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High Culture:

  Marijuana in the Lives of Americans

    by William Novak

      11. Varieties of Marijuana

Monday is fine for any old kind.
Tuesday give me the purple;
Wednesday is comin' so it's Indian Black Gungeon,
Guaranteed to please the people.
Thursday night Michoacan is right,
Friday will be very heavy.
Bring in the Gold for when I'm old
Saturday all will be ready.
Sunday it's said is the Day of the Dead
And if you have it smoke Panama Red.
— marijuana smugglers' song [1]



In addition to various forms of THC, of which delta-9 alone is thought to be psychoactive, cannabis contains some fifty additional chemicals known as cannabinoids. Most of these have not been studied to any significant degree and are present in the plant in only in small quantities. So far, none has been found elsewhere in nature.
    Scientists are still uncertain as to how, if at all, these chemicals contribute to the total effect of marijuana. But experienced smokers are convinced that the particular combination of cannabinoids in a given sample influences its effects, since there are definite variations among individual samples of marijuana that cannot be accounted for by THC levels alone. Some smokers believe that marijuana containing relatively few cannabinoids other than THC produces a very intense high; if this is true, then at least some of the cannabinoids may act as moderating agents.
    The cannabinoid that appears to be most closely related to THC is known as tetrahydrocannabivaren (THCV); it has been found in certain varieties of cannabis from Asia and Africa. THCV seems to work more quickly than THC, bringing on an almost immediate high that subsides within a few minutes. It is not yet known exactly how THCV functions, only that it is most often found in very potent plants.
    A more common chemical is cannabidiol (CBD). It occurs in most varieties; in very low-potency marijuana, CBD can account for up to 95 percent of the cannabinoids in a given sample. Although not psychoactive, CBD does have sedative, analgesic, and antibiotic qualities. It can also be changed into THC—both naturally and artificially—through a device called an isomerizer.[2] CBD actually interferes with the marijuana high, acting as a "downer" with depressant properties; marijuana connoisseurs consider a low CBD content as important as a high THC level. Users report that marijuana with a high concentration of CBD usually produces "knock-out" or "sleepy" effects. While CBD may delay the onset of the high, it can also make it last longer. Generally speaking, good marijuana has a relatively low CBD content, whereas the not-so-good "wild" marijuana in the United States, descended from plants grown for their fiber, may contain a good deal of CBD.
    The other important chemical in cannabis is cannabinol (CBN), which is the immediate degradation product of THC. It is not produced directly by the plant but rather by THC exposed to air. As a result, relatively little CBN is found in fresh samples of marijuana, which are usually more powerful than older material. CBN is thought to heighten the disorienting qualities of THC, making the user feel drugged or dizzy, but not necessarily high. According to one connoisseur, a high on marijuana with a large amount of CBN feels as if it never quite reaches its peak.
    The cannabis plant also produces a biosynthetic precursor to THC, known as THC acid. Over time, the gentle heat of the atmosphere "decarboxylates" the THC acid to active THC.[3] In any plant, therefore, THC exists simultaneously in one of three states: inactive, active, and oxidized into CBN. As Laurence McKinney explains:
Marijuana is always on its way from useless to useless. Too fresh —too much THC acid. Too old—too much CBN. For a smoker to have a good idea of what he's smoking, he would have to know the exact chemical makeup of the sample. He would also have to know how old it was, and how it had been preserved. He can't tell that by looking, smelling or tasting. The only way a smoker can determine the potency of a given sample would be to actually use it.
    Unless you happen to have a gas chromatograph machine in your living room, there's no way that anyone can tell the marijuana's potency or other characteristics without actually using it, no matter where it came from, or when, or how.

