LA JOLLA, Calif. — As a weed smoker from the free state of California, I’d like to be among the first to welcome you good people of Illinois to the exclusive club of 11 U.S. states that allow citizens, age 21 and up, to engage in the recreational use of marijuana.
Come Jan. 1, 2020, anyone over 21 in Illinois will be able to walk into a well-lit, state-licensed dispensary and buy a wide range of cannabis-based products, the main purpose of which are physical comfort and euphoria. I know we all could use a little more of that.
If you’re a first-time user, you need some rules of the road. Otherwise you might end up like my old friend Maureen Dowd, whose recent New York Times column recounted her horrific, first-time experience with weed-infused chocolate in a lonely Denver hotel.
Dowd and I came up together as cub journalists in DC, and I knew her then as brilliant and fearless; along with her news and writing chops, she had a take-no-prisoners playing style at the co-ed touch football games attended by the younger members of the press corps every Sunday at the base of the Washington Monument. As part of research on a story about weed in Colorado, Dowd showed her grit recently when she retired to her room with a weed-infused candy bar, overdosed herself, and ended up “curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours.”
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If I’d been there to advise her, the first thing I would have noted: It is exceedingly unlikely that you will kill yourself with a marijuana overdose. In a landmark ruling in 1988, the US Drug Enforcement Administration determined that a weed user would need to smoke up to 1,500 pounds of weed (roughly 1.4 million marijuana cigarettes) in 15 minutes to “induce a lethal response.”
“Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man,” wrote the DEA’s chief administrative law judge. “By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.”
A lot of people end up in emergency rooms every year after using pot. Many of them feel exactly as Dowd describes.
The truth is, you can suffer from medical problems after consuming excessive amounts of marijuana, especially if you have a pre-existing condition. It is also a fact that the active ingredients can cause “extreme paranoia” or make some people prone to do idiotic and dangerous things. A five-year, state-funded study of emergency room visits in Colorado found that vomiting, racing hearts and “psychotic episodes” were common. Over that five-year period there were three deaths tied to edible products.
Neither would it be right to overlook the fact that the American Lung Association officially cautions the public “against smoking marijuana because of the risks it poses to the lungs,” and urges continued research.
So, if you decide to take the plunge Jan. 1, here are some tips that might help once you enter the mystical portals of your first dispensary.
Tip No. 1: Go easy on the edibles — cookies, gummies, chocolates, suckers. It might seem like a good way to try weed for the first time, but it’s not.
Edibles are an imprecise art. The amount of time a particular edible takes to go into effect varies wildly from minutes to hours. Take notice of how many milligrams of THC — tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in weed — are included in each serving. If you’ve never tried an edible, start with only 5mg on an empty stomach — and have patience. Wait at least two hours before you decide to try another piece. As Dowd found out, the instructions on the various packages are not always clear.
Watch out for baked treats like weed brownies, which seem like a perfect stoner product, featuring the high and the munchies-satisfier all in one package. Even the best weed pastry chef will tell you it’s difficult to distribute THC evenly through a brownie — so even if you break off a piece, you really don’t know how much you’re getting.
If you’re looking for just the right amount of THC orally, try tinctures (dropperfuls) or rapidly dissolving lozenges, both placed under the tongue. Both of these products are easily quantified.
Tip No. 2: Smoking weed is still the most efficient and controllable method of ingesting.
When you smoke weed, the active ingredient, THC, moves quickly through the blood/brain barrier and goes to work. Take a small hit to start. In 10 to 20 seconds you should begin to feel effects. If you want to be safe, wait a full minute between puffs — is not unusual to cough on the first hit. Don’t suck gluttonously, just take a sip. Try adding fresh air to the end of your puff. Hold your breath for 10 to 30 seconds. Exhale.
Tip No. 3: Legalizing weed brings a wide variety of products to the marketplace. You can’t just hit up your dealer ask for an oh-zee anymore. You’ve got choices. There are different strains. Experiment to find out what you like.
* Sativa is energetic. It makes you feel awake and creative. It has the most THC. But like caffeine, it can also make you feel edgy — note that the patients’ symptoms mentioned above sound a lot like severe anxiety. Do not smoke sativa within four hours of bedtime.
