For a great long while, I thought there was only one kind of bud: whatever the fuck was available. The first time I smoked weed (And by “smoked weed” I mean “got high”), I was by most accounts pretty old — twenty-two. There had been two former, rather desultory attempts. Once, at a bonfire on Repulse Bay Beach in Hong Kong when I was fifteen (Hong Kong is renowned for several things, but marijuana is not one of them), and another time in Texas, in the garage of some skater dude who was a year older, very hot, and had an identical twin I would’ve gladly settled for. I was green, the weed less so.
The first time I ever smoked successfully, I was working in Brooklyn, in the dead of winter, for profoundly exploitative wages. On the upside, the job happened to come with a young, chill boss who daily smoked two blunts wrapped in Vanilla Dutch Masters, and was fairly generous about sharing. The weed was dopey, didn’t have a name, and helped temper the indignation I felt trekking ninety minutes with two train changes and a bus ride — in the snow — to get to work. That was thirteen years ago.
By the time I moved to California in my thirties, weed was becoming legal, and I secured a cannabis card for dubious medical reasons and credible recreational ones. I learned there was not only a dazzling kaleidoscope of marijuana strains to choose from, but that, depending on my hankering, I could calibrate the weed to my desired vibe. What a time to be alive! No more feeling catatonic on a dinner date or hyper-social and chatty at the movie theater — I was on the path to finding The Perfect High. Not, like, One High to Rule Them All, but more like, the superlative vibe for every chill sitch in my life. The perfect high, of course, is largely subjective. We’re all physiological snowflakes with wildly differing operating systems. It’s why some people can have a grand time on edibles (me) but other people (my best friend Brooke) go bat-shit crazy, curling up in the fetal position until the mania subsides.
There are significant differences in how the body metabolizes the nearly one hundred different cannabinoids present in cannabis. Phytocannabinoids, found in cannabis flowers, are the chemical compounds that we respond to. (We also produce cannabinoids in our bodies — called endogenous cannabinoids or endocannabinoids). The cannabinoid system is old, I mean ancient; even worms respond to cannabinoids. It regulates a bunch of basic processes in our bodies — the immune system, memory, sleep and inflammation. We have cannabinoid receptors in all sorts of places.
You guys: we’re basically designed to get high.
Of all the cannabinoids in cannabis, THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol) are the most famous, with the prevailing agreement that THC is heady and CBD is about the body high. But it’s the ninety-odd other cannabinoids acting in concert with them that make each high unique. This synergistic effect — the harmonious interplay, and the permutations of cannabinoids — is what makes each strain so darned mysterious. Elan Rae, the in-house cannabis expert for Marley Natural (the official Bob Marley cannabis brand) described the “entourage effect,” as it’s called, as “the combined effect of the cannabinoid profile. It doesn’t allow you to specifically ascribe an effect to one cannabinoid.” To wit: it’s not the amount of THC that gets you high, but how it reacts with a slew of other cannabinoids.
So while you may not know the exact chemistry of why you’re getting a certain type of high, it stands to reason that you can use guidelines to land in the neighborhood of the high you’re after. Think of it this way: you want a kicky, effervescent vinho verde for picnics or beaches, a jigger of bourbon for cozy autumnal nights, and nineteen pitchers of pre-mixed margarita if you want a pernicious hangover to cap off an evening of homicidal mania and sexual regret. Similarly, you’ll want a playful, low-impact Sativa for an al fresco activity, and an Indica or Indica-dominant hybrid for cuffin’ season.
And what exactly is the difference between Indica and Sativa? Within the Cannabis genus, they are two separate species. Pretty much everything we smoke is one, the other, or a hybrid of the two. Indicas are mellower and harder-hitting, perfect for Olympiad-level chilling after a long day. They’re often prescribed to people who have trouble sleeping or need to manage pain. The plant phenotypically tends to be shorter and bushier, with thicker individual leaves. Sativas, on the other hand, tend to be neurologically wavier, generally better for a daytime high. They make most of us feel alert, and they’re excellent for idea generation, provided you don’t fall into too many disparate wormholes. The flower looks like the platonic ideal of weed; it’s the kind you get on a pair of Huf socks, or embroidered onto a red, gold, and green hat.
To say there’s a weed for every occasion is an understatement. Like German nouns, there’s an exact cannabis strain to complement “sentimental pessimism” or the “anguish one feels when comparing the shortcomings of reality to an idealized state of the world.” Some weed is built for fucking, and other weed is for ugly-crying at 4AM at season two of Bojack Horseman because you relate way too hard to an anthropomorphized cartoon horse and his drinking problem. (No judgment.)
