Connoisseuring Cannabis: Enjoying and Critiquing Fine Flower in an Age of Plenty
This is a story about my time working for a particularly nefarious Cannabis Bioscience company you may have heard of. Incidentally, it's also a story about finding yourself in the backseat of a rusty Subaru station wagon being driven erratically and at questionable speed through downtown Oakland, tensely and spasmodically clutching a large brown McDonald’s bag full of money while a woman paws at a mound of cocaine in the crotch of your jeans. It’s an odd story but I can’t think of one offhand that better encapsulates the whole of my time in recreational Cannabis more completely or succinctly.
Are you ready for this? Okay then! And away we go…
CHAPTER ONE: GOT ‘EEM
Might I start by saying OOOOOHHHHH that’s a shame! Because that’s actually not the subject matter I’m going to present to you right now. Much like a frighteningly high percentage of the Cannabis products you’ll find on the shelves of your favorite dispensary, this was a cleverly placed bit of shiny packaging designed to lure you in and convince you that this product was more exciting than your average affair. And although the above story just happens to be true - and if enough of you contribute to my Patreon to keep this side endeavor of writing one I might really be able to draw a living from you may hear it in good time - it nevertheless brings me to my current point.
There is a plain old ridiculous abundance of Cannabis out there these days. Amidst a dizzying array of ad campaigns and self-serving claims that endure practically zero oversight from anybody, it is absolutely the case that often we are being served a false bill of goods on the Cannabis products we consume based on who has the flashiest posters, most aggressive social media wizardry and free t-shirts. And I can guarantee you: unless they’re formulated with guano and bone meal, t shirts won’t make a growing plant any healthier nor the weed they advertise more satisfactory.
Look: it’s up to you to determine the quality of weed you buy. No marketing department, no matter how wholesome they appear, is a proper substitute for your senses. Heck, you can’t even trust THC scores, and even if you could fully trust lab results it’s not nearly so all-important a factor in how high you get as you might think. The only reliable factors that’ll keep your stash in the dank are your abilities to trust your senses and know what you’re smelling, looking at and inhaling. It’s a skill like any other and it requires practice. Just think of it: hours and countless hours of delicious, wonderful practice...how bad could this really be? I say there are worse things.
If we are, as a community and buying public, to evolve past the gamut of businessman’s tricks and dubious publicity stunts dominating the market today we need to start developing a shared language and framework for approaching and appraising good Cannabis on our own. The craft beer industry went through exactly these same growing pains not many years ago and it was community discussion and a common tongue amongst enthusiasts both passing and die-hard that allowed phenomenal, standout breweries to get off the ground and change the game forever.
And make no mistake: we need to do this for very serious reasons, and quickly. It’s important for the consuming public to decide for themselves what is truly enjoyable and good for them before greedy shysters conglomerate the market into a few all-powerful macro grows rendering such personal decision making not so much an option anymore. It’s important that established rural Cannabis growers who have largely kept their small towns afloat toughing it out through prohibition have a chance to keep their heritage and wisdom intact for our benefit. Large, moneyed interests are hiring Spike Jonze to tell you that their inferior, mid-grade flower can be directly equated with freedom. And the Cronos Group is refining their cannabinoid-producing yeast technology, in which a culture of microbes will soon produce a dirt-cheap and Cannabis-free macropipeline for the majority of cannabinoids produced worldwide, like low-cost vape cartridges flavored with synthetic chemicals that have never and most likely will never see a Cannabis plant or a hardworking farmer devoted to their passion and craft and living a good and honest life in tune with the land they love. If you give a shit about having long-term access to a broad selection of quality craft Cannabis, all of these developing scenarios should give you pause to think deeper and further the public conversation.
All in all, if we build good buying practices now we’ll have a heck of a lot more good weed available to us to show for it down the road. I’m one hundred percent for that and I’m hoping you are, too. For all the bullshit and stereotyping Cannabis culture has endured over the years it’s always struck me how passionate and articulate the people involved can be. And rightfully so: between the varying factors of nose and smokeability and the cornucopia of physical effects involved, properly assessing good Cannabis is several degrees more nuanced and advanced than judging fine wine. I’ve said that now and I’ll stand by it, always. We deserve our place at the table of living well. I say we speak with confidence on the matter. Let’s develop and standardize our skill set. Let’s claim that seat.
It may not be pile-of-coke-and-bag-of-cash kind of exciting but as odd as it sounds, developing this conversation amongst ourselves is vastly more important and brings much more good into the world in the long term. Join me, won’t you?
PROLOGUE / PREPARATION / METHODOLOGY
First of all, properly appraising Cannabis is an unbelievably complex task. The only way I’ve been able to pull it off in an even marginally effective manner is to keep my methods reeeeeal simple.
