4(experts) 20(questions) on weed

The biggest weed myths according to a Cannabis scientist, the most annoying weed smokers according to a dealer...

The Stoner

Anon

1. When did you smoke your first spliff? I was 19, at uni and my boyfriend at the time gave it to me. It’s quite late to start but I grew up in a really rural area and no one smoked it. 

2. How was the first time? Like all of my drug experiences, I got a bit carried away. I smoked two spliffs back to back, ate a tub of Ben & Jerry’s and then threw it all up on my front doorstep. Not sure why I didn’t just go to the bathroom. My friend also whiteyed hard; she was panicking, asking for an ambulance, but she’s prone to dramatics so I took it with a pinch of salt.

3. How often do you smoke? From then on I’ve smoked every day. I’ve taken two or three week breaks from weed, but it never stuck. 

4. Could you stop if you wanted to? Probably. Although, in the periods that I have stopped, I got some of the typical withdrawal symptoms – I found it hard to fall asleep, then would get crazy vivid dreams. I also got weirdly sweaty when I was asleep, and then was just moody and pissed off a lot of the time. 

5. Has how much you smoke changed over time? At uni it was a lot more. Me and my group of friends became little hermit crabs, we’d stay inside all day, smoking and watching back-to-back series of West Wing and South Park or playing the Tiger Woods PGA Tour game on Playstation. I am a pro at that game. If you play a back-to-back, 18-hole game, you’re looking at six hours. And we’d do that most days. Can you imagine if I’d put that time into an actual hobby?

6. What about now? I smoke less. Maybe three spliffs a night, but I’ll get through about eight on a lazy Sunday. 

7. Has it affected your job? Not that I can tell. 

8. What about anything else? My short term memory isn’t as good as it was. I used to be good at remembering numbers and the details of plans. Now I need to write shit down in my diary or I won’t remember. I don’t dwell on it too much, to be honest. 

9. Do you have any rules about your joints? Yeah, I don’t let anyone else roll for me – there’s nothing worse than a poorly rolled joint. Like when the baccy gets into the roach and you get a really unpleasant burning taste. It’s like, What the fuck happened there?” Good, even distribution, not huge amounts of weed; I just like to be lightly baked. 

10. Do you ever teach people how to roll for you? I tried to teach my boyfriend but his spliffs aren’t as good as mine. They’re ugly. I’d rather just do it myself.

11. What does it feel like when you’re high? Everything seems easier. I’m not naturally prone to anxiety, or worrying, I’ve always been pretty happy-go-lucky. Add a spliff to the mix and everything’s pretty sweet. I actually love the physical feeling — it’s like a rushy feeling, like your brain’s getting a massage.

12. What’s been your best stoned experience? The best experiences are like a combo of the people and all that, so it’s hard to say. I did once take pills with my mate at Thorpe Park. We thought it would be a great idea, but it turns out it wasn’t — my mate completely lost it. He was like jabbering away to himself. We got sunstroke and were the last people to leave the Park because I had to take him to the medical centre. He was sitting there playing with teddies for a while, both off our faces on ecstasy. Anyway, when it came to navigating home, I skinned up so that he’d stay calm. And it really worked: he started feeling better and we managed to have a very lovely journey home. Weed to the rescue.

13. …so it helped? Weed helps everything. That’s my opinion, and I’m entitled to it.

14. What’s your worst stoned experience? Again it was in combo with something else. I went to Ibiza last year and lost my mind. I think it was pills, lack of sleep and 48 hours of carnage. My friends and I had gone to a club and then smoked weed really heavily when we got home. And there was just a point where I was like, Oh christ, I’m done, I’m going to bed.” I couldn’t put my thoughts together, I couldn’t get a sentence out. I was lying there thinking, If this doesn’t clear up in half an hour, I’m probably going to have to go to hospital and be declared insane.”

15. …wow, that sounds awful. What thoughts were actually running through your mind? It was just chaos. I couldn’t form sentences, I couldn’t remember what I was trying to focus on. Random images were coming into my brain. It was just a jumble.

16. Were you scared? Yeah, really scared. I wouldn’t want to repeat that.

17. How long did it go on for? It felt like hours and hours but probably it was only an hour. 

18. Did that change your mind about weed in any way? No not really, because it was a combo thing. I haven’t had a bad experience just from the weed itself. But mixed with everything else, it’s just not good.

