From the Archives: In Lamu, Nothing Changes but the Moon (1978)

Not far from the coast of Kenya in the iridescent Indian Ocean lies an island called Lamu, very much the same as it was a thousand years ago. Since time out of mind, Lamu has been a bustling entrépot of the African-Arabian trade, its wharves aswarm with dhows freighting ostrich feathers, elephant tusks and green hashish, its bazaars awash with every exotic skin tone from Tibetan gold to Zulu ebony. And in recent years, gliding inconspicuously in their shimmering wraparound kikoys among all these motley traders, an increasing number of Western adventurers have been living out fantasies straight from the Arabian Nights.

For a dollar a night, boarding houses in Lamu town will afford a visitor not merely clean lodgings but access to the flat roof with unlimited sunset-watching and stargazing privileges. Lamu marijuana is cheap and powerful, restrictions against it are minimal, and the African equatorial heavens are spectacular and infinitely absorbing. Thus many are persuaded to stay for months on end, renting ancient high-walled townhouses for $20 to $50 a month.

The traditional Swahili ambiance of Lamu town thrives at the 200-year-old Petley’s Inn, complete with first-class bar and restaurant and pool, yet blending perfectly with the island’s unique tranquility and magnetism. Automobiles are banned from Lamu’s narrow streets, constructed to shade the people from the equatorial sun and to generate refreshing sea-wind currents. Transporation is by foot and donkey mainly, or by m’tabi, a sturdy Swahili motorboat with a swan’s curve belly and bow. Every jetty and marketplace is lined with shops decorated with brilliant banners and awnings, the owners and customers alike wearing long white khanzu-robes and fezlike kofias. Business is brisk and noisy in the morning and picks up again toward sunset, after the long afternoon doze.

Thus life stirs early in Lamu, with the predawn muezzin prayer calls ululating fluidly from the island’s 22 mosques. The men go to pray, while the women in their black habitlike bui-buis begin breakfast. For a visitor, wandering about Lamu at any time of day is like a translation into another time, and especially so at dawn and dusk. Thursday evening, the eve of the Muslim Sabbath, is celebrated abroad from every mosque with the hypnotic Sufi music of drums, tambourines, flutes, hymns and chants. The same joint partaken to enjoy the sunset will carry one irresistibly through the musical Oriental streets, haunted with immemorial genies and houris.

It is the gentle mystical tradition of Sufi that lends Lamu its ageless Islamic atmosphere. “We have a different sense of time here,” explains M’zee Selim Ahmed, a 60-year-old Lamu shaykh. “We know that we live in a paradise, and we want to continue to cherish the timeless values we hold to our hearts.”

Lamu town itself dates from the first provenance of itinerant Sufi preachers, who 700-odd years ago settled Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania. The intervening centuries blended the Bantu and Arabian languages and cultures into modern Swahili, a wildly cosmopolitan culture deeply infused with the tolerance and illumination of Sufi Islam.

The Sufi influence accounts for the benign official attitude toward qunnab (hemp) on Lamu and for the exceptionally liberated condition of its womenfolk, virtually unique in all Islam. While the bui-bui is still worn everywhere, Lamu women typically allow the veil to slip after dark, revealing smoky black eyes and bright African fabrics underneath. Virginity is still expected of very young brides, but older girls having once “dallied” are suprisingly free to have lovers. Marriage is no absolute totem on Lamu, where adultery and divorce are almost fashionably commonplace. Polygamy is allowed for men, but rarely practiced due to its expensiveness; and the women are virtually into serial polygamy, many 25-year-old girls having four or five divorces behind them.

Yet the Islamic society on Lamu is as tight and cohesive on every level, from family to government, as any small American town in the 1900s. This proceeds naturally from the communal prayers, fasts and festivals of Sufi Islam, so that a kind of homely holiness pervades the entire island. Visitors with a sincere interst in studying Sufi and Swahili discover themselves welcome in Lamu households, and the shaykhs take great pleasure in instructing Western tourists.

And always there’s the beaches, particularly the eight-mile stretch of surfside sand near Shela, a village populated mainly by devoted dope smokers. Hot and windy the year round, the climate is terrific for swimming, fishing and sailing, and at Shela’s luxurious Peponi Hotel one can order anything from malt beer to lobster thermidor. But the cardinal attraction for any pilgrim to Lamu occurs every 28 days, when the full moon swells up yellow out of India over the ocean, and dope smokers from all East Africa salute it from Shela Beach through a rising ghostly mist of communal cannabis.

Who knows? You might find yourself passing a long-handled hash pipe between Richard Burton and the Khalif Haroun al-Raschid. Or merely giggling like crazy with a very attractive sunburned fellow pilgrim from Kalamazoo or Copenhagen. And here you all are in Lamu.

High Times Magazine, July 1978

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From the Archives: On Cocaine (1982)

Once upon a time, Aleister Crowley tipped off a zealous decency society in Britain to the “conspicuous signs of prostitution” he’d observed in a tiny Scots town. Considering the source, Crowley himself, to be unimpeachable on such matters, the horrified do-gooders dispatched a morality squad to the spot, at considerable expense. When they presently reported no evidence at all of any such thing, Crowley explained, “It is conspicuous by its absence, fools.”

This is not to say Crowley was entirely sane. After his first wife, whom he called the Ape of Thoth, went wholly crazy, he would hang her by the heels in a closet while he entertained girl friends. He named their first girl-child with a string of misogynistic mystical epithets: Nuit Ma Ahathoor Hecate Sappho Jezebel Lilith Crowley, who died, age five, of typhus in Rangoon. He enjoyed few things more, when he was running his fabulous cult playland on Sicily in the 1920s, than watching his female groupies screw animals, which would be bloodily sacrificed just as they achieved orgasm. The only groupie he hexed to death, though, was male: Crowley had him drink some cat’s blood, ordained a day and hour for him to die, and die he obligingly did, on the very second.

Crowley treated cocaine as a test of pure will: Aleister vs. the Drug. There was no way he’d get strung out behind coke. If legions of weak-willed plebians might become slaves to cocaine, was that any suitable grounds for prohibiting it from superior immortals like Crowley? He wrote this paper on cocaine in 1917, when Britain was already following the USA’s lead in banning pleasure drugs, to Crowley’s vast displeasure: “We are not under the laws and do not enjoy the liberties which our fathers bequeathed us; we are under a complex and fantastic system of police administration nearly as pernicious as anything even in America.”

To “master” coke, Crowley kept bowls of it around at all times, to be snorted as copiously as possible, and the same with mescaline and heroin. The heroin, of course, got decidedly ahead of him. Unlike coke, which is nonaddictive, smack had a special physical magic beyond even Crowley’s monumental will. But this only developed into a tougher test of his powers; for the rest of his life, he would purposely kick smack every few months, creating brilliant crazy occultist fantasies amid the withdrawals, and then relapse directly back into the shit. Of course he eventually died—in 1947, at the age of 72, after more than 50 years of gargantuan drug abuse.


Of all the graces that cluster about the throne of Venus the most timid and elusive is that maiden whom mortals call Happiness. None is so eagerly pursued; none so hard to win. Indeed, only the saints and martyrs, unknown usually to their fellow men, have made her theirs; and they have attained her by burning out the ego-sense in themselves in the white-hot steel of meditation, by dissolving themselves in that divine ocean of consciousness whose foam is passionless and perfect bliss.

To others, Happiness only comes by chance; when least sought, perhaps she is there. Seek, and ye shall not find; ask, and ye shall not receive; knock, and it shall not be opened unto you. Happiness is always a divine accident. It is not a definite quality; it is the bloom of circumstances. It is useless to mix its ingredients; the experiments in life which have produced it in the past may be repeated endlessly, and with infinite skill and variety—in vain.

It seems more than a fairy story that so metaphysical an entity should yet be producible in a moment by no means of wisdom, no formula of magic, but by a simple herb. The wisest man cannot add happiness to others, though they be dowered with youth, beauty, wealth, wit and love; the lowest blackguard shivering in rags, destitute, diseased, old, craven, stupid, a mere morass of envy, may have it with one swift-sucked breath. The thing is as paradoxical as life, as mystical as death.

Look at this shining heap of crystals! They are hydrochloride of cocaine. The geologist will think of mica; to me, the mountaineer, they are like those gleaming feathery flakes of snow, flowering mostly where rocks jut from the ice of crevassed glaciers that wind and sun have kissed to ghostliness. To those who know not the great hills, they may suggest the snow that spangles trees with blossoms glittering and lucid. The kingdom of faery has such jewels. To him who tastes them in his nostrils—to their acolyte and slave —they must seem as if the dew of the breath of some great demon of immensity were frozen by the cold of space upon his beard.

For there was never any elixir so instant magic as cocaine. Give it to no matter whom. Choose me the last loser on the earth; take hope, take faith, take love away from him. Then look, see the back of that worn hand, its skin discolored and wrinkled, perhaps inflamed with agonizing eczema, perhaps putrid with some malignant sore. He places on it that shimmering snow, a few grains only, a little pile of starry dust. The wasted arm is slowly raised to the head that is little more than a skull; the feeble breath draws in that radiant powder. Now we must wait. One minute—perhaps five minutes.

Then happens the miracle of miracles.

The melancholy vanishes, the eyes shine, the wan mouth smiles. Almost manly vigor returns, or seems to return. At least faith, hope and love throng very eagerly to the dance; all that was lost is found.

The man is happy.

To one the drug may bring liveliness, to another languor, to another creative force, to another tireless energy, to another glamour, and to yet another lust. But each in his way is happy. Think of it!—so simple and so transcendental! The man is happy!

I have traveled in every quarter of the globe; I have seen such wonders of nature that my pen sputters when I try to tell them; I have seen many a miracle of the genius of man; but I have never seen a marvel like this.

Is there not a school of philosophers, cold and cynical, that accounts God to be a mocker? That thinks He takes His pleasure in contempt of the littleness of His creatures? They should base their theses on cocaine! For here is bitterness, irony, cruelty ineffable. This gift of sudden and sure happiness is given but to tantalize. The story of Job holds no such acrid draught. What were more icy hate, fiend comedy than this, to offer such a boon, and add “This you must not take”? Could not we be left to brave the miseries of life, bad as they are, without this master pang, to know perfection of all joy within our reach, and the price of that joy a tenfold quickening of our anguish?

The happiness of cocaine is not passive or placid as that of beasts. It is self conscious. It tells man what he is, and what he might be. It offers him the semblance of divinity, only that he may know himself a worm. It awakens discontent so acutely that never shall it sleep again. It creates hunger. Give cocaine to a man already wise, schooled to the world, morally forceful, a man of intelligence and self-control. If he be really master of himself, it will do him no harm. He will know it for a snare; he will beware of repeating such experiments as he may make; and the glimpse of his goal may possibly even spur him to its attainment by those means which God has appointed for His saints.

But, give it to the clod, to the self-indulgent, to the blasé—to the average man, in a word—and he is lost. He says, and his logic is perfect: This is what I want. He knows not, neither can he know, the true path; and the false path is the only one for him. There is cocaine at his need, and he takes it again and again. The contrast between his grub life and his butterfly life is too bitter for his unphilosophic soul to bear; he refuses to take the brimstone with the treacle.

And so he can no longer tolerate the moments of unhappiness, that is, of normal life, for he now so names it. The intervals between his indulgences diminish.

And alas! the power of the drug diminishes with fearful pace. The doses wax; the pleasures wane. Side-issues, invisible at first, arise; they are like devils with flaming pitchforks in their hands.

A single trial of the drug brings no noticeable reaction in a healthy man. He goes to bed in due season, sleeps well and wakes fresh. South American Indians habitually chew this drug in its crude form, when upon the march, and accomplish prodigies, defying hunger, thirst and fatigue. But they only use it in extremity; and long rest with ample food enables the body to rebuild its capital. Also, savages, unlike most dwellers in cities, have moral sense and force.