    THC is by far the most important ingredient in cannabis, although, as we have seen, it is a tricky and unstable substance. Raphael Mechoulam, the Israeli chemist who first synthesized THC, once examined a piece of hashish whose THC content was only 2 percent on the outside—and a formidable 8 percent on the inside, where it had not been exposed to air. Because of oxidation, marijuana left uncovered for a month will lose most of its potency. Similarly, marijuana that is crushed or strained will also have a lower THC level. "Cleaning your dope right after you buy it," notes David, "is like leaving a bottle of wine in the refrigerator without its cork." Heat, light, and especially air are the enemies of THC, and sophisticated users try to minimize marijuana's contact with all three elements, of Len by keeping their material well wrapped in the refrigerator or even the freezer.
    Now that THC can be manufactured artificially, it is commonly used in place of marijuana in medical studies. It is misleading, however, to assume that the two are interchangeable, because marijuana is clearly more than THC alone. From time to time, pure THC is reportedly sold on the streets, but researchers who have investigated such claims have invariably found that the substance in question is not THC at all but something else—most often PCP ("angel dust"). In fact, it is almost totally unavailable, as the following story illustrates. The head of a major research project at a prestigious urban hospital was eager to sample one of the government-supplied THC pills being administered to patients undergoing cancer chemotherapy (THC is believed to reduce the therapy's bad side effects, especially nausea). But he found security surrounding the project so tight that he was unable to obtain a single capsule for his own use without detection. (Real THC is a clear resin, or sometimes a buff-colored glue; it has also been produced as a soluble white powder.)[4]
    Until around 1975, most marijuana consumed in the United States had an average THC content of slightly more than 1 percent. As little as.5 percent THC is required for the user to feel high— depending, of course, on who the user is, the set and setting, and the amount he has smoked—but this would be very weak dope. Over 2.5 percent THC qualifies as "good" marijuana, whereas anything higher than about 3.5 percent is considered excellent by almost any standards. In their book on the cultivation of marijuana, Mel Frank and Ed Rosenthal report that the highest THC levels they have come across are 9.7 percent in a sample from Colombia, 13.2 percent in some Mexican marijuana, and 7.8 percent in Hawaiian. These are all very rare readings. Frank and Rosentnal also report having seen some Thai marijuana whose THC level measured in at higher than 20 percent, but they suspected that it had been adulterated with hash oil.[5]
    Each year, the Research Institute of Pharmaccutical Sciences analyzes samples of confiscated marijuana. On the average, marijuana potency increased by about 50 percent between 1973 and 1977. This represents a significant change, but it is a far cry from the charge that there has been a tenfold increase in potency.[6]
    As a result of an increasing expertise among marijuana growers, as well as a consumer demand for a better product, the marijuana Americans now smoke, both imported and home grown, is considerably stronger than it has ever been. By 1976 PharmChem, a California research institute, was routinely testing marijuana samples with a THC content of 5 percent and occasionally even 10 percent, which had been sent to them by curious smokers. Much of this recorded increase in potency is due to the popularity of Colombian over the generally weaker Mexican varieties. In addition, strong strains of marijuana are brought into the continental United States from Asia and Hawaii. Finally, there is a growing supply of domestic marijuana in the United States that is far more potent than it used to be.
    There are various myths and explanations to account for the difference in potency between one sample of marijuana and another. But by far the most important factor determining the potency of a given plant is the seed from which it has grown. The climate, the amount of sunshine, the soil, altitude, level of moisture, fertilizer, or curing process are all important, but it is the seed that contains the genetic code that determines the potency and other characteristics of the smoke.
    The most potent part of the marijuana plant is usually at or near the top. In both male and female plants, the flowering tops are covered with tiny hairs that contain a sticky resin usually rich in THC. As the plant nears maturity, it sends resin to the top, perhaps to protect the flowers from the sun and birds. In the female plants, the resin also serves to help trap the pollen released by the males Female plants are more richly endowed with THC than male plants, but only because they have a greater total yield of leaves and flowers. Plants harvested too early or too late contain less THC than those harvested at the peak of maturation at summer's end.
    Most users believe that they can determine potency and can distinguish between "good" and "bad" grass simply by smoking it. But the data suggest that this might not be so. In 1971 Prof. Reese Jones of the University of California asked a group of experienced smokers to rate two samples of marijuana on a scale from 1 to 100. The first batch had been rated by the researchers at around 1 percent THC. The second batch was actually a placebo, from which the THC had been removed. The subjects gave the first batch an average rating of 66. But they rated the placebo almost as high, at 57, and many of the smokers were unable to distinguish between the two samples.
    Jones concluded that the relatively high assessment given to the placebo might be due to the fact that the subjects anticipated that they would be getting stoned, even though they were also informed that they might be given an inactive substance. Curiously, Jones found that those subjects who happened to have head colds during the experiment were better able to tell the real marijuana from the placebo, which suggests that tasting and smelling the marijuana may have misled some of the subjects who were smoking the placebo.[7]
    Looking back on his experiment, Jones now says that it should be kept in mind that the comparisons were done with low-quality marijuana. He suggests that an experiment asking users to judge the difference between weak and strong marijuana would prove far less difficult:
I suspect the issue of distinguishing between good and bad grass is at least as complicated as the issue of distinguishing between "good" and "bad" beer, wine, whiskey, tobacco, or sex. That is, human beings seem to have a fair difficulty and a fair amount of inconsistency in making many of these distinctions. Certainly the advertising industry has learned quite well that one can shape the consumer's appreciation of many substances by clever and manipulative advertising. I suspect the same is true in the marijuana commerce.[8]

    Jones's suspicion is borne out in a story told by an enterprising smoker who once found himself with a pound of relatively weak Mexican, and no interested buyers. He spread the word that he had just received a shipment of rare "Korean Green." Although nobody, including the man who was offering it, had ever heard of Korean Green, its appeal to smokers was enormous, and the marijuana was quickly sold to eager customers, most of whom couldn't wait to buy more.
    "People want a story," claims a dealer in New York, "so sometimes you have to give them one":
A while back some beautiful Mexican stuff came in. People wanted to know what it was. I told them it was from Rosie's in Yucatan. Who was Rosie, they asked. I said that Rosie used to run a whorehouse in Mexico City, and when she got older, she retired to her family's country home in Yucatan. She has a couple of acres in the back of the house, and she tends to her plants every day. It's the most beautiful pot in the world.
    Another time we had some pretty ordinary grass from Colombia. We baked it in the oven with some cloves. We called it Peruvian Temple Grass, and people really got off on the cloves. We told them that this was used by the Indians of Peru in religious ceremonies, and that they burned special spices and exotic mushrooms next to the marijuana during the curing process.



