This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
The fact that there's an entire holiday associated with smoking weed should tell you everything you need to know about how great it is. They don't just hand out holidays for everything—Flag Day excluded. But when you're young, you don't know about different strains of weed or their effects, you just know that getting high is awesome and that you'd like to do it as much as your schedule permits.
As a teenager growing up in Northern Ontario, I came of age around a group of people who also liked to get high—probably because there wasn't much to do where we lived except go to the movies or hang out in the parking lot in front of convenience stores. When you're a teenager with limited access to funds and only a handful of shady friends who could get you (not good) weed, you need to get creative with your search to get a buzz. It was this combination of desperation for getting high and limited resources with which to buy weed that led me to trying poppers (a slang term not to be confused with the chemical inhalants).
A popper is essentially a bong hit with a cigarette, but it's different from dumping some tobacco on top of a leafy bowl. First, you need a metal bowl with a long stem. Then, you unscrew the bowl, so only the stem remains, which is referred to as the "popper bit." You rip off a small piece of a cigarette and insert it flat into the bit, into which it fits perfectly. You then take the bit with the cigarette in it and tap the whole thing on top of some ground up weed until you can't see any more of the tobacco. The popper bit, now stuffed with a double layer of cigarette and weed, goes into the bong and is smoked. This last part takes the most practice, since for the operation to successfully work, you need to make sure you can clear the bit in a single toke attempt. You know you're successful when you hear the "pop" of the cigarette being pulled into the bong water—hence the name "poppers." The first few times you try to do this, you will undoubtedly cough up a lung. But with enough practice, you figure out the breath control and inhalation speed necessary to be successful.
Poppers are a very functional way to get high: I would do one right after waking up, one before leaving for school, and then binge on them at night until I fell asleep. One cigarette is good for about five to seven poppers, and I'd go through a pack of cigarettes a week while doing this.
For more on weed, watch our doc 'Inside Canada's New Corporate Weed System':
A lot of you may read the above and say that this sound disgusting. You are not wrong. The benefits of smoking poppers is that it uses considerably less weed, and you get the head rush of smoking your first cigarette every time you do a hit. However, the downsides are pretty harsh: The smoke you're exhaling smells like the inside of roadkill anus, the bong is permanently tinged with the residue of this weird tobacco grime—meaning you can never use it to smoke normal weed out of without always getting a weird aftertaste—and it fucking destroys your lungs.
When you smoke a cigarette, you inhale that smoke through a filter. But when you're smoking a popper, you're taking that cigarette bareback: The only thing between you and the the tobacco is the bong water. You're also mainlining it into your lungs in the process, which is part of what gets you high, but is also what will eventually shred your lungs.
I did dozens of poppers every day for almost five years straight, and quitting was one of the hardest things I had to do. I would probably still be doing it had I not started noticing that I would start to get stabbing pains in my chest every time I took a larger-than-normal breath.
It's one of those things that you know is so destructive for you in the long term, but you can't stop because the momentary rush it gives you outweighs any potential downsides that can come down the line. I guess that's true of any drug, but indulging in poppers feels more innocent than shooting heroin or doing lines of ketamine. It's just a cigarette and some weed, what's the big deal?