3.8.1 Cannabis

Cannabis #

Binomial / Botanical Name Cannabis Sativa; Cannabis Indica
Street Names Marijuana; Mary Jane; Weed; Ganga; Pot; Grass; MJ; Green
Major Active Compounds THC; CBD
Indigenous Source Central and South Asia
Form Plant Material
RoA Oral / Smoked
Personal Rating On Shulgin Scale ++ / +++


I was introduced to cannabis in my late teens. Back then, its primary form was hashish, a hard but malleable oil-based resin, from which smaller pieces could be broken off, sometimes with the aid of a lighted match to soften the compound. This tended to be sourced from Morocco, Lebanon or perhaps Afghanistan. There wasn’t much delineation beyond this, at least in my locale.

As a non-smoker, mixing with tobacco, as was the norm, made me a little dizzy, so I tended to hot-knife. This dubious technique employed two kitchen knives and a plastic bottle. I would cut a small hole near the base, large enough to fit the ends of the two knives. The ends of the knives were then heated over a flame until almost red, and a small fragment of hash was placed between them, whilst they themselves were positioned through the hole in the bottle (with the top of the bottle bunged). The hash combusted into smoke as the knives were pressed together, filling the bottle. The knives were removed, the hole was quickly plugged with the palm, and the smoke was inhaled through the neck of the bottle.

The hit came on quickly, and was usually much deeper than that experienced via a spliff. This wasn’t elegant, probably wasn’t healthy, and most definitely wasn’t a great idea, but from my young perspective at the time, it worked.

When I returned to cannabis many years later, the scene had changed dramatically, for the better. High quality cannabis was now widely available in bush form, and it was usually much stronger.

There was also a myriad of choice in terms of varieties and strains, which tended to have exotic names. I quickly learned that these were not simply marketing or packaging gimmicks: the differences between them were real.

The two species of the plant offer markedly different experiences. Broadly, sativa is well known for its cerebral high, and indica for its sedating body effects. Between these, a huge spectrum is available for the connoisseur, with each strain or hybrid having its own characteristics. Amnesia Haze, Silver Bubble, Sputnik, White Widow, Jack Herer, Kush, Super Lemon Haze - the list is endless. Over recent years I have been fortunate enough to sample these and countless others.

Perhaps predictably, my favourite city for this activity has been Amsterdam, where quality is almost assured, and the general atmosphere is tailor-made for a relaxing and pleasant sojourn. Dreamy sunny afternoons sat smoking on the lawns in Rembrandtplein, watching the world go by, or generally strolling and chilling in a plethora of coffeeshops, constitute precious and golden memories.

There is also a huge canopy of cannabis experience available via the oral route. Whilst hash cakes are famed, there are entire cookbooks dedicated to the production of carefully crafted edibles.

As is the norm for oral-versus-smoking, the former takes longer to come-on, but lasts longer. Variation between different cooking preparations and different varieties of cannabis again create significantly different effects.

With so many possibilities, it is simply impossible to describe one of them and state that it accurately reflects the cannabis experience. The diversity between strain, preparation and RoA is far too great.

What I can state is that no-one ever died from cannabis intoxication. It is not realistically possible to overdose. With this in mind, experimentation does at least carry certain assurances.

In terms of harm reduction I should perhaps mention anxiety, or panic attack. Some strains do induce this in some people, including in myself. The trick here is to use a different variety instead, or use less. Whilst in the midst of such an experience, however, try to relax, perhaps sing, think about pleasantries, do something rather than just sit, and bring to mind the fact that it will soon pass. Studies have also demonstrated that snorting or eating black pepper can help alleviate the problem.

This was a very pleasant hash. It originated in Afghanistan and was procured in
Europe during the early months of 2021.

This was a very pleasant hash. It originated in Afghanistan and was procured in
Europe during the early months of 2021.

Master Kush, which originated in the Netherlands, was a popular indica dominant
strain (80%) at time or writing. I obtained this particular sample to test its
frequently cited efficacy as a sleep-aid and general relaxant.

Master Kush, which originated in the Netherlands, was a popular indica dominant
strain (80%) at time or writing. I obtained this particular sample to test its
frequently cited efficacy as a sleep-aid and general relaxant.


Cannabis is the formal botanical name for a genus of flowering plant, which includes its two most important species, cannabis sativa and cannabis indica. The terminology surrounding this, however, has taken a life of its own, with the psychoactive parts of the plant being referred to by a never ending list of terms, including cannabis, marijuana, pot, ganga, green, mary jane, grass, and weed.

Another word sometimes used is skunk, the meaning of which varies depending upon location and context. In the US this tends to refer to certain strong smelling strains (with reference to the mammal of the same name). In the UK, the media have frequently used the term generically, to describe all THC-strong strains, a misuse of the word which has been widely adopted. Notwithstanding this, skunk was and is an independent strain in its own right, variants of which are still available, and popular.