There are more varieties of marijuana available in the large cities of the United States (especially Los Angeles and San Francisco) than anywhere else in the world. Different kinds of marijuana differ widely in potency, effect, color, smell, taste—and price. Whereas the average smoker used to buy an ounce of grass without any consideration as to its origins or characteristics, more and more users have become sensitive to these distinctions.
    Although most American smokers have access to at most only two or three varieties of marijuana, there is a general consensus that different varieties have different effects. "I've had laughing grass, happy grass, talking grass, one-hit grass, and creeping grass—which creeps up and hits you all at once," reports a college administrator in Baltimore, and other smokers make similar claims. But not everybody agrees. Author Jack Margolis (A Child's Garden of Grass) is convinced that smokers are fooling themselves. Lenny concurs: "Dope is dope. Chemicals don't have personalities or emotional qualities; to believe that is to be guilty of anthropomorphism on a molecular scale."
    Still, the great majority of smokers remain convinced of the differences among varieties, although, as this man acknowledges, individual preferences are usually based on subjective criteria:
I know people who can't stand hash, but who would walk a mile for some northern California Mendocino Purple Sinsemilla. And some who would turn down a joint of Jamaican, but would be only too happy to toke Thai "happy grass" or Hawaiian Maui Wowie all night long. I have other friends who would give up a finger for a pound of Panama Red, just for its inimitable zesty, crackly taste.

    An Arizona woman, somewhat less experienced in distinguishing among varieties, divided marijuana into two general categories:
Most Mexican is upper dope, and sometimes it makes me feel elevated, as though my head is being stretched upward. These kinds speed you up and stimulate you, and they're especially good for getting some work done, or cleaning the house. They also make you more talkative.
    Other kinds, especially brown Colombian, are more down. They produce a mellow feeling, and you'd rather listen to music than clean the house. But just as upper dope can make you anxious by speeding things up, the downer stuff will sometimes make you depressed, like booze. Still, I prefer it.
    Grass from Thailand fits into neither category. It isn't up or down, but rather clarifies and sharpens my thinking.

    Those smokers who can afford the luxury like to vary kinds of marijuana with the circumstances. Some connoisseurs, believing that any marijuana will lose its impact upon the system if it is smoked more than two days in a row, make it a point to smoke different material each time they light a joint. For others, the rules are simpler: Mexican or domestic during the day, for energy; Colombian at night, for relaxation.
    Alan, who lives in San Francisco, is known by marijuana experts all over the country as a connoisseur's connoisseur. His preferences are as follows:
Regular commercial Mexican or American for everyday smoking. Colombian commercial for a downer effect. Jamaican for a heavy-lidded, almost opaque consciousness; certain kinds of Mexican or Hawaiian for talkativeness and gregariousness; powerful Hawaiian or California sinsemilla for a fast, deep stoned feeling, and Acapulco Gold for its exquisite taste, even though it's not as strong as some of the others.

    Another user observes:
Hawaiian is best for sex, and Red Colombian isn't bad either. Most Colombian is strong and gives you a better high than Mexican, although it often puts you to sleep. If you want to work, I suggest Jamaican; Jamaican is also best for parties. For mind-expanding effects, Mexican is best, especially Oaxacan; freshness is very important here.

