LIKE ALCOHOL, marijuana isn't for everyone. We all know plenty of people who complain that it makes them (too) thinky, (too) stupid, (too) lazy, (too) hungry, etc. It's an incredibly common scenario for someone to have a fling with it in their youth then grow out of it, either willfully or because they've collected one too many negative experiences and decided it's just not for them.
Enter a marijuana industry that's become about 600 times more sophisticated than it was 40 years ago. Weed is no longer just weed. Now strains are developed like wine; a good pot merchant can begin a transaction by asking you to describe how you want it to make you feel, then recommend particular types meant to produce/avoid the desired/undesired effects.
Emboldened by the medical marijuana customer base, information on the variety of options is widely available, which begs the question: Do these distinctions really mean anything, or is it all just the fancy marketing of a quasi-legitimate new industry bent on selling their product—at least eventually—to everyone? Or, if different types of alcohol produce different effects (you can't tell me it's not five times as likely something bad's gonna happen if I drink Jäger), wouldn't it follow that different types of marijuana work the same way? If an avowed non-smoker were to develop a medical condition for which they were encouraged to seek out the benefits of marijuana, could they find a type they could live with?
To find out, I forced the two people on the Mercury editorial staff who are the most vehemently anti-weed—Editor in Chief Wm. Steven Humphrey and Arts and Web Editor Alison Hallett—to select a strain, using the marijuana industry's guidelines, that purported to produce/diminish the effects they thought they could handle/strove to avoid. Then I made 'em smoke it.
EXPERIMENT #1: ALISON HALLETT, PARANOID
Alison was so terrified of this experiment—due to the multiple marijuana-induced panic attacks that litter her past—she almost wouldn't do it. At first she feared that her behavior under the influence would get her fired—ha!—but ultimately relented, if with extremely restrictive caveats. I would not be allowed to interview her during the event (even though I offered to wear sunglasses), but she also wouldn't even let me be there, insisting she squirrel her stash away at home, where she could select the comfortable company of her choosing (who helpfully took notes for me).
Alison's chief complaint about marijuana use is that it makes her extremely paranoid. To that end, she sought out a strain that boasted calming effects aimed at pain and anxiety management, winding up with a pure indica called "OG Kush." Just prior to smoking it, she was asked what her concerns were about what was going to happen. "The same thing that usually happens," she said. "I'll have an intense panic attack, then I'm going to be like 'I hate this,' and I'm going to eat a bunch of pizza and go to bed early." (That doesn't sound so bad!) She also noted that the last time she enjoyed smoking was "early college, maybe? It was fun in high school"—classic case.
Immediately after smoking some of the test strain, Alison reported that she "actually feels okay. Like a mix between comfortable and silly." She not only successfully left the confines of her own home to face the intimidating, intensely trafficked streets of the Woodlawn neighborhood (to acquire aforementioned pizza), but exhibited jovial, joking behavior, such as making a verbal list of words she cannot pronounce ("What's that little Mexican dog called? 'Chiwawe'?") and espousing the virtues of the comic book Asterios Polyp. Only one "tiny meltdown" was reported, when she witnessed a dog passing, at which point she decided to get a dog, and then immediately realized that, "We can't afford a dog until we can buy a house, and we're never going to be able to buy a house. We're going to be broke forever."
The marijuana industry knows what it's doing, and can service even the intensely paranoid with a strain that is not only tolerable, but also pleasant.
EXPERIMENT #2: WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY, SOCIAL ANIMAL
Before he began his career in publishing, Steve earned an undergraduate degree in theater. Being outgoing is kind of his thing. While he once gamely kept up with the smoking habits of a pothead girlfriend, he gave up on the stuff about eight years ago. His main gripe: His reaction to pot is unpredictable. About 25 percent of the time it would be fine, and the rest of the time he would be completely socially inept (especially around "rich people") and/or experience what he describes as "body function breakdown." For instance, his ears sometimes feel plugged to the point of deafness, or he'll randomly lose feeling in an arm or leg. He also, like many people, harbors some pot brownie overdose-induced emotional scarring.
For this experiment, Steve wanted a strain that would make him "euphoric," "aroused," and "creative," and he was up for adventure. He wound up with a hybrid indica/sativa strain called "Alien Dawg." Noting that his starting mood seems to be one of the only predictors of how he will react, Steve reported before smoking that he felt "okay" and in a "pretty good mood" at the tail end of a busy weekend.
Upon smoking, Steve reported feeling "lightheaded in a good way," three inches taller, and claimed his face felt "triangular—like a fox." While he complained that a walk to a nearby New Seasons seemed to take forever, the experience of a busy, crowded area was taken more or less in stride. When tasked with finding a pomegranate (they're not in season; there weren't any), he proudly likened his systematic approach to that of Sherlock Holmes, and while he remained convinced that everyone in the store knew he was high—and that I had planned certain encounters, such as an elderly passerby who asked if we were "ready for Easter Sunday," and an unleashed wiener dog—he didn't seem to mind. (Though his enthusiastic reply to the elderly gentleman that we would "be ready for Easter someday!" didn't make much sense.)
Given the success of the grocery store excursion, I decided to test the boundaries of Alien Dawg's suitability, and had Steve smoke 1.5 more bowls of it. We then proceeded to Northeast neighborhood dive bar Magoo's, where a late-afternoon crowd was gathered, playing pool and video poker. It was here that Steve developed a theory: Since Alien Dawg's places of origin were said to be Northern California and Afghanistan, he likened his first bowl to have put him in NoCal, whereas now he found himself in Afghanistan.
Noticeably paler and more subdued, Steve reported feeling nauseated and dizzy. (Note: This may be related to the consumption of O'Doul's, a non-alcoholic option chosen out of the desire not to pollute the experiment.) His body posture was markedly less open. Encouraged to socialize, this normally gregarious person claimed to be "completely paralyzed." Despite the apparent friendliness of most everyone in the bar, Steve had trouble initiating conversation, though was able to interact reasonably well when addressed by a variety of genial fellow customers. An attempt to understand a video poker game (which, to be fair, was pretty convoluted) largely failed.
The two moments at the bar during which Steve reported feeling comfortable were when he met a seven-week-old puppy who peed on the carpet in excitement, and when he found "No Diggity" on the jukebox. Overall, however, things were now looking grim. The door to the back patio was freaking him out (?). He thought someone speaking English was speaking Russian. He felt "genetically modified" and like he might faint, and begged me to leave.
He was, after a brief interlude, able to drive himself home, although he later admitted to pulling over at DQ before also having second dinner at home.
CONCLUSION: Qualified success!
Considering that Steve consumed 2.5 bowls on his own within the span of less than two hours, Alien Dawg treated him reasonably kindly. Had he limited his consumption, he would have no doubt continued to have a fine time (my bad).
Overall? Two points out of two for the marijuana industry! Apparently, when it comes to weed, you really can pick your poison.