It is with this knowledge, clear eyes, and a full heart that I went to my reputable Los Angeles medical center (not to be confused with any old run-of-the-mill bongmonger) and secured eight strains to try: Platinum Jack, XJ13, Dutch Treat, Pineapple Express, J1, Gorilla Glue, Berner’s Cookies and NorCal OG.
To prepare, I embarked on a total weed cleanse. I abstained from smoking for a month; a hard reset. Jake Browne, the cannabis reviewer for the Denver Post (the paper’s first, though it recently added a second), agrees that a cooling-off period is crucial for an accurate read. “I’m not a daily smoker,” he told me over the phone. “I smoke three or four times a week and tend to let my tolerance level fall back down after a review.”
I started from the Sativa end of the spectrum and went in order until I arrived at NorCal OG. Then I went through again, picking the strain that I thought would best match the activity at hand, like picking music for a road trip. After that, I went back in and jumped around from Indica to Sativa for a final lap. No matter how tempted I was, I only smoked one strain per day, and made sure to sleep between each sampling if I wasn’t able to allow myself a full twenty-four-hour respite.
Pedants and brow-beaters will grouse that if I had really made an effort to eliminate biases, I would have blind tested — removed all labeling or identifiable traits so that I wouldn’t know what I was smoking. But while I love science and champion the intrepid, there’s no way in hell I was going to smoke NorCal OG on a Wednesday morning knowing I had two meetings, a conference call later in the day and a small talk-heavy business dinner later that night. It also bears mentioning that, as a freelancer, I can smoke in the comfort of my home office, though I have never, ever attempted to meet a deadline while high.
I focused mostly on how the strains made me feel. This by no means suggests that your experiences will mirror mine. Marijuana amplifies whatever you’re feeling and, chances are, my feels are not your feels (but if they are we should hang out).
So, yeah, here are my infallible, opinion-based findings:
Name: Platinum Jack
Vibe: 100 percent Sativa
Good for: Small, repetitive, menial tasks. Dumbing all the way out
Munchies level: Some at the outset but they subside
Overall rating: Would smoke again but wouldn’t buy it
I’d smoked Platinum Jack before, but not while cleaning my L.A. office. After an initial burst of energy, I felt scattered. Air-headed. I’d stride into a room only to wonder what the hell I wanted there. It was pleasantly spacey but one-note, with a long tail, and I felt tangibly stupider as time wore on. In my notes at around the halfway mark of my first smoke, I have, “Writing right now is mad Flowers for Algernon.” Emails had to be short. For some, Sativas can be somewhat speedier — akin to drinking a ton of coffee — or else it induces paranoia, but that’s never been the case for me. The forgetfulness was way too annoying when tackling a task with multiple parts.
On the other hand, this is a weed perfect for myopic activities like hunkering down with your LED-lit magnifying mirror, a pair of Tweezermans and, like, 40 uninterrupted minutes to inspect and terrorize your pores. Or re-organize your wallet. If you’re being driven around with no objective other than sticking your head out of the window like a long-haired dog, you are golden.
Vibe: 15/85; Sativa dominant.
Good for: Low-key gatherings
Munchies level: Minimal
Overall rating: Would buy for summer blockbusters or wack social engagements
So you know how you can’t watch certain movies when you’re high? Like, the actors look like they’re acting, and you’re just sitting there in their heads with them wondering about why they made certain decisions about the characters’ motivations when they’re so wrong? And then you get distracted and pan out to see the math going on with the DP and the director and the producers are all the way out like that Eames movie, Powers of Ten, to where all you can think about is the payroll department of the Jason Statham movie? This is one of the few weeds that won’t ruin movies for me.
It’s largely an unmemorable high and was also very one-note in that the high was very binary (you are high/you are not high), but the munchies were manageable. It was good for a low-grade annoying social gathering where I could interface with minimal paranoia, and I didn’t feel like I had to preface any dialogue with the disclaimer that I was stoned. That said, I didn’t eat all the cheese that I normally would when weeded at a shit party, so that was a bonus.
Name: Dutch Treat
Vibe: 20/80; Sativa dominant
Good for: Brunch
Munchies level: High
Overall rating: Would smoke again but wouldn’t buy
This was a surprisingly sleepy weed for me as far as Sativas go. And it was the worst munchies perpetrator of the bunch. I spent an egregious amount of money at the deli — unpasteurized coconut water, dark chocolate, pickles, and genoa salami, and I could not resist the impulse buy of the new All-Dressed Ruffles flavor. (OK, sidebar: All-Dressed is a Canadian invention that mixes salt-and-vinegar, barbecue, cheddar, and sour cream and onion, which handily makes it Canada’s most benevolent export, other than those little maple sandwich cookies that are shaped like leaves).