    While there are many variations among smokers, these general designations are agreed upon by most users.
    Over the years, with the assistance of the drug magazines and the development of a national oral tradition among marijuana users, certain varieties have gained national prominence. Panama Red comes to mind; it has been celebrated by a popular song of the same name. But legends come easily; in actual fact, few smokers have tried Panama Red, although many claim they have. "We don't get it very often," a California dealer told me. "But a couple of pounds came in a few months ago, and it went like wildfire, with customers telling me, 'My God, I haven't seen Red in years.' "
    Is marijuana always what it's reputed to be? Often it isn't, and sometimes not even the dealer knows for sure. "In most cases I know what I've got," one dealer told me. "But it's hard to be absolutely certain. I go by what my suppliers tell me, and sometimes I think that even they're not sure."
    There are smokers who have made it a point to sample every possible variety and who claim to be able to tell instantly where a particular sample originated. Alan, the San Francisco connoisseur, is one such expert, and I asked him to explain the process by which he determines the quality and origin of an unknown sample:
Let's say Fred walks in with a bag of dope and says, "Okay, smart-ass, where is this from, and how good is it?"
    I examine it externally by opening the bag and sniffing gently. It smells "strong" and "heavy." How can I define that? Musty, dank, potent, not "sickly-sweet" as the generalizing books always characterize the smell of pot. Appearance: brown-gold with a greenish hue (rather than vice versa), some smallish very clumped-together buds, medium-small dark-brownish-black seeds (relatively few in number), a lot of "shake," or pretty pulverized pieces of leaf, with the whole inside of the bag dusty and loose.
    By now I already know it's probably Colombian commercial that will go for about $300 a pound if the dealer is righteous—not more because there's too much shake and the best buds have already been removed for a higher priced sale; "commercial" because it's not sinsemilla (seedless) and because it's the same as the millions of pounds of average Colombo that have inundated America for the past few years. But just to be sure, I smoke some. Like most Colombian shake, it makes a dusty joint filled with fine particles, so I roll the joint thin and twist the smoking end fairly tightly shut so particles won't get sucked into my mouth inordinately and so it draws well.
    I am quite familiar with my consciousness and with what Colombian usually does for me. Going down, it's a bit harsh on the back of the throat, which surprises me, because I hadn't expected that much harshness from commercial. The harshness gets worse with ensuing tokes, which tells me that the dope was either not harvested at exactly the right time (probably a little too late) or is stronger than usual for commercial. I suspect it is the shake from a bag of very good tops probably grown somewhere near the mountain (Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta), perhaps fairly high up the mountain.
    I feel the first frissons of being high within the space between the second and third tokes, and the fourth toke makes me cough abruptly. I feel bland beneath the superficial excitement of the cough. By the end of the joint I feel rather somnolent, interested but not excited, a bit wasted, not talkative, and if I smoke another one I'll be happy to just sit there and watch the tube, no scintillating conversation, no work, no particular inspiration, very passive.
    Verdict? What we have here is the shake from a bag of Colombian Gold tops, which the dealer is selling for less than the tops, splitting up a pound into the extraordinary tops and the very ordinary shake. It was probably grown on or near Santa Marta, probably reached the U.S. via Miami or New Orleans or the gulf side of Texas, and is probably a shade overpriced because the dealer's price is influenced by his knowledge that the tops are terrific.
    Most experienced smokers and virtually all dealers of middle level or higher can distinguish, say, between Hawaiian green-and-gold flecked dynamite, Jamaica's rather sedative brown globby pot, Colombia's brownish-gold, Punta Roja red, and most other varieties on the basis of appearance, taste, smell, and effects.
    I myself used to be able to tell where a given sample was from, but now that's getting harder, as there's so much pot from different seed origins being grown in California and elsewhere in America
    Consider: each plant in a field differs slightly from its neighbors, each field differs slightly from adjoining fields, and each grower has different techniques. These variables expand as you consider each region, each country, and even each continent. Then there are process variations to produce different end-products: regular marijuana, sinsemilla, lower-leaves, "shake," various kinds of hashish, finely chopped dusty kif, various hash or grass oils and tinctures, salves, seeds, twigs and stems, tea, etc.
    The "et cetera" is infinite, limited only by the ever-expanding boundaries of human inventiveness. Cannabis connoisseurship comes from long and ever-widening experience (a dimension of extensiveness), and from the depth of concentration on that experience (a dimension of intensiveness). Connoisseurship itself is a process and the above statements about marijuana could be repeated for marijuana connoisseurs: each person differs slightly from his neighbors, each field of interest differs slightly from adjoining fields, etc. It's a learning process with no terminus, at least none that I've found in fifteen years.
    I'm sometimes asked how I can tell what s in a joint First, one doesn't start with a joint. One starts with a plant or product. Just as coffee tasters wish to examine the raw bean, or roasted bean, before sipping the coffee brewed from it, so cannabis connoisseurs prefer to start with raw plant material or a fairly large sample of the product, like a gram of hash. There are at least two levels of testing carried on simultaneously. One is first interested in external appearances: color, smell, shape, usual or unusual features. One is also interested in its effects when taken internally, which begins with how it tastes, smells, and affects the throat. Finally, there is the question of what it does to one's consciousness.
    None of these are solid "facts"; all are ongoing processes that permutate constantly. There is a third factor I always consider when tasting, which has to do with whatever I can find out from the supplier about the material: when it is harvested, how it was cured or stored, where the person thinks it's from, what it sold for, and anything else he can tell me.

    Alan is anything but typical, of course, and most smokers are satisfied with being able to tell good grass from bad. "When dope is bad," says a New Jersey woman, "you really have to concentrate on getting stoned. With good dope, you don't." Another smoker writes: "Good pot sends me climbing fast. I reach higher and higher plateaus until I peak, and I prefer a good hard punch to a slow, inconspicuous rise." But a New Hampshire man has taken to growing his own supply for this very reason, giving up Colombian, he explains, "because it's so strong that when you're high you are no longer aware of a connection to the place you started from."
    A writer in Pittsburgh says that he rates marijuana in two different ways: "how many times will I get stoned per ounce, and how high will I get each time." While there are variations in potency, it does not appear that two joints of weak grass can equal the effects of one stronger joint. "Logic would suggest that you could smoke a lot of ordinary grass and get as high as you would on just two tokes of dynamite weed," he observes. "But it just doesn't work that way."


