For a brief time, I kept a spreadsheet of my monthly expenses. It had the usual entries: rent ($650), utilities ($80), and weed ($250). This was years ago, when rent was still in the triple digits and instead of buying my weed from a "budtender" named Chad, I bought it from the drag queen up the street. My expenses have certainly gone up since then, but my weed habit has remained stubbornly the same all these years: $250 a month, every month, forever.
You don't have to be good at math to see that's a lot of money. I could have purchased a new double-wide by now, easy. Even worse, these days most of that money goes up in smoke—after years of smoking weed all day, every day, I've plateaued. I just can't get high anymore. My financial adviser would be appalled at the amount I spend with so little return. And if I stopped buying all this weed, I could probably even afford a financial adviser.
Something must change. I came to this conclusion recently while looking at real-estate listings and realizing that the only property I can afford is a storage unit in Bremerton. I should stop smoking, I thought for a second before closing Redfin and coming to my senses. You don't give up on something you love just like that. It wasn't time to quit smoking; it was time to start smoking smarter. But how to get more bang for my bong?
To find out, I went for a consultation at Ponder, a pot shop in the Central District. Located just down the street from Uncle Ike's, Ponder is smaller, friendlier, and less controversial than its neighbor up the hill. Plus, Ponder's happy hour beats most places in town. From noon to 4:20 p.m. every day, everything is 15 percent off. For this reason alone, they get a large part of my weed budget.
Budtender Dan Potter knows my pain. Potter, whose ginger hair was pulled back into a man bun, told me that the key to maintaining a buzz when you have a chronic habit is to alternate your delivery mechanisms—smoke flower one day and then go for hash or concentrate the next. That, I can do.
But then Potter offered another piece of advice: dabs.
That's what I was afraid of. Dabbing, a relatively new mode of ingesting cannabis, involves super-concentrated doses that have been extracted from the plant using solvents like butane or carbon dioxide. The resulting stuff, often called wax, shatter, or butane hash oil, looks kind of like honey gone bad, and it gets you really, really high. Potent flower may be up to 30 percent THC; dabs can be up to 90 percent and sometimes more.
Dabs—along with dance parties, hangovers, and all music—make me feel hopelessly old. Flower requires merely a match and a piece of rolling paper (or, if you don't have that, a pipe, bong, plastic bottle, aluminum can, apple, carrot, or page ripped from a Bible). Flower is simple. Dabs require an expensive piece of machinery called a dab rig, as well as a butane blowtorch to heat it.
My only prior attempt at dabbing was several years ago, before the price of legal weed dropped low enough to convert me to retail. At the time, about a year after recreational shops started to pop up, I bought weed from a thirtysomething dealer whose wardrobe hadn't been updated since high school. He wore massive wide-legged jeans that bled water four inches up his pant leg when it rained, and when he rolled up the sleeves of his hoodie, I saw arms covered in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle tattoos. Mr. Friendly, as he called himself, lived in a basement apartment on Capitol Hill with a pirate flag covering the bathroom doorway and black and white striped wallpaper. While he was happy to deliver, I preferred to go to him—that way I could leave.
After selling me a quarter ounce one day, Mr. Friendly offered me a dab and said that it was the only way he smoked anymore. Flower just didn't do it. While I generally made my exit after exactly long enough not to appear impolite, I knew better than to say no to drugs. Mr. Friendly rubbed his hands together and fired up the torch. This, I thought, is this closest I will ever come to doing meth. After the dab rig was hot, he dropped a grain-size ball of wax on the bowl—or nail, as it's called in dabbing—and I pressed my mouth to the pipe and inhaled. The smoke that moved from the nail to my lungs tasted strongly of chemicals. And as I coughed and sank back into his magenta pleather couch, Mr. Friendly took out his laptop and asked if I wanted to see pictures from his last road trip. I would have resisted, but I couldn't move.
Drug dealers in JNCO jeans are one thing I do not miss about the black market.
I told Potter, the budtender at Ponder, that my only dabbing experience had been less than ideal and also I was afraid that if I started dabbing, I'd never be able to go back to smoking regular old flower. Why make my tolerance problem even bigger?
He said that this is a legitimate concern, which is why alternating is key. Still, I wasn't ready to blow the entire Stranger weed budget on dabs, so I picked up some of Potter's other favorites: Lavender Hash from Soulshine, Sensi Star Hash Oil from Orgrow, Granddaddy Purple Vape Oil from Top Shelf, and 96 percent THC Distillate, also from Top Shelf. I would test them, rate them, and, hopefully, find a combination that actually works.