From the smell to its psychotropic properties, this was a weed that I filed in my h
ead as, “Yeah, it’s weed.” And while I’d totally buy those Ruffles chips again (even though the Crispers-brand crackers are far superior), I would probably not buy this weed again. I thought I was fire at dispensing advice during brunch, but later when polling my friends on my performance they admitted that my unsolicited wisdom was “a little aggressive.” I also smoked this right before going to bed one night and had a textbook anxiety dream about fainting in a crowd. I mean, honestly, I was hoping for something far more inventive on weed.
Name: Pineapple Express
Vibe: 25/75; Sativa dominant
Good for: Everything
Munchies level: Yes, but it makes chips so fun
Overall rating: Buy regularly
Pineapple Express is for me the ultimate weed for running errands with the top down on a beautiful Southern California afternoon. It goes great with Kehlani songs and Haribo gummy bear sours. Basically it’s the weed I’d smoke before going to the weed store. I can only imagine Seth Rogen and crew were similarly smitten with the strain since it inspired an entire feature-length film.
PE is mellow, light, giggly but not spazzy, and I can reliably sleep on it even if I smoke it in the evening. That said, it was fascinating to smoke Pineapple after a month without it and within the context of smoking all this other stuff. It wasn’t as much the glittering unicorn that I remembered. But if any of my friends ask me to supply a non-committal weed suggestion, this is a tried-and-true classic.
Of course it does depend on where you’re at, emotionally and mentally. A producer friend of mine, who’d spent the entire day consoling a friend through a messy breakup, punctuated by eight hours of songwriting, smoked PE very late at night and promptly had a minor panic attack. He couldn’t switch his brain off. I told him to try smoking something else. He told me to stop texting him because he needed to go lie down in the dark.
Vibe: 30/70, Sativa dominant
Good for: Decisive action, going for a run, making lists
Munchies level: Mid-grade but entirely based on boredom level
Overall rating: Would definitely buy again
I first smoked this on a Sunday night right after dinner and figured, since it was tempered with some Indica, that it wouldn’t make me go nuts. I was super wrong. There’s something about this particular strain that hugged each dial in my brain in such a specific way that it made everything go really, really fast. When I allowed my mind to crunch on certain algorithms — like, WTF Am I Doing With My Career? And But, Like, Do I Really Want to Live in L.A. Anymore? — I was blown away by the level of introspection I could telescope into.
Best of all, I arrived at conclusions compelling enough that — unlike jokes you remember from a dream — didn’t reveal themselves to be total bullshit the next day. J1 is good for for grown-up homework, like psyching yourself up for uncomfortable conversations. If I ever found myself in the position of having to break up with someone over the phone (due to long-distance; not because I’m a monster) I’d get really high on J1 first.
I also loved it for running in Brooklyn Heights at magic hour. Not only did it have that slight body high, where your arms feel sort of loosey-goosey at the elbows and your skin longs to go skinny-dipping in tepid water, it also killed the boredom of running. I felt like I could read the minds of everyone on the street. Disclaimer: I will say my friend Mel smoked some right before we went to dinner and felt nothing.
Name: Gorilla Glue
Vibe: 65/35; Indica dominant
Good for: Life and feeling good about it and most verbs
Munchies level: Kind of extreme
Overall rating: May supplant my regular favorites as my new favorite
Holy crap. Let me paint you a picture: New York. Fall. Raining. With just enough snap in the atmosphere and a top note of cinder that it really starts to smell like winter. There’s an edge in this weed that amplifies the crispness of the air in your lungs and it’s a high that comes fast and swallows you whole. It begins in your ears as if they’ve been lightly stuffed with cotton wool. It’s not unpleasant but there’s a sensory dissonance because you are sitting further inside yourself.
You get cottonmouth. Bad. The receptors in your submandibular glands are way too busy canoodling with cannabinoids to dick around with transmissions from your parasympathetic nervous system to produce saliva but it’s fiiiiiiiiiiine. Your heartbeat is eleven percent louder. It’s close to being underwater if you’re somehow secure in the knowledge that you can breathe underwater. GG promotes a profound sense of wellbeing. Like that gratitude you feel when you’re high after a long day of work and you’ve just taken off your pants or your bra if you wear bras.