Specific Varieties

Experienced smokers enjoy listing the varieties of marijuana they have tried, or would like to try, and during the course of my research I heard mention of the following imported varieties: Acapulco Gold (Mexico), Amazonas (Colombia), Bermudian, Black Gungeon (India), Blue Sky Blond (Col.), Bolivian, Brazilian, Orange Colombian, Colombian Gold, Colombian Mona, Colombian Red, Colombian Red Gold, Colombian Chiba, Stickless Colombian, Colombian Multicolored, Culiacan (Mex.), Guadalajara Green, Guatemalan, Guerrero Gold (Mex.), Guerrero Green, Hawaiian Blue, Honduran, Jamaican Blue Mountain, Kali (Jamaica), Kauai (Hawaii), Kerala Grass (Ind.), Kona Gold (Haw.), Kona Green, Leper Grass (Haw.), Llanos Green (Col.), Machu Picchu (Peru), Mad Jag (Haw.), Malawian, Manizales Black (Col.), Maui (Haw.), Maui Wowie, Mauna Loa (Haw.), Michoacan (Mex.), Misawan Gold (Japan), Misawan Purple, Molokai Magic, Nayarit Yellow (Mex.), Nepalese, Nicaraguan, Nigerian Black, Oahu (Haw.), Oaxacan (Mex.), Oaxacan Red, Panama Red, Popo Oro (Mex.), Pueblo (Mex.), Puna Butter (Haw.), Punta Roja (Col.), Santa Marta Gold (Col.), Santa Marta Red, Sinaloan (Mex.), Sumatran, Thai, Torreon Violet (Mex.), Venezuelan, Vietnamese, Wacky Weed (Col.), Yucatan (Mex.), Zacatecas Purple (Mex.).
    It is said that the best marijuana in the world is grown in Lebanon but is rarely smoked because the plants are made into hashish.
    When it comes to varieties, the possibilities are endless, and American growers are continually developing new combinations. One grower proudly showed me a ninth-generation Red-Lebanese Gold-Colombian hybrid she had cultivated in Santa Cruz County. "I know it's not very pretty," she told me. "But I didn't grow it to look at. I grew it to smoke."



Until around 1975, the great bulk of marijuana purchased in the United States was grown in Mexico. Recently, Colombian grass has become more popular. It tends to be stronger, for one thing, and it is also grown with less interference from the authorities Mexican growers often harvest their crops too early, to avoid detection, and this results in a steep decline in quality. In addition, Mexican marijuana has traditionally suffered from improper methods of curing and transport. Finally, the widespread use of Paraquat, a chemical defoliant, in the Mexican marijuana fields during 1978 made the Mexican product both scarce and unpopular in the United States.[9]
    "I find that certain high-altitude Mexican gives you a nice transparent high," says Lenny. "It makes you feel like you're walking around in a block of Plexiglas, and you don't feel sleepy." A clear, uplifting high is the most common designation of the better Mexican varieties, especially Oaxacan; it is usually green, with a smooth, spicy, and minty taste. It enters the lungs with a minimum of discomfort.
    Marijuana from Guerrero is also well regarded, but relatively few entrepreneurs are willing to venture into this wild and violent province. Even more scarce is the legendary Acapulco Gold. When it first appeared in the United States around 1964, it was one of the few quality varieties around; as a result, the name became popular and was soon being used to describe almost any good Mexican marijuana.
    Other Mexican varieties include the rare Zacatecas Purple ("only a handful of people in the whole country have tried it," boasted a California dealer); Popo Oro, which has a bluish tinge; Culiacan, grown in intense sunlight at high altitudes; Michoacan, which is silvery-light, pastel green in color, and very potent; and, in descending order of quality, Guadalajara Green (little more than respectable), Sinaloan (unimpressive), and finally a variety known as "Culiacan Garbage," which is apparently so disappointing that, according to Jerry Kamstra, author of Weed (a book about marijuana smuggling), "some dudes have even smuggled it back into Mexico so they won't have to look at it."
    In general, Mexican varieties are described as being happier and more mind-expanding than their Colombian counterparts. True, Colombian marijuana tends to be higher in THC; but the Mexican varieties, according to R., still have much to recommend them:
When people started switching to Colombian varieties in the early Seventies because of their "strength," as compared to Mexican, they were losing something, because some Colombians are unexcelled for inspiring contemplative philosophical states of mind, and some are amazing for the emotional and sensual intensities they evoke, but there's nothing like good old Mexican for laughter and sociability.
    In fact, it's unfortunate that more people don't start out smoking Mexican dope these days. People who have missed Mexican and started off smoking heavy Colombian often have their cannabis sensitivity stunned into a stupor by the sudden strength of some Colombian varieties. But to start by smoking Mexican, one gets introduced to many subtle initial levels of a high, subtleties that can be obscured in big bong blasts of Lumbo. Mexican has a delicate up-tempo, mariachi-like rhythmic complexity that few "heavier" dopes can duplicate.[10]



Mexican was all right for hippies who wanted to see God. There's nothing wrong with saying hello to God once in a while, and I think Mexican still has that and so do a few other good dopes at good moments. But more important is day-to-day survival. And Colombian offers that potential.

