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The Evergreen

Seattle Times coverage of pot policy, culture and lifestyle.

June 27, 2014 at 12:23 PM

What baby boomers need to know about pot

Zoe Picard, of New Hampshire, stirs ingredients for lemon bars made with pot butter under the watchful eye of Mary White during a cooking demo. (Photo by Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

Zoe Picard, of New Hampshire, stirs ingredients for lemon bars made with pot butter under the watchful eye of Mary White during a cooking demo. (Photo by Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

So you’re a baby boomer — between 50 and 68 years old. Your generation made “grass” a part of counterculture. Now, you’re interested in this new legal pot. But you hear it’s really strong. And it’s green, not gold or brown. And those edibles sound good because they don’t make you cough. But Maureen Dowd ate one candy bar in her Colorado hotel room and got so high she lay “panting and paranoid” for eight hours. How do I avoid the Maureen Dowd experience?
We’re here to help. Put away the double-album jacket, there are no seeds in this pot.

No seeds? They used to account for about a quarter of an ounce’s weight back in the day.
 As has been the case in Washington state for decades, our high-quality marijuana comes from unpollinated female plants and is called “sinsemilla” (“Without seeds” in Spanish.) Unlike the Panama Red and Acapulco Gold of yore, sinsemilla is green – often with orange and purple highlights – and it is more potent.

How potent is it?

Legalization opponents such as Patrick Kennedy like to warn about today’s “genetically modified” super-weed. First, it is not genetically modified, as confirmed earlier this year by truth-checking Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists at Politifact. It is selectively bred like apples or wheat for qualities such as color, smell and, yes, potency. Second, it is strong. University of Mississippi research shows that sinsemilla potency increased from 5.8 percent THC in 1993 to 8.8 percent in 2008. In a study for the White House earlier this year, the RAND Corporation reported that average potency of pot in the United States  increased from 5.2 percent THC in 2000 to 8.1 percent in 2010. But that is all pot – and it includes non-sinsemilla weed that RAND calls “commercial-grade.” For a better indication of what’s available locally, check out the website of Seattle lab Analytical 360, which posts the results of all its tests in the past 60 days. A recent scan shows samples ranging between 7 percent and 23 percent THC. The 20 most recent samples averaged 13.25 percent THC when we checked in mid-June.

OK, what’s that mean to me?

Back in the 1970s, the mean potency for pot was about 3 percent, according to Politifact. According to the University of Mississippi, the high mark in potency for today’s marijuana is around 25-27 percent.
So, yes, today’s pot is more potent. But lab tests in Seattle suggest that what’s commonly available is not anywhere near as potent as it could be, or as some claim.

Here’s how the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute puts it: “Depending on how analysis was conducted and the sample analyzed, marijuana strength has increased by 2 to 7 times since the 1970s, measured by THC levels. “

How will I know how strong it is?

The state rules require that all pot products carry labels showing the levels of THC and CBD (cannabidiol), a chemical in pot known to have anti-convulsant and other therapeutic qualities.

What about price? I used to get an ounce for $40 in the late 1970s.

In Seattle, medical-marijuana dispensaries tend to sell very good pot for about $250 an ounce. Prices are expected to be quite high when retail pot shops first open in Washington, as they were when Colorado opened its first stores in January. The high prices in Colorado reflected an initially low supply and extraordinary demand.

In Washington, we should expect something similar. The state will have licensed just a fraction of the applicants who applied to grow when stores first open. With scarce supply and the state’s stiff marijuana taxes, officials are expecting high prices at the outset, then taper downward as supply increases and more stores open. Ounces were selling at some Denver shops for $150 in June.

I hear a lot about vaporizers, what are the advantages of using them?

Vaporizers heat pot to a point where the marijuana doesn’t combust but does release vapors containing pot’s key chemicals. This is less harmful to your lungs.

There are two main kinds of vaporizers: those that use dried plant matter; and those that use oil made by extracting key chemicals from the plant.

Here at The Evergreen we bought a Snoop Dogg herbal vaporizer at our news room auction to benefit the United Way (Mr. Dogg had sent a complimentary vaporizer to the paper.) It fits in a pocket, but is fragile and has some design flaws. It works, though, and creates a vapor that’s gentle on the throat and lungs. It still gives off the telltale odor of marijuana but it’s less noticeable than it would be from a joint or pipe.

Most vaporizer pens use oil, which has a different buzz – less sharp and euphoric in The Evergreen’s opinion.
The bottom line: “Take a look at vaporizers to reduce the risk of lung damage from inhaling smoke. Using edible marijuana products is also an effective way to prevent any lung-related problems,” according to the UW Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute.

But what about Maureen Dowd’s nightmarish experience with a THC-infused candy bar? Aren’t edibles scary?

A lot of ground to cover here. First, the obvious; while Washingtonians voted to legalize weed, not all are experienced with how to consume it. Those pot-laced truffles look sweet and pretty, but they can pack a wallop. You need to start by understanding the potency of any edible before taking a bite. State officials consider 10 mg of THC to be a single serving size or dose. The candy bar Dowd ate contained 16 servings, something she claimed not to know. So look at the total THC content of your edible and ingest just a 10 mg dose, or less, to start. You can always take more — but you can’t go back and take less. That’s just one bit of sage wisdom from Denver Post pot editor Ricardo Baca’s eight tips to edibles.

It’s also crucial to understand that it takes much longer – often well more than an hour – for your body to absorb THC through your stomach and liver than through your lungs. That’s why all edible products in Washington stores are required to carry this warning: “CAUTION: when eaten the effects of this product can be delayed by as much as two hours.” The key lesson from “the Maureen Dowd experience,” as some are calling it, is that if you don’t feel high at first, don’t gobble more. Wait. Only increase your dosage after waiting more than an hour, maybe two.

So why does everyone now seem to talk about how stoned you can get instead of all the great things you can do when high, like communing with nature, protesting war, or fighting The Man?

Because you are The Man now and you need to be numbed and distracted from the mess you’ve made of this planet. We agree on your larger point, though. NPR’s This American Life recently solicited goofy stories about the “time you were so high that you…” But why stick with that tired stereotype? What about the time you were so creative or reflective, when high, or so nicely buzzed that you were enraptured by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s rendition of “As You Like It,” as the performance began under a salmon sunset and finished under sparkly stars.

Comments | More in Ask Us Anything | Topics: edibles, lcb, marijuana

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