Weed Plus: The Healing Mystique of Magic Mushrooms

The winter sun was beating down through the open windows of my older sister’s Porsche as we cruised down Pico Boulevard toward the beach, bumper to bumper with other cars in the westward traffic of a warm Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles.

“That smells good,” she hollered to the guys in the next car over, pot smoke filling the space between lanes. They motioned to pass a joint through the open windows, my two best pals and I giggling in the back seat. I was 18 and by this point familiar with the terrain of a cannabis high, but I wanted to keep my head clear for later — for what my sister described as “weed plus.”

I’d spent my first semester of college smoking weed out of a hookah with friends, my nights ablaze, as one does in Berkeley. In the daytime, I’d burrow into a pile of books about psychedelic counterculture for an upcoming research paper. I had become obsessed with Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, and as if I’d read the guidebook to Paris before a trip, I decided that all my academic probing into psychedelics better culminate in lived experience. So, I bought a half ounce of shrooms and headed to Venice Beach with a few friends for our first time “tripping.” My older sister — a dedicated stoner and a cannabis attorney 14 years my senior — along with a family friend, who was a medical marijuana doctor and a seasoned psychonaut, were there to guide us in case things got too weird.

Unlike acid (which I still hadn’t tried at that point), mushrooms felt like the next level up from cannabis — that is, “weed plus” in the words of my sister. The psychedelic experience, or “trip,” would be longer than a regular weed high, but shorter than 12 hours of LSD. After that first time tripping, I soon learned that, for me, mushrooms and cannabis bring on similar visuals of swirling floral patterns and paisleys in a pink Technicolor palette.

My first time taking mushrooms was easily one of the best, most significant days of my life: playful, exploratory, spiritual. I felt like I was reborn, discovering the world and its wonders for the first time. The shrooms had turned down the volume on the anxiety that defined my day-to-day and turned up the volume on my appreciation for life. For the first time, the phrase “be here now” meant something to me on an embodied level — but like Ram Dass, who ventured to India after coming up and down on countless psychedelic trips during his tenure as a psychiatry professor at Harvard in the 1960s, I too wondered why it seemed I needed mushrooms to feel the way I did. I asked myself, “Would I be able to get there on my own one day?”

Psych 101

It’s a common adage that one can accomplish the same degree of healing in a single psychedelic trip that might otherwise require years of therapy. By the same token, in the psychedelic community it’s often said that “the journey is the medicine.” In other words, such as in the case of mushrooms, it’s not just the psilocybin, the main psychoactive compound, that spurs a neurological reset — it’s the experience of the trip itself. This can come with insights, challenges and joys that consequently foster lessons and memories that nourish the soul and last a lifetime. Science can only attempt to describe this alternative headspace.

Many well-known research institutions such as Johns Hopkins and UCLA are exploring how psilocybin is being used for mental health treatments and can occasion a “mystical experience,” defined by “scale scores” of seven criteria. What scientists are finding is that the degree to which a patient undergoes a mystical experience often correlates to the degree of healing they experience for whatever condition they are treating, be it anxiety, depression, or something else.

“When you optimally screen, facilitate and integrate these [psychedelic] experiences, you can almost reliably facilitate a mystical level kind of encounter, which may be predictive of positive therapeutic outcomes,” said Dr. Charles Grob, psychedelic researcher and UCLA professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

To put it bluntly, the promise of psychedelic therapy is forcing researchers to grapple with notions of God or mysticism that have otherwise been absent from Western science and medicine. Indigenous cultures, on the other hand, are well-known for structured spiritual-medicinal approaches and traditions that incorporate psychedelic plant medicine, such as ayahuasca, magic mushrooms or peyote.

Grob notes that clinicians have much to learn from indigenous practices, which “were entirely dependent on a harmonious relationship with the world of nature for shelter, for food, for continuity, and for societal groups.”

He goes on to say that the psychedelic experience may be symbolic of a death and rebirth ritual. That could be thanks to the experience of “ego death” — a psychedelic-induced dampening of the brain’s default mode network (DMN), where the ego resides. Ego death, or “ego dissolution,” can act as a reset for the DMN, helping to rewire thought patterns that were otherwise constrained by the ego, and facilitating an increase in personality traits like openness or empathy.

