Cannabis wax. istock / barty stewart

UNTIL A FEW years ago, I’d always avoided smoking pot. Not out of some ideological stance or disgust at the culture that surrounds it—it just felt like too much of a crapshoot to bother. I did indulge on occasion through high school and into my 20s. But I would either wind up feeling pleasantly buzzed and giddy, or I’d be sent into a full-blown panic attack that had my heart racing and feeling like my body was trying to crawl out of its skin. Rather than risk getting freaked the fuck out, I swore off it.

I know now that it wasn’t just some random reaction I was having: It comes down to the various strains of weed and their THC and CBD levels. Somehow that was never explained to me. I’ve obviously been hanging around with the wrong potheads.

It hasn’t been until very recently that I’ve wanted to gently wade back into the waters of weed smoking. Some of that desire has been spurred by the company I’m keeping: a gaggle of pot lovers who dutifully avoid the more idiotic trappings of the culture. None of them own any clothing festooned with pot leaves, nor do they engage in spirited debates about Sublime or Phish bootlegs. They get weird ’cause it makes them feel good, and that’s that.

But I can’t deny that the recent move to kick open the doors for recreational users and the accompanying growth of dispensaries in the city hasn’t helped nudge me along in some way. I’m old enough, I can afford it, and I can control my consumption. Why wouldn’t I want to see what’s available?

I soon discovered, though, that catching up on weed culture is a bit like someone who hasn’t bought a record in 25 years deciding to stop by Music Millennium and browse around. The choices at my disposal in our modern marijuana age are downright overwhelming, with a whole new language that I have to try and parse. Shatter? Dabs? Pull-and-snap? What the fuck am I about to put into my body here? When people tell me about Blue Dream or Island Sweet Skunk—am I supposed to know what that is?

It got even more complicated when I started looking into the technology involved in getting high. The exponential growth of the market for vaporizers, pipes, and bongs had my head spinning, and I wasn’t even stoned yet.

There seems to be an assumption that anyone who sets foot in a dispensary immediately knows everything there is to know about pot smoking. Or at least enough to be able to pick and choose among the products without hesitation. Let me illustrate this with a story.

As a writer about culture and the arts, I get sent lots of emails offering up free music, access to advance screenings of movies, and samples of new products on the market. Somehow I ended up on the mailing list of SOURCEvapes, a Las Vegas-based company that aims to transform my ”vaporizing experience into a sophisticated sensory journey.” They were offering up a sample of their new SOURCE Orb 4 Coil-Less Quartz Vape Pen for me to review. I understood only two of those words (”4” and ”Pen”), but it seemed like a golden opportunity for me to get a leg up in the weed world. So I asked for one.

The package that arrived a few weeks later was as inviting as anything. The vaporizer pen itself was made of shiny titanium and looked like a cooking gadget or a high-end sex toy. It came with a cord to plug the device into the wall or into your computer’s USB port for charging. And nestled around it in its foam rubber package were... well, I wasn’t sure what these were. I’ve since learned that they are the atomizers that you put the wax into before you smoke up, but there was nothing in the package explaining any part of the vaporizer.

Being a new product, online information was minimal, so I made what I thought was the brave decision to admit my ignorance and ask the purveyors at a dispensary for help. I chose a humble little spot in Northeast Portland that came highly recommended. I presented the two young budtenders with my new gizmo and my dilemma, and was greeted with, well, a lot of annoyance. They seemed very put out by having to walk me through setting this thing up and grumblingly suggested a wax called ”Super Silver Blackberry,” promising a calm, body high.

It was like being in a record store as a teen in the ’90s, trying to make my way through a world of music where I was just scratching the surface. The clerks behind the counter wanted nothing to do with someone who wasn’t already hip to things. And like those days of yore, I’ve since had better experiences with shops that were more encouraging and patient with a newbie. But that first experience still left a sour taste in my mouth.

The wax, on the other hand, did everything it promised to, getting me delightfully baked and filling my body with the kind of glowing joy that I was always looking for when I would toke up with buddies after school or before band practice. I’m still not entirely sold on SOURCE Orb 4 Vape Pen itself. The chamber that hides the atomizer is held together by magnets—a cool idea in theory, but it makes carrying it around an annoyance, as the chamber tends to come apart when it bounces around your pocket. I also need someone to explain to me what the six other atomizers and this voltage control dial will do for me.

Until then, I can get happily high with it with no freakouts in sight, which is all I ever wanted.