts don’t happen. THC simply makes more of those synapses open. We process more information.
That’s why some people feel paranoid. THC makes us more aware of everything. That sudden inflow of more raw data into our brains can feel oppressive. Suddenly you’re thinking about things like “What if there’s a cop nearby?” Food tastes great with cannabis for the same reason. It’s why things seem funnier. You’re perceiving them “funnier”.
When cannabis eventually found its way from the southwest to New Orleans after WWI, it was taken up by the musicians there working the bars and whorehouses. Players like Louis Armstrong didn’t like drinking much because it inhibited their ability to play and think musically. They were in the middle of inventing jazz and needed their faculties functioning at full blast. Marijuana, rather than dulling their creativity, sparked it. They could hear more, feel more. It wasn’t their imaginations telling them that.
And yet… it was. Their imaginations — their creativity — was telling them that with cannabis in their brains, they could be even better, more creative — more productive.
I wandered into cannabis looking for sleep. After years of taking OTC sleep meds — and getting little sleep but lots of memory loss, I bit the bullet years ago (living in California as I do) and got a prescription. Then I went to my first dispensary and got my first cannister of Skywalker flower.
For the first time in a decade, I slept. I woke up in the morning feeling rested. No druggy lassitude, no lingering weariness. Just top quality brain rest. What a radical concept.
The next time I returned to that dispensary, I wanted to know: what’s in all those other cannisters filled with weed? Do they all produce sleep as wonderful as Skywalker? Some, it turned out did. Others, on the other hand…
My first daytime strain was Durban Poison, a classic sativa. As much as it focused my brain — giving me lots of mental energy, it also opened my eyes. Cannabais isn’t good for just kicking back & relaxing or sleeping. Cannabis is good for working your ass off to earn that relaxation.
With a strain like Durban Poison — or Clementine or Jack The Ripper (the weed is kinder than the name) or hybrids like Dutch Treat and Pineapple Express, I feel the world come into sharp relief. I hear and see nuances and shadings. The responses flow effortlessly. Writing is not a struggle.
There are variations in how different sativas or hybrids feel inside your head. Whereas Jack The Ripper, say, will give you terrific focus, it has a slight “edge” to it. Not a bad edge — an extra bit of focus and energy. Maybe the best daytime/working strain of all is Trainwreck. Trainwreck gets you so focused you feel compelled to clean your house. Completely. With a toothbrush — that’s how focused and thorough you want to be.
Then I discovered (like a lot of athletes have) that cannabis can improve your physical performance — because it focuses your mind. I started smoking Durban Poison before and, sometimes, while I’m playing. It’s wild, the impact: everything “slows down”. I can see the spin on the ball. If I really focus, I can almost see the fuzz on the ball right where I need to hit it.
I can see where the ball needs to be. I can see where I need to be after I hit the ball. And ya know what? As much fun as I had playing tennis before? Now, it’s even more fun.
I cannot think of a single negative impact that cannabis has had on my life. Life, as we all know, is hard and getting harder. No one gets brownie points for bearing it unmedicated.
Here’s a better idea. Put some cannabis in those brownies. You’ll thank me.
I approach cannabis from the point of view of “What do I want cannabis to do for me right now?”. In the world of legalized cannabis, that should be the operating principle. To think cannabis is only good for “getting high” is very old fashioned thinking. And very misinformed.
While the labels “indica” & “sativa” are becoming less valuable (pretty much every strain has been hybridized one way or another), the botanists hard at work on the strains we like, are making those strains the equivalent of cabernet sauvingnon clones. When we get to fully legal, fully licensed — and fully regulated — legal cannabis (the only choice for a business that’s lived so long as a criminal enterprise), the ideal should be a cross between a Big Mac’s universality of design and a grape varietal’s individual expression as realized by a talented winemaker and the wine’s growing conditions.
A gram of Durban Poison should be like a bottle of cabernet. There can even be (will be) levels of quality. Just as there are two-buck-Chuck quaffing cabs & bottles of Opus One worth hundreds of dollars, there are already top shelf expressions of cannabis strains and lesser versions — probably all shake (the leftovers at the bottom of a cannabis canister).