In breaking out of old thought patterns, a person who experiences ego death may also obtain a degree of healing from habits that previously kept them in a loop, particularly in addiction. Turning down the volume on the ego can also help engender a sense of oneness with the surrounding world, people or nature.

“The ego is looking after us,” Grob says. “There’s good reason to be compassionate toward the ego: It’s trying to do its best, but it’s not useful, and it overshoots in what it does and disconnects us. What psychedelics do is turn down the defenses.”

The ego’s defenses can manifest in addictions, such as eating disorders, compulsions and obsessions. “They’re all a maladaptive defense response to adversity,” says Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, Head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London.

Through psychedelic therapy, Grob says, we can engineer a context in which it’s safe to let the ego go off duty and allow us to be vulnerable in a caring, nurturing environment. “It’s about going backwards to go forward,” he said. “Being vulnerable to be stronger, more flexible, more capacious.”

Safe Travels

Finding the right setting for a psychedelic experience is up to the beholder; it could be in a therapist’s office, a spiritual ceremony, with friends at a music concert, or decidedly alone in the woods. Once that ideal setting is found, one can relax and focus his or her mindset on whatever kind of healing or intention they set out to explore with the help of psychedelic medicine.

Even back in the ’60s, Grob says, pioneer researchers “found that those who had a mystical level experience had improved quality of life.” 

With psilocybin in particular, he said, “the replicability and degree to which the trip might happen, and the depth is more apparent”— than perhaps with other psychedelics such as LSD — because the six to eight-hour trip is “easier to control” than something that could otherwise be twice as long.

Despite the growing amount of research, psychedelic scientists have yet to fully comprehend how substances such as psilocybin work in the brain. Psilocybin definitely stimulates the serotonin 2A receptor in the brain and can occasion ego death by dampening the default mode network. Even so, the compound remains a mystery.

That said, there’s mounting evidence that psilocybin — much like cannabis — can facilitate healing from a variety of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, addiction, and eating disorders, among others. It can also increase the personality trait of openness, allowing the afflicted to become more amenable to new patterns and solutions, and enhancing general well-being for those who are otherwise already well.

While people who use cannabis medicinally can get a great deal of relief from chronic pain or mood disturbance, Grob says it’s more of a lifestyle drug. “The effects of cannabis are dwarfed in comparison with the potential that psilocybin or LSD might have in evoking a powerful altered state of consciousness that allows individuals to see themselves and the world around them and their lives in a novel manner,” he said.

In other words, psilocybin offers more bang for your buck if you compare it to regular cannabis use.

#TBT

Around the peak of that Venice Beach mushroom trip so long ago, my friends and I decided to venture out of our apartment and head to the ocean. As the sun set and temps started to cool, the winds picked up. 

“I’m shivering, but it’s not me,” I said through chattering teeth. I looked down at my hand with curiosity, flipping my palm over and under, upside and down, as if it was someone else’s hand.

I plopped down on the shore, near the sunset drum circle that takes place every Sunday. It smelled like weed, but I wondered how many others were also on shrooms. I remembered what my sister had said about psilocybin feeling like “weed plus,” but this was so much better. So. Much. Better.

“There’s no competition,” Grob said, when comparing psilocybin and cannabis. “The psilocybin experience has the potential of facilitating a life-changing kind of event.” Precisely how I felt about one of the best, most significant days of my life.

A huge smile crept across my face, and I was feeling more in touch with my essence than ever before. “Ohh, be here now,” I giggled, referencing the phrase and title of Ram Dass’ famous book which my parents had introduced me to as a child. “I get it,” I thought.

It was the first time I felt that sacred sense of time and space, of being in the moment — in my body — without feeling an attachment to the chronological series of events that took me here. I just was, feeling a sense of “is-ness.” I was simply being, and my nervous system, with all its anxieties and temporal attachments, was for once at rest.

