There’s never been a better time to dive into cannabis. This is because, for now, federal prohibition in the United States is keeping corporate giants from dominating the industry, thus creating opportunities for adventurous start-ups to thrive in the states where weed has been legalized. The market is brimming with a wide range of artisanal products, and there’s a wealth of businesses to support run by queers, people of color, and women.
But cannabis businesses have always faced an uphill battle, due to high taxes, competition from the illicit market, a lack of access to traditional financial institutions, and more. This was true before the coronavirus pandemic—and these struggles are intensifying now. Still, one of the most interesting side effects of self-isolation is that everyone is getting stoned. Dispensaries were deemed “essential businesses” in nearly all 33 states where weed is legal, and people were stocking up on weed in record-breaking numbers. It’s easy to see why smoking weed is quickly becoming America’s favorite pastime: Cannabis can reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress. When you’re holed up and hunkered down, uncertainty hanging in the air like a fog, a big fat blunt can be your best friend.
Diving into pot can be daunting if it’s been a while. Maybe you feel like the world’s oldest weed virgin, or took a hit one time, got the scaries, and never touched it again. Relax! As long as you take it slow, know your dosages, and don’t pull a Maureen Dowd, you’ll be fine. Besides, no one is around to laugh at your rookie moves.
A disclaimer: Smoking isn’t the best idea for your lungs, especially in light of the virus’s toll on your respiratory system. Still, people need to get their medicine, so everything in moderation. And keep in mind there are other ways to consume cannabis outside of smoking joints or vapes—the market is full of smoke-free breakthroughs, like low-dose edibles that won’t get you too fucked up and delicious weed-infused drinks that can even replace your glass of wine. You should also do your research and know the risks of your personal legal status with regard to age and location.
With those provisions in place, if you're still thinking you’d like to get into cannabis, here’s a guide to doing so while self-isolating—how to stock up safely, the best weed for smoking alone, and the new rules of stoner etiquette. (You should be ready to roll (a joint) by the end of this guide, but if you still have questions, check out my book, WEED: Everything You Want to Know But Are Always Too Stoned to Ask.)
HOW TO STOCK UP SAFELY
The last thing you want is to be dankrupt when the world is falling apart. If you live in a recreational state, lucky you—ordering online has never been easier, and with many dispensaries now doing curbside pickups and contactless delivery, weed will arrive at your doorstep faster than toilet paper from Amazon Prime. Thanks to the confluence of coronavirus sales and month-long 4/20 discounts, it’s also easy to find sweet deals through shopping online.
Eaze is probably the best place to start if you’re in California or Portland; the online emporium calls itself the “Uber of Pot” and stocks buzzy boutique brands like Caliva, Bloom Farms, and Sherbinskis. Other California-based apps, like Harvest and Emjay, also offer a great range of products. If you’re lucky enough to live near a drive-in dispensary, your car is a pretty handy way to pick up goods while maintaining social distance.
If you live in a medical cannabis state like New York, you can chat with an online doctor about getting a medical card through Nugg, then use it to deliver medical-grade (i.e., strong-ass) weed to your house. Other services, like PrestoDoctor, can connect you to doctors online, but be advised: To use any of the services mentioned here, you must have a pre-existing condition like chronic pain or PTSD to qualify. I also recommend checking out WeedMaps, which lists dispensaries and delivery services all over the United States, as well as info about strains and other useful tips.
If you’re stuck somewhere without dispensaries, it’s time to text your stoner friends something like, “Hey dude, do you know where I can get some bud?” Chances are, you’ll find a-guy-who-knows-a-guy within three texts—the underground weed market right now is booming. Or you can try your luck on Instagram, where deals are made over DM. Just be careful not to get scammed—and it’s probably a good idea to check out The Marijuana Policy Project’s policy map to understand your area’s cannabis laws and know what’s at stake. If you get really desperate, there’s always the dark web.
WHAT TO EXPECT
If you live in a recreational state and choose to hit a dispensary in person, be prepared to wait in line, as many stores are limiting how many people can enter at a time. Some are even using no-contact infrared thermometers to check your temperature before you’re allowed to enter.