Wikipedia describes hashish (or hash) rather cumbersomely as “an extracted cannabis product composed of compressed or purified preparations of stalked resin glands, called trichomes, from the plant”. These words basically mean that the trichomes from the flower-tops of the plant are collected and compressed/purified, with the resultant material yielding a higher concentration of psychoactive chemicals. Collection is usually performed by sifting or rubbing/scraping (Indian sub-continent), making it solid or resinous.

Finally, the most recently emerged form of cannabis goes by the name of dabs. These are concentrated (thus stronger) doses of cannabis, created by extracting THC (and other cannabinoids) via a process involving a solvent, such as butane. The oily substance produced via this technique tends to be vaporised or smoked (dabbing), and is known by a variety of terms, including BHO (butane hash oil), shatter, wax, honey oil, budder and of course, dabs.


Whilst to some degree there is regional variation in the broad meaning of these words, the following generally holds true in the UK, US, and most western societies.

A joint contains only cannabis. It is usually wrapped in normal cigarette paper, but can also be rolled with hemp or other material. More often than not the finished article is relatively small, reflecting the size of the standard paper.

A blunt again contains only cannabis, but is wrapped in tobacco leaf or in tobacco paper. As a result, it is usually significantly larger than a joint.

A spliff is the same as a joint, but contains a mix of tobacco and cannabis.

Whilst I have long understood these differences, I do have to confess that I have not always found smoking to be as straightforward as most. Fortunately, a chap by the name of Bob Marley eventually lent a metaphorical hand (see later).


Whilst my trip to sample bhang lassi didn’t go according to plan, it perhaps serves as a cautionary note regarding complacency with respect to edibles. With the best of intentions, and with significant experience, I made a number of wholly avoidable errors…

Lost In Varanasi #

Within any study of the historical use of cannabis an Indian preparation known as bhang will be prominently listed. As an intrinsic part of the ancient Hindu tradition it has been used in food and drink dating back to at least 1000 BC.

The epicentre of its spiritual use is widely considered to be Varanasi. Sitting on the banks of the Ganges this is a place of spectacular classical beauty and for many westerners, a culture shock; a step back in time.

To this day bhang is openly available there, being sold through lassi shops as bhang lassi, a smooth and creamy milk-shake type drink. Prior to embarkation, I had identified three particular dispensaries, and of these, fate delivered me to The Green Lassi Shop shortly after 12 noon on a warm balmy afternoon.

It was small, almost tucked away, but sitting on a busy street. Approaching the counter I specifically asked for bhang lassi light: I didn’t really want to find myself entirely out of mind, as the day was still young.

In truth my expectations were not particularly high. During the 10 year period in which I wrote this book, it is fair to say that I consumed my fair share of cannabis edibles. I therefore approached this expedition with what turned out to be an entirely misplaced degree of complacency.

Let The Stoning Commence #

The owner prepared the drink, pouring a heavy green fluid into the milky white contents of an earth coloured bowl. Plopping a dollop of cream on top he then handed it over, and I parted with a grand total of 150 rupees (about £1.50, or $2).

There was no interior to this place, just a bench in front of the counter, and he indicated that I should face inwards whilst drinking. A couple of others were milling around doing the same, but I sat down on the bench itself.

The taste was smooth and pleasant, and not cannabis-like at all. I sipped slowly, taking a few photographs as I relaxed. Finishing off, I dropped the empty bowl into the bin and continued my walk around the noisy, bustling and typically colourful Indian streets.

For perhaps the best part of an hour this remained a pleasant stroll. A mild buzz was emerging, and I slipped in and out of a gentle cannabis ambience. Soon, however, a somewhat sinister edge began to manifest with almost every passing thought.

From Groovy To Gruesome #

Recognising the potential for a difficult ride I headed back to the ghats, by the water, where I hoped for some relative quiet. On arrival I encountered a Hindu burial ceremony, which under normal circumstances would have been a fascinating spectacle to witness. I edged around the periphery and found an inconspicuous place to sit and contemplate.

Although it now seems obvious, watching bodies being burned in my deteriorating condition was not the best idea. As might be expected, it was an extremely intense experience, but one which was increasingly disturbing to my stoned mind. Soon it was full-on gruesome.

The Journey From Hell #

Eventually I decided that I had to make an exit and head for the tranquillity of my hotel bedroom. This was easier said than done. The hotel was 40 minutes away, via the only tenable form of transport, tuk-tuk. I didn’t relish the journey but had little choice, so rejecting an offer from a driver who appeared to be about 12 years old I grabbed a more mature sensible looking chap. So began the journey from hell.

My normal contented acceptance of the craziness of Indian roads quickly evaporated. This was traumatic. With traffic attacking at speed from every direction, the noise and bedlam was now completely off the scale. I was literally hanging on with white knuckles, as the vehicle ducked and weaved. The drama seemed to continue forever, as I sought and failed to recognise anything which might indicate that I was close to base. When would it end? Would I survive it? Had I really done it this time?

Throughout this ordeal my mouth was so dry that I could hardly speak. I desperately needed water, but even more acutely I needed this horror show to stop. Eventually, after an eternity, it did.