My memory of that mind-bending Venice Beach experience remains vivid. The spiritual nourishment and sense of mystique from that day are still with me, infusing my life with the magic of those mushrooms. “These are like waking dreams,” Grob said. “Sometimes it’s important to just sit back and look objectively at the scene playing in front of you, and how that relates to your life.”

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The Big East: Theory Wellness Berkshires

Walking into Theory Wellness, an impeccably styled, high-end East Coast dispensary, I felt the same excitement I’d had the first time I stepped foot into a fabled Beverly Hills luxury retailer back in the day. And I loved it.

Fred Segal is, in essence, a luxury conglomeration of (mostly) one-of-a-kind boutiques that all live within the chic walls of its only-in-LA retail campus; think of it as a couture farmers market, but instead of $8 heirloom tomatoes you’re surrounded by $400 T-shirts, $1200 boots and $700 sunglasses. It’s an intoxicating, surreal shopping trek for retail rookies, to be sure, but once you experience this particular elevated gauntlet of sticker shock privilege, you find yourself wanting more. So. Much. More.

Upon entering the buzzy dispensary for the first time (after waiting in line and going through the required ID verification process), it took me all the way back to those heady days so many years ago in LA. Theory Wellness — at least its super busy Great Barrington, MA location in the bucolic Berkshires region — would fit right in at my favorite luxe retailer as it touts its many best-in-class cannabis offerings. Theory Wellness isn’t what most of our mothers think of when they imagine a marijuana dispensary: It’s clean, smartly designed, expertly managed, and, ultimately, a first-rate shopping experience. It’s ready for primetime. Even the staff at the registers are cannabis experts not unlike the Apple Store’s Genius Bar squad. Very cool.

I met up with the company’s young and affable Marketing VP, Thomas Winstanley, to help guide me through the excellent maze that is Theory Wellness and we talked and talked as we watched the crowded dispensary operate without a hitch. It was, to say the least, impressive, and all I kept thinking about was how much money they must be making right now. Winstanley, a proud millennial, was apparently determined to single-handedly dispel all perceived negative stereotypes associated with his generation merely by being whip smart and displaying a contagious indefatigable energy. It was, again, impressive, but it was also incredibly on-brand, as Theory Wellness’ co-founders are a pair of millennialpreneurs, CEO Brandon Pollock and Chief Strategy Officer Nick Friedman. If these guys met, say, two decades ago, one could imagine these BFFs launching a competitor search engine to Google to take on that giant’s own dynamic duo co-founders.

Pollock smiled when I brought up the search engine’s co-founders; he didn’t disagree. “Yeah, it could’ve been, yes!” Pollock said, laughing. “Even though we weren’t first to market in Massachusetts for a medical dispensary [Theory was 12th], we’ve been really fortunate with our team who really embody the spirit of doing cannabis right and carry out the company’s mantra of focusing on our customers first.”

To hear the independently owned, vertically integrated, small-batch, craft cannabis company’s marketing/public relations/social media/customer relations expert, Winstanley, merrily recount the earliest days of Theory Wellness — a whopping six years ago — you’d think cell phones and the internet weren’t around yet. But, as he insisted, time moves extraordinarily fast in the cannabis industry; so, half a decade in dispensary years feels like a veritable lifetime.

Look, to buy into what Theory’s selling isn’t difficult, and undeniably evident with my own eyes. This is a world-class cannabis company that prioritizes details and a positive customer experience, precisely as Pollock and Friedman conceived it to be. So, no, it’s not complicated, perhaps, but exceedingly difficult to pull off consistently. That’s what moves Theory Wellness from being simply good to decidedly great — and maybe even legendary.

“Theory began as a medical cannabis brand in Massachusetts following the roll-out of the state program,” Winstanley said. “Patients and wellness have always been at the heart of our business and where our company originates from. We produce more than 70 products that we sell at our stores, both to patients and recreational customers. Each product is specifically designed, tested and packaged to provide a customer with a premium experience with cannabis — whether it’s to help you sleep at night, relieve a sore muscle, or simply to have a good time.”