I wasn’t a pot smoker in high school. Pot put me to sleep and that wasn’t interesting to me. In college, I discovered cocaine. And even though I once spotted a friend my semester money to buy a pound of who knows what, up until late middle age, my relationship with cannabis was mostly non-existent. Life, middle age, financial hardships, depression — by my mid 50’s, I was sleeping maybe two or three hours a night and none of it was restful. I was popping OTC sleeping meds — Simply Sleep knockoffs mostly — and getting little to nothing from them except memory loss (there’s data that says those products can do that to us if over-used). Living in California — where it was medically legal (only at the time), I said “why not?”
“Sleeping issues,” I told my first budtender. “Skywalker,” he replied. Though I chuckled that first time at what I thought was a cute name that dispensary had come up with, I learned fast — Skywalker is a recognized strain (whose name must now change because of issues the Walt Disney Company has with their intellectual property — it’s now being called Mischka instead; that means — fully licensed cannabis dealers won’t/can’t call this cannabis product Skywalker anymore). Go to most any dispensary in LA and Skywalker will be on the menu.
The Skywalker worked for me. From that night forward, I may not ever have slept as much as I perhaps should but my five solid hours a night are like nectar to my brain. Perhaps I’m just a five-hours-a-nighter. I awake every morning feeling rested and ready for the day.
When I next visited that first dispensary, I was curious. What was in all the other canisters behind the counter? Turned out, cannabis was far more complicated, nuanced, wine-like in nature.
I use cannabis from the start of my day — usually around 5 am — to the end of my day. I like to segue into work head with GG4 (formerly known as Gorilla Glue #4). I love that feeling as the cannabis kicks in — a soft lift to my mood, a feeling of mental focus, of contentment. From there, once a little caffeine enters the mix, I move to my sativa lineup. These days that includes Durban Poison, Jack-The-Ripper (when I can get it), Super Lemon Haze, Clementine and (the unfortunately named) Killing Field.
Put a little of the hybrid Trainwreck on top of that (I love layering strains — we’ll talk about that another time) and you’ll want to clean your house with a toothbrush — you get that dialed in.
All of those sativas bring focus and mental energy. Each, having a different terpene profile, has a different flavor and a slightly different quality to its mental focus. None is quite like DP though for its evenness. I can’t recommend it strongly enough as a workday strain.
As the day winds down, I like to move away from the sativas (or the strains that bring all that focus) toward the more relaxing strains. Kalifa Kush… Bruce Banner #3, Platinum GSC, Cherry Pie, Pineapple Express — all are great for transitioning to a less go-get-em head and a more “Hey, what’s good on the tele tonight?” frame of mind.
I took marijuana to an airport yesterday — out in the open. Here’s what
I never imagined I would become a warrior in the War On Drugs. I definitely
never imagined that cannabis would touch my life so profoundly that I’d take up
its cause with a Kamakazi’s zeal.
For reference’s sake — I wasn’t into pot when I was in high school. The
handful of times I tried it, it put me right to sleep. Same all the way through
college. I preferred cocaine. Speed worked better with my hypomania. At least,
I thought it did at the time. I preferred ecstasy. Even psybocilin the one time
I tried it. And, of course, there was always always ALWAYS alcohol.
Then Life happened. Ups, downs and everything in between. By the time I
reached my mid 50’s, I was depressed and getting more so. Sleep was getting
hard to come by. I had no interest in taking Ambien — knowing how my mind
worked, that pretty much guaranteed I’d snap to from a fugue state in some
strange, public place, completely naked. Wasn’t gonna happen.
I’d been taking Simply Sleep knock off’s for years. Occasionally I would get
some sleep from it. Mostly it just made me groggy the next morning and screwed
with my short term memory. Living in California, (back before full
legalization), I had access to medical marijuana. Being at the very end of my
tether, I found a doctor nearby who prescribed.
It wasn’t illicit — but it felt illicit. That’s how powerful bullshit is.
“What’s your issue?” “Insomnia,” I said. I began to explain
but he held up his hand. Not necessary. He wrote the prescription on his
computer, printed it and handed it to me. Short $69, I walked out the door.
Next stop — my local dispensary — located almost literally under a freeway overpass. The only thing it needed to be a full on crime scene was the yellow police tape. I filled out their extensive paperwork. Showed them my California picture ID and my RX. I was buzzed through to the “showroom”, a few old display cases with pipes, bongs, papers, the few edibles then on the market (Cheeba Chews mostly) and a dozen large jars filled with cannabis flower.