Curbside pickup is a great way to avoid this hassle. All you have to do is place your order online or over the phone, and you’ll get a notification when it’s ready for pick-up. Then, you’ll drive to the dispensary, and wait in a designated parking spot for a store employee to come out and verify your ID, process your payment, and hand you the goods. Easy peasy.
If you’re buying weed in a non-legal state, it’s a good idea to take some privacy precautions by downloading an encrypted app like Signal or Telegram that will let you text your delivery service anonymously. Ask your friend who refers you to the service what their texting protocol is and what kind of language to use. It probably won’t be, “Hello, I heard you’re a weed dealer, I’d like to buy 10 weeds please!!!” After sending them a message, you’ll likely receive a menu with a list of prices and specials. Long gone are the days when delivery services only carried a couple generic indica and sativa strains—these days, you may find everything from vegan edibles to weed-infused whiskey on the menu, in addition to a full spread of flower, vape cartridges, and tinctures. Plan to pay in cash, and don’t be shy to ask for a deal if you’re buying in bulk.
HOW MUCH TO GET
The standard is an eighth (3.5 grams), which costs between $35–$60. From there, you can go up to quarters, halfs, and full ounces (or “Os”). Across the board, prices vary depending on the quality of the bud.
If you’re thinking about bulk buying, keep in mind that flower—unlike wine—does not get better with age. This is because THC levels decrease over time—after a year, it drops by about 17 percent, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Exposure to heat and light also causes THC to degrade into CBN, another cannabinoid that won’t get you stoned, but will make you super drowsy, as if you just took a Xanax.
There are a few ways to keep your flower fresh: Storing it a cool, dark place, and making sure it’s kept in an airtight jar (instead of a plastic bag) will help minimize the breakdown process. Whatever you do, don’t pop it into the freezer—this will only dry it out and cause trichomes (which I'll get into below) to break off.
As for edibles, you can keep these in the refrigerator, but if they’re perishable goods like brownies and cookies, you don’t want to keep them around for too long. A good rule of thumb is to consume them within a week, and again, keep these babies away from light and heat.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
A choice nug should be sparkling with trichomes–the sticky layer of tiny crystals where cannabinoids like THC and CBD are stored. The bud should also feel sticky and slightly spongy, and dry enough to crumble in your hand. Anything too “wet” might be a sign it’s been cured improperly.
If you were shopping IRL, I’d tell you to take a big whiff of the bud and follow your nose—cannabis contains over a hundred terpenes, basically the essential oils of the plant. Some, like limonene (which smells like lemon), are uplifting, while others, like pinene (smells like pine), are even able to counteract paranoia. Each strain has a unique combination of them, and you’ll be drawn to some more than others.
Every strain of weed will contain varying levels of THC and CBD—cannabinoids that give weed its psychic and physical effects. THC is the bad boy that gives you that feeling of stoned bliss, but can trigger paranoia and anxiety. CBD is non-psychoactive, and is perfect for when you want to relax with a clear head. Researchers published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that if you want to reduce stress, strains with high CBD/high THC are most effective, while high CBD/low THC is best for depression.
You might have heard that sativa strains are uplifting and energizing, indica strains are more relaxing and thus best for the couch, and hybrids produce effects that are somewhere in between. This is a good rule of thumb, but every strain has its own personality, and it’s best to experiment with different ones until you land on something that jibes with your own biochemistry. Generally speaking, sativas tend to contain more THC and are known for more cerebral highs, which is great if you’re into psychedelics, but can sometimes lead to paranoia and anxiety. If you’re looking to just chill out, maybe stick to an indica or hybrid.
Strain names can also tell you a lot about the weed’s flavors and effects—for example, anything named “kush” is going to be indica-leaning, while “haze” refers to sativas. There is some controversy around strain names being bullshit, due to generations of cross-breeding and some shady marketing. But generally speaking, strain names are good shorthand for what kind of weed you’re getting.
