I am a late bloomer when it comes to cannabis use. I didn’t have my first empirical taste of marijuana until I was in my mid-30s. This was by no means for lack of opportunity. For the vast majority of my life, marijuana has been ever present, and yet somehow peripheral and unknown.
For as long I can recall, and surely long before I was conceived, my bohemian parents hosted closed-door gatherings at our house with their friends. I don’t remember any of us specifically asking my parents if that was what they were up to. I do remember having early inklings that the “dope” that they referred to when smoking might well be drugs. The skunky sweet plumes wafted through my childhood and thickened the air of my formative years and no harm seemed to come of it.
However I was also very much a product of the Nancy-Reagan-Just-Say-No-War-On-Drugs 1980s, and we were constantly bombarded with the eminent dangers which befell victims who succumbed to drug use. The message was clear: drugs were wrong and bad, and anyone who used them was a loser.
Even as a middle-schooler, this messaging seemed heavy handed and overplayed. The Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E) program we were forced to endure twice was so patently absurd that my chums and I took great pleasure in mocking its rigid establishment squareness.
Yet somehow the message also worked. For years I maintained a personal prohibition on alcohol and illicit substance consumption. Looking back, I think I was trying to affect a personality that was both morally righteous and counter-culture, with the understanding that drug and alcohol use was decidedly trendy. Clean Teen all the way. There was no doubt a fear of the possibly that grain of truth lie in the indoctrinated horrors from school, but moreover just a basic fear of the unknown.
I wrongly assumed that everyone in my peer group had taken a similarly insufferable stance against marijuana use. I was utterly devastated when I discovered that a group of my closest drama club friends had all smoked pot at a wrap party which I had been unable to attend. Such alienation and seething betrayal! In my fury I penned a 12-page angst-laden open letter to the universe lamenting my solitary purity, and yearning to meet other clean-teens at university. I had all the devotion and prejudice of a conservative Christian warrior.
Fifteen or so years later, when I finally caved to peer pressure and tried a seemingly innocent humongous pot brownie, my fears were instantly validated. Hallucinations, loss of speech, paralysis…
“If this is what pot is like, it SHOULD be illegal! When will this end?!” I remember thinking, and, confirmation bias intact, I more or less abstained from marijuana for several more years.
Fortunately, I did manage to have a couple of other mind-blowingly good experiences and had to come to the realization that actually, consumed responsibly, I enjoy cannabis quite a lot. I enjoy the adventures my mind takes while stoned. I enjoy being able to remember the experience, and I certainly enjoy the lack of hangover the following morning.
“Weed: The User’s Guide” (David Schmader–Sasquatch Books) is the perfect primer for guys like me. Someone who is fairly new to the scene and is also wary of literature that ascribes any sort of a magic or mysticism to the cannabis experience. Schmader’s guide is full of fascinating, facts and figures and guidelines that appeal to a more rational sensibility. From the requisite history of marijuana cultivation, usage, glossary, step-by-step instructions for an assortment of popular consumption methods, and pot etiquette each page is delivered with the honesty, humor and tenderness of a trusted friend. A friend who has tested the water for us and now lovingly coaxes us in.
The descriptions of cannabinoids and their marvelous interaction with the body’s endocannabinoid receptors provide a grounded rationalization for the experience of being stoned. Once enrolled, a delightful chapter titled “Maximizing Your Experience” curates some excellent multidisciplinary entertainment recommendations.
The Edibles Recipe section has several amusing classic DIY projects to test, and includes almost overwhelming specificity for determining THC doses in homemade creations. I thought it would be fun to try making cannabutter and using it to bake a classic stoner brownie.
The text warns that this is a pretty time-intensive process, and there’s no denying that. The recipe calls for an eighth (3.5 grams) of cannabis per stick of butter. After de-stemming, de-seeding, and grinding, everything is thrown in a pan to simmer for at least an hour. The mixture is then strained through cheesecloth and refrigerated. Also cautioned is that unless making the brownies from the recipe in the book, it really is challenging to find a brownie mix that calls for butter.
