While Miley Cyrus celebrated 4/20, the annual, unofficial marijuana holiday, by partaking in celebratory drug usage, Dr. Timothy Fong was discussing the relationship between cannabis and psychosis and answering questions that any stoner has terrifyingly wondered, like, “Can you die from cannabis overdose?” The occasion? David Geffen School of Medicine's first Cannabis Research Symposium, which included 12 medical professionals in addition to Dr. Fong.
This panel was just one of the many events in Los Angeles, leading up to 4/20. Separately, Lord Jones founders Rob Rosenheck and Cindy Capobianco hosted a four-day-long series of events, which included such varied activities as a sound bath featuring a live performance by Sigur Rós and an "Active Regeneration Workshop" at Equinox’s new location in Hollywood.
How L.A., you might say. In fact, it is. Unlike in other parts of the country, recreational use of marijuana is now legal, meaning that anyone over 21 in the Golden State can inhale, eat, inject, supposit, or absorb THC, and can carry up to an ounce of it on them without penalty. And so they do. Since I moved to Los Angeles from Manhattan last month, I’ve seen people smoke it on the street in practically every neighborhood, and almost accidentally eaten a number of beautifully packaged edibles I thought were mere sugary treats at friends’ homes.
The first day I spent as a Los Angeles resident, I met a woman in towering heels with an eager spray tan who, after telling me she loves Malibu because it’s the kind of place where you can “wear your Uggs to Nobu,” spoke with startling scientific precision about the benefits of CBD (cannabidiol, the compound found in cannabis that carries none of the psychoactive effects) on adults and children who suffer from seizures. A biodynamic produce farmer I met took on an almost evangelical tone when she was given the opportunity to talk about a cannabis-infused cream she relies on to ease her joint pain. CBD-infused wellness and beauty products have been leading the charge in changing the connotation of the marijuana plant. The plant’s powerful pain relieving abilities and anti-inflammatory properties (read: anti-aging) make it not only impossible to dismiss, but an incredibly lucrative new market. Cannabis, here, is big business. The joke being, the higher you get, the higher you get. Just ask the venture capitalists circling the billion dollar industry.
So last week, while enjoying a medicated sound bath in celebration of all things Los Angeles. I decided to reacquaint myself with the plant I had dabbled with in my own college days, but had dismissed after some bouts of paranoia. In the lobby of Sunset Boulevard’s Neuehouse, Rosenheck, lifting a diminutive sugar-spangled confection, asked, “Do you know what your dose is?” I didn’t even know that it was something I should know. “This is sativa,” he explained, sensing my naivety. “It’s 5 milligrams. It’s a small dose.” The Wild Sugarberry gumdrops he held, which were co-designed by Sigur Rós guitarist Jónsi, certainly looked harmless--I gladly take one. Capobianco, in a gown, ushered me through the doors where I’m led to a twin Tempur-Pedic mattress on the ground in an apocalyptic room that resembled the Matrix, with heavy fog machines creating a red haze and bright light pulsing in pale lavender rays from the inside of a large orb hanging from the ceiling. (I later discovered that this was designed specifically for the event and is called a Sólblossi, Icelandic for “Solar Flare.”)
I lay down to the sound of thunder coming through the speakers. It’s not long after that I realize that the THC has taken effect and that yes, I still get paranoid. I wonder if the band will ever start playing, if the past 20 minutes of synthetic thunder has been the sound bath or I'm too high to even notice. But soon the band does begin to play out of sight. I’m signaled by the bone-rattling base and the sudden presence of three nearly naked men standing in the room holding candles. For the next hour the men walk around slowly and kneel amidst percussive tones. At moments Jónsi's soft voice comes through and, for a few seconds, I’m pulled through the mental crunch. It doesn’t last long. And though I’m only ever mildly uncomfortable, I find it as difficult to speak or understand people, as if I'd had one too many martinis.
The next day, on a tour of Buds and Roses in Studio City, one of L.A.’s most respected dispensaries, board president Aaron Justis explained that I simply took too high of a dosage for my body, and perhaps chose the wrong strain for my desired experience. “You hear all of these stories about people using edibles and having a terrible experience, because people are over medicating. It would be like if you had a glass of whiskey and didn’t know it was different than beer. You’d drink the whole thing and be like ‘I hate drinking! I’ll never do it again.’” Knowing both how much THC you can handle and how much you’re actually getting are details Justis takes very seriously. “California is still really a pretty unregulated market, so we are really careful about who we get product from. All of these products have lab testing, labeling, nutrition facts, ingredients list— that’s not demanded in California. We demand that. Our consumers demand it. If that chocolate bar says 180mg THC, they’ve measured it and it’s consistent.”
Buds and Roses is part of a growing market of high-end dispensaries, who are able to provide trustworthy and enjoyable experiences to patients with medical marijuana cards. Though it’s legal to recreationally use marijuana, it’s still illegal to buy or sell it without medical approval. “Every dispensary in Los Angeles is illegal,” he tells me in the Juice Press-esque building he’s been running since 2010, and opened in 2006. While the future of legalization is up in the air, for the moment, at least, many Californians are simply happy to get high. And should I ever decide to join them again, I’ll be taking a smaller dose.
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