Here are some classic strains to check out: (sativa-dominant) Blue Dream, Green Crack, Purple Haze, Jack Herer (indica-dominant) Blue Cheese, Northern Lights, OG Kush (hybrids) Headband, Girl Scout Cookies, Gorilla Glue, Chemdawg.
HOW TO NOT GET TOO STONED
One of the biggest rookie mistakes is accidentally smoking too much weed, having a meltdown, and vowing to never touch it again. The best way to avoid this is to start slow and know your dose—everyone’s biochemistry is different, so a light buzz for one person might cause a paranoid trip in someone else.
If you’re smoking bud, most brand labels will tell you the percentage of THC in the strain you’re smoking. Generally speaking, less than eight percent THC means you might not feel much. Eight to 16 percent will put you in a good mood, 16–25 percent will definitely get you baked, and 25 percent or higher will blast you to that trippy stoned-as-fuck place. Sometimes, labels will also list the levels of CBD to THC as ratios. A “1:1” means an equal amount of CBD and THC, 2:1 means there’s twice as much CBD as THC, and so on.
If you’re eating an edible, getting the proper dose is even more crucial, because THC actually breaks down into 11-Hydroxy-THC after passing through the stomach and liver, which can cause more intense, almost psychedelic trips. 2.5 is probably a good place to start if you’re a beginner, or just want a microdose. Five to 10 mg is the standard dose, although I’ve had some friends tell me this can already be pretty overwhelming! For dedicated stoners, 10–50 mg is a good, comfortable range to stay in. Anything more, and you’re super hardcore. Remember: edibles take longer to kick in—effects kick in within 30–60 minutes, and last for six to eight hours—so don’t double-dose if you don’t get feel it right away.
SOME NICE WEED FOR SMOKING ALONE AT HOME
Whether you’re looking to boost your focus while binging on Netflix or take the edge off after a long day of washing your hands, there’s going to be something out there to get you properly stoned. Below, some personally-tested recommendations from some of the weed world’s most stylish brands, to suit every kind of at-home mood:
Mini-sized joints for socially-distancing tokers:
- Pure Beauty's "Babies" are mini doobies that are perfect for smoking alone, and possibly the cutest joints in town. This brand pays a lot of attention to design, down to the details; I love the little eyeballs printed at the end of their filters—it feels like a stoner friend giving you a knowing look. (Available in CA only.)
- Caliva's "Dogwalkers" are also smaller than a regular joint, and just the right length for taking your pup on a stroll around the block when the claustrophobia hits. (CA only.)
- If you want to kick things up a notch, Sublime's "Mini Fuzzies"are mixed with extract and rolled in oil and kief—perfect for a short-but-strong sesh. Don’t underestimate their size: these little guys still got me perfectly fucked up. (CA only.)
Cheap weed for the budget-conscious (pretty much everyone these days):
- Old Pal wraps organic, sun-grown cannabis into handsome resealable pouches with a nostalgic, old-world vibe. When I first saw their prices online, I actually thought it was a typo: at $15, this might be the cheapest eighth in America. (CA and NV.)
- Caliva’s more pocket-friendly Deli line also stocks good weed in eye-catching pouches, for discount store prices. If old-school Jewish delis sold weed, this is what it would look like. (CA only.)
Vapes that won’t annoy your roommates, for the smell-conscious stoners:
- Sherbinskis is often credited for kicking off the desert-themed strain name trend, which is huge right now. I’m digging the 510 vape in their signature eye-catching shade of orange, which comes in fun flavors like Sunset Sherbert and Bacio Gelato. (CA only.)
- Sonder, founded by two LGBTQ women, makes 60s psychedelic–inspired vapes that ring true to their motto: all weirdos welcome. The boxes that these vapes come in look so cute, I’ve kept them as decor for my bedroom. (CA only.)
- Dreamt, run by a team of female scientists, has designed one of the year’s most helpful innovations: a sleep vape that will knock you out in minutes. I use this to sleep when I’m feeling too wired, and can attest that it’s better than Xanax. (CA only.)