19. How do you feel about being called a stoner”? Technically I am a massive stoner. But people think of stoners as guys who live in their pyjamas and eat pizza all day. That’s really not me. I’m successful, I’m a woman, I go to the gym and hold down a stressful job. I plan hen dos. I’ve got loads of shit going on. You could choose to sit on the sofa all day, or you could choose to get the fuck up and go out. I do the latter.

20 What does weed give you, that makes you keep smoking? I feel like I’m better at communicating when I’m stoned — I can talk more honestly, without being self-conscious, so that’s good.

The Dealer

1. How much do you sell? Not enough man, never enough…

2. What are your customers like? They don’t generally ask so many questions, truth be told. 

3. But do you like them? No.

4. That’s not very neighbourly… Are you going to buy anything?

5. Aren’t you worried that if cannabis is legalised you’ll lose business? Especially if your customer service doesn’t improve? Listen, I’m not worried. Whatever happens won’t happen for a long time, in my estimation. I’ll be out of this game by then.

6. What’re your customers like? A mix. Mainly young guys and girls in their 20s and 30s. Professionals living in nice places, I’d say. But I have a few older ones…

7. How do the older ones find you? Through their kids I think. Some are open with their kids about it. I don’t know about that myself — I wouldn’t want my children to do drugs.

8. Who are the most annoying customers? Just impatient people. Traffic can be bad and they’re calling and calling. I don’t need that stress. Some want to chat too much. I just want to get in and get out.

9. Is this is a stressful job? Not really. The hours aren’t nice, though. And when you have a normal day job it can get stressful as you’re working, working working. Otherwise it’s fine.

10. How did you get into this? I don’t know… people around me were doing it. I needed the money. It’s just a sideline.

11. Are you worried about being arrested? Yeah man, you’d be stupid not to worry. 

12. Do you ever worry about your clients, if they’re smoking too much? I’ve stopped selling to a few. I don’t need the money that much man, I just say no and block.

13. What made you stop selling to them? They were smoking a lot, spending silly money and then they were getting real paranoid, saying weird stuff to me. Like one guy was saying I’m the only person he trusts and that he don’t trust anyone anymore. I’m not there to be anyone’s mum, but I’m a person and I don’t need that hanging over me. 

14. Do you smoke yourself? No. I used to but now no. 

15. What made you stop? I drive around a lot and need to stay sharp.

16. What do most people buy? Depends what kind of experience they want to have. I don’t sell anything super-strength because it’s more hassle than it’s worth.

17. What do you mean? Just inexperienced ones whiteying and complaining.

18. What do you do when people complain? Block them.

19. Where are you going next? I’m not answering any more questions.

20. Come on now… A regular; and I’m late.

The Rave Organiser

Michelle Lhooq is the founder of Weed Rave.

1. How did you come up with the idea of a weed rave? I moved to California two years ago and started going to a lot of weed events. I didn’t realise it was this huge world that already existed. I found that a lot of these parties were overly [weed] industry focused. Coming from a music background — I’ve been writing about nightlife for a decade — I was like, People already smoke weed at raves, why not bring the two subcultures together and create a party that’s oriented around both weed and music?”

2. What are you weed raves like? They’re like mini-festivals. It was important for me to bring in an education and wellness component during the day. So we have a cooking class, yoga and a few other things which I hope shows that there’s more to weed than just getting stoned and lying around on your couch. 

3. Do you think weed has had a bad press? Definitely. Smoking can also be a really cerebral experience. And really good for exercising and moving your body. Or that there’s a culinary and gastronomic element to it. The new world of weed is incorporating these lifestyle elements and I really wanted to show people, like, this is what’s happening in weed right now.

4. What’s the most popular activity? The yoga usually pops of in a way that I’m a little surprised by. I love yoga but I don’t expect people to do yoga at a rave. But the last time we did it, we did it on the roof and there was a full moon eclipse, so everyone was out looking at the moon and you’re doing yoga while people are howling at the sky and there’s techno playing below you. It’s the weirdest vibe but I think people really appreciate bringing that element into rave culture.

5. Why do you think that is? There’s a whole side of rave culture that can be about sobriety and taking care of your body. There’s a healthy side to it, that’s about creating an atmosphere of togetherness. 

