Well, you're right, when cannabis finally becomes available for legal retail sale to adults 21 and over, the array of products will be dizzying for people who decide to check out the scene. But just like with beer and wine, you don't need to be an expert to find something you enjoy.
From an experienced consumer's standpoint, the market is truly about to enter a golden age. No more wet or moldy bags a half-gram shy of an eighth ... properly matured, flushed and cured flowers a standard best practice, not a rare exception ... confirmed genetic lines ... no more bizarre market shortages ... more or less standard quality and predictable effects, and so on.
Who knows, though -- all this quality and convenience may mean the loss of something essential. Have younger generations lost anything if they'll never know what brickweed is? Does hitting a resin ball build character?
From a neophyte's perspective, though, this new cannabis array could cause confusion. Luckily for the curious, other pot smokers are there to help. If you know someone who is into the subculture (and in Alaska, the odds are you do), just ask. Cannabis enthusiasts are generally willing to help people new to the whole thing, and if you've heard of vapes and kushes -- just guessing here -- the odds are great you know someone who's into the green.
No matter where someone is on the experience spectrum, information is key. Cannabis is useful for general well-being and can be as fun as a room full of jazz-hands when used responsibly, but all that that starts by knowing your own limits and what you've bargained for.
Because cannabis produces an array of effects (and not just various flavors of intoxications), because it can be used for many different purposes, and because individual experiences can vary, the best way to figure out how “to pot” for yourself is to just try it, but depending on your experience level, you might have to be a little patient. Not everyone gets high the first time they try the pot. Once a person develops a little familiarity with one kind or method of consuming cannabis, though, it'll be easy to branch out.
Aside from various creams, tinctures, pills and rubs that are coming out now, consumption of cannabis takes three common forms: smoking, vaping and eating. Effects vary for each method, and most people tend to prefer one over others.
Smoking and vaping have the most quickly detectable effects, usually producing them within a few minutes and peaking in intensity about an hour or so after, usually dissipating completely by a few or several hours later. Smoking is more complex these days than it used to be, but the standard metal pipe and cigarette rolling paper are still effective.The snowball pipe is still a classic, as is any variety of apple or pear pipe. Waterpipe designs now offer crazy levels of aeration, producing a very smooth smoke.
And those flavors can be every bit as complex as wine or beer. Depending on one's palate, notes of pine, citrus, berry, cheese, rubber, musk, skunk, to name just a few, are easily detectable. Many times, these are just flavors, an aesthetic boost, but some researchers believe that the chemicals that produce them, called “terpenes,” modulate or influence effects that other components of cannabis on the body and mind. Research is still being done, however, and no one understands completely yet how the chief chemicals in cannabis plants interact with each other and our bodies.
Terpenes are also extracted in the process that makes cannabis concentrates, so vaping (which can also be known as dabbing when concentrates and certain equipment is involved) keeps them in the mix even if no actual smoke is involved. Vaping doesn't burn any material, just heats up a substance (anything from flowers to concentrates) enough to create a vapor to inhale. Some users say that vaping produces effects that are too thin-feeling or that dissipate too quickly compared to smoking, but sometimes that's just what someone might want.
Dabbing, which uses concentrates that go by names like "oil," "wax," "shatter," or "pull and snap," (just texture descriptions of essentially the same substance) is usually associated with stronger effects than other methods. It's the kind of thing you'd do if you don't need to go anywhere or do anything important for a while. For first-time cannabis users, dabbing probably isn't the best idea. Vaping or smoking is preferable in my opinion because it allows for better dosage control and a more or less complete encounter with the plant's chemistry without risking a bad experience from getting too high too soon.
Eating cannabis takes longer to kick in and the effect is more powerful and longer lasting. If someone tells you, “This brownie is pro-level,” believe them. Unless cardiovascular health is a concern, I don't recommend eating as a first experience, primarily because it can be difficult to control dosage and anticipate effects, especially since Alaska doesn't have a concentrates or edibles testing facility in operation yet. But because cannabis can infuse such an array of edible items, they can take any form, everything from gummy bears and cookies to waffles with bacon and cheese.
But if anyone should try cannabis for the first time and not feel anything, they shouldn't worry. It's not unusual. Many first times end in a shrug and a “meh, what's the big deal?” Persistence will be rewarded, but going overboard the first time trying to chase an experience may result in negative effects. Basically, if you've never smoked much pot before, don't try hash or a big pull off a dabbing rig right off the bat, and for Jah's sake, don't keep hitting them if you don't feel anything right at first. Put on some training wheels first. Flowers are a fine first step, and cautious persistence is smart.