The same is true of the Chinese and Indians in their use of opium. Everyone uses it, and only in the rarest cases does it become a vice. It is with them almost as tobacco is with us.

But to one who abuses cocaine for his pleasure nature soon speaks, and is not heard. The nerves weary of the constant stimulation; they need rest and food. There is a point at which the jaded horse no longer answers whip and spur. He stumbles, falls a quivering heap, gasps out his life.

So perishes the slave of cocaine. With every nerve clamoring, all he can do is to renew the lash of the poison. The pharmaceutical effect is over; the toxic effect accumulates. The nerves become insane. The victim begins to have hallucinations. “See! There is a gray cat in that chair. I said nothing, but it has been there all the time.”

Or, there are rats. “I love to watch them running up the curtains. Oh yes! I know they are not real rats. That’s a real rat, though, on the floor. I nearly killed it that time. That is the original rat I saw; it’s a real rat. I saw it first on my windowsill one night.”

Such, quietly enough spoken, is mania. And soon the pleasure passes, is followed by its opposite, as Eros by Anteros.

“Oh no! they never come near me.” A few days pass, and they are crawling on the skin, gnawing interminably and intolerably, loathsome and remorseless.

It is needless to picture the end, prolonged as this may be, for despite the baffling skill developed by the drug lust, the insane condition hampers the patient, and often forced abstinence for a while goes far to appease the physical and mental symptoms. Then a new supply is procured, and with tenfold zest the maniac, taking the bit between his teeth, gallops to the black edge of death.

And before that death comes all the torments of damnation. The time sense is destroyed, so that an hour’s abstinence may hold more horrors than a century of normal time-and-space-bound pain.

Psychologists little understand how the physiological cycle of life, and the normality of the brain, make existence petty both for good and ill. To realize it, fast for a day or two; see how life drags with a constant subconscious ache. With drug hunger, this effect is multiplied a thousandfold. Time itself is abolished. The real metaphysical eternal hell is actually present in the consciousness which has lost its limits without finding Him who is without limit.

Consider the debt of mankind to opium. It is acquitted by the deaths of a few wastrels from its abuse?

For the importance of this paper is the discussion of the practical question: Should drugs be accessible to the public?

Here I pause in order to beg the indulgence of the American people. I am obliged to take a standpoint at once startling and unpopular.

I am compelled to utter certain terrible truths. I am in the unenviable position of one who asks others to shut their eyes to the particular that they may thereby visualize the general.

But I believe that in the matter of legislation America is proceeding in the main upon a totally false theory. I believe that constructive morality is better than repression. I believe that democracy, more than any other form of government, should trust the people, as it specifically pretends to do.

Now it seems to me better and bolder tactics to attack the opposite theory at its very strongest point.

It should be shown that not even in the most arguable case is a government justified in restricting use on account of abuse; or allowing justification, let us dispute about expediency.

So, to the bastion—should “habit-forming” drugs be accessible to the public?

The matter is of immediate interest, for the admitted failure of the Harrison Law has brought about a new proposal—one to make bad worse.

I will not here argue “the grand thesis of liberty.” Free men have long since decided it. Who will maintain that Christ’s willing sacrifice of his life was immoral, because it robbed the state of a useful taxpayer?

No. A man’s life is his own, and he has the right to destroy it as he will, unless he too egregiously intrude on the privileges of his neighbors.

But this is just the point. In modern times the whole community is one’s neighbor, and one must not damage that. Very good. Then there are pros and cons, and a balance to be struck.

In America the prohibition idea in all things is carried, mostly by hysterical newspapers, to a fanatical extreme. “Sensation at any cost by Sunday next” is the equivalent in most editorial rooms of the alleged German order to capture Calais. Hence the dangers of anything and everything are celebrated dithyrambically by the Corybants of the press, and the only remedy is prohibition. A shoots B with a revolver; remedy, the Sullivan Law. In practice, this works well enough, for the law is not enforced against the householder who keeps a revolver for his protection, but is a handy weapon against the gangster, and saves the police the trouble of proving felonious intent.

But it is the idea that was wrong. Recently a man shot his family and himself with a rifle fitted with a Maxim silencer. Remedy, a bill to prohibit Maxim silencers! No perception that, if the man had not had a weapon at all, he would have strangled his family with his hands.

American reformers seem to have no idea, at any time or in any connection, that the only remedy for wrong is right; that moral education, self-control, good manners, will save the world; and that legislation is not merely a broken reed, but a suffocating vapor. Further, an excess of legislation defeats its own ends. It makes the whole population criminals, and turns them all into policemen and spies. The moral health of such a people is ruined forever; only revolution can save it.

However, let us concede the prohibitionist claims. Let us admit the police contention that cocaine and the rest are used by criminals who would otherwise lack the nerve to operate. They also contend that the effects of the drugs are so deadly that the cleverest thieves quickly become inefficient. Then for heaven’s sake establish depots where they can get free cocaine!

You cannot cure a drug fiend; you cannot make him a useful citizen. He never was a good citizen, or he would not have fallen into slavery. If you reform him temporarily, at vast expense, risk and trouble, your whole work vanishes like morning mist when he meets his next temptation. The proper remedy is to let him gang his ain gait to the de’il. Instead of less drug, give him more drug, and be done with him. His fate will be a warning to his neighbors, and in a year or two people will have the sense to shun the danger. Those who have not, let them die, too, and save the state. Moral weaklings are a danger to society, in whatever line their failings lie. If they are so amiable as to kill themselves, it is a crime to interfere.

You say that while these people are killing themselves they will do mischief. Maybe. But they are doing it now.

Prohibition has created an underground traffic, as it always does, and the evils of this are immeasurable. Thousands of citizens are in league to defeat the law, are actually bribed by the law itself to do so, since the profits of the illicit trade become enormous, and the closer the prohibition, the more unreasonably big they are. You can stamp out the use of silk handkerchiefs in this way: people say, “All right, we’ll use linen.” But the “cocaine fiend” wants cocaine, and you can’t put him off with Epsom salts. Moreover, his mind has lost all proportion. He will pay anything for the drug. He will never say, “I can’t afford it.” And if the price be high, he will steal, rob, murder to get it. Again I say: You cannot reform a drug fiend. All you do by preventing them from obtaining it is to create a class of subtle and dangerous criminals, and even when you have jailed them all, is anyone any the better?

While such large profits (from 1,000 to 2,000 percent) are to be made by secret dealers, it is to the interest of those dealers to make new victims. And the profits at present are such that it would be worth my while to go to London and back first class to smuggle no more than I could hide in the lining of my overcoat! All expenses paid, and a handsome sum in the bank at the end of the trip! And for all the law, and the spies, and the rest of it, I could sell my stuff with very little risk in a single night in the Tenderloin.

Another point is this: Prohibition cannot be carried to its extreme. It is impossible, ultimately, to withhold drugs from doctors. Now doctors, more than any other single class, are drug fiends, and also, there are many who will traffic in drugs for the sake of money or power. If you possess a supply of the drug, you are the master, body and soul, of any person who needs it.

People do not understand that a drug, to its slave, is more valuable than gold or diamonds. A virtuous woman may be above rubies, but medical experience tells us that there is no virtuous woman in need of the drug who would not prostitute herself to a ragpicker for a single sniff.

I still say that prohibition is no cure. The cure is to give the people something to think about; to develop their minds; to fill them with ambitions beyond dollars; to set up a standard of achievement which is to be measured in terms of eternal realities; in a word, to educate them.

If this appears impossible, well and good. It is only another argument for encouraging them to take cocaine.

High Times Magazine, September 1982

Read the full issue here.

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From the Archives: Mother’s Day (1994)

By Marsha Turner Brown

The cruiser was backed into a space beside the Kentucky Fried Chicken. Blissfully unaware, I sped by him at 20 miles above the limit. He pulled behind me at the first caution light; I was driving through the second signal when he put on his siren. Pulling to the curb I readied for the drill: name, number, state of sobriety and registration.

In the moment it took to review my license, the trooper smelled a rat, or as I would shortly discover, a “leafy vegetabletype contraband.”

When I unlocked the glove box to retrieve the registration a little pistol fell to the floor mat. Things got worse, real fast, from here on in. The officer, who had been leaning in my window, spoke. “Please open your door and step out and away from the car, ma’am.”

I stepped out and away and was escorted to the back seat of his car. Safely caged away, he called police central and reported the gun incident. Three more cars arrived, blaring and flashing, before a policelady reopened the cruiser door. That was the first time I saw the dog.

She was sniffing like an anteater, dancing around her trainer’s knees and yodeling. When the door of my car was cracked open, the big slobbering hound jumped in and over the front seat. Her nose came to rest under a pile of food trash my son had thrown in back. Just as we were clearing the gun-ownership/right-to-carry issue, an officer reached under the hamburger wrappers and produced my son’s shaving bag. Unzipping it, he reached inside and produced two baggies, each over half full. 86.2 grams, the warrant read.

The legitimacy of my status as an elected school board member, community activist, and Baptist became questionable. The A.M. teaser on our television station: “Ranking school official arrested on narcotics charge…details at six….” The morning papers were no less complimentary: “Indictment Pending: Drug Dog Gets Big Dog. ” It was a stupid headline, and I discovered, painfully, the repercussions of telling a city editor he had a stupid headline. The next morning it read, “Commissioners Want Resignation Immediately. ”

Let me clear up any misconceptions you may have about mothers. Not all mothers are capable of loving a child; some mothers—and others—are incapable of loving anything or anyone. The lack of a mother’s love is the greatest tragedy of childhood, the coldest injustice. Those who haven’t experienced this unboundaried love are poorer for the loss.

Those who have known a mother’s love will understand, if not embrace, the insanity and absurdity of genetics. What would Mama do for you? What indeed.

Look at the market, around your neighborhood, watch CNN, read a paper. Documentation is available if the reality is beyond believable. There are mothers whoring on streetcorners and conference tables to house and feed their kids; mothers waiting in unemployment and HUD offices to do the same. Mama will give her last dollar to feed you or keep you warm. She will give you a kidney if you need one, or her life, if required.

Mama will also be cavity searched, bailed from county holding, indicted, arraigned, and pronounced guilty to protect her child.

Marijuana ruins lives. Ask any moralist or Baptist and they’ll tell you about the ruin. “People smoke that stuff, think they can fly, and jump out windows.”

I have never consumed anything that made me think I could fly and felt slighted for the exclusion. Good enough to fly? That was good.

I split from the Protestants on points of cause and effect. Possession, not inhalation, is the destroyer of lives and families. Get caught in the deep South with two ounces and life as you know it ends. There are no laws, below the Eastern Continental Divide, to protect from the crimes of intolerance and injustice. My son is just starting on his career trek. Mine was growing tiresome long before the arrest. I saw no need to mention that my child had driven the car last, that the marijuana was his. Denial wouldn’t have changed the reality: the floorboard held proof. My career was the required, and judicially necessary, sacrifice to protect my child.

I seek amended laws as a citizen and nonuser. As a mother, I make a simple request to sons and daughters everywhere: Until the repeal of criminality, please do not leave your stash in the back of your mother’s car. She won’t be happy when the hound dog jumps on her seat cushions. Trust me.