6. What’s your ultimate ambition for the raves? I just want to push the whole of rave culture into a more sustainable, taking-care-of-your-body angle. You know, you can’t do cocaine every weekend. 

7. What kind of music do you play at the raves? I’ve been playing with the idea of what weed music actually is. Some people like to pigeonhole, but I think any kind of music can be weed music. Like, you don’t think of alcohol as having a certain sound. For the first party, I asked DJs to play more jungle music because I feel like there’s a history there. That’s what you smell in the air when you go to a jungle party. This coming party, we’re actually focusing on techno and ballroom – they’re both really strong in New York and I wanted to fuse them together in an interesting way. 

8. Why do you think weed is good with music? I think it enhances your senses and makes you notice little details in the music. It’s like a light psychedelic that makes you lean into the music and the environment. Alcohol kind of takes you out of the experience, it numbs your senses.

9. What’s the difference between a normal dance floor and a weed dance floor? You know I was talking to the DJ Russell E.L. Butler and they said that stoned dancers have a dance that’s more intimate and personal. It’s really vibey, and heavy and they’re fully there with you. 

10. Are there any particular strains of weed that go well with music? For the weed rave we have a sativa room and an indica room. The sativa room is more intense and the indica room is more chill ambient stuff. I think the best possible outcome is a hybrid strain because then you get both the physical vibeiness and also the cerebral ability to analyse the music.

11. How many people come to the rave? For the first one we have about 400 people, but it’s a 12-hour party so people come and go. For the next one, I wanted to make it a little smaller because you know, in New York it’s not entirely legal, so I don’t want to have this huge raging party. I also wanted it to be more intimate than a club, with 500 strangers. More like a house party, but the craziest house party you’ve ever been to.

12. So how does it work, if it’s not fully legal? Well, what I didn’t realise before I started venturing into this world was that New York already has a thriving subculture of weed parties. They run the gamut from speakeasies where you’re sitting around in a rented room, on couches and it’s more like a lounge and there are infused dinner parties. And there are wellness focused events. To my knowledge there aren’t other weed raves, but we fit into this microcosm of events that are operating already…

13. But are you worried that police will try and break it up? Yeah, that’s like, my biggest fear. From my conversations with people in the industry, I think it’ll probably be ok…our programming is so much about destigmatisation of weed, we have discussion panels and people from drug harm-reduction non-profits. We have people from the LGBTQ+ weed scene talking to. We’re like a social conscious party — we’re not just trying to get people super stoned. Although that’s part of it too!

14. When did you start smoking? Around 10 years ago. 

15. How do you think the weed scene has changed in that decade? Oh my god. It’s a totally different world. When I first started smoking weed, I was a freshman smoking it in my college dorm — it was super secretive and taboo. There was this stigma like, if you were smoking weed you were lazy. There was no conversation about using weed to enhance your productivity.

16. It’s so funny to me because weed makes me really anxious, so it wouldn’t enhance my productivity at all… Oh no! Well, weed is so different depending on the strain. And I feel like all of the shitty weed I’ve smoked has made me more anxious. Have you tried a really expensive strain from a really nice Cali dispensary? I think when you have to buy it from a shady dealer and you don’t know what you’re getting, it’s risky. 

17. What are the most exciting developments within weed culture at the moment? The strength of women helping each other. There are so many really inspiring feminist crews out there. Like there’s a zine called Dope Girls that I love. Broccoli magazine is really cool. One of my sponsors at the rave is called Rosebuds and they’re an LGBT delivery service. 

18. Why do you think it’s so inclusive? I just feel like right now there’s a lot of coalition building and solidarity among under-represented people within the cannabis industry because there are so many white corporate interests coming in. If we don’t build coalitions now it’ll be too late.

19. Where do you think has most exciting weed culture? Definitely LA. It’s taken over Amsterdam because they’ve really embraced weed tourism. There are all these cannabis hotels and retreats out in Joshua Tree. It’s a whole lifestyle there. 

20. Where do you see the future of the industry going? I’m really excited for the future of people socialising around weed instead of alcohol. We’re going to see a whole new form of social spaces come up. Like, I’m hoping to take my weed rave a legal cannabis lounge, because they’re going to start popping up in California soon. I think we’re going to see weed festivals and weed museums…just a celebration of the culture.