My first budtender (I didn’t know he was called that then) welcomed me like
I was a “customer” or something. The whole experience — that first
time especially was surreal (something about it remains surreal).
“Insomnia,” I said.
“Skywalker,” said my Budtender. As he went for the Skywalker jar, my immediate thought was “cute name”. I had no idea — zilch — that Skywalker wasn’t just a “name”, it was a genuine cannabis strain — a known quantity with known effects if you smoked it. It wasn’t the product of a bunch of stoners stumbling upon a plant that made the dope they liked, it was a hybridized product of serious work by serious people. Skywalker was a kind of “brand”. In theory, Skywalker was as reproducible a product as a Big Mac.
My Budtender offered me the jar — so I could smell it. Yup. Smelled like
dope. I bought two grams. Took them home, intensely curious about what the
dried flower in the plastic vile would do to me that night. I’d already bought
a small glass pipe and a lighter. I didn’t have a grinder. Didn’t know I needed
I was as green as the Skywalker in the vial in my hand. But, that night, I
ground up some of the leaves between my fingertips, snuck outside and smoked
it. It didn’t take long — a few minutes — before a feeling of calm came over
me. My hypomanic mind slowed down. Then sleep beckoned. Usually, I had to go
hunting for it. But, with Skywalker’s THC now in my brain, sleep came looking
for me. As I slipped into bed beside my wife, the feeling of
sleepiness became downright delicious.
All I remember after that is waking up the next morning, feeling RESTED for
the first time in… forever. In time (subjects for other blog posts), I’d
learn that cannabis wasn’t just for bedtime. I was buying from one jar at the
dispensary. What was in all the others?
Turned out cannabis could be genuinely useful first thing in the morning,
too. Turned out pretty much EVERYTHING I knew or thought about cannabis was
absolutely wrong. And the more I corrected that problem — the more I learned
about cannabis — why it was “illegalized” (check out my series Blunt
Truths at Weedmaps News) — the
more I learned about the differences between indicas, sativas and hybrids —
the more I found that cannabis & me were, in myriad ways, soul mates.
I’d even say we’re “buds”.
Back to my airport story… A few days ago, I traveled from LA to visit
family on the East Coast.
In California, cannabis is legal. Because I’m over 21,
I can walk around with 28.5 grams of cannabis flower in my possession (I can
also have 8 grams of marijuana concentrate — I can even possess six living
cannabis plants at my private residence. In California, these are my
I can possess the flower and concentrate at my house, on the street, in my
car (so long as I’m not actually using it then and there, mind you) and
— still Constitutionally legal — at the airport. Until I board the airplane
— where the FAA and the Federal government have jurisdiction — the weed in my
possession is 100% legal.
So — I’m at LAX the other day. I know my rights here in California. I
intended to travel some of cannabis with me to the east for personal
consumption. The place I was going — another state where cannabis is legal. I
know for a fact, as I go through the TSA security line that the vials of
cannabis flower in clear view in my carry on bags (I now grind my flower and
put it into 5 or 10 dram vials that I label with the strain’s name & type
— there will be no mistaking what’s in those vials). I also was traveling with
clearly marked edibles. I did not repackage my THC gummy worms with
store-bought ones (as one normally does).
Quick footnote — on the
day cannabis went fully legal in Nevada, an interesting phenomenon
happened. The dispensaries all ran out of edibles. This happened principally
because Nevada made a deal with the devil (in this case the liquor distributors
who, shocking, did not have their shit together on Day One like they promised
to); all re-stocking of retail supply had to be handled by the liquor
distributors. Dumb, dumb, dumb. BUT – the phenomenon part is this: most of the
sales, it’s believed, were made to non-Nevadans — tourists — who were about
to get onto airplanes with loads of THC — in their food.
The wide availability of THC in food that looks exactly like non-THC food
changes the game with no going back. It’s unpolice-able. Now that
semi-legalization has unleashed all that THC-inspired creativity, there aren’t
too many formats THC won’t take going forward. I’m not saying I’ve broken the
law and traveled with THC-laced food in the past, but, I might know one or two
people who have.