High Times Magazine, May 1994

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From the Archives: Hollywood Dealer (1986)

By M.E. as told to Joe Delicado

M. E. doesn’t look like a Hollywood movie star. His face is too fat, his ears too large, his nose poorly shaped. And yet he would make a compelling appearance on screen. He has a distinctive style, a gruff but likeable voice, and he moves across a room as though he’s an actor in a movie of his own making. At the age of 32 he’s a veteran Hollywood marijuana dealer, cautious, sly and usually silent about his work. On the first day I met him at the Bel Air Sands Hotel he was wearing a white shirt, black leather tie, dark glasses and a Borsolino hat. Over coffee he talked about growing up in Southern California, and his initial forays into the dope trade as a high school student. He took me for a spin in his 76 Porsche. In Malibu we walked on the beach and had lunch at Geoffrey’s, a swank restaurant on the Pacific Coast Highway. Later that afternoon he took me to a secluded house along the shore and showed me half a dozen different varieties of marijuana, all of which he’d named after Hollywood movies: Burma Road, Citizen Kane, Treasure of Sierra Madre, Purple Rain, African Queen and Wizard of Oz. He rolled a joint. I turned on the tape recorder, sat back and listened while he talked about his adventures and observations as a dealer in the heart of movieland.

One Sunday night I was cruising along Sunset Boulevard, listening to Springsteen on the radio, just watching the world go by. A Mercedes Benz passed me in the left lane, then slowed down so that I could read the personalized license plate. It said “Movi Biz.” I followed behind for several blocks, and then suddenly I thought to myself, “This is my life. What else have I been doing for years but literally follow on the tail of the movie business.” That’s what it has felt like anyway, and I can’t honestly complain because I’ve made a decent living and I’ve had a chance to mix with celebrities, and some extraordinarily creative people, too. I’ve enjoyed serving as a drug dealer to the stars. I’ve had to put up with some prima donnas—more than a couple of actresses I’ve met have expected to be treated like queens. But they pay for it, and making two or three million dollars a year they can afford to. I’ve aIways had a sliding scale: you pay more if you live in the hills, and I don’t see anything wrong with charging a director or bankable star extra bucks for that pound of Jornia sinsemilla. Believe me, they get the best marijuana in the world—the stuff that the grower usually keeps in private reserve, and they get it all perfectly manicured, neatly packaged, sensitively wrapped. It’s the essence of designer drugs. Besides that, I always give a performance. I know the growers, know the history of the crop—where it was cultivated, when it was harvested, how it was cured—and I tell that story when I deliver the dope. It makes a difference knowing exactly what you are smoking. I make the season into a movie, but that’s exactly what you’ve got to do as a dealer in Hollywood. It’s what’s expected of you because Hollywood sees the world on screen. It sees life as a scenario. I’ve been following the Movi Biz so long that I’ve caught the disease. I see myself as an actor in a marijuana movie, and sometimes I’ve got to snap my fingers and tell myself that this isn’t a dream, that I’d better edit my fantasies or I’m the fall guy. But stopping the projector isn’t easy in Hollywood, especially with all that money and power and glamour. It’s incredibly seductive, and a perfect breeding ground for dreams.

My own fantasy was that I was going to make the big leap from marijuana dealer to movie mogul. In fact, early in my career as dealer I had the idea for a movie—a California marijuana movie. Not a documentary, not a Cheech and Chong comedy either, but a feature-length drama with all the essential ingredients and big stars too—Jack Nicholson, William Hurt, Jane Fonda. I didn’t have the plot all worked out, but I had reels and reels of images and scenes in my head, and I was certain that somebody would buy them and put them on screen.

Movies are a big part of my life. They always have been, ever since I was a kid, and they probably always will loom large in my field of vision. I guess that you could say that I’m addicted to the movies. I crave them, need them, desire them. Sitting in a dark theatre watching a picture is my favorite form of escape. I relax, open up, stretch my imagination. It’s like being born again and again and again.

The movies I like best are murder mysteries, detective stories, thrillers. I’ve never seen The Sound of Music, but what I do like I’ve seen over and over again so many times that I can recite the dialogue all the way through. My all-time favorites are mostly classics like Out of the Past with Robert Mitchum, The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, To Have and to Have Not with Bogart and Bacall, Citizen Kane and The Third Man with Orson Welles, but I also like newer films, Scarface and The Godfather, of course, as well as The Sicilian Clan, The Big Chill, Gorky Park, Body Heat—you can see I’m a big William Hurt fan. I wanted to make a movie that would have the feel, the atmosphere, and the excitement too that those movies have generated in me.

I’ve been fortunate. Over the past dozen or so years I’ve gotten to know movie people—actors, directors, producers, writers, cameramen. I’ve got an inside track. So when I got my idea for a pot picture I began to knock on all those familiar doors, and to tell my story. Almost everything that I talked about had happened to me. I’ve grown pot, smuggled pot, sold pot; had encounters with cops, thieves, con artists, ex-cons, district attorneys, judges, customs agents, the DEA. So I took my own life and turned it into a movie. I had veterans of the trade spellbound right before my eyes. Some of the movie people I knew and trusted, and frankly admitted to them that all the material was autobiographical. But with others I was a lot more cautious. I didn’t see the need to confess felonies to everyone.

Right away I found out that I was naive. I didn’t realize how difficult it is to make a movie, especially a movie about drugs, and how many stumbling blocks there are. Hollywood is one of the richest drug capitals of the Western world. Hollywood loves its marijuana and its cocaine, but for obvious reasons it isn’t anxious to advertise that fact, or to make movies involving marijuana and cocaine. It comes too close to home. Sure there have been films in which drugs play a part. Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton smoke a joint in 9 to 5 and William Hurt snorts a few lines in The Big Chill. Drugs are a part of America—they’re as American as the World Series, as much a part of our lives as baseball and hot dogs. And wouldn’t that be a terrific movie to make, a movie about baseball and cocaine, with the snitch as the villain? But will Hollywood make that movie? Probably not. When it comes to illegal substances Hollywood is awfully cautious, and very much concerned to preserve its image.

One producer told me in no uncertain terms that there was an unwritten code at the studio where he worked. Number one, he said, you can’t show people doing drugs and deriving pleasure from them. You’re supposed to show the poor, pathetic junkie strung out, suffering miserably, and you’re supposed to show drug people as essentially evil types. Number two, you can’t show drug people getting away with it, because crime doesn’t pay. The growers and dealers can’t be shown making money and becoming successful. They have got to be caught and punished. This producer said that if he didn’t make a movie that fullfilled those two basic requirements he’d be in trouble. Sure he was making a million dollars a year, but he’d be unemployed. You learn right away that if you don’t play it by the rules, you’re expendable. If you don’t follow the code, church and civic leaders will be on your back. Gossip columnists will drop your name in bad company and pretty soon the corporation executives will be breathing down your neck. As you can guess, he turned down the idea.

Another producer told me that he had a reputation for being a head and that he was trying to shake that reputation, aiming for a newer, cleaner image in the ’80s. He claimed that he wanted to make a marijuana movie, but if he did, he said, everyone would assume that he was still smoking up a storm. So he couldn’t move on my project either. He had to make romantic comedies and love stories with happy endings.

Finally I did find a director who was hot on the idea of a California marijuana picture. Curiously, he didn’t smoke pot or snort coke. And he had even made an anti-drug propaganda film for high school students that was used by Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party in the last election. He was young and ambitious, this hustling director, and he thought that a marijuana movie with lots of sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, and a bit of violence too, would make it big with the teenage market come summertime. He sat me down and tried to pump me to get all he could out of me: how marijuana was grown and how it was marketed, how much it cost and what kinds of people smoked it. He didn’t know anything about pot, or about human beings either because he’d spent his entire life thinking up plots and making up characters. I didn’t tell him anything about myself or my activities, just the kind of information anybody could get out of the library.

He insisted that the movie had to be a remake of an old movie. That’s the way Hollywood worked, he said. You took the plot from a movie that had been made in the ’30s or ’40s and you plugged in marijuana. Remakes were the key to success, he insisted. He chose the John Huston classic, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre with Humphrey Bogart. A terrific choice I thought, but by the time he was through with it, it was a joke, a travesty.

John Huston had been raped. The screenplay he wrote fullfilled all the requirements of the Hollywood drug code. At the end the marijuana is confiscated by the sheriff and burned. It goes up in smoke and nobody gets a chance to smoke it. All the characters are greedy, jealous, competitive, low-life types you wouldn’t want to know. The two men fight over the same woman. One of them kills the other. The other goes crazy. There was one stereotype after another. I tried to get him to recognize the distortions he was creating, but he wouldn’t see it. At the end of his story he had to bring in the Mafia. He couldn’t conceive of a drug film without the Mafia playing a big part. But that’s typical of Hollywood thinking. Mention drugs and they automatically think Mafia, greasy Italians smoking cigars and driving in black limousines.

From the start, this director had told me that he wanted to make a movie that showed drug people as losers, and that’s exactly what he did do. Funny thing—nobody wanted it, and he peddled it everywhere he could, from the big studios to the sleaziest of the independents. It was that bad, that offensive. Working with this director turned me off to the idea of making a marijuana movie. I got to a point where I wanted no movie made at all rather than having his rip-off put on the screen. The last day I saw him, he says, “Hey, can you lend me a hundred dollars?” You know, it hasn’t come back to me yet.

But some exciting things did happen to me when I tried to make a marijuana picture. I met lots of actors, directors and producers who wanted to buy pot, and who appreciate California sinsemilla, people who smoke it day in and day out and enjoy it, and at the same time are successful in their careers. Sure, I’ve met characters who have done so much coke that they’ve botched big pictures and blown big budgets, but.for the most part I came in contact with Hollywood people who get high and make good movies. They aren’t losers, not in the least, but big winners, and I became a winner too.

Dealing pot in Hollywood has been good to me. If I hadn’t become a marijuana salesman I’d be poor right now. I wouldn’t have my Porsche or this house. And marijuana has expanded my world. Without it I’d never have penetrated Hollywood. I’d never have gotten inside those mansions in Bel Air, Beverly Hills, and Malibu. Marijuana has been a kind of key, opening doors. It’s a rich atmosphere I’ve been able to move in and it’s gone to my head. I’ve gotten high just being among celebrities.

Sometimes I do some consulting. Two, maybe three times a year someone tells me that there’s a new marijuana screenplay making the rounds. My friends show me the screenplay, and ask “Is it accurate?” “What do you think?” All the screenplays are the same. They have the same basic plots and characters; they’re about losers. Crime never pays, and nobody ever enjoys drugs. One thing I’ve noticed is Hollywood people are under tremendous pressure, perhaps more pressure than marijuana growers or dealers. The grower or dealer has to beware of cops, thieves, pests, blights. The director or producer has tremendous competition from other producers and directors. They are always in fear of failure, of losing money, and making a flop. And actors—they are a world in and of themselves—such egos and such bundles of nerves. For them marijuana is medicine. It enables them to survive, to cope with all the tensions, the lights, the action, and the camera. Believe me, being in front of the camera can be as intense as being under the gun. You think there’s warfare in the dope fields and in the streets—hell, the warfare in Hollywood studios is much more intense.

My closest Hollywood friends tell me that by comparison with the work they do, my hands are clean. So many of them feel that they make dirty deals, prostitute themselves and their values, while the dope deals I do are clean and unadulterated. Maybe so. They seem to feel that they’re always having to make a pact with the devil, that for every decent film they have to make two empty films. They tell me they often have to trade off better judgments for bigger profits.

I’ve seen a lot. It’s been an education. I’ve watched the old rags-to-riches story unfold: guys working as messenger boys working their way up the ladder, becoming heads of studios and marrying actresses. But I’ve also seen the riches-to-rags story too: millionaire movie producers going under, Academy Award actors faltering in their careers and after a success or two, never making another big picture.