— "The Dope Taster" in High Times

Colombia is currently the largest supplier of marijuana in the world. The climate and soil conditions in the Andes and on the lowland plains are well suited to growing potent cannabis; the long season and humid air are perfect for the plants, while the country's extended and irregular coastline makes life less anxious for smugglers. It is estimated that ten thousand farmers in Colombia grow marijuana and that the marketing provides a livelihood for five times that many, with people needed as packers, truckers, and even armed guards to protect the shipments. Marijuana is now the largest industry in Colombia, larger even than coffee. Although the Colombian farmer may receive only 1 percent of the final price of his crop, marijuana is still several times more lucrative for him to plant than coffee, cotton, or corn.[11]
    Most Colombian marijuana that reaches America is known as "regular" or "commercial." It is usually dark brown, tends to be strong and heavy, and generally has a pungent, earthy flavor when relatively fresh. It may be as much as 60 percent seeds by weight. Consumers find it a reliable way of getting high, although some complain that it is harsh on the throat and makes them tired.
    The finer varieties of Colombian can be divided into lights, darks, and reds. The lights include the highly respected Colombian golds, but not all grass that glitters is what it appears. Often, the color is produced by bleaching the marijuana in the sun, or even by an artificial agent. Connoisseurs say that the real test for gold is in the buds or clumps, which should reveal a "furriness"—that is, pollen clinging to the flowers and seed bracts. The golds tend to be stronger, sweeter, and less sleep-inducing than the browns.
    The darks, or browns, are grown in the lowland plains, and their freshness can make the difference between commercial and connoisseur smoke. The most famous of the dark Colombians is Wacky Weed, a legendary variety said to make everything seem absurd. According to those who have smoked it, Wacky Weed is marijuana that has produced so much resin that it has stifled itself and died, which accounts for its occasional black color. Wacky Weed is no longer seen in the United States, but sophisticated smokers see a replacement in a similar if less potent variety known as Manizales Black.
    Finally, there are the reds, the best known of which is Punta Roia ("red tip"). Almost tasteless but very high in THC, Punta Roja has a brownish-red flare on the tops of the leaves and red highlights on the buds. The reds have a reputation for being more spiritual or religious in their effect.


Other Varieties

Jamaican pot is said to be very stimulating, and especially good for sex. "It has a quick head," a dealer told me, which means that the high comes and goes fairly swiftly. A college student writes: "Jamaican gives me such a good time! I laugh so hard I get aches in my jaw." A Minnesota woman claims she can't concentrate on sex when she's stoned, unless she has smoked Jamaican. Another smoker says that Jamaican is best for listening to music "because it puts my soul in rhythm with the universe."
    Hawaiian grass is a fairly recent arrival on the mainland. It is fairly new in Hawaii as well, where, except during World War II, marijuana has been largely unknown as a native plant. The recent commercial cultivation began in 1971 when a group known as the Brotherhood of External Love brought in some Afghani seeds and started growing sinsemilla on Maui.
    Today, marijuana is a major crop on the islands and makes its way to maturity in poor soil made from volcanic rock. Curiously, this seems to have no negative effect on the quality of the plants. According to one observer, the local farmers have compensated for the poor soil by their skilled use of fertilizers and compost. They also mix various exotic fruits, including the papaya, into the earth.
    Hawaiian marijuana is usually lush and green, with very few seeds. It is known for its intensity "It's impossible to smoke more than one joint of it," a smoker assured me. There are two famous varieties: the highly regarded Maui Wowie, and Kona Gold, described by a California accountant as the best grass he has ever smoked, well worth the steep price of $200 an ounce:
On Kona Gold you really can't even think because you're so gone. It blasts you away, and it's a great high. Only good Thai is similar to it, but even that doesn't blast you away. This stuff comes in long, stringy strands, full of resin and smelling sweet, and you know it's primo stuff. You look at it and smell it, and you just know.[12]

    Grown in an ideal climate with plenty of sunshine, Hawaiian marijuana enjoys another advantage: although it is both exotic and imported, it does not have to pass through customs on its way to the continental United States.
    Marijuana from Thailand is sometimes described as "off the ground and climbing" and is noted for the clarity of thought it produces. Thai grass is said to be good for introspection and for solving problems, although some users find it leads to a frustrating assault of too many viewpoints at once.
    Thai marijuana is generally sold in small sticks, but "Thai stick" has become a generic term, and not all fine buds tied to a stick come from Thailand. Connoisseurs complain that "Thai stick" has become a meaningless phrase and that even genuine Thai marijuana is not what it used to be.