It was a lot of experience to handle, and I’d definitely not attempt it while hanging out with new people or in any setting where you have to see anyone you work with. It’s really good Fucking Weed but you’ll have to drink a lot of water, and ironically, it’s also a weed seemingly designed for Thai or Indian food. Or, a trough of pho. But who’s really trying to make the beast with two backs with broth sloshing around in your system?
The munchies are, however, offset by how sparkly everything becomes. From how emo you feel about your friends to how incredible certain bass lines feel. It did give me more trouble sleeping than I’d expected. For me, Gorilla’s not a nighttime weed if I need to go to bed immediately, but it’s great if I want to tool around in my head for a while and lie there. Even as I closed my eyes I felt like the eye behind my eyes was wide open. My consciousness was crazy dilated. But then again, I like that sort of thing.
Name: Berner’s Cookies
Vibe: 80/20, Indica dominant
Good for: TV you’ve seen before, like Friends re-runs
Munchies level: Minimal
Overall rating: Unsubscribe
I just didn’t love this weed. It made me feel congested and a little run-down. Something about it felt like seasonal allergies so I tried it in both New York and Los Angeles a few weeks apart a couple times each. In LA, I smoked and actually got a little panicky which doesn’t normally happen. It felt most reminiscent of the weed I’d smoked in my early twenties when I first moved to New York. But like bad pizza being serviceable in a pinch for drunk nights, Berner’s was dynamite at flinging you over the edge when you’re already wasted. It made me feel mental and very spun out after some tumblers of whiskey and then instantly put me to sleep. On its own, Berner’s gave me the worst weed hangovers of the bunch.
Name: NorCal OG
Vibe: 100 percent Indica
Good for: Chilling
Munchies level: Low
Overall rating: Not mad but probably wouldn’t smoke again
So I’ll admit to feeling apprehension right before I smoked the NorCal. Again, because I’m a Sativa person with rampant Sativa-person biases. But while I thought the OG would be like NyQuil sleepy-flipped with two tabs of Zyrtec, I found it to be surprisingly mild on the narcolepsy front. It did feel like eating spaghetti carbonara with a side of Armagnac after six bagels, but it wasn’t unpleasant.
It felt like needing a nap and being unable to take one, though I did feel very stoned. It’s one of those weeds where I bought a gram and knew exactly who to give it to amongst my crazy-chill friends. That said, if I had to deliver it to him after smoking it or if he had to pick it up from me, we’d be at a total Mexican Standoff. Ain’t nobody trying to climb into an Uber with this shit on and in their person.
If you enjoy using marijuana, doing some version of this intrepid little experiment is informative, if only to get yourself a baseline of how you react to certain hybrids and what you enjoy. Until you smoke a strain yourself, you won’t know how it affects you — certain hazes make me feel like happily rearranging my books in order of how much I respect the author at that moment, while others make my hands feel too clenchy and weird.
Of course, sampling a handful of strains from one store based on the suggestions of a visibly high weed-store genius barely scratches the surface. Jake Browne had some advice on how to read field guides, like his Cannabist column, or my experiences outlined here: “It’s like a sex column,” Browne said. “It’s like, Hey I’m going to encourage you to try some things, and they might not all work, but it’s probably better to experiment than to keep living this vanilla life?”
Word. Not for nothing, I love that I’ve now collected three perfect highs for three very different occasions. Pineapple for high-functioning situations; J1 if I need to nimbly cross-examine anyone in a spirited argument whilst jogging; and Gorilla Glue for Netflix and chilling with a box of mini Altoids, a large Volvic, and a suitably companionable warm body.
Just remember that wherever you go, there you are. No matter the cannabinoid profile, smoking will magnify whatever you’re going through and whatever you’re like. You won’t mystically become less overbearing, more ambitious or more focused if you’re sitting down to do something you’ve been dreading. Reintroducing weed into my life in such a deliberate manner reminded me of marijuana’s utility in my life as a writer. If I’m stuck on a project, it almost always eases the myopia and self-inflicted pressure.
“There’s a sacramental connection there,” Elan Rae told me. “That spirituality is coming from inside you. You’re activating the whole endocannabinoid system in your body that responds to process the chemicals in this plant. How fucking amazing is that?” It is fucking amazing. But don’t let me go on about it. Smoke ’em if you got ’em and take some notes. It’ll be lit.
A version of this article originally appeared in issue 1 of Marley Natural
; it has been formatted to fit your screen. Photos by David Brandon Geeting.
Top Photo: Retinafunk