I’d still like to make a Hollywood movie about marijuana, something with style, humor, lots of action, and sympathetic characters. There might be a loser in the film, but it wouldn’t be about losers. Somebody might go to jail, but it would show that crime can, and in fact, does pay. It pays very well. And it would show what we all know to be true, that people get high and enjoy it. Maybe someday that’ll be possible. If so, I’d like to have a hand in it, maybe even do a little acting, maybe play the part of the marijuana dealer to the Hollywood stars. Right now I’ll go on dealing to Hollywood. This will be my ninth year. Sure there’s a risk, but so is making a picture. Sometimes I get scared and think about changing occupations. But I’m still here. There’s the money, of course, but there’s a big thrill too, especially in the fall, right after the California marijuana harvest when I arrive on doorsteps and in living rooms with pounds of the new crop, all pungent and fresh and waiting to be smoked.

I’ve brought pot to San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and New York. New York is good. It’s one of the best, but nowhere do I get a warmer welcome than in Hollywood. Maybe because they’re under so much pressure they appreciate good marijuana. I’m treated like a hero, like a movie star you might say. Smoking dope, my friends tell me, keeps them honest in a dishonest world, and what could be more rewarding, more satisfying than that?

Except the parties. We do party a lot. And it’s exciting to be in one place with so many film people getting high together, eating, drinking, dancing, watching movies, and talking about movies, sitting in the sun and swimming in the backyard pool. I work hard and I like to play hard. I like my pleasures. As one director friend of mine says, “I’m a hedonist. While Rome bums, while this civilization of ours falls apart, I’m going to enjoy myself.”

High Times Magazine, March 1986

Read the full issue here.

The post From the Archives: Hollywood Dealer (1986) appeared first on High Times.

From the Archives: Secrets of the Alien Growers Revealed! (1988)

A famous writer from California was held hostage by an evil Queen from Outer Space who intended to keep him as a pet,” states Dr. Franz Berber, a leading San Francisco psychiatrist. The writer, Edward P. Hassle, managed to escape with the help of another alien.

Berber, a well-known hypnosis expert who specializes in treating the rich and famous, made this startling revelation at a recent regressive hypnosis conference held at the University of Illinois, in Urbana, Illinois.

“I know revealing this information is a violation of my doctor-patient relationship,” admits Berber, “but I feel it must be done in the interest of science and the future of the human race.”

According to statements made by the 42-year-old Hassle while in a trance, alien beings have been inhabiting remote sections of the planet and harvesting plant material from around the world. For some reason, the aliens seem particularly interested in marijuana.

“I have played copies of the sessions with Mr. Hassle to many leading experts in the UFO field, and all of them agreed that Mr. Hassle was abducted by an alien craft on October 16, 1986,” says Berber. “He disappeared for two weeks before mysteriously returning to his home with a case of temporary amnesia.”

What makes the disappearance even more suspicious was the fact Hassle was working on an article on UFO’s for HIGH TIMES magazine. After the editors rejected the article for lack of evidence, Hassle resigned from the magazine and began documenting his theory with photographs. It was at this time that he mysteriously disappeared. [See HIGH TIMES, Jan. ’87, page 14.]

“There have been many cases of people abducted by aliens, but this is the first time an alien has tried to hold a human being against their will for an extended period,” says John Holmstrom, executive editor of HIGH TIMES. “This case represents a new and potentially dangerous twist on the current rash of UFO sightings.”

Although Mr. Hassle was contacted at his home in Humboldt County, he refused to comment on the story. “Ed doesn’t want to talk right now,” explains his wife, Sunflower. “We’re still very concerned that the aliens might come back.”

According to an unpublished manuscript obtained by the Weakly World News, Hassle’s discoveries began after he noticed a decline in the potency of the marijuana plants in his backyard. At first this decline was attributed to the fact the plants had been cloned for several years; so, Hassle began growing from his original seed stock. However, the quality of the plants continued to decline.

Hassle put a 24-hour watch on the plants, and on the evening of September 2nd, 1986, he observed a small UFO hovering over his house. A long tube with a suction cup on the end appeared from the bottom of the craft. The craft descended until this tube was directly over his largest marijuana plant. The craft glowed momentarily, then took off at incredible speed, disappearing in an instant. Hassle contacted the police and wrote an account of the incident for HIGH TIMES. “Everyone laughed at him,” says Berber. “It was the beginning of a very traumatic time for Hassle. The police came and just confiscated his plants. He became obsessed by a story no one would publish.”

Hassle began visiting other marijuana growers in the area, and discovered everyone was experiencing a similar decline in potency. Armed with only a notebook and camera, he traveled from one grower to the next. Each night he kept vigil over a different patch of cannabis plants. Within a few weeks he photographed several alien crafts.

However, on the evening of October 16th, while Hassle was alone in a marijuana patch, he mysteriously disappeared. “Ed went to the patch, we saw some flashes of lightning—and he never came back,” Sunflower was quoted as saying at the time. Two weeks later, Hassle appeared in his own backyard, confused and disoriented. He had no knowledge of what had happened, and was plagued by insomnia and anxiety for several months. Finally, he sought treatment with Dr. Berber.

Who are these people?

Who are these strange aliens, and what are they doing on earth?

“They are star travelers from a different solar system,” explains Berber. “They are basically very rich tourists who have become bored with life on their own planets. They can remain on Earth as long as they don’t interfere with life here, but most of them spend their lives in constant space travel, since it’s the only way to stay perpetually young.”

There are actually two different alien civilizations visiting the planet, and they are in constant competition which each other. “They used to use the planet as a hunting ground,” says Berber, “but after they killed off all the dinosaurs, their governments signed an agreement not to disturb the planet any longer. It was at this time that cannabis was introduced to Earth in the hopes it would help pacify what had become a very violent planet.

According to reports published in a recent issue of The Alien Times, Hassle and the Alien Queen engaged in a “smoke-off.” For four hours, the Queen brought out dozens of different varieties of hashish, each time offering the pipe to Hassle after taking a hit herself. The hash was so strong Hassle could barely function, but he pretended to be unimpressed. “You must have something better than this,” he told the Queen. “This one tastes like Colombian dirtweed.”

“You’ve tasted better?” asked the incredulous Queen.

“Sure,” said Hassle. “I’m on my way to the HIGH TIMES harvest festival in Amsterdam next month. They’ve got much better dope than this.”

Eventually the Queen could smoke no more, and left on her anti-gravity couch.

“At that point, the little grey men surrounded Hassle and began patting him on the back,” says Berber. “Hassle became an instant hero. One of the grey men befriended him and eventually helped him escape.”

Humans are the result of breeding experiments conducted with several species of apes. The aliens are far superior to us in intelligence. “Consequently, they pay little attention to man and his minor ‘accomplishments.’ They’re mostly interested in harvesting the purest and finest resin droplets from the tops of the finest marijuana plants.”

And what about the little grey men? As usual, the truth is stranger than fiction: “They are the Queen’s offspring, test-tube grown and genetically altered to make them into servile creatures somewhere between man and dog. They spend their lives catering to the Queen’s every whim.”

In order to populate her kingdom the Queen has constant sexual intercourse, sometimes with other aliens, but mostly with human captives. The captives are always released soon after copulation.

Hassle was given a tour of the alien grow rooms before being released. While under hypnosis he told of “large vats of pure resin being produced by cell division.” Interestingly enough, this synthetic resin is not considered as good as the finest Humboldt sensimilla.

In the meantime, Hassle has not left his house since he returned. “Ed’s not looking for any publicity,” says Sunflower, “he’s just hoping this whole thing will blow over soon.”

Excerpted from The Mysterious Case of Ed Hassle, published by The Weakly World News.

High Times Magazine, April 1988

Read the full issue here.

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From the Archives: Tropical CBD Smoothie (2021)

Green smoothies are a great way to up your intake of health-boosting vegetables and fruits while enjoying a vibrant, energizing drink. Adding CBD and THC to the mix along with fresh young cannabis shoots kicks things up a few notches in the feel-good department, with a range of physical benefits to be found in eating your favorite smokable greens. In their unheated state, the cannabinoids CBDa and THCa interact with different receptors than their post-heated versions, with the raw form being shown to support the auto-immune system, as well as being neuro-protective and anti-inflammatory (as concluded in peer-reviewed studies fully available on the British Pharmacological Society and National Library of Medicine websites). Dr. William Courtney is a well-known pioneer in documenting and treating ailments with raw cannabis juicing since 2010, and his site is a great resource for digging deeper into firsthand accounts. The short and quick version: Be sure to make use of those extra greens on defoliation days, especially the young shoots and buds!

Kale, spinach, parsley and ginger all play a part in super-charging this smoothie for maximum antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, plus the extra vitamin C boost from freshly-squeezed orange juice is the perfect immune system support. Add a healthy fat like coconut milk or almond butter as a carrier for the kief, and to make the drink more satisfying as a fuel, throw in some superfoods like hemp seeds and spirulina to incorporate essential vitamins like magnesium and potassium, and you’re well on your way to next-level, healthy-green-smoothie heaven. Speaking of potassium, adding frozen bananas both thickens the drink to a shake-like consistency and blends into the mango and pineapple for a perfect tastewave of tropical, sweet smoothie bliss.


1 gram of high CBD-to-THC ratio kief, from strains like Cannatonic or AC/DC* 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (juice from about 1 medium-sized orange)

1 handful raw cannabis greens (15-20 baby shoots and leaves)

1 cup fresh spinach

1 cup fresh kale 1/2 cup parsley

3 tbsp. coconut milk (or almond butter)

2/3 cup almond/coconut milk (or more juice/coconut water/milk substitute)

2 tbsp. hemp seeds 1 tsp. spirulina

1-inch knob of ginger (about the width of your thumb)

1 cup frozen mango chunks 1/2 cup frozen pineapple

2 frozen bananas


1. Decarboxylate Kief: Preheat the oven to 240°F/115°C, using an oven thermometer to monitor and adjust the heat as needed. Spread the kief evenly over a parchment-lined baking sheet or oven-safe dish. Cover tightly with two sheets of aluminum foil, making sure to seal the edges to prevent any vapor from escaping. Bake for 30 minutes, shaking lightly about half-way through. Let cool fully before removing the aluminum foil. After cooling, the now “decarbed” kief can be sprinkled on anything that has a good amount of fat involved, like peanut butter or coconut oil or ice cream (avoid further heating).

2. Blend it up: Soak and wash your cannabis leaves and other greens. Drain, then put greens and all other ingredients (including the baked kief) into a highspeed blender. A high-powered blending tool is key here, as mulching all the roughage into a drinkable state makes all the difference in terms of appealing texture. If you have a juicer, juice everything except the kief, hemp seeds, spirulina and frozen fruit, then put everything in a blender together after juicing the in-season fruit and veggies.

3. Enjoy: Pour into a chilled glass. Garnish with fresh fruit and hemp seeds. Serve immediately.

Makes: 4 cups, or two 2-cup servings

Dosage: Change numbers to desired dosage and CBD/THC percentage: The kief I used had about 15 percent CBD per gram, so the one gram contains approximately 150mg of activated CBD in total. By dividing the total mgs of THC by the number of servings, in this case two smoothies, each serving will have about 75 milligrams of CBD. (Multiply the grams of kief used by its estimated CBD/THC percentage, then add a zero to the end of that number for a rough total amount of CBD/THC in mg. Then divide that total mg amount by the number of servings.) As with all edibles, remember to take it low and slow, allowing 1-2 hours to gauge the effect before eating more.

High Times Magazine, May 2021

Read the full issue here.

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From the Archives: The Power of 420 (2003)

By Karen Bettez Halnon

Marijuana-smokers, like members of other close-knit groups, have a special language. But often people in the straight-and-narrow world just don’t understand it. Strange and alien to outsiders are words such as nugs, dank, permagrin, wake’n’bake, blunt, bogarting, Rastafarian, Towlie, or even coffeeshops. After 30 years of full-blown marijuana counterculture, outsiders still remain oblivious to the most special marijuana catchphrase of all: “Four hundred and twenty what?”