OK, but what makes Theory Wellness different, or better, than the more than 100 dispensaries currently operating in Massachusetts alone? “We’re independently owned and operated, unlike many competitors who are venture capital and/or private equity-backed or publicly traded,” Winstanley said. “This allows us to move quickly, pivot when we need to, and not wade through layers of bureaucracy.”

Also, according to Winstanley, many of the giant players in the industry — including MedMen and Aurora Cannabis — are posting losses. Theory Wellness numbers show that it’s growing and scaling at unprecedented rates showcasing the power of a hungry company. The secret, according to the Theory, is that they operate more like a start-up than traditional brands. The formula is working like a charm.

The Numbers

Theory Wellness has been financially solid from the start. In 2018, the company posted revenue of more than $10M and employed 50 people. Just a year later, Theory made some $55M in revenue, employed 100 team members and claimed more than 200,000 unique customers. Winstanley says the company gave — via the 3% sales tax for the municipality — Great Barrington more than $3M in new revenue to a town that’s home to less than 6000 people.

In 2020, the brand made $80M in revenue. Winstanley confidently states that number would’ve been north of $100M if they didn’t have to shut down for two months due to COVID-19 restrictions. The company also tripled its workforce to 300 and became a multistate operator (MSO) by opening two retail locations in Maine as well as a cultivation and production facility. A multi-state operator helps a brand expand nationally while carefully remaining within federal laws limiting interstate commerce.

In any industry or in any occupation there are detractors for those at the top — not everyone wishes you well — and Theory’s no exception.

“There are a lot of players in cannabis right now, and you can see the beginnings of the war for licenses that occurred out in the western U.S. and the consolidation of the independently owned dispensary,” Winstanley said. “It’s still too soon to say which competitors are coming to the surface on the East Coast as legalization is really starting to take root and open up the playing field.”

But, today, another unexpected competitor is upsetting the apple cart for many cannabis operators: the illicit cannabis market. Winstanley says that legal cannabis sales haven’t proliferated to the extent that a significant market share has been consumed from the black market. “The products are cheaper, untested, and you don’t need licenses or IDs to purchase.”

But, after years of vacationing and enjoying the Berkshires region of Massachusetts, particularly its chic epicenter, the picture-postcard slice of Americana that is the town of Great Barrington, I wanted to know how this unlikely, scenic, low-key destination suddenly became widely regarded as the Humboldt County of the East Coast.

Northern California’s Humboldt County, of course, is universally known as the mecca for West Coast cannabis and now, in a matter of a few short years, Great Barrington has emerged as the title holder on the other side of the country. But how?

“The whole cannabis dispensary industry in Great Barrington is crazy, it’s become this whole thing, like a cannabis-centric area in the East Coast,” Pollock said. “My business partner Nick grew up in Great Barrington, and when we launched our medical company we realized that Berkshire County, which has about 130,000 residents, didn’t have a single cannabis dispensary because existing operators were focused on more high-density population centers. People were driving an hour-and-a-half each way just to get their medicine. There was a huge need here, so we opened our dispensary soon thereafter.”

While currently enjoying such a rosy financial picture, I wondered in what areas, specifically, Pollock believed Theory could improve, if at all. “Everything! Our ethos is ‘the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know anything’ and we’re always trying to improve every touchpoint with customers, every touchpoint in our production — every aspect of our organization needs improvement, particularly the two biggest issues facing the industry as a whole today: social justice and social equity and the environment.”

And Theory Wellness isn’t just talking the talk here: They decided to launch an unprecedented social equity program in Massachusetts and opened applications and interviews with economic empowerment candidates to apply for a sponsorship that included $100,000 in debt-free financing, $150,000 in wholesale consignment of products, and access to the brand’s legal, finances, insurance, and marketing solutions to help the new companies succeed. Winstanley says the initial recipient of Theory’s program, Legal Greens in Brockton, is the first Black female-owned dispensary on the East Coast. Theory Wellness has had a two-year relationship with Legal Greens that continues to this day.