So, all those different kinds and characteristics of pot Foxweed names: sativas, indicas, berry, kush, purples, and so on are just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of kinds of cannabis now, and they all have been created for different effects, growth cycles, yields and so on. Indica, sativa and ruderalis are three subspecies of cannabis, and they can all be crossed and combined with one another to produce different characteristics in offspring. Those offspring are known as “strains,” and in the last few decades, they have multiplied a great deal. Strains are usually either purely indica or sativa, or a blend of the two, often favoring one type or another. Indicas tend to be more relaxing and sedative, and sativas tend to be more uplifting or cerebral, but that's a big generalization and it may vary in individual experience. And there are rumblings afoot that the nomenclature is flawed and needs to be corrected before the common terms become standard.
For a long time there was just one kind of pot: “pot.” But now there's pot that helps you sleep, pot that makes you feel active, pot that makes anything you look at more interesting, pot that's good for introspection and contemplation, pot that barely changes your mental state but deeply relaxes your body. And dozens of other possibilities.
But because the industry is still in “green rush” mode all across the country, and because the cannabis plant is a complex organism, the expression of traits isn't always the same, even across a batch of plants that should be identical. There is plenty of reason to believe cannabis experiences might not be able to be standardized in the way we're accustomed to in this fast-food world. Which is where individual awareness comes in. To complicate things even more, some researchers have been arguing for years that many strains are mislabeled or are not as potent as advertised, which would mean the names of strains are more of a marketing tool. If labeling rules and testing inconsistencies mean that what some consumers think is a strain called “Purple Kush” may not be, then reviews state-to-state will not be reliably comparable. But time will tell on all that. It's still a brand new day out there.
Strains aside, researchers are also still arguing about whether environment and attitudemean more to a user's experience than the particular kind of pot does. Basically, the argument goes, if you anticipate your pot will make you mellow and sleepy, it probably will. But for all the trendy nuances in flavor and effect available, at a very basic level, pot is still pot. Pretty much any kind of pot can still make you think your hands look like Muppet faces. Pretty much any pot could still let you really hear music for the first time, ease the aches or stress of a hard day at work, or help you find unexpected insight into your own or someone else's life.
And, it must be said, pretty much any pot carries health risks and can be abused. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has a set of information online that helps inform people about common side effects, considerations and risks associated with consumption of cannabis, and resources like it should be part of anyone's researching the new lay of the land.
Lots of resources
Keeping track of all these strains and new ways of consumption can be difficult, but there are many resources online. The Cannabist, a publication of The Denver Post, features a large catalog of thorough cannabis reviews, and has a big glossary of common terms. The Seattle Times has a lengthy Q&A page that deals with consumer issues, as well as laws specific to that state. Another website, Leafly.com, is trying to be a comprehensive source for user reviews of strains and dispensaries, and it produces its own glossary and other informative features as well. But there are many, many other resources.
Closer to home, there are many Alaska-based cannabis groups (just search Facebook for a small taste). And in the Matanuska Valley, there are in-person information sessions being put on at least once a month by Midnight Greenery. Co-founder Sara Williams said the greenery hopes to enter the cannabis industry when that option becomes available, but for now she says they're serving an educational role and trying to stay in regulators' good graces. She said that in addition to the monthly offerings, they're in the process of creating a set of classes with public officials in mind that will cover the whole cycle of cannabis from growth to consumption, and that will eventually be adapted for a consumer audience.
Williams says their classes have covered topics like concentrates and edibles, medicinal uses, legalization do's and don'ts, but for the next meeting, they're bringing it back to the basics of the plant to kick off a series on growing. Attendees will learn things like what the plant is made of, what it takes to produce, and a bit about different strains. That class will be held May 27 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at North Shore Alehouse in Wasilla. The cost is $15 in advance, $20 at the door, but bringing five cans of food or five toiletry items to donate will get you a $5 discount.
Food donations will go for Midnight Greenery's “munchies for the munchless” program, which Williams said raised about 500 tons of food at February and March events. The food went to the Sutton Bible Church for distribution to those in need. Williams said donated toiletries go to a table outside of Tent City to help Valley folks living outside.
Also, this weekend in Anchorage is the Alaska Cannabis Classic, a combination trade show, herb contest and educational event, the first of its kind in Alaska. Despite one of the Classic's main sponsors shutting down after a warning by regulators, the show will go on. Vendors and sponsors will still have booths, demonstrations and workshops, and thanks to a recent decision by the Anchorage Assembly, cannabis will even be on display. There's a day dedicated to businesses only (Friday, May 15), and two days open to the public (Saturday and Sunday, May 16 and 17). For people 21 and older, tickets and VIP passes are available online, as well as a full schedule of vendors and more.
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