What outsiders miss, the discerning (and very possibly slightly reddened) eye can find all around. The 420 imprimatur is on bongs, t-shirts, patches, and coffee mugs. Marijuana fans find it frequently in stoner magazines, headshops, and in music lyrics. They feel lucky if they have 420 phone numbers, street addresses, or birthdays. This number is found at smoker websites, on Saturday Night Live, and in news media on or around every April 20. For many smokers, 420 is a guiding light and inspiration. Basically, for those with a raised consciousness of it, 420 is an essential part of everyday life.

Curious about this hidden yet vibrant phenomenon, I did some research. The results of my sociological investigation were fascinating. Especially intriguing was the potency of 420, unique in the multiple ways it inspires and cultivates identity, community, and even reality.

It’s difficult to even think of another single numerical expression that compares. 411 or 911? Lucky 7? Demonic 666? Trinitarian 3? Sexual 69? Tragic 9/11? LSD-25? Or even the infinite 3.1416…? While these numbers are significant, none by themselves embrace and reflect a community to the extent that 420 does.

In documenting 420, I hope to express the sociological “surprise” of 420. However, sociological surprises do not necessarily provide new information. The surprise of sociology comes when it shines new light on our everyday behaviors and experiences. Everyone on the inside knows that 420 is a most special number. My goal is to explain some of the sociological reasons for its special status as spirit and guide for marijuana smokers. In doing so, I drew upon the insights of nearly a hundred 420 smokers.

Learning the “Secret Code”

Learning is extremely important in achieving an identity. In fact, it is the basic and necessary way any identity is achieved. And if learning takes place with friends or family, achieving that identity is even more likely.

Following this pattern, most pot-smokers first learn about 420 from high school or college friends, or from brothers or sisters. One smoker learned about it from “good friends in the military” who “introduced 4:20 as an alternative to 1620 military time.” Others explained that they “became part of the ‘crew’ by hitting 420,” or learned about it when “sharing marijuana with new friends” at rock concerts—Phish shows in particular.

One of the first lessons smokers learn is that while the meaning of 420 is obvious to insiders as universal or as an international symbol for marijuana, marijuana-smoking, and marijuana subculture, it’s also a “secret code” or “secret advertiser.” Smokers recounted comedic stories, such as one where a high school teacher asked a student what time it was, and he replied, “Four-twenty,” eliciting the laughter of in-group classmates and the bewilderment of his teacher. Another smoker explained that 420’s “secret” quality allowed him to get a pro-marijuana symbol past high school authorities, sneaking a criminal-style number-420 mugshot into the yearbook without the faculty editor noticing. Others explained that it allowed them to wear blatant symbols of marijuana to school (420 written on hats, t-shirts, and the like) without encountering the negative sanctions associated with less obscure symbols, such as marijuana leaves. Still others explained that 420, as a secret code, allowed them to safely and accurately identify others who smoke marijuana. For example, one smoker explained, “Four-twenty is like a secret advertiser… a good way to keep scattered tabs on who puffs.”

All of this is fascinating to the sociologist, because secrets and humor are very effective means of binding groups closer together. Secrets create a social boundary between outsiders and insiders, making insiders feel closer together. Humor, at least for those who share in it, enhances feelings of relaxation and warmth. Together, secrets and humor cultivate closeness, commitment, and group solidarity.

420 “Time”

Smokers explained that 420 is “a time that is in between day and night, a break… a good time to relax and chill.” Others said, “If my friends and I are ever up at 4:20 AM, we always celebrate by smoking a bowl or joint. It is simply a justified reason to smoke.”

For novices, 420 motivates smoking behavior by organizing time. The newly inducted learn that 420 means “a” or “the” time to smoke. For example, smokers explained how they learned that 4:20 in the afternoon was “prime time” for smokers, the “pot-smokers happy hour,” the “best time to smoke,” or the “international smoke time.” One expressed the general sentiment of the novice: “You have to smoke at 4:20 if you have herb.” Smokers explained how they set their alarm clocks, or how clocks in general served as reminders to smoke at 4:20. Nearly all smokers agreed that for the novice, 420 becomes an excuse or a reason to smoke, and frequently involves excessive smoking.

This pattern is sociologically significant, because a crucial ingredient in the recipe for identity achievement is immersion in identity-shaping activities. In other words, smoking lots of weed in the beginning normalizes getting high and increases the chances of defining oneself as a smoker of weed. The sociologist would also take note of the important fact that the organization of time is one of the most basic frameworks that supports and legitimates a “reality.” Stated othetwise, 420 time lends legitimacy or a sense of truthfulness to pot-smoker reality.

Puffing such sociological value aside, more seasoned smokers resisted. They complained that such time structuring created a “ritualistic use of 420″ or that it turned marijuana-smoking into a joke.” One smoker, who described himself as “patriotic to the weed,” claimed that 420 should not be guided by time, but rather a more spontaneous “pledge and a tribute.”

Whether a novice or seasoned user, what nearly everyone agreed upon is that 4:20 (PM or AM) means a source of unity or oneness in the pot-smoker community. It was variously described as a “time to unite with all smokers,” a “smoker’s club,” and a way to “brings users together for smoking, community, and solidarity.” Smokers repeatedly claimed that 420 created a common bond among friends and fellow smokers. They know that when they light up at 4:20, thousands, if not millions, of others are doing the same thing for the same reason.

420 “Origin” Conversations

Most pot-smokers would probably accept as fact that 420 originated in San Rafael, CA, with Steve Waldo, who used the expression “420 Louie” in high school. Waldo used it as a secret code to remind friends to meet for smoking sessions at the Louis Pasteur statue, 70 minutes after the 3:10 dismissal. However, regardless of whether or not the smokers I talked with actually knew of the veracity of Waldo’s claim, they were generally uninterested in determining 420’s true origin. One expressed a typical view: “The actual meaning of 420, or where it came from, seems unimportant to me compared to the feeling of 420. That is the true meaning.” Another was of a similar opinion: “Most people do not desire to know where 420 came from, but rather enjoy it for its cultural importance.” A third, after reviewing a number of possible theories, explained, “While some of these reports are more believable than others, they all represent how important the number is to the marijuana community.” Emphasizing the value of learning from talking about 420, a fourth smoker expressed this general point: “I think the most valid meaning of 420 origins is the underlying things you learn.”

What fascinated me about origin theories was that while smokers actively discussed and debated them, they didn’t care about learning the truth. This apparent contradiction made more sense when I realized that the dozens of theories discussed and debated, though often wrong or unprovable, were equivalent to a 101 course in marijuana cultural literacy. It is, as smokers repeatedly told me, more important to discuss and debate than to discover truth, because of the underlying things that can be learned.

Courtesy High Times

Smokers learn, for example, about taking a defiant attitude toward police enforcement of anti-marijuana laws, and about the meaning and importance of people and things such as Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, Cheech and Chong, Jamaica, Haight-Ashbury, Amsterdam, and THC. While these 101 lessons are an important part of the socialization of new smokers, origin conversations are important for all smokers. They provide a subject for many deep, philosophical, and scientific conversations. Smokers said that stoner philosophizing about origins was especially meaningful when sharing a bowl, joint, or bong, and in effect was a learning session. Exploring, but not necessarily proving, origin theories provides many important lessons in marijuana culture. In other words, 420 origins serve as a good, celebratory, and often humorous teacher.

The most common origin theory profferred by smokers is that 420 is or was a Los Angeles “police code for marijuana-smoking in progress.” Researching the validity of this claim, I called the Los Angeles Police Department and asked if 420 was the “real” police code for marijuana-smoking in progress. The answering officer explained that 420 in the “penal book” referred to “preventing or obstructing entry upon or passage upon public lands.” I then asked what the code would be for marijuana-smoking in progress. He said the California Health and Safety Code for “any narcotic drug,” including marijuana, is 11350.

Steve Waldo, writing in High Times (“4:20 & the Grateful Dead,” May ’01 HT), explained further: “Although it has often been rumored, 420 is not a police code for drug-law enforcement. Drug enforcement in California, and in San Rafael, is part of the state Health and Safety Code, in which all sections have five-and six-digit numbers, sometimes separated by a decimal point. Pot-related activities and violations fall in the middle 11300s.”

The police-code origin theory, while false, calls attention to the fact that marijuana is an illegal substance, pointing to a central value difference between what is law and what is valued among marijuana-smokers. To embrace the police code as a smoking symbol is to learn to stand in defiance against laws that make smoking illegal. To call attention to California is to learn about a state that is the leader in the fight to legalize the medical use of marijuana.

A second origin theory is that 420 references THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) as “the number of chemicals in THC,” the “number of molecules in marijuana,” or the “number of elements in the marijuana plant.” Skeptical about these biochemistry claims, I solicited evaluation from Peter Webster, review editor of the International Journal of Drug Policy, who responded to my e-mail query as follows: “THC, or the principal active ingredient of cannabis, is a single chemical entity, i.e., one chemical. There are, however, many other closely related but less psychoactive chemicals in cannabis, some of which may be more important in medical applications. Each, however, is a different chemical, since its molecular structure is unique. Again, THC is one chemical. Marijuana contains perhaps many thousands of different molecular entities, from the couple of hundred cannabinoids, such as THC, to chlorophyll; fats; fibers such as lignin and cellulose; sugars; enzymes; and a wide range of other organic chemicals; to minerals, water, etc. [There are a] number of elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, chlorine, sodium, potassium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, many trace metals, and probably many others in trace amounts… in effect, most elements in the first part of the periodic table, and probably even some traces of heavy metals—whatever is in the environment in which it grows.”

While also false, the THC origin theory aids in learning about the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, which is standard knowledge for any marijuana-smoker.

A third set of related theories revolves around Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. Smokers claimed, for example, that 420 was the “address of the Grateful Dead’s home at Haight-Ashbury,” that “pot-smoking is almost synonymous with the Grateful Dead,” and that 420 refers to the “exact time of Jerry Garcia’s death.” In researching these claims I found that, according to Rebecca Adams in Deadhead Social Science, “By late 1966, the Dead were headquartered at 710 Ashbury, near its intersection with Haight, the symbolic heart of the hippie community.” And according to the San Francisco Bay City Guide (March 2001), “The Grateful Dead were onetime residents of the Haight (710 Ashbury Street).” Finally, while staying in San Francisco, I took a cab to Haight-Ashbury myself to confirm the 710, not 420, address.

In researching the exact time of Jerry Garcia’s death, I found that, according to a People magazine (Aug. 21, 1995) cover story, he died on Wednesday, August [9], 1995, at 4:23 AM exactly. Other newspaper articles similarly reported that Garcia passed away in his bed at Forest Knoll after being found by a nurse who tried to revive him. The time of death again was reported as 4:23 AM. Thus, a third origin theory, while false again, aids in cultivating marijuana-culture literacy through its focus on classic stoner musician Jerry Garcia, stoner band the Grateful Dead, and the quintessential 1960s drug/hippie community, Haight-Ashbury.

A fourth set of origin theories revolves around times that are, like the theories above, significant to marijuana-smoker culture. One explanation is that 420 means teatime in Amsterdam or Holland. Probably, as in Britain, the time is closer to 4:30. Another explanation is that Tommy Chong (of Cheech and Chong, stars of the marijuana cult film Up in Smoke) was born on April 20. In fact, he was born May 24, 1938.

Another explanation states that 420 originated from “the date Haile Selassie visited Jamaica for the first time.” The late Ethiopian emperor, venerated by Rastafarians as signifying the rebirth of black rule in Africa, visited Jamaica for three days in April 1966, but he arrived on the 21st. Thus a fourth set of origin theories aids smokers in learning about the importance of Amsterdam, a city that tolerates “soft drug” use and where marijuana can be smoked freely in coffeeshops, educates them as to a major marijuana cult film and its figures, and reveals the ritualization of ganja by Rastafarians.

