The Professionalization of Pot

Former tokers may be more baffled by maryjane’s many varieties than befuddled by higher potency.

It’s dusk at Pickathon, the Oregon summer music festival famous for turning even the most uptight attendees into short-term hippies.

My friends and I are sitting in camp chairs at a campsite in the forest, our home base for the weekend. On a stage in the middle of the woods, Neko Case jokes about how depressing her music is.

Her easygoing persona is a welcome counterpoint to her self-excoriating songs.

A friend passes me his pipe. I haven’t smoked pot in years. When I smoke, I’m prone to paralyzing, near-hallucinatory panic attacks. But out here, surrounded by friends, with Case’s voice drifting through our campsite, smoking seems like the thing to do.

I take a hit.

Forty-five minutes later, I’m still frozen in my chair. Onstage, Neko Case is riffing about having a baby made of butter. “My little butter boat,” she says. “My little butter boat baby.”

Everyone laughs. I have no idea what’s going on.

Eventually I crawl into my tent, and spend the next several hours locked into an endlessly regenerating spiral of anxiety and self-loathing.

(Topics under consideration include the ultimate unknowability of other human beings, and whether or not it’s ethical to keep a cat as a pet.)

Twice I have to force myself to leave the relative safety of my tent and find a portable toilet.

The campground, strung with lights, has the ambiance of a horror movie. I avoid making eye contact with other campers, who are clearly having much more enjoyable substance-use experiences than I am. “It’s just weed,” I tell myself. “No one has ever died from smoking weed.” I spend the night curled in a ball in my sleeping bag, and leave early the next morning.

I haven’t purchased marijuana since I was in high school in the late ’90s, and I still think of it as something you score in a parking lot off a squirrely kid in a puffy jacket.

Back then, the worst consequence of smoking pot was the decision to use two Kit Kat “fingers” as chopsticks. (Read: There were no negative consequences.)

There’s a good chance the pot I purchased back then was weaker than the stuff I encountered at Pickathon.

According to data gathered by the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products Research, marijuana potency has more than doubled since 1998 as measured by a sample’s percentage of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the primary psychoactive component in cannabis.

Stronger pot might indeed be part of my paranoia problem, but there’s no reason it should stay a problem.

The marketplace has changed considerably in the last decade and a half, with partial legality dramatically increasing information and options.

The weed I found at Pickathon gave me a panic attack, but I might be able to find something out there that doesn’t.

Lousy names for legal scores

Medical marijuana has been legal in my home state of Oregon since 1998, and our neighbors in Washington recently became one of the first states to legalize it for recreational purposes.

Like the 17 other states where medical marijuana may be legally prescribed, Oregon is home to a loose network of growers, distributors, and medical marijuana cardholders, all of whom cultivate and share institutional knowledge about marijuana.

Throw the Internet into the mix, and the result is a surprisingly professionalized body of information about different strains of marijuana and their effects.

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