My experiment started with littering hash over bowls of 27-percent-THC sativa that I smoked through a Nirvana bong I inherited from a friend. Had I not been littering bowls with the kief trapped in my grinder for the past decade, the hash may have had some effect, but it seemed I was immune to this as well. The hash did nothing. My girlfriend, however, whose job doesn't allow her to go home on lunch breaks, smokes less weed than I do. And so one evening before dinner, I lined a bowl with hash and told her to enjoy. Fifteen minutes later, she was standing at the freezer, spooning strawberry ice cream into her mouth and suggesting we move into a Sears van. (Rating: )
I had more luck with the distillate, which came in a plastic syringe filled with 100 milligrams of golden THC syrup. At Ponder, I'd asked Potter if the syringe was a single dose, and he'd laughed. One hundred milligrams is about the amount that New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd infamously ingested before spinning out into an existential weed crisis. Potter said that a lot of people put distillate in edibles—throw a little bit in some brownie batter and bake it up. But why take on the extra calories?
I ate the distillate direct from the syringe. While the taste and mouthfeel was pleasant enough (a little piney, a little slick), the 30 milligram dose I'd started with was clearly not enough. After two hours, I could easily have operated heavy machinery, so I took the other 70 milligrams and tried again. That was more like it. I wouldn't say that I got scary stoned, which was my goal, but I did fall asleep with my hand in a bag of tortilla chips. Still, distillate isn't ideal for everyday use. For one, it's expensive. One hundred milligrams of Top Shelf distillate cost $25.50 at Ponder, which is fine if you require only a few milligrams to get stoned, but not if you have the tolerance of a lesser Marley brother. (Rating: )
Everyone loves a vape pen. They are easy and discreet, with no mess or fuss—you just insert your cannabis cartridge, press a button, inhale, and walk into your boss's office with no stink to give you away. But while the ease of vape pens cannot be matched, I've always found them less effective than plain old flower. I could suck on a vape pen all day and the only thing I'd get is a mouth sore. Sadly, the Granddaddy Purple I picked up at Ponder was no different. I might as well have been vaping air. Convenience is great, but getting high is better. (Rating: )
It was time, finally, for dabs. I didn't have a dab rig, but I do have a neighbor with one, and I asked him if I could come over for a lesson. He suggested we meet at 4:20 p.m. the next Saturday. Perfect.
When I got to his apartment, his dab rig was set out on a side table along with a butane torch, a jar of Q-tips, and a small glass of water for cleaning. My neighbor, who works at X-Tracted Labs in Sodo, brought out a shallow square box lined with about 20 small glass jars with green and blue caps. These were the dabs, each one-gram X-Tracted vial going for about $50 retail. The whole setup, he said, including dab rig, butane torch, and all the accessories, cost him between $400 and $500. So much for saving money.
The part that scares me the most about dabs is the torch. I've burned off my own eyebrows just from bong hits; a blowtorch would likely send me to a burn ward. Thankfully, my neighbor volunteered to do the hard part for me. First, he demonstrated. He fired up the torch, heated the nail, and set his iPhone timer for 45 seconds. Too hot and it'll burn the goods, he said, plus waiting a little while helps the heat dissipate so you get a more even hit. Right at 45 seconds, he took a small glob of wax, smeared it around the nail, and inhaled while turning a "carb cap" around the rig, which brings oxygen to the dab. Afterward, he cleaned the nail—also called a banger—with water and Q-tips. "Always start with a clean surface," he said. "It's like eating off a clean plate."
It was my turn. Nervous, I followed his instructions and spooned some wax onto the banger, spun the carb cap, and breathed in. After my experience dabbing with Mr. Friendly, I expected to be laid out coughing at the very first inhale, but the X-Tracted dab was different. It was smooth, sweet, and lemony, with no harshness at all. It felt better in my lungs than a regular old bong hit. And it got me really fucking high. After three dabs—two from X-Tracted, plus the Sensi Star from Ponder, I was, as the youth say, lit. I stumbled home with my earbuds hanging from my ears, attached to nothing, wondering where the music went. Later, still high, I had one of those realizations that seem profoundly true in the moment: I loved dabs. They are the essence of cannabis with everything else stripped away. I didn't need dumb old flower to get high. I needed a $500 dab rig and a blowtorch of my own. (Rating: )
Everything at Once
I was looking up dab rigs online when my buzz started to wear off, so I took Dan Potter's advice, alternating with a little bit of hash, then a hit off the vape pen, then the last little bit of 96 percent THC distillate from my Top Shelf syringe. It worked. I was, finally, after all that, scary stoned. The key, I realized, is to take everything at once.
Or is it? No matter how much you ingest, drugs, by their very nature, wear off. You can't stay stoned forever, and, really, why would you want to? When I woke up the next day with only a few vague memories of the 24 hours before, I decided to do something radical: I would take a break. The best way to lower your tolerance, after all, is simple: Don't smoke so damn much. And so far, I kind of like it. My brain doesn't feel fuzzy, I can actually remember my dreams, and I have hardly any desire to eat Doritos dipped in Nutella. It's only been 15 minutes, but when you smoke as much as I do, I'm thinking sobriety may be the most intoxicating state of being of all.