The mix I was able to find was a layered brownie/cookie hybrid affair, but served the purpose of incorporating the cannabutter. The product turned out beautifully and tasted scrumptious. Schmader consistently states that edibles can take up to two hours to feel, and the effects last for several hours thereafter. After eating a decent-sized square I noted the time and the clock started ticking. Sure enough, almost exactly two hours later I began to feel some effects. I wasn’t sure what to expect given my first, decidedly unpleasant experience was induced by baked goods. However the feeling leveled out after a few minutes as a sort of mellow buzz. Not at all unpleasant, but also not nearly as potent as a few hits off my vaporizer.
I can see how it would be fun to plan an edible experience in a place where smoking or vaporizing would not be practical, like on a plane or in a conference. Overall however, edibles seem like an expensive and labor intensive use of resources. Ordinarily, an eighth of weed can last me a couple weeks. After going through the whole process, I kind of wished I just had the brownies.
The book highly recommends labeling the container in which the brownies are stored to make sure they aren’t accidentally consumed by anyone. I failed to do this with the container I brought to my parents’ house, and sure enough, my brother popped the lid off and downed one sitcom-style before I could warn him. “You mean those were p-p-pot brownies?! Yoinks!!!”
Schmader also takes care to remind readers that pot doesn’t always agree with everyone, and doesn’t mask that it is entirely possible to over consume and ruin an otherwise fun time. For those who find themselves in this camp, there are chapters on Safety and Legality and If You’re High and Don’t Like It. These chapters would doubtless have been solace had I read them prior to the edible-induced incubus of my first exposure.
The munchies are also a definitely real phenomenon. I remember reading some anti-pot literature at some point that claimed one of the pitfalls of usage was weight gain. At the time this seemed like a laughably desperate attempt scare tactic. Now I realize that there is an absolutely clear and present danger to my waistline which Schmader chalks up to THC’s ability to mimic the body’s hunger hormone, ghrelin. Without a careful strategy, I can see that weight gain is a legitimate risk.
What was striking about “Weed: The User’s Guide” is how it is both testament to the progress, triumph and privilege of legalized recreational marijuana in the author’s state, and a historical marker of the dawn before nation-wide prohibition is inevitably repealed.
The most profound takeaway from the book is the absolute idiocy of marijuana remaining defined as a Schedule 1 drug in the United States. Cannabis is officially classified as having no legitimate medical use and is unavailable in any legal way. The lack of federal dollars for research has stunted the growth of promising, effective and affordable medical treatments.
Schmader also does a yeoman’s job of succinctly explaining the dubious history of pot as a scapegoat and the root of all evil. “Has racism played a role in US marijuana law? Dear God, yes.” begins one sidebar. In fact, this book was published just few days shy of a Harper’s Magazine interview in which a former Nixon staffer confessed that the War on Drugs was constructed as nothing more than a poll tax for anti-war protestors and African-Americans. The notion of pot use as a fringe sign of social decay is nothing more than an enormous fictional trope carefully crafted by the establishment.
I had always believed that marijuana should be legalized, but it wasn’t until my first really enjoyable pot experience that the absurdity of prohibition really sunk in. THIS is what everyone was making such a big deal about? This was why tens of thousands of people are languishing in prison?
The fact of the matter is there are responsible cannabis consumers in every socio-economic strata, and I now count myself among them. Society’s most prominent and influential contributors could be pot users. This is not a dysfunctional group and belonging to it should no longer be stigmatized.
Schmader’s ultimate directive is for all readers to support efforts to legalize, reclassify, and overhaul marijuana sentencing laws. This is an important message that still needs a lot of traction. We have come a long way but battle is far from over.
“Weed: The User’s Guide” is a smart, funny and quick read, satisfying through and through. At just short of 200 pages, anyone can go from novice to knowledgeable in a long afternoon.