The Scientist

Amir Englund, Cannabis scientist at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London

1. How would you describe cannabis? Cannabis is a plant, which contains a wide variety of chemical compounds. Some are specific to the plant, and we call these cannabinoids.

2. How many compounds are there? At least 144. We don’t know how important most of them are, but we know most of them are in very small concentrations.

3. What are the most interesting compounds in cannabis? The most important one, and the cause of cannabis’ intoxication, is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – that’s what gets people high. The second most common cannabinoid is cannabidiol (CBD). Both have been found to have medicinal benefits, THC can ease pain and nausea while CBD has anti-epileptic and anti-psychotic effects. Structurally, the molecule looks very similar to THC, but CBD has a different mechanism of action, and it doesn’t cause intoxication in most normal doses (around 1500 – 4500mg in a single dose, but very mild effect).

4. What does cannabis do to the brain? We all have receptors that produce inhibition and excitation. Different systems produce acceleration for the brain, but also the breaking mechanism. Cannabinoids help balance both of these systems by making sure there’s not too much activity or inhibition going on. For example, when we become anxious or stressed, specific compounds in the brain known as endocannabinoids – which help regulate signalling – get engaged and try and neutralise that. Usually the cannabinoids are produced in tiny amounts but when someone takes cannabis, the THC mimics and acts on the cannabinoid receptors, and the amount of THC compared to naturally engaged endocannabinoids is far greater. This causes disruptions to the brain’s normal signalling, which in turn causes the intoxication and other effects related to cannabis.

5. And what are those effects dependent on? The dose that someone is exposed to, as well as the way it’s taken. Cannabis can be smoked, inhaled through a vaporiser and it can be consumed orally as a capsule or baked into food (among other ways).

6. How long until the high kicks in? If it’s inhaled, the effects start within five to 10 minutes and last two to four hours, if it’s consumed orally, depending on how much you’ve recently eaten, the effects start to show between one and two hours, and can last up to eight hours. Because the edible consumption effects are slower to come on, people sometimes take more and end up ingesting more than they intended.

7. Are regular users less affected than less experienced users? Regular use can cause a person to become more tolerant of the drug. It will require them to have a greater amount to reach the same level of intoxication as achieved previously.

8. So, you can get addicted to cannabis? Yes. Roughly about 9% of people who try cannabis become addicted. The risk is greater for those who start early: it almost doubles for those who start in their teens.

9. How do you know if you’re addicted? Cannabis addiction mainly relates to psychological and social symptoms. These include using more cannabis than you intended to, not being able to control your use, trying to quit — but failing — and using cannabis in situations where it’s risky to your personal health (like driving) as well as using it while knowing it has a negative effect on personal relationships, work life or studies. A couple of physical symptoms include tolerance and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop, such as irritability, difficulty sleeping, fevers, headaches, stomach cramps and vivid, unpleasant dreams.

10. If someone hasn’t taken it before, what are they most likely to feel? Cannabis has a huge amount of inter-individual variability, and we don’t know why that is. Some people will have more positive reactions than others: feelings of intoxication, relaxation, euphoria, greater amusement by things and an enhanced perceptual awareness. Equally, others can experience more negative feelings. The most commons ones are increased heart rate, anxiety, paranoia and a drop of blood pressure – known as a whitey” – where they might go pale, feel lightheaded, nauseous and throw up. In general, we can’t predict who will have a positive or negative reaction.

11. What are the major health risks? The most studied risk is to mental health. Several studies have found a link between early use of cannabis, and a later development of psychotic illnesses. So for someone who’s vulnerable, it could trigger the start of a psychotic illness. But it’s not seen as an independent risk factor, so if cannabis use is your only risk factor, it’s unlikely that you will end up developing a psychotic illness. But it’s difficult to know one’s own risk for psychosis, and therefore difficult to know how risky cannabis is for any individual.

12. Does it impact cognitive performance? Generally, cannabis use is related to poorer cognitive performance; someone who uses cannabis is more likely to do worse on cognitive tests compared to those who don’t. Although research also shows that if you stop using it for four weeks, cognitive ability tends to normalise again.