Smokers also claimed that 420 originated from the first recorded use of marijuana. In researching this claim, I found that 2737 BC is frequently cited in academic texts as the earliest reference to use of marijuana because of its mention in a Chinese treatise by Emperor Shen Nung. However, Erich Goode (in Drugs in American Society, 5th ed.) tells us that “there is no definite date of the earliest recorded use of marijuana, although descriptions of cannabis use can be found in ancient texts from China, India, Persia, Assyria, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. For example, marijuana is mentioned as a “healing herb” in The Divine Husbandman’s Classic of the Materia Medica, circa first or second century AD. In 650 BC, the use of cannabis is mentioned in Persia and Assyria. In 400 BC, the use of cannabis is mentioned in Rome. This time origin theory, while false or unprovable again, shows that marijuana-smoking has a long and deep historical tradition, and thus naturalizes its use for smokers.

Drawing more generally upon the illegal drug culture is the theory that 420 originated from the date Albert Hofmann discovered LSD-25. LSD-25 was first synthesized at Sandoz Laboratories in Basel, Switzerland, in 1938. It was reshelved until April 16, 1943, when Hofmann made a “fresh batch,” swallowed 250 micrograms, and experienced the first extremely intense acid trip “for science” (Acid Dreams, Martin Lee and Bruce Shlain). This origin theory teaches smokers about Albert Hofmann and LSD, and by doing so asserts the value of using illegal drugs.

Perhaps the most creative but dubious time theory is that 420 originated from the position of a “dangling doobie” in the mouth of a Jamaican getting off work. The position of the joint was said to resemble an analog clock at 4:20. A final but certainly not exhaustive explanation is that 420 originated from Adolf Hitler’s birthday. One smoker explained, “Hitler represents in sharp opposite contrast all that the marijuana-smoking community stands for.” This theory, like the theories above, cannot be proven to have any direct reference to 420. And even though Hitler was in fact born on April 20, 1889, there is no evidence that 420 originated from that date. By learning the dangling doobie and Hitler theories, smokers learn about the value of Jamaica and Jamaican weed, and about the peaceful, laid-back spirit among smokers.

To summarize, by discussing and debating numerous 420 origin theories, marijuana-smokers are able to share stories filled with an array of important symbols of pot culture: Jamaica, California, Rastafarians, Cheech and Chong, Haight-Ashbury, the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, hippies, and THC. Through these conversations, smokers also learn many other lessons about the importance of defying laws and legal authorities that prohibit marijuana-smoking, the value and significance of locales where it is legal or at least tolerated, the deep historical tradition of marijuana-smoking, the spiritual justifications for it, and the easy, relaxed attitude of marijuana-smokers.

What is most important is not determining the true origin of 420, but rather engaging in conversations filled with lessons for marijuana-smokers. Because these origin theories are either wrong or unprovable, they provide for an ongoing learning conversation. The sociological significance of ongoing conversations—especially if they are rich in memory, tradition, common beliefs, and values—is that they are a basic and necessary means of maintaining any kind of relationship. The value of 420 origin stories is similar to that of retelling stories in a close-knit family. Stories—whether true, false, or embellished—strengthen a family’s sense of belonging, identity, and values, bringing it closer together. Even if we suspect that Aunt Lucy or Uncle John is not telling the truth, that doesn’t stop us from reveling in their old stories. The retelling itself becomes a cherished ritual and a means of communicating what is valued and important to the family. This said, the definitiveness of the Waldo theory is, at best, a mixed blessing for the pot-smoker community.

The Pot-Smokers’ Holiday

April 20—especially at 4:20 PM—is the “pot-smokers’ holiday,” also variously described as the “hippie New Year,” “national smoke time,” “national pot-smoking day,” “the holiday,” “pot appreciation day,” “the ultimate session,” or “a day of tribute to the scene.” One enthusiastic smoker reported, “Every group has its holidays, and pot-smokers are no exception. April 20th is the day of worship observed by smokers around the world.” Another said, “It’s comforting to know that hundreds of thousands of other people are lighting up with me on 4/20. It’s about the community identity of marijuana-smokers.”

For marijuana-smokers, April 20 is especially imbued with emotional and spiritual meaning because it produces an intense collective bonding among them. Smokers emphasized the special quality of the holiday: “We are talking about the day of celebration, the real time to get high, the grand master of all holidays—April twentieth.”

That statement also reveals a sense of family within the pot-smoking culture. “Tokers are brothers and sisters, therefore more closely connected than any other association.” Another smoker expressed the anticipation and joy of the holiday: “At 4:19 PM, everyone suddenly got quiet and the countdown began. When the time turned to 4:20, it was like New Year’s. Everyone was cheering and shouting, jumping, hugging, and of course smoking. It really was incredible. I felt connected not only to the peopie around me. but to everyone else in the world who was doing the same thing at that exact moment.”

While 4/20 celebrations give smokers a sense of worldwide community, they also reinforce old friendships or create new ones at rallies. Friends travel long distances, even across the country, to party together. As a result, friendships are refreshed or “become stronger than ever.” And people who might be strangers in other settings bond through their common allegiance to marijuana. One smoker explained, “It is a time when you can approach people who you do not really know and indulge in pot-smoking with them. You develop friendships with people because of the activities on 4/20 and at 4:20.”

The sense of worldwide “we-ness” and the friendships established and renewed at 4/20 celebrations are due largely to the fact that April 20 is a public forum for the fight for legalization. A smoker explained, “It is an exercise in solidarity, all of the pot-smokers coming together to smoke and the police being utterly powerless to do anything about it. I think this is the most valid expression of 420, as it puts the recreational use of marijuana in full view of the public, which is perhaps the first step towards gaining legitimacy.” In a sentiment echoed by others, one smoker explained that “4/20 at 4:20 is a time to come together, to share one’s lifestyle with others who feel the same way, to come together and stand strong and proud for marijuana.” Said another, “Personally, I feel it (April 20) to be a political statement. It is a good time to gather to show one’s support of legalization of marijuana.”

As a matter of efficient crowd control, police and university authorities generally tolerate the shortand seldom dangerous—yearly public statements by pot-smokers. One smoker said that not only is 4/20 a time to stand proud for marijuana, but that “it’s a day of tolerance, and the authorities let us ‘hippies’ have our fun and smoke pot.” Another said in proud defiance, “Pronounced ‘four twenty,’ it is a day of police non-enforcement of drug laws in certain areas, and a day to celebrate a ritual that has survived thousands of years, only to be condemned by our American government…. It’s one of the most liberating feelings to smoke pot in public and not be afraid of being caught.”

The experience of such a holiday provides pot-smokers with hope and inspiration—or with a vision of a future when they will be liberated from repressive anti-marijuana laws.

The Sociological Surprise of 420

In this article I have attempted to explain the sociological surprise of 420, or how that special number is imbued with the ability to cultivate an especially strong marijuana-smoker identity. As “secret code,” it creates a social boundary between outsiders and insiders, and enhances a sense of “we-ness” among insiders. As “time,” it legitimates smoker reality, and structures and motivates excessive smoking behavior among novices, thus providing a valuable “immersion” experience. As an “origin conversation,” it facilitates learning about many important fundamental facts and values of the marijuana and illegal drug-user cultures. As a pot-smoker’s holiday, it provides a special family holiday ritual, a “day of tolerance,” and a public opportunity to “stand proud for marijuana.” Most important, as a pot-smoker’s holiday, 420 creates an intense sense of group belonging among friends, strangers, and crowds, and across geographical boundaries. Sociologists call this “collective consciousness,” or a kind of mystical, spiritual, or extraordinary sense of belonging, where the group exists as a reality greater than itself.

In sum, the ultimate sociological surprise or fascination of 420 is that a single expression has the unique and powerful ability to cultivate, support, and reinforce pot-smoker identity, community, solidarity, and reality itself. The modest surprise offered here is a more comprehensive explanation of what smokers already know.

High Times Magazine, May 2003

Read the full issue here.

The post From the Archives: The Power of 420 (2003) appeared first on High Times.

From the Archives: Light Through the Eyes of Cannabis (2011)

We all know how important light is to the production of cannabis. In order to optimize the photosynthetic activity of cannabis plants, one must uderstand how the plant captures and uses light energy to create plant tissues and compounds, such as glucose (for food) and cannabinoids like THC (for us). Light intensity and light quality—i.e. wavelength—both play an extremely significant role in photosynthesis and cannabis growth. In this article, we will examine how this occurs and which components of light play the biggest parts.

What is Light?

Light has the characteristics of both a wave and a particle. Figure 1 shows the wavelengths of red and blue light. The distance between the peaks of the wave is measured in nanometers (nm). As that distance or frequency changes, so does the color of the light. The color red, for example, resides at one end of the visible spectrum and is the result of light with a wavelength of 620 to 750 nm. Blue light resides at the opposite end and has a shorter wavelength of 650 to 675 nm. Light is also produced in wavelengths that are out of the visible range of our eyes, such as ultraviolet (UV) light, and this light also factors into plant processes, especially at the end of the flowering period.

Anything that has color or pigments, such as plant leaves, reflects or absorbs light. The light that is reflected off an object hits our eyes, causing us to see that color. The primary wavelength of light reflected by cannabis is green, due in large part to pigments such as chlorophyll a and b in the leaves; what we don’t see as reflected light is mostly absorbed by the leaves. Cannabis leaves absorb most forms of visible light except green and yellow. The majority of the reflected light is green, so the reflected yellow light is not noticeable.

However, leaves can begin to turn yellow if plants are not healthy. This occurs because the unhealthy leaves don’t contain enough chlorophyll molecules. Due to the lack of chlorophyll, green light isn’t reflected by leaves and yellow becomes the dominant reflected wavelength. The same phenomenon happens every fall when the leaves of deciduous trees begin to break down chlorophyll; the trees then pull the energy-rich breakdown products out of the leaves before they drop for winter. The result of the lost chlorophyll molecules are the bright reds, oranges and yellows of the fall season.

As stated, light also has the characteristics of a particle. These particles of light are called photons. When the sun is shining or there’s a light on, photons of light are pouring down like raindrops. The higher the intensity (strength) of the light, the greater the quantity of photons emitted; this is why keeping artificial light close to plant canopies indoors is so vital. Each type of photon has a specific wavelength that it travels along. So a bulb that is said to be abundant in blue light would emit photons with wavelengths from 650 to 675 nm.

Photosynthetic Pigments in Cannabis

The amazing thing about plants, including cannabis, is how they take the energy from photons of light and convert it into molecules of chemical energy. This process is called photosynthesis, which simply means “synthesis using light.” Figure 3 shows the basic chemical equation for photosynthesis. Light is responsible for driving this reaction, which is actually far more complicated than the equation shown here. In fact, there are at least 50 known intermediate steps for the conversion of CO2 into sugar. These 50 intermediate steps are only the ones that have been discovered thus far by scientists; there are likely to be more in the future.

During photosynthesis, cannabis captures photons of light using several different molecules. The primary molecule responsible for this is chlorophyll, which occurs in two main forms: chlorophyll an and b. Chlorophyll a has maximum photosynthetic activity when photons of light are at wavelengths of approximately 630 to 660 nm, while chlorophyll b has maximum activity at wavelengths of 650 to 660 nm (Figure 6). Notice that in Figure 6, when the curves for both chlorophyll a and bare in the green-light portion of the graph, their photosynthetic activity decreases greatly. Again, this is because chlorophyll a and b do not absorb, but rather reflect, green light. It should also be noted that Figure 2 depicts the sun’s natural spectrum on Earth, which shows that wavelengths around 650 nm (blues) and 650 nm (reds) are the least abundant in nature. This has led some scientists to conclude that the reason there’s higher absorption activity in leaves at these wavelengths is because the plants have evolved to become more efficient at processing what is least available to them.