High School Me would be exceedingly stoked: a big part of what I do for a living is I legitimately have to smoke a fairly ridiculous amount of weed, from a wide galaxy of growers and terroirs. Sampling harvests from amongst a dizzying selection is a glorious thing and I’m happy to do it. That said it is by no means easy: having spent more than two thirds of my life obsessing over the plant and why I love it I’m always finding new aspects that leave me further intrigued. Be it stunning new genetics, grow techniques that highlight something extraordinary or the shifting of the seasons: I find it absolutely critical to provide myself an even platform by which I judge. Adding in the added dimensions of variegated physical and mental effects the plant imparts, I find it absolutely critical, above all else, to set the same basic ground rules and even platform for everything I’m trying for the first time.
First things first: a Cannabis experience, like any other, is heavily affected by the factors of diet and exercise. The most soaring, psychedelic, classically-termed “sativa”-oriented high can be deeply colored by alternately consuming a full bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos with bean dip and Netflixing into your couch versus pounding 11 White Claw Black Cherries and wild-eyed screaming/intimidating your way past security into the front row of the Slayer pit at Sunlight Amphitheater last summer. Believe me, I’ve done ample field testing on both options and I speak from some experience on this. I heartily encourage the reader to engage in further research; either way I’ll suggest you keep your head up and your eyes open. But for judging weed on its own merit: find a suitable middle ground.
For evaluation nights I go with a modest, protein-rich dinner and a brisk walk of two or so hours around my neighborhood. I set out around the same time, follow roughly the same course. Even if the weed sucks I get to take in some scenery and some night air and both of these are things that have really, really saved me in the past, regardless of what I happened to be smoking at the time.
I use the same pipe, I clean it often. I never light the entirety of the bowl at once; as with anything else involving our sense of taste a proper decanting of fresh air mixed with the smoke will help clarify subtle differences in overall palate. Furthermore the colder you can keep the smoke you’re inhaling the more complex the notes you’ll pull out of it; many terpenes are destroyed before they even hit your lungs by high heat and a slower and more delicate lighting process curbs this quite effectively.
I take a hit at a time, every ten minutes or so. This exercise isn’t getting baked for getting baked’s sake: once you can allow a high to come on slow and low you’ll pick up delicate aspects you might not have noticed otherwise. Myrcene overload is a real thing. Giving yourself time and space to move and breathe your way through the overall experience can help open it up for a deeper examination.
Once I get home I take some time to sit on the porch and give my experience a final mental review. Also about this time is usually when the fucking cat sneaks up from behind and scares the occasionally very nearly literal shit out of me. At such occurrence I generally have to hang out on the porch for another half goddamned hour or so and down a ridiculously large joint to get my mind back in order before I go inside and face the other humans who live there. It happens so often now that I just plain old accept it when it (always) occurs.
Throughout this entire process: I’m taking notes.
As the effectual manifestations of the Cannabis high can be so dauntingly broad in scope I find this consistent methodology allows me to cast the widest net and pick up on a larger diversity of characteristics. Plus I enjoy it, so...plus.
SHORTHAND / MAJOR ATTRIBUTES
Here’s the meat and potatoes of the categories I use to make Cannabis determinations:
Bud Structure: First of all I don’t find bud structure to be an overall indicator of quality. There are tiny rock-hard dense nuggets that smoke just as well in my opinion as loose and delicate tendrils of single calyxes on a branch; I choose not to discriminate quality-wise over these characteristics. All the same I do however record it as it can provide valuable insights as to how the plant was grown. When you find a flower that stands out on a dispensary shelf, research the grower and their methods. If something looks too good to be true and has no nose to back it up take note of this: just like those fist-sized perfectly red strawberries at the grocery store that end up tasting like a lightly flavored glass of water when you get them home, there’s some shiny-ass weed out there that’s pumped full of mineral salts in lieu of actual farming practices.
Cure / Condition: There is an undercured, well cured and stale / dry / moldy / otherwise-past-its-prime life cycle with Cannabis flower and where you find a particular bud in this process largely determines how it’s going to treat you. To get the most out of a bud it should be dry enough to burn properly in a joint but not brittle or dusty. In a looser flower there should be some springiness. As with its close cousin hops the Cannabis flower is something transitory and fleeting and catching it at the right time is crucial to a proper experience with it.
Nose: This is where the fun truly begins. Gitchyer sniffer right in there, all up in the business. Are you getting bright and sharply citrusy, fuller overripe berries, dark and earthy pine, roadkill rancid? Take some notes. How does it smell broken open? More notes. Crushed up fully in a grinder, is there anything else that jumps out? All these things are critical and can provide valuable insight into the overall ripeness and quality of the flower. A good example I like to use: to my palate, fresh Trainwreck imparts a Lemon Pledge / damp pine needle kind of vibe, as if you were munching on some candied lemon peel on a springtime hike through a grove of old growth Douglas Fir. After a month or two past perfect cure however, or if it’s been exposed to excessive heat or dry air, this thins out into a grassy, cat-piss kind of deal. Once you’re familiar with a genetic or a particular grower’s cut of it you can start to develop a sense for what shape this particular harvest is in.