Domestic and Sinsemilla

The American cannabis that grows wild in many states had its origin in "escaped" seeds from plants originally cultivated on hemp plantations for their fiber. These plants generally contained only minimal amounts of THC, which is true for their descendants as well. They are also relatively high in CBD, and the result, for unassuming smokers who have stopped to pick these plants by the side of the road, is much more headache than high. Wild marijuana goes by such colorful names as Missouri Mud, Nebraska Nonsense, New Jersey Swamp Grass, Kansas Krap, Tahoe Trouble, and Kentucky Blue Grass. The one advantage to wild marijuana is that it has provided enterprising growers who have planted good seeds in the middle of a wild patch almost unparalleled security for their efforts.
    During the 1960s, there were scattered reports of a mythical variety of marijuana known as Manhattan Silvertip, which was said to grow in the sewers of New York as a result of all the seeds frightened users flushed down the toilet during police raids. According to the story, the plants were silver because they received no light.
    Marijuana grown by smokers on their own property has until recently been dismissed as "homegrown" and assumed to be relatively weak, especially by East Coast smokers, who are said to be biased against green marijuana. But the continental United States now boasts a formidable and rapidly growing industry of its own, which is already estimated at a billion dollars a year in retail sales. Fine marijuana is now being grown in a number of states, including Arizona, Nevada, Kentucky, Virginia, Oregon, Texas, and Florida. Marijuana is also grown in New England and even in Alaska, where the cultivation of small amounts is now permitted under state law. There are several reputable books on the market that describe techniques for growing high-quality cannabis both indoors and out, and if the sale of these books is any indication, American-grown marijuana may eventually be sufficient to eliminate this country's dependence on foreign imports.
    The center of the marijuana-growing industry in the United States is in northern California, especially Humboldt County, where growers use the latest scientific methods to produce first-quality crops. California marijuana is not only as good as most foreign varieties but far more likely to reach American consumers in a relatively fresh state, at or near peak potency. Among the best California varieties is one known as Big Sur Holy Weed, which was originally grown from seeds of Zacatecas Purple, a rare Mexican strain.[13]
    Some California smokers believe that marijuana will continue to be grown in the economically depressed areas of the state. In 1979 State Senator Barry Keane, whose district includes most of the growing areas, told The New York Times that marijuana was the second or third largest agricultural crop in his district. "Even some very responsible members of the Chamber of Commerce have asked me whether it wouldn't make sense to decriminalize it," said Keane, "and use it to diversify the economy, broaden the tax base and create jobs in this high unemployment area." It is estimated that a farmer who grows no more than fifty plants can make between $25,000 and $50,000 from the annual harvest. One dealer quipped: "Marijuana is the best thing to hit Humboldt County since logging."
    Today, California's marijuana industry is at a point similar to that reached by its wine industry a few years ago. California marijuana is already considered to be among the best by connoisseurs in the western states, and smokers across the nation are beginning to take notice. The variety that is mostly responsible for this popularity is known as sinsemilla.
    One reason for the enormous success of California marijuana is that the sinsemilla crops are scientifically cultivated. Sinsemilla is the Spanish word for "without seeds" and refers to a disturbance in the natural cycle of cannabis that has been practiced by growers for centuries. Left on their own, male marijuana plants will fertilize the females, which in turn produce high-potency resin to trap the pollen from the male plants. This, at any rate, is the explanation given to the process by most California growers and dealers. Normally, after fertilization, the female plants use most of their energy to produce seeds, thereby propagating the species. But in the cultivation of sinsemilla, the male plants are uprooted before fertilization can occur. According to the growers, the unfertilized female plants, unable to produce seeds, instead continue to send forth resin in search of the pollen that never arrives. "It's like a continual lubrication for a sex act which never takes place," one grower told me; he refers to the sinsemilla plants as "frustrated old virgins." A California smoker says, "I love sinsemilla; it's like smoking pure yearning."
    But marijuana researchers are amused by such tales. They point out that resin is present in all plants and that there is no evidence that it is connected to the plant's sex functions. Studies of sinsemilla plants do show that they tend to be more potent than other varieties, but skeptics explain this by the quality of the seeds and the various cultivation techniques that sinsemilla requires.
    There are several advantages to growing only female plants. The female flowering clusters, the buds, are the most potent part of the marijuana harvest. More important, most of the weight of the sinsemilla plants is in these buds, rather than in leaves, which contain significantly less THC, or in the seeds and stems, which don't contain any. The sinsemilla plants require nine months to reach full maturity, which adds to their mystique; regular plants require only six or seven months. And instead of seeds, which are worthless to the smoker, the plants produce beautiful and large colas (literally, tails), the cone-shaped bundle of flowering tops.
    Although the idea of sinsemilla is fairly new to most American smokers, it has been the subject of much attention and folklore over the centuries. According to one account, the Mexican farmers who grow sinsemilla plants do not allow their wives to tend to them, believing that the plants become jealous in the presence of other females. A letter writer to High Times offers what he claims is compelling evidence that this tradition lives on: in five years of living and traveling in Mexico, this is the only instance he has seen where men exclude women from hard labor.
    The first large sinsemilla crops were grown in Marin County, north of San Francisco, in 1975; they were smoked by growers and dealers and did not reach the consumer. The following year, according to one report, the best plants were sold as Hawaiian, because nobody in California would believe that domestic growers had produced such a fine variety. But by 1977, sophisticated smokers were prepared to offer high prices for sinsemilla.
    Although sinsemilla crops are now grown in other states as well— a specially powerful variety is being produced in the Ozark mountains of Arkansas and Missouri, for example—it remains mostly a California phenomenon, and smokers in that state have greater access to it. Those smokers who pay $200 an ounce and sometimes more for the finest sinsemilla marijuana enjoy it not only for smoking but also for aesthetic reasons. The sinsemilla flowers are often strikingly beautiful, sporting red tendrils, purple strands, and bright greens and golds; there is at least one coffee-table book on the market celebrating the sinsemilla plants in glorious color photographs. Sinsemilla also boasts a spicy, piney fragrance and a mild, sweet taste.[14]
    Smokers who prefer sinsemilla speak of it as an elevating high. "It makes your brain tingle and gives you energy without knocking you out," says one devotee. Another user claims "it gets you in the back of the head, and opens up your eyes. Its effect is like that of having your windshield cleaned." A California woman says that sinsemilla puts her "up in space, analyzing the grand scheme of everything and how I fit into it." Repeatedly, sinsemilla is described as "wiring," "airy," and "uplifting."
    Growers of sinsemilla earn their high prices by careful vigilance. An entire sinsemilla crop can fail if a single male plant goes undetected, or even if a single male flower appears on an otherwise female plant. One male plant has the capacity to pollinate an entire field of females, and it is said that in some counties of California a farmer who allows a male plant to remain in his field will be persecuted by his neighbors for perpetrating a sin worse than horse stealing. Occasionally, despite precautions, a few seeds will appear in a sinsemilla crop, and these are highly prized by the growers for next year's production.
    Fine sinsemilla requires expert care, including the pruning of secondary and tertiary nodal leaves from each plant to force growth to the branch tips, where the flower buds grow. Farmers are equally careful to water the plants in the right way and even to provide different types of fertilizer at different stages of the plant's growth. In a word, what used to be casually dismissed as "homegrown" marijuana is now the result of highly scientific farming; the plants, it must be remembered, are virtually worth their weight in gold.
    Finally, there is the need for another kind of vigilance. There is always the threat of discovery by the authorities, especially in those areas that have gained some notoriety. But a threat even greater than the police is what worries most growers, as one of them explains:
It's all a matter of timing. You have to assume that there are always people watching your plants, waiting for the chance to steal them when you're not around. Often they get them the day before you were going to harvest them. After all, you're both watching the same plants, and you both want to be careful: you don't want the other guy to get it, but you also don't want to pick it too early, before the peak of maturation. That's why more and more of us are hiring armed guards.