The second most abundant light-absorbing compounds in cannabis are carotenoids, which are also shown in Figure 6. Carotenoids are important for photosynthesis in all plants. Notice they have very low photosynthetic activity in the areas of yellow, orange and red light. In addition to playing an important role in photosynthesis, these compounds are also responsible for the color of yellow flowers, orange carrots and red tomatoes.

The Light-Harvesting Complex

The pigments discussed make up a highly complex structure called the light-harvesting or antennae complex, which exists in all plants. This complex is composed of about 200 to 300 chlorophyll molecules, numerous carotenoids, and several other light-sensitive molecules and important proteins. All of these components are arranged around a central chlorophyll molecule called the reaction center. The reaction center is responsible for the conversion of light energy into chemical energy through the transfer of a single electron.

This process works as follows: When one of the light-sensitive molecules, such as chlorophyll, is struck by a photon of light, it enters into an excited state. As it returns back to its normal state, the energy is transferred toward the reaction center. It takes many photons striking many molecules in the light-harvesting complex to reach the goal of transferring a single electron to the reaction center. Picture one person trying to push a boulder that will not move; if the number of people pushing that boulder increases, together they will create enough force to roll it. The same action occurs during photosynthesis, whereby energy from a number of light photons is required to create enough energy for the transfer of a single electron.

This electron transfer is the very first chemical step in the creation of sugar (glucose) from carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O) during photosynthesis. Furthermore, this sugar is the primary source of energy for the reactions and biochemical processes that will lead to the glistening, resinous THC glands that top your cannabis buds.

Courtesy High Times

Light Intensity

Now we understand a little bit more about how cannabis plants capture light photons and convert their energy into chemical energy and biomass. How then, as a grower of cannabis, can you maximize plant efficiency and yields with commercially available lights? When it comes to light intensity (i.e. quantity of light), the answer is pretty simple: more light. It is difficult to overdo the quantity of light for cannabis production (always assuming that you have proper temperature controls in place). Generally, the more lights you have and the more powerful those lights, the better your light intensity (though not so much better for your electric bill).

But adding more lamps or using higher wattages isn’t the only way to increase light intensity. Keeping lamps close to the garden canopy will increase the intensity of light reaching your plants and make more efficient use of the electricity you’re paying for. The inverse-square law dictates that a specified physical quantity or strength is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from its source. In the case of light, this basically means that the strength of light decreases exponentially with every foot of distance between the lamp and your plants.

High Light & CO2

As shown in the photosynthetic equation (Figure 3), carbon dioxide is required for growth and photosynthesis in plants. In many grow setups, light intensity is typically very high and the production occurs indoors. With high (intense) light and/or contained conditions, it is likely that carbon dioxide will quickly become a limiting factor and put a bottleneck on yields. Figure 6 shows the effect of light and carbon dioxide on the rate of photosynthesis. In a normal atmosphere, carbon dioxide is at 400 parts per million. If your grow operation is in an enclosed area that contains many cannabis plants, all of them constantly consuming CO2 for photosynthesis, there’s a very high possibility that the concentration of CO2 is actually going to be lower than 400 ppm. When this occurs, you’ll be limiting the productivity of your plants. For this reason, it’s recommended in these situations that you implement a CO2 supplementation system to maximize photosynthesis and yields.

Effects of Light Quality

The spectral quality or wavelength of light is another important factor when it comes to the productivity and quality of cannabis—and it’s also one of the most complicated. In many different types of plants, the quality of light can affect such things as disease resistance, plant anatomy and morphology, nutrient uptake and the formation of secondary compounds (such as THC).

A number of scientific studies have shown that blue light has an influence on the number of chloroplasts (which contain the light-harvesting complex and chlorophyll) and the stomatal opening. Stomata are the part of the leaf that controls gas exchange and therefore how much carbon dioxide is available to the leaf for photosynthesis. Many other studies have shown that plants under white LED light (which contains all the colors of the spectrum) grow better than plants under red LED light alone, blue LED light alone, or even red and blue LED lights in combination. These studies re-emphasize the importance of full-spectrum light in our gardens.

Another study—this one performed at Indiana University by two researchers named Mahlberg and Hemphill—tested THC content in the leaves of cannabis plants grown under sunlight, red light, blue light, green light or complete darkness. The experiment revealed that the plants grown under sunlight had the highest THC content. The THC concentration decreased successively in the plants grown under red light, blue light and green light; the plants grown in darkness had the lowest THC content. Additionally, under every light treatment, the researchers found that the leaves receiving the highest quantity of light had the highest concentration of THC. Although the researchers weren’t specifically looking to evaluate THC content, they did discover that wavelength, or the spectral quality of the light source (i.e. full spectrum versus a single or limited spectrum), is an important factor for THC production, and also that shading can also lower THC concentrations.

Courtesy High Times

Choosing Lights

With all of this information at hand, choosing a light or combination of lights for growing can be a daunting task. Figure 7 shows most of the possibilities for light sources, as well as the distribution of spectral wavelengths produced by each.

Notice that sunlight has by far the broadest possible spectrum of light available—for horticultural purposes, it’s the very definition of full-spectrum light. This characteristic, along with the high intensity and raw power of sunlight, is why this source of light is the best for cannabis production… not to mention that it’s free! But as we all know, this isn’t always an option, and plants must often be grown indoors under artificially lit conditions. Therefore, choosing a combination of lights that matches the spectral ratio of the sun is the best option for your plants.

All of the light sources shown in Figure 7 have been around for some time, with the exception of plasma lights. These are the latest and greatest light source for indoor cannabis production and produce a spectrum similar to the sun (bear in mind that sunlight is also plasma light). These lights are also highly energy-efficient. Currently, the main problem with plasma lights is their price, which can reach several thousand dollars. With increased demand and manufacturing, however, expect these prices to drop over time.

Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs)

LEDs are one of the most recent lighting products available for cannabis cultivation. They are unique in that they can be designed to produce a narrow spectrum or a specific quality of light. The two most common wavelengths available are red and blue. If you refer back to Figure 4, you can see that the red and blue areas of the graph are where the highest rate of photosynthetic activity occurs. We’ve already discussed how these two color spectrums are the least abundant in nature, which forces plants to be most efficient at processing them. But there’s another factor to be considered, at least with the red wavelengths, and this is the fact that red light carries with it the most photons out of any of the spectral wavelengths. LED manufacturers cite this as one of the reasons that LED lamps are made with these two types of light and sold for cannabis and indoor plant production.

Still, feeding plants only one or two spectral wavelengths would be like feeding a child only oranges and eggs. For instance, giving plants only red or blue light would throw off biological processes on a molecular level within the plant. Red light alone would cause severe stretching; blue light alone would slow the photosynthetic mechanism to a crawl. No matter how you slice it, plants need full-spectrum light, which they’ve evolved under for millions of years, to achieve their natural and maximum potential.

Another problem with the limited range of LEDs is the altered look of the plant under these wavelengths. Diseases and nutritional problems that are easily distinguished under other lights can be hard or impossible to distinguish due to the lack of a complete visible-light spectrum when growing with LEDs. Other problems include the fact that LEDs are mono-directional and do not emanate light like HID bulbs. This is why reflectors can’t be used with them to help disperse light throughout a garden, and why hundreds and sometimes even thousands of diodes are needed to adequately cover gardens.

Still, there are pluses to LED lamps, such as their low power draw and the fact that they radiate very little heat—both attractive characteristics for indoor growers. They also contain no hazardous materials such as mercury and have a longer lifetime than incandescent, fluorescent, metal halide (MH) and high-pressure sodium (HPS) lights. LEDs may have a place in our gardens, but they are best used as supplemental lighting along with standard high-intensity discharge (HID) bulbs. Big agricultural greenhouses in Europe, India and North America have started to incorporate lines of red LED lights throughout garden canopies to supplement overhead HID lighting and increase photon quantities. But with the coming of true plasma light, it is likely that both the LED fad and our HID bulbs may soon be a thing of the past.

So now you might be asking, “How can I mimic the quality of the sun and efficiently—at low cost—produce the best cannabis possible?” Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this. There’s a good deal of anecdotal information all over the Internet on which wavelengths are best for cannabis and THC production, but most of this information is not proven and was likely developed under less-than-scientific conditions. Think back to the light-harvesting complex: If you’re using only red light to grow your plants, there’s a lot of light-absorbing molecules that respond to many different wavelengths just sitting around doing nothing. This decreases the efficiency of your plants’ photosynthetic system and production.

This is why, as a grower, you need a system of lights that best mimics the quality of sunlight (while also staying within your budget). Remember to keep your lamps close to the garden canopy and utilize proper ventilation for atmosphere and temperature control. Putting lights on light movers— especially when using a combination of different bulbs—is also a great idea. And supplementing HID lighting with broader-spectrum lighting will go a long way toward ensuring that your plants are happy, healthy and, most importantly, productive.

Happy growing!

High Times Magazine, September 2011

Read the full issue here.

The post From the Archives: Light Through the Eyes of Cannabis (2011) appeared first on High Times.

From the Archives: Adventures in the Cannabis Trade (1999)

By Ed Rosenthal

Since my early youth I had dreamed of becoming a writer and plant scientist. However, during high school and college I was drawn to other matters and studied in a totally different area. Somehow, my natural inclinations broke through. My work as a writer for HIGH TIMES has helped me live a fantasy. I have visited gardens and farms on five continents, and been given the opportunity to experience some interesting, unusual and even extraordinary places.


I visited India in the fall and winter of 1979, when marijuana was still legal there. It was taxed by the government and sold in shops. While traveling on a train through the centrally located state of Madya Pradesh, I noticed fields of ganja. I received permission from authorities in Bhiratpur, the state capital, to visit the fields, located in Khandwa. I arrived in mid-December, just in time for the harvest.

The plants were late-maturing sativas, eight to 10 feet high. I saw several 5 to 10-acre fields. They were all seeded and ripe. They were cut down by hand with machetes, and were brought to the preparation area by animal-drawn cart. Then a circle of women stripped them of all leaf and bud.

During the day the plants were left to dry in piles about 8″ high. At night the piles were covered with large stones. The next day buds were pulled out of the pile. The leaves had desiccated and the buds were tighter. These buds were placed in a pile and again selected the next morning. Within three days the buds turned from green to brown as a result of anaerobic decomposition. All the leaves crumbled and most of the outside glands had rubbed off. Inside some of the THC had degraded to cannibinol. There was a purpose to this. These buds were tight and held the THC that was left inside. Uncured bud, such as what we had collected, could not be shipped easily and would be shake by the time it got to market.

Our hosts were very gracious. My companion and I were allowed to pick some choice buds, which dried quickly in the oppressive heat. This uncured bud was some of the best weed we encountered on our trip; perhaps some of the best ganja in that part of the country.

One morning, while we were staying at the government-run “Circuit House,” we heard a knock at the door and the knob turned. One of the taxmen, a government agent, walked in to give us a big handful of ganja. This was the first and last time that a G-man ever invaded my premises to give me cannabis.

This story is now history. Marijuana was outlawed in India in 1986, as required by the Single Convention on Drugs and Narcotic Substances.

A Tale of Two Gardens

In 1989 I followed two growers in a seven-part series. Sharky was a commercial grower with quite a few lamps, while Liz grew in a 4’ x 4’ space in her closet using a single 400 or 1,000-watt high-pressure sodium unit. The articles followed their entire operations from cloning to harvest, including changes they made over a 10-month period.