* Indica is good for relaxing. It has a lower concentration of THC than sativa, but a higher concentration of CBD (cannabidiol). CBD is one of more than a hundred “phytocannabinoids,” unique to cannabis, which endow the plant with the many healing properties attributed. Indica makes you feel heavy and sleepy. Smoke this before bed.
* Hybrid, like it sounds, is in the middle. Most pot is actually hybridized, but let’s not confuse ourselves right now. With legal pot comes mandated state testing. Each product will have labels with testing results indicating the percentage and amount of THC. The higher the percentage, the stronger the weed. Different types of weed within the same strain profile will have slightly different effects.
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Tip No. 4: Concentrates are the new frontier. Also called hash oil (even though it can be solid as well as viscous), concentrates are used in vape, dabs, edibles, drinks, and all kinds of cosmetic and semi-medicinal products. Concentrates are produced when all of the useable chemicals are extracted from marijuana flower and leaves using a number of methods, most commonly a large and expensive C02 extractor of the type that is used to extract caffeine from coffee to make decaf, or to extract herbal essences from plants like lavender or rose petals to make floral scents.
With weed flower, which is another name for the unprocessed buds, the highest known concentration of THC is about 28 percent. With concentrate, the percentage is usually between 70 and 90 percent. (Yes, this is strong.)
Vape cartridges, used in concert with a rechargeable battery, can be smoked anywhere; there is no skunky aroma of burning flower, only a minimal smell. Many cartridges are flavored with natural ingredients called terpenes. (Unlike nicotine vapes, there is no billow of smoke.) The word most often associated with vape is discreet. Puff away absolutely anywhere, but be chill.
No matter which type you smoke, flower or vape, at home or in public, please do not exhibit the stereotypical pot-smoking behavior —all the excessive sucking and ostentatious sound-making, that poseurs and actors regularly display. Just chill out and don’t draw attention to yourself. Act like you’re smoking a Juul vape or a Marlboro and nobody will give you a second glance.
Aficionados appreciate concentrates in their solid form, known as dabs. Often pursued with the fervor of an elaborate hobby, dabs require a special glass bong (blown-glass models can sell for up to $10,000) and lots of paraphernalia, including a torch or electric nail.
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The effects of dabs are the most intense one can find with THC. They can also make you sleepy. In the dabbing community, people are known to nod out after a few hits, a condition known as DTFO — Dabbed the F— Out. There is frequently an excessive amount of coughing, which experts attribute to the strength of the concentrate; there is no science to back this up.
Tip No. 5: Smoking weed before alcohol can add a pleasant synergy. Smoking weed after drinking will f— you up. (Though nowhere near the degree that tobacco smoke will a non-smoker).
Tip No. 6: If you find yourself feeling too high, eat food. One doughnut or a slice will minimize the high. When your body starts to digest the food, you will start to “come down.” Either way, don’t be a glutton with the munchies. I’ve been smoking regularly for 50 years. Google tells me that five-foot-five and 145 puts me where I should be. (Maybe because I smoke pot instead of drinking tons of beer?)
Tip No. 7: Under the Illinois statutes, businesses may still test employees for drug use. Find out the rules at your place of work before you get yourself fired.
There is so much more to tell you, and we will soon meet again. But meanwhile, let me leave you with these two important considerations.
Even though weed will soon be legalized for recreational use, smoking weed while driving is still considered Driving Under the Influence. If your car reeks, you will go down. Even if you’re feeling clear enough, say, to write a column for a website, there is a possibility you will be hauled away in handcuffs.
If you get pulled over and your car does not smell — and if your eyes are not glassy, etc — and if you happen to have a big baggie of pot in your trunk, the cop can’t do anything. Under Illinois’ new law, anyone over 21 may legally possess 30 grams of weed, which is little more than an ounce, or roughly $400 worth.
An ounce might be enough to get Snoop Dogg high for at least a week, provided he was Bogarting his blunts, not passing ’em on. If that ain’t progress, I don’t know what is.
Which reminds me of the time I made Snoop cough with my own favorite strain of weed … I’ll tell you about that later.
Meantime, feel free to write here with any questions.
Mike Sager is a bestselling author and award-winning reporter. His work has appeared in Esquire, Rolling Stone, GQ and the Washington Post. Many of his stories have been optioned for or have inspired films or documentaries. He has been called “the Beat poet of American journalism, that rare reporter who can make literature out of shabby reality.”
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