But it doesn’t stop there. Winstanley emphasized that Theory also looks to ensure they make local impacts across all of the company’s locations, even as they expand. “We’ve supported nearly two dozen non-profits thus far and those range from affordable housing in Great Barrington to a farmers market in Bangor, ME,” he said. “We feel it’s incumbent on us to use our success to demonstrate the positivity around cannabis.”

The company takes an equally serious approach when it comes to tackling our ever-warming planet. “This same approach comes with sustainability practices, too,” Winstanley says. “We have one of the first East Coast outdoor farms to reduce our environmental footprint. Theory uses green energy to power our indoor cultivation and we’re constantly introducing recyclable packaging solutions — we even have hybrid vehicles for our deliveries.”

Theory Wellness VP of Marketing Thomas Winstanley

On the product side, Winstanley was excited to discuss Theory’s small-batch unique genetics. “One of the more exciting elements of cannabis legalization is the breadth of knowledge cannabis consumers are developing,” he said. “We take this seriously in the same way a sommelier considers the terroir of the grapes he’s serving. We work directly with breeders to source genetics to complement our portfolio of flower that we think will find a good home in our indoor or outdoor gardens. The result speaks for itself with 50 percent of our sales coming from flower.”

The Future

Five years from now… Winstanley jumped in. “The simple answer is we just don’t know,” he said. “With so many New England states allowing recreational and medical marijuana use in the future, things are changing by the minute and we’re evaluating all possibilities. We find that cannabis time is not unlike dog years, so five years is really, really far away!” [Laughs]

Winstanley makes this next point emphatically. “We also firmly believe that the cannabis industry should be accessible to all,” he says. “The legacy of cannabis from the past generations has been embroiled in turmoil and hardships. It’s time to end that age and bring everyone a seat at the table to have the opportunity to capitalize and prevent it from being a pay-to-play industry. We want this industry open for all entrepreneurs from a diverse set of backgrounds.”

I put it to CEO Pollock a little differently: Why will and won’t Theory Wellness be successful forever? “First, I think we’re pretty good at anticipating the future while having a great team to navigate us once we’re there,” he said, smiling. “We won’t be successful because, hopefully, a bunch of younger, hungrier, more diverse entrepreneurs beat us at our own game.”

Full disclosure: Prior to departing Theory’s still bustling retail floor, I purchased a couple of four-packs of the dispensary’s best-selling, game-changing, cannabis-infused seltzer, Hi5 (pineapple and lemon, if you must know).

But here’s the thing I’ll take away from this sunny day in the gorgeous Berkshires: If I ever see Theory Wellness tucked away in a prime corner inside Fred Segal, I’ll smile to myself at the knowledge that I’d been right all along: quality attracts quality — be it in Great Barrington or even Beverly Hills.

This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.

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Q&A: Jim Belushi Wants to Save the World

To watch Jim Belushi laugh without abandon is to see the best of America on his joyful face, an America that’s unaffected by divisions or dangers at every turn: We see a deeply happy version of our next door neighbor. And it’s a welcome sight to be sure.

Jim Belushi is puffing on a cigar as he cruises through Southwest Oregon, taking his time on a late summer afternoon to talk fame, pain and cannabis from his inconspicuous-looking sedan. His royal blue polo shirt and black-framed glasses speak to a humility that one would think would be far-fetched from a man whose long career in the public eye has made him a household name.

Appearing in dozens of films including “About Last Night…,” “Trading Places” and “Red Heat,” and starring and executive producing the ratings juggernaut TV sitcom, “According To Jim,” Belushi says he’s never been happier than at this very moment in his nearly seven decades on the planet. Not because of anything he’s done in Hollywood, or any big business deals he’s made. This Belushi 2.0 is reveling in his new passionate relationship, a profound and inspiring one, with cannabis.

The plain-spoken celebrity used the plant back in the day, he says, but he’s only recently been able to truly embrace it. The 93-acre Belushi’s Farm in southwest Oregon employs 15 people and will produce 1,600 pounds of flower this year. And it’s all just to spread medicine to people who have waited their entire lives to replace their prescriptions. Belushi has been such a welcome presence in Oregon that the second season of his hit Discovery Channel show, “Growing Belushi,” is set to premiere at the end of the year. The Belushi good vibes just keep rolling.