13. What are the most dangerous strains? There are hundred, if not thousands, of cannabis strains and they’ve not really been mapped successfully in terms of strength of THC and CBD. There’s general knowledge about the different strains, but within the same plant, the strength of cannabis bud on top of the plant will be different to the one at the bottom. Most of the UK’s cannabis is what we call high-potency cannabis – where it has high levels of THC and almost absent levels of CBD. In London, about 96% of the cannabis that’s available on the black market is the THC-only variety. White Widow is one of the highest-potency strains. Skunk is a term often used by the media as a way of distinguishing stronger types of cannabis that have low or no amounts of CBD, but cannabis users don’t like or use that term often. Whatever they’re called, it’s the high-potency variety that’s considered the most harmful.

14. What about synthetic cannabinoids? They are man-made chemicals designed to act like the main psychoactive chemical in cannabis but do not come from the cannabis plant. They target the same receptor in the brain as THC – but hit it far harder. We call THC in cannabis a partial agonist, which means it activates the receptor partially but many of these synthetics activate the receptor fully – and with different strengths. Some synthetic varieties are considered to be a couple of hundred times as strong as THC.

15. …which is even more dangerous? Yes, you’re far more likely to seek help after using synthetic cannabis than with naturally grown cannabis. There have also been a few deaths related to the use of synthetic cannabis, although we can’t explain why because they’re not consistent in what they contain.

16. Can you die from taking naturally grown cannabis? In terms of causing an overdose like heroin and alcohol can, whereby you can stop breathing from it, cannabis cannot do that because it doesn’t affect enough cannabinoids receptors that control those functions. However, if you have a very vulnerable heart condition, cannabis has been found to influence heart rate – so cannabis can be a risk for those who have sensitive hearts.

17. What happens to the brain when you mix cannabis with alcohol? People end up with higher levels of THC in their blood, and the negative impact on cognitive performance increases. Research has found people who drink alcohol and use cannabis together are far more likely to be involved in traffic accidents.

18. What are the biggest myths you’ve heard about cannabis? Firstly, that it’s a gateway drug, meaning that using cannabis leads a person to try more harmful drugs, like heroin and cocaine. Most population-based studies have not found a causal link between cannabis and later use of stronger drugs. They found other psychosocial factors such as the age you started using, whether or not you’re employed or ethnic backgrounds and your social status can help predict whether someone is more likely to develop dependence on stronger drugs, but there’s very weak evidence for the gateway theory of cannabis.

The other big myth is that cannabis might cure cancer. Although studies in animals have suggested that THC and CBD have anti-tumour and anti-cancer properties, it’s still a very big leap to say that that cannabis can actually lead to someone’s cancer being cured. This is extremely dangerous because it risks people who have cancer saying no to normal treatments because they might be worried about the side effects and being in favour of cannabis. There might be encouraging results from animal studies, but it really needs to be confirmed in human studies otherwise people are at much greater risk of dying or having the worst progression of illness.

19. What do you think is the most interesting research around cannabis right now? There’s a growing amount of evidence of that suggest that CBD could make cannabis less harmful, both in terms of reducing the likelihood of paranoia and psychotic experiences. It seems to protect the brain from the memory performance that THC impairs and reduced likelihood of developing addiction. CBD has also been found in two studies so far to have anti-psychotic properties, so there’s a potential for the use of CBD as a treatment for psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia. The important distinction is that cannabis is a complex plant, it’s not just one drug – cannabis can be THC but it can also be CBD, and everything in between.

20. What do you think about CBD products that claim to have medical benefits? In terms of medicinal use, cannabis is now considered schedule two, meaning that certain doctors can prescribe it for patients who’ve tried other medications (for instance pain and epilepsy conditions), and those medications haven’t helped. But there’s still some barriers to that because doctors don’t have guidelines of how to prescribe it and what products are available, or how they might expect those products to work for the patient.

The main thing to be aware of if buying CBD products for, say, anxiety, is there are lots of CBD products available on the commercial market but these are not regulated, so we can’t be sure as to what they actually contain. Some studies have found they contain less CBD than they say they have, some don’t contain any CBD at all. Generally, compared to the CBD that’s used in medical research, these products on the commercial market contain tiny amounts compared to what we actually think might help someone.

Another risk is that these CBD products can still influence the liver – studies have found CBD can block certain liver enzymes that help break down medications. So if someone is taking prescription drugs, even low dose CBD products can prevent those drugs from being broken down properly.


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