    Sinsemilla's high price has led some to debate about whether it represents a good purchase for the consumer. Its adherents argue that the farmers deserve to be fairly paid for their hard work and risk. In addition, because sinsemilla, by definition, contains no seeds, it represents a better than usual purchase; in most Colombian and Mexican varieties, as much as 50 percent of the weight of the marijuana may be seeds, which are useless to the smoker. Sinsemilla has no waste materials; in addition, it is often so potent that very little is required for the user to get high.
    Other smokers, especially on the East Coast, suspect that sinsemilla is significantly overrated. "It's very beautiful to look at," concedes a veteran New York smoker, "and it does have a wonderful fragrance and a wonderful taste. It even gets you high. But in a head-to-head standoff with fine Colombian, it just doesn't measure up." Lenny is more outspoken:
Sinsemilla is a natural outgrowth of California culture. Remember, this is the place that gave us Hollywood. On the West Coast, everything is appearances: look at the clothes they wear, and the cars they drive. It makes sense that they would produce a kind of dope that looks great and smells great and tastes great, but isn't all that potent. It's showy dope; if we could grow good stuff in Boston, I'm sure it would be described as solid, traditional, and intellectual.
    But what really get me are the stories they tell about how it has more resin. Has anybody measured the stuff? People believe what they want to believe. Hell, for fifty years they thought there were canals on Mars.[15]



1. Jerry Kamstra, Weed, p. 1. The material on potency and chemistry is derived from two books in particular: Michael Starks, Marijuana Potency and Mel Frank and Ed Rosenthal, Marijuana Grower's Guide. (back)

2. This device was invented in 1976 by David Hoye, author of Cannabis Alchemy, and within a year had been sold to more than a thousand eager alchemists, one of whom claimed that the machine was "the greatest advance in smoking since the development of the match." Isomerization is recommended by experts only when the CBD content is fairly high. In good varieties of marijuana, however, this rarely occurs; the machine is most useful in making "trash weed" into acceptable smoking material. Some smokers are skeptical about such artificial changes. As Lenny puts it, "Imagine that you were at a party, and somebody came up to you with a glass of wine, and started telling you how he wrapped the bottle in burlap and kept it in the cellar for three months, and then put it through a boozifier to increase its potency. You'd think the guy was crazy. We all know how wine is made, but few people have any idea how marijuana gets from the plant to the joint, or how it can be made better." (back)

3. As this book goes to press, a Cambridge corporation has just produced an inexpensive device for home use which does exactly this—but all at once. Using steam as a heating medium and water as a timer, the Maximizer, as it is called, activates THC from the organic acid precursor produced naturally by the plant, thus bringing the marijuana to its fullest strength and potential within about an hour. (back)

4. Mechoulam: Marijuana Potency, p. 14. (back)

5. Frank and Rosenthal: Marijuana Grower's Guide, p. 40. (back)

6. This higher figure comes from the Marijuana Research Project of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which c]aimed that between 1974 and 1978 the average THC content of marijuana jumped from .3 5 percent to 3.69 percent. These figures, it turns out, include the readings of hashish and hash oil, cannabis products that are often many times more potent than marijuana. (back)

7. Jones experiments: Uses of Marijuana, p. 64. (back)

8. Jones quote: letter to author, 27 July 1978. (back)

9. Mexican marijuana: see Weed, and "R.," "Bring Back "Mexican," High Times, June 1978, pp. 36-37. (back)

10. "R": "Bring Back Mexican," p. 36. (back)

11. Colombian: see "The Columbian Connection," Time, 29 January 1979, pp. 22-29. See also "R.," "Vintage Columbian Tasting," High Times, July 1978, pp. 38-39. (back)

12. Hawaiian: see "R.," '&Hawaiian—The Great Dope Hope," High Times, April 1979, pp. 18-19. (back)

13. California marijuana: William Carlson, "Marijuana Crops Revived California Town," New York Times, 1l March 1979. See also John Dowdy, "Spice Valley, U.S.A.: Marijuana Moonshiners," Atlantic Monthly, January 1979, pp.6-24. (back)

14. Coffee-table book: Jim Richardson and Arik Woods, Sinsemilla. (back)

15. For a dissenting view on sinsemilla, see "R.," "Talking Sense About Sinsemilla," High Times, September 1978, pp. 24-25. (back)

Chapter 12

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