“I measure success by the letters and the tweets that I get from people who say our cannabis has helped them,” Belushi says when asked what success looks like to him now. “I got my ‘According To Jim’ bucks, so as long as I break even, I’m satisfied.”

Belushi, whose brilliant older brother John tragically died of a drug overdose at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles back in 1982, shares stories of people whose lives he’s been able to impact and celebrates the importance of the many cannabis trailblazers who came before him. Some of those trailblazers are still in prison, he points out, his frustration evident. That’s why Belushi supports the non-profit Last Prisoner Project, an organization that helps free people convicted of low-level marijuana crimes during the more than eight decades of cannabis prohibition.

But, for the better part of the hour I spent with the smart, witty Chicago native, he was in the mood to communicate. A few minutes into our convo, Belushi is amazingly comparing the soulful, feminine energy he feels from his pot plants to an oracle that speaks to Apollo and Zeus in Greek mythology. Personally, I can’t get enough — his passion is undeniable, and the urgency he feels to reach more and more people who need help is palpable. Belushi, as if on cue, then reveals how he even plays his harmonica to his beloved plants, since they’re clearly listening and celebrating right along with him. I believe him.

But we had so much more to discuss and discover.

What makes your marijuana different from the dozens and dozens of other competitors you have in Oregon?

I look at it like the film industry. There are a lot of great movies out there. You go to a movie and it’s great, and you and your girl want to go to another movie because you had a good experience.

Good cannabis makes people want to have more good experiences, so they should try everybody’s product. Ours is right up there in the Oregon market as being very, very good weed. We have great THC values, but more importantly we have tremendous terpene values.

I have an excellent grower and we’re growing with natural nutrients. I’m flushing their irrigation out two weeks before so it’s a perfect white ash. I’m keeping the soil at 64 degrees so the nutrients will be absorbed into the roots. We’ve got light-dep greenhouses, so we protect the growing environment from the aphids and the mold and russet mites. And we also have that beautiful southern Oregon soil.

How does your cannabis stand out, then, like a good film would?

That’s a very good question and it’s one of those questions where I cannot give you certain things [Laughs]. We do have some secret moves that other growers don’t have and that we covet.

We just went over to Advanced Nutrients, which has been really good. And we just built two new greenhouses by Gro-Tec with really great high ceilings. We changed to Fohse LED lights, which creates about 30 percent more penetration into the plants when we need to augment the light if it’s cloudy, in order to keep the ‘lumes up to close to 1100 (watts). It ensures there’s consistency in the plant. We supplement with (Medford, Oregon-based) Rogue Soil, which is packed with great natural nutrients and gives our plants a great boost and great color.

Have you ever been happier than you are at this very moment?

I’ve done a lot of personal work, and it really started when I bought this farm, along the Rogue River, the middle of the spiritual vortex between Mount McGlothlin and Table Rock. There was a Native American vortex of spirituality here and now we’ve brought in this spiritual plant.

Here’s the thing, I do believe this plant has changed me. Being alongside of it, caring for it and loving it. I play my harmonica for these girls. The relationship with these plants has changed me. They’ve enlightened me and made me a better person. So, I have to say, yes, I’m probably in the best place that I’ve ever been, and I attribute it all to, like, starting a relationship with this old beautiful feminine energy. The Oracle is a feminine creature that tells Apollo and Zeus what to do. Well, the Oracle on my farm are these plants, and let’s just say we treat them like that.

What’s the extent of your involvement on your farm?

I collaborate with my grower, Anthony Anaya. I’ve gone through three growers, and I finally found a winner with Anthony. He’s like Elvis Presley! [Laughs] He’s been in the industry for 15 years in Oregon and he knows his stuff. I collaborate with him; I collaborate with Jeremy and my cousin Chris. It’s like, you can’t do a movie or a show by yourself. You need directors, producers, writers, prop people and cameramen.

