Last week I connected with Mark, a very dear old friend I’d worked with about 10 careers ago. He had recently celebrated a birthday and as is often the case when one advances deeper into their 40s, Mark was in the process of making some lifestyle changes: he had become vegan and was playing with integrating essential oils into his self-care regime. This particular day he said to me, “I wanna talk to you about weed.”
The last time Mark smoked was over a decade ago and that experience, like each one before it, hadn’t been all that pleasant. There was no relaxation or stress reduction for Mark in those days – being high made him feel weird, out of control. Every time he smoked paranoia always crept in and he was basically forced to ride things out until the effects wore off. Mark had become convinced that this would always be the way weed impacted him, so he avoided it ever since.
Here in California where recreational sales became effective January 1, Mark’s young coworkers have been frank about their cannabis use and even shared their personal experiences and made recommendations to him. When faced with a recent health issue, Mark scaled back in his drinking and while he has no plans to give up alcohol completely, he is considering alternatives to his daily practice of drinking to unwind and de-stress. He’s curious about cannabis but his experience has made him (understandably) hesitant. “It’s been a long time,” he said during our chat. “Before I walk into a dispensary, what do I need to know?”
Here’s what I told him:
The preferred term is cannabis.
Whether you refer to it as weed, ganja, bhang, herb or another of the multitude slang words for cannabis, there is a concerted effort to move away from the term marijuana. Prohibition efforts in the 1930s were fueled by anti-immigrant sentiment. The cannabis in everyone’s medicine cabinets had suddenly evolved into the exotic and dangerous marijuana used by brown and black people intent on wreaking havoc in society. While the exact origin of the word marijuana isn’t fully clear – it may be rooted in Spanish, or it could be a hybrid of multiple languages – its use as a tool to promote prohibition through racist stereotypes has people rethinking the appropriateness of its use in our current lexicon. Besides, where slang terms tend to simplify or hone in on one aspect, the word cannabis refers to the plant as a whole.
You know what you’re getting.
During prohibition, people who got their cannabis from dealers generally had no clue what they were getting. I’ve heard tales of the plant material – flowers, twigs and seeds – being wrapped in a package that has been dipped in gasoline to counteract the telltale cannabis smell should law enforcement pop up. And as if smoking gas-soaked trim wasn’t enough, strain variety wasn’t a thing then which meant you were at the mercy of the product: it was just weed, it got you high, best of luck! But thanks to science, we know more about cannabis’ effects on the body. Strain varieties generally fall under the categories of indica, sativa and hybrid so an individual can make a selection based upon their preference (I want to relax, or I want to be productive, or I need pain relief and don’t want to be high). And the different methods of consuming cannabis – edibles, tinctures, vapes – offer even more variety for people who prefer not to smoke.
But, cannabis is stronger than it used to be.
If the last time you smoked was in college during the 90s, a puff might hit you a little harder today because cannabis is more potent than it once was. One study reports that THC levels in cannabis have actually tripled since 1995. But what’s also changed in those two decades is that providers of cannabis flowers and products are required to detail the amount of THC present in one dose, a process that in itself isn’t perfect, but will get better over time as more research is done and the industry continues to evolve. The point is, if you’re revisiting cannabis after years of not taking it, start slow.
You don’t have to get high.
We know that CBD is the non-psychoactive sister of THC, but did you know that most of the known cannabinoids in cannabis are also not psychoactive? The high has been the focus of prohibitionists who don’t buy it that people would take cannabis as medicine, but cannabis is an extremely complex plant – its psychoactive properties are just a small component of the story. CBD’s ability to address ailments like pain, nausea and anxiety without resulting in a high is why it’s at the center of multiple medical cannabis programs in the country. Not only that, topical creams, balms and ointments are completely viable ways to take cannabis without any involving the psychoactive.
Before Mark and I parted ways that day, I suggested that he also consider intention as he embarks upon his cannabis journey. We all get burdened with life’s frustrations, sometimes we just want to shut out the world and zone out – nothing wrong with that. But since his history with cannabis had been less than great, I wanted Mark to be honest with himself about the kind of role he wanted it to have in his life going forward. He has created a space in his life for wellness and thought cannabis might be a fit, but it meant changing the narrative about what weed had been for him up to this point.
And then when he’s ready, he and his wife have an open invitation to have a chill session in a safe, relaxed environment with my husband and me. My bong loves meeting new people!