Sharky used rockwool slabs irrigated with a drip system. He used General Hydroponics liquid fertilizers and irrigated once every other day or daily depending on the moisture in the slabs. Liz used a reservoir system with lava chips about 3/4″ long. The 6″ wide containers sat in a tray 5″ high. The tray was filled to a level of about 3″ with water-nutrient solution. She used a small aquarium heater and an air-pump bubbler to keep the water aerated. She originally used Applied Hydro fertilizers.

Both gardens achieved about the same yield, a little more than one pound per 1,000-watt lamp.


I was invited to the Nimbin, (New South Wales) Australia Mardi Gras Festival held in early May, the end of the fall harvest. The event was a wild affair and media event. This festival is the highlight of the year in the small but very sophisticated town, which has several good restaurants and quite a cultural life, mostly homemade. This is very exciting because so many of the people are in the arts.

Nimbin was a dairy town, all but abandoned until a Woodstock-like celebration took place nearby in the early 70s. Some of the hippies never left and slowly revitalized the community as a hippie haven.

Afterwards, I went to visit several gardens. All of them were unusual. One garden consisted of a single bushy plant about 17 feet tall. It was growing next to a gas water heater and received enriched air. Its roots were in manure-enriched soil. Another garden featured a “portable” metal building that rolled on a track. When the law flew overhead the building covered the plants. Other times the plants were in full sun.

The most exciting part of the trip was my visit to a series of patches going downhill through a national wilderness park. The gardener chose places so remote that he reasoned it just wasn’t worth it for the police to seize the plots. Each plot contained 10-20 plants growing in partial sun. The varieties had a lot of Thai and Dutch genetics. I was enticed on the trip with his comforting words that it was “almost all downhill.” I forgot to ask. “How steep?”


I have been reporting on Holland since the mid-’80s. This included stories on the first Cannabis Cup, the coffeeshops, the Seed Bank. Wernard, greenhouse harvests and many other gardens. Over the years I reported as the industry started, grew, matured and finally now has been repressed by the Dutch government.

Recent taws have changed the lax attitude there. All cultivation under lights is now considered commercial. Ironic, since it’s nearly impossible to grow potent pot outdoors in the cool, overcast country. Growers are subject to four years in prison. Seed production is now illegal. I hope the government doesn’t think of forfeiture.


I investigated the hemp scene in Hungary in 1991 and 1993, and English hemp just after that. Soon after, Holland’s Ben Dronkers started Hemp-Flax and extended initial research from the Ede-Wagonen Research Center to the fields. It was exciting watching the rebirth of the industry.

Visiting the Hungarian fields and factories was like stepping back 50 years. The fields were cultivated with ancient machines and the factories were dusty and unhealthy, with inefficient and dangerous prewar machinery. Hempcore, which was started by a farm-supply company, was the first to restart the industry in England. The Dutch industry started at Ede-Wagonen, the experimental station. Even though the industry looked promising, few farmers were interested in it. Ben Dronkers, proprietor of Sensi-Seed and other grass-centered enterprises has invested heavily, gambling on the paper potential of the new industry.

High Times Magazine, November 1999

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From the Archives: Captain Kurt Spaces Out (1985)

By Craig Silver

Richard Brautigan committed suicide. Joseph Heller has become trite. Thomas Pynchon no longer writes. But Vonnegut goes on. Hi ho.

More accurately: Hi Ho!, because Vonnegut remains a major standard-bearer of the crazed-lunatic, surrealist-absurdist, ultimately ultra-sane literary style that blazed across the ’60s. Remember the ’60s? The ’60s—a metaphor for a sensibility that has now be come unstuck in time. Unstuck in time—a phrase coined by Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse-Five, a big ’60s novel that was partly an allegory about Vietnam. Vietnam—a deadening of the spirit caused by American corporate greed disguised as misguided American philanthropy. Kurt Vonnegut: an expert on the deadening of the spirit.

“This country is making me crazy,” Vonnegut recently told a slightly shocked but spellbound audience, much of which thought he was drunk, at the New York University Writers’ Conference. “New York is making me sick… my wife is making me sick… you can become sick by the culture outside yourself.”

Vonnegut is basically so pissed at humanity that he kills off all of it but a handful in his new novel, Galápagos, and those he saves he turns into harmless, armless creatures resembling porpoises who only like to fart, fuck and go fishing—scratch that, all they can do is fart, fuck and go fishing, because that’s where evolution has left them. He’s also stripped them of their so-called “big brains” and covered them with fur. It’s the big brains that have made people miserable, Vonnegut has concluded, and in Galápagos, humans’ large brain size will prove to be an evolutionary dead end, like the flightless wings on a dodo bird.

“It’s hard to believe nowadays that people could ever [be] brilliantly duplicitous…” says the narrator in the book, a million-year-old ghost named Leon Trout, son of Vonnegut’s famed s-f writer character, Kilgore, “…until I remind myself that just about every adult human being back then had a brain weighing about three kilograms! There was no end to the evil schemes that a thought machine that oversized couldn’t imagine and execute…”

No, there’s no end to the mess people make of their world in Vonnegut’s works, or the mess the world makes of them. “Society and culture are my villains,” he told the budding NYU writers. “I think society is wicked.”

Such a blunt assessment of modern reality has made Vonnegut a hero to generations of college-age social rebels, from the ’60s to now. They respond sympathetically to his basic premise that life has become much more precarious than it need be. The idea is brought out in novels like Galápagos, Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat’s Cradle and Deadeye Dick, that are based on undeniably plausible visions of sudden and unnecessary apocalypse. In Galápagos an epidemic destroys human fertility; in Cradle a pointless scientific invention freezes all the water in the world; in Slaughterhouse the good guys wreak an inferno on a large civilian population; in Deadeye the U.S. government destroys an Ohio city to test a neutron bomb. And so on.

Vonnegut rages at society gone mad, at technology gone mad, at a people gone morally soft in the head and hard in the heart. “How sick was the soul revealed by the flash at Hiroshima?” he asks in his autobiographical Palm Sunday. “I deny that it was a specifically American soul. It was the soul of every highly industrialized nation on earth… so sick it did not want to live anymore. What other soul would create a new physics based on nightmares, would place into the hands of mere politicians a planet so ‘destabilized’, to borrow a CIA term, that the briefest fit of stupidity could easily guarantee the end of the world?”

But though many college students may love Vonnegut, he doesn’t necessarily love college students. In a brief interview with HIGH TIMES, he brushes them off as being mostly “conservative, like their parents” because of their privileged economic standing. “Students were conservative when I went to school at Cornell. The class system in this country has been stabilized since 1900… This is a society that protects the prosperous.” He adds with a chuckle, “So I’m not in any danger.”

Vonnegut has taken to berating students while on his lecture tour for voting for Reagan in such heavy numbers. “You’re investing a lot of time and money and effort to acquire knowledge,” he exclaims. “And here’s a man who has never read a book!”

On the whole, Vonnegut’s politics tend to be more ruefully existential than dogmatically class-conscious, but he definitely has had fun slapping around the rich and eccentric in his tales. And a more boisterous array of the strictly looney-tunes cannot be found in all of literature.

There’s Eliot Rosewater in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, who concocts a religion of personal philanthropy based on fire engines; wealthy Pontiac dealer Wayne Hoover in Breakfast of Champions who suddenly believes the world has turned into rubber; the mutant, hirsute twins who speak gibberish to each other in Slapstick; a bag lady who controls a powerful, evil conglomerate in Jailbird; a charlatan artist whose passion for gun collecting destroys his family in Deadeye Dick.

But what does Vonnegut really think about rich people? Quite simply, he thinks they are destroying our literature.

“Rich people are more and more dominating writing, because they can afford to write,” he said at NYU. “And, of course, they’re going to write about their own experiences: prep school, sailing, horseback riding.”

He thinks this is a particular shame because he thinks it’s our literature that communicates to the world “that Americans aren’t just gangsters and cowboys. We are human… Our literature is what makes us respectable.”

Vonnegut’s outspokenness on so many subjects has made his books a favorite target of archconservative groups who would like to dictate the reading habits of the nation’s young. Slaughterhouse-Five was actually pulled out of a school library in Drake, North Dakota, and burned in the furnace by the school janitor, obeying the instructions of a book-monitoring committee there.

Vonnegut’s works, along with those by such literary Big Names as Joseph Heller, Bernard Malamud and Mark Twain, have been assailed in various censorship campaigns that saw incidents of book-banning, or attempted book-banning, increase 1000 percent between 1971 and 1981, according to the Office of Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association.

Vonnegut prefers not to be alarmist about the book-banning craze, and told HIGH TIMES that such moves “are more of an irritant than something that has had a crippling effect. The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) is now more interested in First Amendment cases as a result, and it has gotten a lot of other people oriented to the problem.”

Asked about such recent court cases as that in which film director Costa-Gavras was sued over a fictional movie (Missing) depicting American-sanctioned brutality in Latin America, Vonnegut commented that “There’s always been censorship. We actually have a surprising amount of freedom here. Censorship is a universal human impulse everywhere. Those people [who would censor] don’t know how the American game is supposed to be played. They’re very bad Americans.”

Vonnegut sees something else as being as much a threat to writers and writing: the fact that, perhaps as a result of living in an apocalypse-haunted—not to mention TV-and-movie drenched—culture, people no longer have much in the way of attention spans.

“It’s been shown that audiences can’t stand exposition. People are writing books like movies, with quick cuts. People will no longer sit still during the opening of a play and listen to a maid talking on the phone setting up character and action.”

This is an ironic comment coming from a writer who has made a stylistic specialty of tearing away all excess verbiage from his prose (except for those repeating mantras), a writer who has built a reputation for streamlined story-telling that makes him something of an Ernest-Hemingway-of-the-absurd.

“I write from the point of view of a child,” he has said. “Like Henry David Thoreau.” He tells students that “the writing style which is most natural for you is bound to echo speech you heard as a child. I grew up in Indianapolis, where common speech sounds like a band saw cutting galvanized tin, and employs a vocabulary as unornamental as a monkey wrench.”

For Vonnegut, keeping it plain has serious religious implications. “Simplicity of language is not only reputable, but perhaps even sacred. The Bible opens with a sentence well within the writing skills of a lively fourteen-year-old: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’”

Some critics have had trouble coming to terms with Vonnegut’s immense popularity, and deride as merely facile his controlled comic style. But no true student of writing would fail to see the enormous and painstaking craft that goes into Vonnegut’s prose, how he is able to purposefully recharge with life withered figures of speech, how his jokes jump out at the reader like pop-up figures in a greeting card. That takes hard work, and incredible skill.

Today, Vonnegut says he’s never edited unless he asks. He enjoys writing “only in retrospect—after it’s done” and that he does read his reviews. “But the reviews are often the sadistic part of a magazine.”

“Some of the reviews are like the court martial of Dreyfuss,” he told a British documentary team, “where they form up the regiment in the square, and Dreyfuss is marched out, and they pull off his buttons—which are all the books I’ve written up to then—and then they take the man’s saber—which is maybe the one really good book I wrote, Slaughterhouse-Five—and the officer busts it over his knee and hands it back!”

With Galápagos, Vonnegut proves that his vision remains the bleakest and blackest around, and miraculously still one of the most fun to lock into. And he’s no hypocrite. He doesn’t just think your brain and my brain are way too big for reasonable functioning—he has stated for the record that one of his long-term goals is to “clear my head of all the junk in there… all the assholes, the flags and the underpants. I’m trying to make my head as empty as it was when I was born on this damaged planet…”

Perhaps he is trying to attain a Zen state of consciousness, where emptiness is form. With his simplicity of style, his sense of stillness and pain, his mantras and his absurdities, and his death-to-civilization hopefulness, maybe he has even achieved it.

What’s the sound of one Vonnegut laughing?

Hi ho.

High Times Magazine, December 1985

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The post From the Archives: Captain Kurt Spaces Out (1985) appeared first on High Times.