Being a “Have a plan B in your pocket” kind of person, I prepared
myself in case the TSA agent understood the law “differently”. I drew
plan B from my pocket when my computer backpack got flagged and pulled aside
for a hand inspection.
I stepped up to the counter — not anxious so much as wary (I already had
lots of THC in me). The TSA agent saw — and moved right past the 5 vials
clearly containing cannabis — to the (I thought it was empty) water bottle
that was there, too. There was an ounce of water left inside it. I needed to
either lose the water bottle or leave my bags with my young adult kids, exit
the secure area, dump the water and go through security again — water bottle
I’ve had this water bottle for a while. It’s a good water bottle. It’s my
tennis water bottle. I’m not ditching it because I overlooked a few swallows of
water. I left my bags with my kids and did the whole security dance again. Then
I carried on through the airport to my gate — water bottle & cannabis
still in my possession.
I saw the future — where cannabis was normal and, to a degree already,
normalized. It was awesome.
Okay — that’s probably hyperbole. I could remove THC from my life and continue living exactly as I am. But, because I live in California, I have a choice — and I choose to use cannabis for a boatload of very good reasons.
I turned to cannabis as a last resort. I wasn’t a big cannabis user in high school or college. If it was there, I did it but it always put me to sleep. Cocaine (by the time I got to college) was the drug of choice. When I think of all the time and money spent chasing an ethereal dragon — a moment or two of exhilaration followed by more lines, more bumps, more angsting about why the high wasn’t kicking like it was supposed to — I want to scream at myself. I wouldn’t have turned to cannabis instead. Being young and stupid, I wouldn’t have listened to myself.
In later life, restful sleep became hard to come by. I took OTC sleep meds for years — Simply Sleep mostly or its knock-offs. These are actually antihistamines. Sleep is a side effect. So is memory loss.
Between deep depression & memory loss — compounded by lack of sleep because the pills were only occasionally efficacious — I was on a downward spiral. I finally broke down and went for a cannabis prescription. What’d I have to lose, I asked myself. Dope was legal. Dope had always put me to sleep in the past. The worst that could happen was exactly what was already happening.
As some of you may know, I’ve written a 13-part series of articles for WeedmapsNews called “Blunt Truths“. The series delves into the mythology America’s first drug czar, Harry Anslinger, invented out of whole cloth to gain his little bureau (started in 1930) the money, manpower and mandate Anslinger wanted. I walked in the door of that first dispensary in Silver Lake, my head filled with Harry Anslinger’s bullshit mythology.
Virtually everything I knew about cannabis — aside from the fact that, in the past, it had put me to sleep — was based on lies (except I didn’t know it yet). I told my first budtender that I was there because of insomnia.
His immediate reply: “Skywalker”.
I chuckled at the name — thinking to myself, “Cute”. I had no idea that cute as the name was, Skywalker was not this one shop’s attempt at clever marketing. Skywalker is a recognized cannabis strain that is grown all over. The people who first started growing and working with Skywalker wanted to create a consistent plant with consistent qualities. The goal of the cannabis industry is to make Skywalker (or any established strain) as consistent a product as a Big Mac. Of course there will be variations from plant to plant — it’s a plant, not a robot. Or a Big Mac.
I’ve come to think of cannabis as a cross between a Big Mac and a good cabernet sauvignon clone. Just as the cab grape is bred, cross-bred and hybridized to bring out certain qualities while minimizing others, so, too, are cannabis strains manipulated. There’s more to cannabis than just its THC or CBD. There is a whole host of other active chemicals in cannabis — terpenes that give cannabis its flavor but also deliver a range of other distinct effects.
Mycrene, for instance, has a relaxing, calming, anti-spasmodic and sedative effect. Combined with THC, mycrene increases THC’s psychoactive potential. Limonene’s presence produces a distinct citrus smell to the cannabis it calls home. Limonene also has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. This description comes from the web site Alchima — “It prevents the deterioration of the RAS gene, one of the factors that contribute to the development of tumors. It also protects against Aspergillus and carcinogens present in smoke. Limonene quickly and easily penetrates the blood-brain barrier, which increases systolic pressure. During testing on the effects of limonene, participants experienced an increase in attention, mental focus, well-being and even sex drive. Limonene is used sometimes in spray form, to treat depression and anxiety. It also has the effect of reducing the unpleasantness of gastric acid and stimulates the immune system. Plants use limonenes to ward off predators; for example, it repells flies like any insecticide.”
