I live next to a 42-year-old hippy named Dale. He’s been smoking marijuana for the past 29 years and considers himself a recreational user. His extensive marriage to Mary Jane gives him a proverbial, transcendent aura whenever he discusses the illustrious herb. An abundance of knowledge and years spent under the influence make discussions with him as captivating as they are convoluted, though I enjoy our extensive chats on the front lawn of his modest home. Dale is wise and centred and was never caught up in the pro or anti-marijuana campaigns, instead remaining complacent and realising that, like any drug, marijuana affects everyone differently. He’s smoked in fourteen countries around the world and claims to have puffed back thousands of different strands and hybrids, giving him a good understanding of marijuana’s progression over the past three decades. Over time, Dale inadvertently became my motivation to write a piece on the evolution of bud, a drug I quit using two years ago. A piece like this was always going to piss some people off, though my intention was to remain impartial.
Having been a proud smoker and marijuana advocate for the most part of my pre-21 years, I’m well aware of the ideals such a community bring forth. During my time as a stoner – a term I find derogatory and will therefore only refer to myself as – if someone were to tell me smoking weed could negatively impact my mental and physical health, I’d have laughed in their face. I had a true knack for selective hearing, and while medical facts showing links between marijuana use and schizophrenia, anxiety and depression were all readily available, I was never able to digest such outlandish propaganda. My reluctance for reality was amplified by the fellow smokers I surrounded myself with, most of whom believed, as I did, that a plant from God could surely do no harm. Years on, a retrospective look at my stance on marijuana being relatively harmless was likely true in the earlier years, but that sure as hell wasn’t the case for the hydroponic, man-made rocket-ships I was toking on.
And thus we arrive at my first point; the potency of bud has become ridiculously excessive. “It’s harder and harder to score the natural stuff,” Dale told me recently, explaining, “kids out there are shunning the calmative effects of bush and calling it weak, which is a big fuck you to traditional marijuana culture.” He’s right. The last time I decided to smoke, it was impossible to get my hands on anything that wasn’t bright orange. I wound up smoking a strain from Nimbin called ‘Jesus’ and laying on my bed motionless for two hours wondering why my face felt like it was shrink-wrapped. It was the most antisocial experience I’ve ever had smoking marijuana and a true testament to the disconnect between modern weed and the plant that was rolled up and passed around in the days of yore.
When I was a kid you could just smoke a joint for a while. Now you take two hits and you go insane. It’s just not doable like it used to be. LOUIS C.K
This increase in potency is unfortunate for people who don’t like marijuana that turns them into vegetables, but it isn’t going to change. Like any business, dealers accommodate for their most profitable demographic. In this instance, the people who make the dealers the most money are the people who smoke the most weed, which means they’re also the people with the highest tolerances. The stuff that fries your average joe to the point of immobilisation is perfect for the hardened bong-head who’s been punching stompers since his 13th birthday. What’s scary is that marijuana is only getting stronger, all thanks to a hefty cohort of chemical enhancements delivered by new-age scientists with penchants for potency.
So, how omnipotent and genetically modified does marijuana have to become before it’s considered a hard drug? Scientists at Northwest Botanical Analysis in Seattle are registering THC levels of over 25% in some of the modern strands of home-grown marijuana. Looking at this from a user’s perspective, these extremely impressive levels put modern herb on a psychoactive scale more comparable to shrooms and acid than traditionally grown pot. In fact, these breeds are so genetically modified that for a user with low-to-moderate tolerance, they are near impossible to handle. Ridiculously hallucinatory and time-stutteringly strong may suit the weed-obsessed veterans, but the general public hates the progression of modern day weed. This makes the most commonly asked question for Northwest Botantical Analysis staff not one iota surprising: “Can you get me some weak weed?”
Halfway through my research for this piece, I decided to go around to Dale’s and ask if he’d had any of these super-strands I’d been reading about. “I had a few big tokes of something my dealer called Poly-1,” he told me, puffing on a 100% el natural blunt. “My heart started racing, I was short of breath and I felt dizzy for about half an hour,” he explained, more relaxed than ever. I told him that he’d likely had a panic attack, which he found extremely intriguing given he’d never suffered from a single anxious episode in his life. It was no real surprise to me though. While the rapid evolution of marijuana has never allowed scientists to conduct long-term studies on the strands people are smoking these days (a worrying fact in its own), drug-induced psychosis and marijuana have always held identifiable connections. And that leads me to my last point.
To even the most pro-marijuana readers, the fact we’re not smoking what our parents were must now be glaringly obvious. In accepting that fact, one must also accept the notion that no long-term studies on the new breed of marijuana have been conducted. Scientists can all but speculate on the repercussions such a dramatic increase in potency is having on users, though that’s not the worst part. By the time there’s rock-solid evidence, the plant will have once again evolved into something we know very little about. The addition of chemical composites and the concentration of the THC are both reasons to warrant the reconsideration of what exactly we’re inhaling, but it’s impossible to tell an avid smoker to think about that before lighting up. Thanks to a brilliant PR campaign built around marijuana before it become a byproduct of science, many see it as a valuable medicinal herb and nothing more. While many of these benefits are scientifically proven, there’s too much grey area to justify its admission based solely on this.
And here we are. It’s 2013 and I – a person who once classified marijuana as God’s greatest creation – have written a 1000 word piece on the ambiguous veil my ex-best friend now hides beneath. Alas, I stand sober and sure. I am pro-legalisation and I’m by no means anti-marijuana, but the abundance of question marks surrounding this new, obnoxiously potent breed of weed is legitimate cause for concern. I’ll remain cynical about modern Mary Jane, at least until someone with substantial factual evidence sways me one way (positive) or another (negative). In the meantime, I’ll continue to search for a nice, natural batch of bush that doesn’t melt my face and convince me there’s a blood-hungry SWAT team at my front door.