I WAS PUFFING on one of my vaporizers the other night and, as one does, I started thinking about the history of vaporization. It goes back millennia, it turns out, to the Middle East and a nomadic tribe known as Scythians, fierce tattooed warriors who are often credited for expanding the use and knowledge of cannabis throughout Russia, Europe, Central Asia, and the Mediterranean. They’re a fascinating people aside from the connection to cannabis, as they had a form of gender equality in many cases that we’re still working to achieve now.
The Scythians’ connection to vaporization came from their rituals to honor their departed leaders. They would purify themselves by tossing stalks of flowering hemp onto beds of coals in enclosed structures similar to yurts, which released vapor clouds of THC.
How did that work out?
Pretty great, according to ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who in 450 BC wrote: “...When, therefore, the Scythians have taken some seed of this hemp, they creep under the cloths and put these seeds on the red hot stones; but this being put on smokes, and produces such a steam, that no Grecian vapour-bath would surpass it. The Scythians, transported by the vapour, shout aloud.”
For years, I assumed that was about it for creative vaporization methods (save for a homemade wood-burner vaporizer I tried in the 1990s).
But in the ’60s and ’70s, a man took vaporization to a new level. He’s a longtime music industry player, and one night he told me this story, which was confirmed by an old friend of his who was there. (As cool as it is, I’m empathically imploring you NOT to try this at home.)
This gentleman, who I will call the O.G., lived in a sizeable apartment above a record store in the South. This was during the time when the vast majority of weed available in the US came up from Mexico. It wasn’t exactly what you would call top-shelf, dispensary-grade herb. To ease the smuggling of the flower, it was pressed into thick slabs, compressed to the point that pulling off enough to roll a few joints required the use of a knife, and the chunks that came off had the density of a dwarf star.
The O.G. would have these parties where he would invite his cannabis-friendly friends over in the late evening, and once people were inside, they would make some interesting pre-party modifications to the dwelling. All of the windows were covered up with thick sheets of plastic, and the edges taped over. Towels were rolled and stuffed under the front and back doors, to fill in the cracks where they met the floor. An army of toasters were brought out and plugged in throughout the house. (Again—I can’t emphasize this enough, people—do not try this at home. This is a scenario that gives firefighters nightmares.)
The bricks of weed were dissected with surgical precision, resulting in stacks of identical, toast-sized pieces of weed. Seeds were removed as much as possible without compromising the integrity of the slabs.
The toasters were turned onto the lowest setting, with each one getting chunks placed in each slot. As the toaster heated up, so did the slices of weed, letting off a slow cloud of vapor. When the weed started to smolder or smoke, it was removed, and two new pieces of weed toast were dropped in.
The vapor would fill the somewhat airtight room, and after an hour of this, less attention was paid to the timing of toast swapping, and once in a while a piece would burst into flames and add some real burning smoke to the mix. By that time, visibility was greatly reduced, as was anyone’s interest or ability to leave, or do much more than grin, for that matter. About the time the sun was coming up, the plastic was taken down, and very, very, stoned guests emerged.
The low cost of the Mexican brick weed made it economically feasible, with each party running the O.G. about $50. It probably cost him more to replace the toasters.