I had no idea whatsoever that these attributes existed or were a very real part of the product I was so tentatively sniffing, my budtender extending a giant mason jar filled with Skywalker buds toward me. I bought a couple of grams. Took them home and (before I had the sense to purchase a grinder), broke off little, sappy bits of leaf that I stuffed into the cheap little glass pipe I also bought.
In one night, I went from being a problematic sleeper to a half decent sleeper. I still sleep too few hours but the quality of my sleep went from broken and restless to deeply satisfying. Whereas I used to wake up every morning feeling exhausted as my feet found the floor, now I get up ready for whatever. In time, I learned how to use edibles; a combination of smoked flower and edibles produces as much as 7 hours of rock solid, restful sleep.
So — right off the bat, cannabis brought a positive impact to my life that Big Pharma couldn’t. A healthful effect.
On subsequent visits to that first dispensary, I grew curious. I loved the Skywalker. What was in all those other mason jars? That’s when I learned the difference between indicas, sativas and hybrids. And, yes — there is a marked difference.
For the uninitiated — indicas (the majority of available strains by a long shot) are the strains most people know about or have experienced. They induce euphoria, bliss and sleep. Sativas, on the other hand, produce euphoria, bliss and mental focus. Hybrids combine sativa and indica qualities or multiple sativa qualities or multiple hybrid qualities.
Let me describe my first experience with the hybrid Dutch Treat. Keep in mind — these are psychoactive drugs that work differently inside each of us depending on our individual brain chemistry. The first feeling is warm syrup coating everything. It doesn’t create distance, it just swathes everything in contentment. A feeling of evenness and calm. Whatever comes at me, I can handle it. This was followed by a sense of my mind coming into focus. Or focusing on everything around it.
Our thoughts are created when electricity flows between synapses in our brains. Our synapses are like digital circuits. They’re either open or closed. The more synapses that are open — the more information our brains are receiving. THC causes more synapses to be open rather than closed. The reason some people feel paranoid is because so much more information is coming at them. That sudden influx of more info and raw data than they’re used to can feel oppressive. Though the info is disembodied, we attach a body to it — we feel like we’re being spied on by “someone” who seems to “know” more about us than we’re comfortable with. It’s not an outside person “spying” on us of course — it’s just us processing more information.
For whatever reason, my brain (like a lot of peoples’) doesn’t react to all that additional information with paranoia. Instead, I feel as if I’m more aware. My thoughts are clearer, cleaner. More cogent. The reason jazz musicians took up cannabis back in the early 20th century is because all those clear, clean thoughts can be translated into music. Or, in my case, words.
Dutch Treat made me incredibly productive — not in a coked-out, shotgun kind of way but in a focused, electron-microscope kind of way. Dutch Treat was the tip of an iceberg I’ve come to adore and rely on.
I’m hypomanic (as I’ve written here). The inside of my head is like a black box theater (think of a shoebox, painted all black inside). Walk through the door and you’ll find a dozen or more movies being projected from every conceivable angle. Some are color. Others black and white or even sepia. They’re old movies, ideas, memories. Laser lights flash on and off, too — and music and sound. It’s quite a show — but distracting as hell. While indicas shut it all down, putting me to sleep, sativas and sativa-dominant hybrids, merely slow it all down. Rather, the THC drops a kind of mental scrim in front of most of the projections, giving me the chance to focus on two or three at a time — so I can work productively.
In time — with lots of experimentation — I made strains like Durban Poison, GG4, Clementine and Pineapple Express part of my daily THC regimen. I start my work day around 5 am — with a little coffee and a good solid hit of GG4 (formerly Gorilla Glue #; they had to stop calling it that cos the Gorilla Glue company threatened to sue). Between the coffee, the GG4 and the Durban Poison, the world comes into very sharp relief.
Let’s be clear. Just like no one thing is uniformly good for everyone, cannabis isn’t for everyone. But I bet it’d be good for far more people than even currently use it. Hell — if they stopped selling beer at sporting events and sold cannabis instead, there would never be another riot following a sports match. There would, however, be lots of hugging and high-fiving.