A couple of weeks ago, I did something that looked remarkably similar to smoking meth. I used a blowtorch to heat up a glass pipe, dropped a white crystal-like rock into it, and inhaled a cloud of vapor that sent me into a deeply stoned state. Every muscle in my body relaxed like I was floating on a cloud, and I could feel each mellow beat of my heart. My mind moved from one idea to another in a disorienting spin.
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The crystals I smoked don't resemble the leafy green buds of cannabis, but they're actually a highly concentrated form of weed. What I was dabbing is called THCa crystalline, and it's the crème de la crème of the cannabis concentrate world, where dabbable extracts routinely test over 90 percent THC, but only crystalline reaches the 100 percent mark.
Most people think of THC as the sole intoxicating force behind weed, but the cannabis plant actually produces more than 100 active chemicals called cannabinoids. THC is just one of them. THCa is another, which, as it is heated, converts to THC. Each one of these cannabinoids interacts differently with our brains and each has its own physiological response.
The crystalline I tried was made by Oleum Extracts, one of the only processors in Washington that produces it. Justin Marsh, co-owner of Oleum Extracts, said that even at $120 a gram, it still sells out. (You can find Oleum products in stores across Seattle, including Dockside Cannabis, Have a Heart, Vela, Uncle Ike's, and more.)
"Every time we get some in stores, it sells out. So for us, the difficulty is putting it out fast enough," Marsh said.
THCa is one compound that Oleum has managed to isolate, but we still don't have a good scientific understanding of how all of the cannabinoids work. For almost 50 years, the federal government has made it incredibly hard to study pot and its chemical makeup. But what scientific research has been done, combined with decades of stoner experimentation, yields a fascinating wealth of possible benefits from these individual cannabinoids.
Take THCV, a slightly different chemical than its more well-known cousin. While THC is famous for giving people the munchies (and Maureen Dowd a panic attack), THCV actually reduces appetite, delivers a burst of energy, and can stop a panic attack immediately.
Researchers are constantly finding differences between these chemicals. A University of Mississippi study found that some cannabinoids produce an antidepressant effect on mice, while others had no perceived antidepressant effects at all. And we haven't even talked about terpenes, the aromatic compounds found in pot that are widely considered to modify the physiological effects of god's greatest herb.
That's all to say, pot is complicated. Rigorous clinical research probably doesn't include me sitting at home doing dabs of THCa rocks on a Saturday night, but products like THCa crystalline and processors like Oleum are still doing valuable work in unraveling the inner workings of cannabis. Guild Extracts, a California processor that was one of the first to release THCa crystalline, even won a federal patent for its process of isolating the crystals. Mike Clemmons, owner of Guild Extracts, said products like THCa crystalline can control the type of high that pot delivers.
"We'd like to create a layer of predictability from our product to our consumer, to help them integrate our products into their lifestyle," Clemmons said.
This is one of the holy grails of the legal weed industry: If they can develop a way to control pot's effects, the market for both medical and recreational cannabis will exponentially increase. In theory, pot products could replace a whole slew of side-effect-heavy drugs, from anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin or ibuprofen to anti-anxiety medications like Xanax and Klonopin.
The high from that methy looking THCa crystalline was powerful, but also not that interesting. I vastly prefer Oleum's other concentrates, which are rich in a broad profile of cannabinoids and tasty terpenes, and pack a heady punch without being quite 100 percent THC. But I still think these crystalline rocks are incredibly exciting.
Both Guild Extracts and Oleum Extracts have released other single-cannabinoid or single-terpene concentrates, giving customers the ability to handpick their specific intoxicant. Who knows? Maybe in the future, instead of asking your friends if they want to smoke some pot, you'll ask if they want to try some THC-8 or some CBCVA. Or maybe it'll be CBGA with some myrcene and limonene mixed in.
Whatever it is, the future sounds bright.