- Select is one of the most popular vape companies in the world, and their vapes are reliably good quality—meaning, they’re not gonna get all clogged or give you a coughing fit. Plus they come in vibrant shades like purple, red, and yellow, making them cute accessories. (CA, OR, NV.)
For the heads who just want really good weed:
- Viola, run by ex-NBA player Al Harrington, slings some super top-quality, indoor-grown bud. Bonus: Social equity is a priority for the brand, which works with nonprofit organizations to help minorities and those most impacted by the war on drugs to participate in the now-booming industry. (CA, CO.)
- Aster Farms is known for growing sustainable, pesticide-free outdoor weed in Northern California, which is also a wine-growing region thanks to its nutrient-rich terroir. A lot of cannabis brands aren’t too conscious about the environment, but I really admire Aster Farms’ commitment to sustainability and leaving a minimal carbon footprint. Check out their cult favorite “Day-To-Night” pre-roll pack, which has a joint for different positions of the sun. The perfect weed brand for New Age hippies and Silver Lake shamans. (CA only.)
- 22 Red, founded by System of a Down’s Shavo Odadjian, has shimmery, crystal-covered flower that looks almost too pretty to smoke—but who are we kidding, you’re obviously burning through this as soon as you get your hands on it. I was genuinely surprised at how amazing this weed is—who knew these celebrity brands had such good shit? (CA, NV.)
THE NEW STONER ETIQUETTE
Now we’ve arrived at arguably the most important part of this guide: the ethos of weed in the post-pandemic era. Cannabis culture has always hinged on community and quasi-hippie values—for example, stoner code dictates that you must share weed with those in need—so what happens when you’re stuck in lockdown life? Well, I think the basic tenets of caring for each other and not being selfish still apply, just mutated to fit the new reality. This should also go without saying, but these common courtesies should only extend to people you are isolated with; you absolutely should not be gathering to party with others.
1. Don’t pass that shit.
Pre-COVID, cannabis was meant to be shared. Standing in a circle and passing around a joint was a cherished stoner ritual that spoke to the innate social nature of this plant. Now, the old mantra of “puff, puff, pass” has become “don’t pass that shit.” Nobody wants to hit that joint after your lips have been on it, so go ahead and bogart it.
2. Wipe down your bowl.
Sharing a bowl is obviously direct contact, so try not to share smoking devices. Now might also be a good time to clean that ash-encrusted bowl that’s been sitting on your coffee table for years. Wipes containing 91 percent isopropyl rubbing alcohol are recommended—according to some stoners, it’s the only substance strong enough to break down resins.
3. Cyber smoke sesh with friends.
Even though you’re isolated, you don’t have to smoke alone. Cyber smoke sessions are increasingly popular among friends right now. Want to meet some new stoner pals? Two dope women in the cannabis industry, Bianca and Gigi, host weekly “sesh-ins” on Zoom. Weed drag queen Laganja Estranja also hosts daily seshes on Instagram Live. Both events take place at 4:20 PM PST (duh).
There are dozens of virtual events to ring in the unofficial stoner holiday 4/20, including—shameless plug—my party Weed Rave, which will be throwing a cyber rave with DJ sets, stoner movies from Stoner’s Night LA, and a virtual smoke sesh.
4. Give weed to those in need.
Be extra generous with your stash during this time, and give weed to your pals—especially those who lost their jobs or otherwise lack the means to get some for themselves. Trade or barter systems are a great way to fairly distribute weed.
5. Tip your weed person.
Pre-COVID, tipping was often by discretion, and considered more of a bonus for fast deliveries or providing knowledgeable information. Now, it seems almost criminal not to tip at least 15 percent—after all, these weed workers are out there, risking their lives to help make yours easier. Lots of services are now doing contactless delivery and other precautions to protect delivery people, so check to see if there’s a way to send a digital tip, either through Venmo or online. The world of weed, like everything else, is going through unprecedented changes—and it’s up to us to evolve into this new era while keeping the true spirit of stoner culture alive.
Follow Michelle Lhooq on Twitter.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.