Palate: And of course, here’s one for the kids: Who’s ready to quit hoity-toitying around and smoke some fucking weed!? Take in about a quarter to half a lungful of breath, swirl in some air, exhale a puff or two through the nose. Is it a rich, earthy smoke? Are there any bright notes, floral or soapy or etc.? What correlation (if any) do you draw to the nose? This last question can be a major revealing point in the overall condition of the flower. Terpenes are extremely hard to preserve in the plant structure and a proper cure is mission critical to this: much like roasting coffee the final processing truly makes or breaks all the hard work leading up. As the smoke progresses ask yourself it the overall flavor of the bowl / joint / soda can fades or does it hold true throughout. Again: a proper cure should outlast the flame and stick to your palate for a good while afterwards.
Effects: Because hey, we ain’t out here drinking lemonade. The hard and honest work is done and now it’s time to devour the paisley fruits of our psychotropic labor. Do you get a racy chest, throbbing heart, or on the contrary decided physical placidity? Any physical numbness, forehead sweats, tingling? How about cessation of pain / sore limbs? Are you giggly as fuck because you have no idea or do you feel overall relaxed and wise beyond your standard capacity? Do you get lost or confused easily, retain a razor-sharp focus, commune with interdimensional reptilian beings of pure light and compassion? All of these are important factors and should be recorded as accurately and faithfully as possible. This is for SCIENCE, dammit. No fucking around out there...
AND YES, WE GOTTA MENTION THOSE WACKY WHITE ASH FOLKS
Obviously I know what many of you otherwise fine, upstanding and productive citizens are internally or potentially actually screaming right now: Yes, there’s indeed yet another unruly, self-righteous and entirely possibly completely illusory elephant tramping through this whole equation. Like some majestic baked Sasquatch on the outer periphery of what we can prove and what without a solid body of evidence some of us JUST REALLY KNOW to be true, it lurks.
I speak of course of the “White Ash” community, the subset of the upper weed snob echelons who believe, devoutly and with pure heart, that the only Cannabis worth smoking leaves nothing but a white ash in its wake. Anything - ANYTHING, Jack - that you try to say to the contrary: boy, you better watch your silly ass, ‘cause you’re dead-ass not at all correct.
I say this with humor and humility, mind you. I’ve been wrong a couple of times in the past and I admit and accept that there might really be something to the philosophy here that I am fully off the mark about. That established, I’ve not seen a definitive study that solidly proves there’s something to this line of thinking. Anybody who tells you a darker ash is a dead giveaway of “impurities” in the weed never seems to know exactly which chemical impurities this references; whenever I’ve been told this is indicative of “a poor cure” the same lack of a referenced explanation generally follows. I’d say the shape of the bowl and how much lighter / hempwick is applied has a hell of a lot more to do with this, letting alone relative humidity in the air or the presence of a breeze or you get the general idea.
So I’ll leave it there: I’d gladly hear out anyone anytime on the subject and heartily encourage further research into this. The worst thing that can happen, I think, is more Cannabis consumption. I look forward to the day.
Jesus, you made it this far?! Sheesh...I say it’s high time you go smoke some weed about it. I’m sure as heck gonna, at any rate.
I hope you found this piece informative, thought-provoking or downright infuriating. If any of these three ideals rings true (or even if they don’t) let’s further this conversation, eh? This Thing: it’s up to us only so long as we choose it to be and I’d rather not see us succumb to the alternative. In a greater sense I hope we can cherish the better parts of our nature and this experiential reality we are so blessed to toy around with through our ancient kinship with this wonderful plant. Shalom, Selah, Mahalo, Excelsior, you know: all that. It’s been real. Hope all’s well. Tallyho!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jesus, this fucker is still talking? I guess there’s still a bunch of those molly-spun 45-year-old Phish Phart idiot crusties out there that are just too spun at this point to ever shut their obnoxious “heady” mouths. Friggin dinosaurs like this should stick to terrible dancing at dad-rock cover bands in the back of sports bars rather than tell us all how to live our lives. I bet he always goes on and fucking every time he sees his budtender about why don’t they carry Skunk #1 and Neville’s Haze and how much better everything was from Sensi Seeds in 1995 than anything that’s around today. What a goddamn prick...I bet if you slush his PATREON with some “Just fucking stop it already” money he really just might.Might as well try, eh? (Seriously tho: Big Thx if you can)
cover image courtesy of Trichome Art Studio