America, I inhaled

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] few weeks ago, around Thanksgiving, my grandmother baked cookies in her kitchen in Fort Collins. They were hard and flat and ugly. They smelled like any old regular cookies. But there was an extra ingredient: marijuana.

Mimi, as we call her, had planned to bake one regular batch she could share with guests stopping through. But, as the progressive and sometimes surprising 89-year-old that she is, she also planned to bake a cannabis batch with my uncle.

At whatever age, sometimes it’s hard to keep things straight in a kitchen. The cannabis butter that my uncle had marinated for three days somehow slipped into the “just normal” batch, and by the end of the evening, Mimi had made dozens of pot cookies that she put in zip-locked baggies at the foot of her freezer, next to the frozen berries.

On a visit as I passed through town, she offered me one and told me to have fun. In her opinion, she said, marijuana is far less hazardous than alcohol.

I took the cookie, but didn’t eat it. I’m 25. And, having made it this far without marijuana, I figured I’d wait a couple weeks until you could buy it in stores. I was until New Year’s Day, a cannabis virgin.

It’s hard for me to pinpoint why I had never smoked pot when there was ample opportunity to do so. I had a roommate in college who used to “wake and bake,” rolling out of bed in our cramped dorm for a quick bowl before his tests. Later in college, I lived with a kid who had hollowed out an old dresser in which to grow plants. As far back as high school in Laramie, pot has wafted all around me.

I suppose there are two main reasons for my abstinence: I was afraid and I was square. Due to no fault of my fairly liberal parents, I’m an exceptional law-abiding citizen who obsessively follows traffic signs and whose only run-in with the law came at age 19 when, while totally sober and designated-driving friends from a wedding reception in Wyoming, I got a $116 speeding ticket because, I’ve always insisted, of poorly marked speed limit signs on the highway. That’s it. I’ve had a quarter-century on this planet without a rebellious phase. The law and I are friends. Rules are rules, and that’s how I’ve rolled.

Not only was pot illegal, but it posed other problems for my middle-class, white, male, Wyoming-bred, milquetoast constitution. As someone prone to panic attacks triggered by merely watching, for example, “Thor: The Dark World,” I wanted no part of the possibility of pot-induced paranoia or of a gateway to harder drugs. And so, I ended up – without judgment for my pot-smoking relatives and friends – having not been stoned.

As a reporter for The Independent assigned to cover Colorado’s pot legalization, it occurred to me that everybody seemed to know what it’s like to be high, except me.

That is, until yesterday, when motivated by what I saw as my responsibility to thorough news coverage, I went to Medicine Man, a dispensary on Nome Street in north Denver, in order to buy cannabis legally. In the spirit of full disclosure, I admitted my inexperience to an enthusiastic and extraordinarily polite “budtender,” Jason Coleman. To my relief, he confided that he first got high when he was 24, after serving in the Navy. As two late-bloomers, I felt between us a certain solidarity.

jason med man

I told Jason my concerns. No paranoia, no head trips and nothing too strong, please. After listening carefully, he offered some whiffs of a few strains – none of which I could discern from the other. And, after a 20-minute consultation, he sold me on two eights of pot. One was as a “sativa” called “Jack Herer #3”, which he promised would give me a motivational day-high. The other was an “indica” with the manly moniker, “Industrial,” which he said would relax my body and mind.

Back home in Boulder, with my girlfriend and two friends, I lit the end of my first joint and inhaled the “Industrial.”

To be honest with you, I almost chickened out. This is no VICE piece. With joint in hand, I became anxious and sweaty. My ingrained fears came flooding back. Even though recreational pot was now legal, I hesitated. Why mess with something good? I was plenty paranoid without pot.

But – motivated both by my journalism and curiosity – I did it. First I took one hit, but that failed. Then a second hit. And then a third. Something in my throat was protesting and wouldn’t let the smoke through. I kept at with hits four, five and six. And then I waited for something to happen. My girlfriend fell asleep as I sat on the couch trying to discern if I was high. It took two hours of introspection and twenty times asking my friends if I seemed high until it hit me. I was officially and legally stoned.

Although I’ve known about it for years, in my four months reporting on marijuana policy and culture, I’ve learned the cannabis world has a parlance of its own. To be clear, “dank” and “schwag,” aren’t part of my vernacular. So I’ll try to describe in my own way an experience that most people my age, twice my age – and some even half my age – have experienced.

Maybe being high is like the type of love that you don’t know you’re experiencing until you’re in it. That’s what happened for me. Getting high hit all of a sudden. It was a low, faint ringing behind my eyes sweeping away my anxiety and panic. It was flushed cheeks and total immersion into the senses and the task before me – writing an article about the experience. Everything seemed full of significance. It wasn’t lightning striking in my brain, but a type of lucidity that let me peek beyond the general run-of-the-day concerns I blunt with other types of mind-altering substances: food, exercise, alcohol, coffee and touch. For an hour or two, I thought I was writing better than I’d ever written before. That kind of pluck is normal when you’re stoned, I’m told. But still, it was nice for a while to think my writing, like me, was soaring.

Also like love, I suppose being high is an experience so subjective and personal that talking about it is like describing a dream. It could be a sublime dream, rich and colorful, but trying to explain it loses something in translation.

I had been advised as I prepared for my foray into marijuana use not to just sit, stoned in my living room. So I stepped out into the January evening to walk my friend to the bus stop. Somehow, the bud I had smoked two hours earlier turned the darkness to metaphor. Outside the confines of my warm, bright apartment, I felt suddenly small, and the experience of being human seemed tragic and lovely. But I felt the winter wind, and I realized, as if for the first time, this is what cold was. This is how it felt on my skin. This is how streetlights looked like in darkness. This is how it feels to breathe. I felt calm and present and new.

Then my mom texted, inquiring about my news assignment that day. “Are you high honey?” And I thought, yes. Yes, I am.

[ Photo in Medicine Man by James Brennan ]


  1. You should have listened to your grandparents earlier…then it wouldn’t have been so traumatic.

    Still well written, well done. In the end, no big deal, eh?

  2. Did you see unicorns and did little purple men tell you to expose yourself to children?

    Didn’t think so….

    It was no big deal. Felt loose, relaxed and introspective. Huzzah!

    Now maybe the rest of the country will realize what a silly thing it has been to prohibit people from consuming cannabis for all of these years.

  3. So as an aspiring writer I have to ask…how did you view said writing after the fact? Was it indeed soaring? Or incomprehensible? Or perhaps some combination, with nuggets you could use that you might not otherwise have come up with?

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