Sanctuary & Slumber #

I had survived, and I reached the sanctuary of my room with a feeling of almost overwhelming relief. I glugged a bottle of water, turned on the TV, lay on the bed, and reflected upon my folly. Still anxious, and seeking refuge through slumber, I closed my eyes and drifted.

I occasionally awoke, again with a parched dry mouth, to view the Indian version of MTV, which was astonishingly raunchy. This was India, and I couldn’t comprehend how moves which would not beat the censor’s cut in the US or UK were apparently routine here.

Some hours later I began to emerge from the morass and managed to eat a hearty vegetarian meal before bedtime proper. I slept like a log.

In the morning I was back to my usual self, albeit with a bit of heady strangeness. I felt a little drained, but generally sober, and was good to go again. I headed back to the ghats, this time as a regular tourist.

Lesson Learned #

Clearly, the cannabis strain itself was not entirely one for me. The mix of THC and CBD is of course a defining factor of the cannabis experience, and under normal circumstances I am able to select a strain which will deliver what I am looking for. Here, this luxury was absent, and I had to take what was available. This was clearly high in THC and a high dose, creating the anxious edge which persisted throughout.

One thought that occurred after the event was: if this was lassi light, what on earth must the full-Monty be like? Perhaps the guy at the shop had misunderstood and served a heavy version, but regardless, this was an accident waiting to happen.

If you are going to bhang lassi anytime soon, take it easy. Start low, and double check that you are really starting low. Equally, be very aware of your set and setting, taking full cognisance of where you are. Make sure that a safe haven is in close proximity, and always be ready to remind yourself that you are under the influence of a drug and that it will end in due course.

Perhaps my story serves as an example of how not to do it, but I am profoundly aware that this is provided in Varanasi to aid a spiritual journey, rather than to pique the curiosity of an ageing European psychonaut.

Yes, I would do it again, as this could have been a rich and rewarding experience, but next time I would learn from these mistakes. Or perhaps I would adhere to the motto: when in India don’t necessarily do as the Indians do.


A tour of Bob Marley’s house and mausoleum in Jamaica was an opportunity I couldn’t possibly refuse. Despite the hair-raising ride to the centre of the country, via elevated single track roads, it was an outstanding experience.

Outside the gate, members of the group were able to procure Jamaica’s finest, including edibles, and the famed and quite exquisite sensimilla, which I simply couldn’t resist.

For one young woman, however, the strong cannabis, combined with the high altitude, was too much, and she collapsed with a crash behind me. She was helped away by the guide, Robert. It was when he returned that he was handed an exhibit, which she had landed upon and destroyed.

His response was memorable: “Fck!” He then immediately bust into hysterical laughter. Everyone else followed his lead.

At the end of the tour, I finally learned how to stop my weed dropping out of the end of a joint when smoking it pure, courtesy of the bus driver, Roy.

He had obviously watched my unsuccessful efforts to keep my big fat one intact as I puffed furiously at it, and took pity. The trick is to lightly wet the paper at the business-end before lighting up, so that it doesn’t burn away more quickly than the contents.

I guess that this is pretty obvious, but after so many years of frustration, wasted weed, and embarrassment, I finally got there. D’oh!


A common effect of cannabis is to relax, to remove those sharp edges, and to create a bubble of anaesthetised comfort and cosiness. It can make you chilled and friendly.

So it was when I left the Green House coffeeshop in Amsterdam. Fatally, I also had my camera to hand.

Between the coffeeshop and the canal, to the left, was a public urinal. This was particularly prominent, due to the fact that it was a double, designed to enable two men to urinate at the same time, one at each end.

As these are not a common sight back in the UK, I took a few photos, and moved inside for a couple of interior shots. Mission accomplished, I then moved to use the facility for its intended purpose.

At this point, a young man appeared in the doorway. Somewhat stoned, I explained to him that “I’ve been taking a few photographs” and, “There’s room for two in here”.

His face reacted with an expression of horror. He turned around, and beat a hasty retreat.

It then occurred to me how he must have interpreted my friendly greeting, on the edge of the red light district, in the dark of the evening, in the doorway of a urinal.

Another occasional effect of cannabis suddenly took hold. This was anxiety and paranoia, as I envisioned him reporting me to the local police for some sort of solicitation in a men’s lavatory. I shuddered at the prospect of the subsequent public shaming.

My face must have reacted with the same horror as my unfortunate victim, and it was my turn to beat a hasty retreat.


I visited California in February 2022, less than six years after cannabis was first made legal for recreational use there. As expected I found a flourishing and open retail market, embracing the sort of innovation and professionalism which might be expected for high-end consumer products generally.

Stores and dispensaries covered a wide spectrum of approaches, from the relaxed and browsable shop space, to the pharmaceutical-like consultation and appointment practice. Hotel delivery was also an option.

The product range was immense, covering an outrageous choice of edible types, countless vaping and smoking options, and even items such as sexual lubricants and menopausal treatments.

The contrast with the shady back street dealing forced upon so many citizens of the world could hardly have been more striking.

Golden Gate Cannabis Company, San Francisco

Golden Gate Cannabis Company, San Francisco

Joy Reserve, San Francisco

Joy Reserve, San Francisco