Twelve ounces of beer equals four ounces of wine equals one ounce of liquor. I learned this in junior high, many years before I was actually of age to consume alcohol. I also learned that alcohol can impair driving, and that the only thing that sobers one up, is time. And while the lessons around alcohol were not glamorizing or glorifying its use, they were delivered on the assumption that one day, as an adult, I might encounter alcohol, and it would be a good idea to set some ground rules when that day arrived. Indeed, when alcohol finally did enter my life, I felt prepared, albeit a bit naive, to develop a relationship with alcohol based on sound information and guidance. (Image from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism).
I was passed my first joint at a high school party. Unlike alcohol, the only education I had received about cannabis was “don’t do it” followed by a diatribe of fear based accusations about cannabis. These included the assertion that cannabis use would lead to heroin, that even one puff would lead to addiction, and that using cannabis meant giving up any semblance of a productive life. Needless to say, a much different approach than with alcohol, a substance more dangerous and addictive than marijuana. Cannabis prohibition and the “just say no” mantra that was a part of my upbringing robbed us of factual, useful information about how to responsibly and safely consume the plant. That was not as much of an issue in the 90’s. Cannabis was scarce where I lived and the product I had access to was mild and infrequent. Basically, my relationship with cannabis developed under a hindrance of prohibition. Fast forward to 2002 and my migration to the Bay Area, and everything changed.
Cannabis education was a huge part of the early medical cannabis dispensary experience. There were always folks coming into the dispensary who had never consumed cannabis or had not in a long time, and dispensary staff would spend a lot of effort getting to know the patient and making recommendations based on the limited information we had back then (no potency labeling, no ingredients list, no flower source). There were also no vape pens, containers of shatter and wax, or many of the other cannabis form factors on the shelf in modern dispensaries. In other words, cannabis life was simpler, and developing a relationship with the plant involved raw flower, tinctures and the occasional edible served up with some knowledge and advice about how to safely and healthily incorporate cannabis into the consumer’s life. Then legalization happened and again, everything changed.
Nowadays, the dispensary experience is like any other commodity shopping opportunity. Discounts, promotions and novel products are pushed by sales associates (budtenders), which has more to do with which products they want to get rid of, instead of which products are the best for a particular consumer. There is no lack of form factors and packaging claims bump up against medical advice with sleep, pain and relaxation being promoted as “effects”. With all of these new products, many of them easily consumed in a variety of locations, it would seem that education on how to use cannabis safely and responsibly would have seeped into our drug education curricula and also our adult use circles. Not so. In fact, only a few drug education programs have moved past the “just say no” approach and many online resources focus on treating specific conditions and using specific cannabinoids and not on plant relationship building. And the impact of this is concerning. All one has to do is visit the Sub-Reddit/Trees to hear tales of young people struggling to establish healthy cannabis consumption habits in a world that still looks at cannabis as either all good or all bad.
Due to prohibition and its gag order on useful cannabis education, we have a generation of consumers who grew up during legalization with access to all of the modern day bells and whistles of cannabis product variety, and literally no way to teach about responsible use. At the same time, even seasoned consumers like myself are re-imaging what responsible use looks like outside of a scarcity prohibition market. Sure, we know that cannabis overdose cannot be fatal, but what about the nuances of using cannabis to enhance one’s life rather than escape from it? In our efforts to silence the opposition’s exaggerations of marijuana’s harms, have we prevented real discussions about harm reduction and benefit maximization? How is your relationship with cannabis, could it be better?
I have been studying the relationship between people and the cannabis plant as the laws have evolved over the past 20 years, and two years ago I founded Personal Plants because I saw a need to address and facilitate healthy relationships with psychoactive plants as they become more available. One way we support this is by helping people grow their own plants, which I believe encourages mindful consumption. But, it’s not enough. We need to be having open and honest conversations about plant relationships and mindful consumption, especially in the face of little education and a lot of marketing. Looking at our relationship with food, and seeing this same trajectory with psychedelic plants, the time is now.
What is your relationship with cannabis like? Does it make you feel empowered or beholden? Do you find yourself consuming more than you intended? Does your consumption vary in mindfulness throughout the day? And how can your relationship with cannabis and other psychoactive plants be the best it can be? Personal Plants is here to help! To start, I want to know more about your relationship with cannabis! This short survey will ask about your current use patterns and how your relationship with cannabis might be even better. The survey is anonymous, but you will have an option to enter your email at the end to stay in touch and learn more! Please share with anyone in your life who values their relationship with these amazing plants.