Can you describe some of the most surprising challenges you’ve faced as a cannabis grower that perhaps you weren’t expecting?

I wasn’t expecting the aphids, mites, gophers, squirrels, deer and mold. They never tell you that stuff when you put your money out and invest in this industry. Wow! We lost 300 pounds last year to mold alone. That’s why I’ve made recent shifts in our products. It helps us control the environment enough to eradicate pests and mold while using natural remedies. 

How have the wildfires in the area and record heat over the past couple summers affected your ability to grow cannabis?

They’ve affected the employees, but not the plants. It gets very smoky, and we make everyone wear masks for protection. The heat during that time is at around 115°F — we keep the plants hydrated, so they can survive that just fine. During the last fire, the employees started working at six in the morning and left early before the main heat of the day.

Is it really true that Dan Aykroyd’s comment about your late brother John potentially being alive today had he used cannabis instead of other substances played a role in inspiring you to get involved in pot?

Absolutely! Danny was a pothead, but he didn’t mess with other drugs. I’m not saying John didn’t use cannabis, but I still think John’s stuff possibly came from other things like CTE from playing football. Look, we have 33,000 veterans committing suicide a year. PTSD — what it does to these men and these women — the scarring and the traumas: I really think cannabis can help relieve some of their trauma and help them make better decisions.

I once met a veteran in a dispensary parking lot. I looked at him and I said, “are you alright?” He said “No, I was a medic in Iraq. I saw things happen to the human body that nobody should ever see.” He said doctors gave him OxyContin and he just couldn’t do it. But cannabis got him off OxyContin. And he tells me, “Your Black Diamond OG strain allows me to talk to my wife and talk to my children and sleep.” He hugged me and I said, “Hey man, I didn’t make this.” He says “No, but you’re the steward.”

That moment became a paradigm shift in my relationship with our industry. So, yeah, I’m chasing the medicine. The magic of the medicine.

Jim Belushi and Dan Ackroyd perform at a Last Prisoners Project event in Las Vegas. PHOTO Gracie Malley

The arc of your life has been fascinating — from juvenile probation and being in trouble as a kid to having a big Hollywood career and now just narrowly escaping the area’s massive wildfires. You’ve been adjacent to a lot of stuff, but somehow have been able to navigate everything. Do you feel there’s someone or something watching over you?

I’m on mission from God. [Long pause] I just listen. What do you want me to say? [Pause] I just keep looking for the light, for something bigger than myself. Within our industry, it’s medicine.

Another thing that’s really big for me is the Last Prisoners Project. It’s our duty in this industry to get these men and women out of jail. They were the pioneers; they were the ones that laid on the barbed wire for us to get legalization and make a living. We got to get them out of jail, and we got to hire them within our industry.

What do you have in mind for expanding your cannabis footprint?

There’s a lot of talk going on. And right now, I’m with RedBird in Oklahoma. Then with Columbia Care, and the Green Solution in Colorado. I got a Blues Brothers ice cream brand being launched and also Blues Brothers Bhang Chocolates, which are really good.

I currently have four brands: The Blues Brothers brand, of which we have three or four different types of joints. It has a flip-top box so we can put it in a shirt sleeve. We call them Baby Blues, a little six-pack. We have the single gram joint, which we call Rocket 88. And then I have Chasing Magic, which is my secret stash and really the higher premium brand of what we grow.

And now we just released the Captain Jack joint in Oregon. Oh, and we’ve also just released Good Ugly Weed, which is really good weed.

Good Ugly Weed seems to be very on-brand for you: a little scruffy, but also lovable and powerful.

It may be ugly, but it’s good, man! [Laughs] We just put out some Good Ugly Weed at 24 percent THC. It’s a value brand and the dispensaries are just dying for it. The profit margin on it isn’t huge, but I got my comedy bucks, you know. So as long as I break even on it.

How many different strains do you grow at a time and in how many dispensaries is your product currently sold?

We have in our library around 20 different genetics. With our new Gro-Tech greenhouses, we can grow up to eight genetics at a time. With four cycles and four greenhouses, we have a lot of flexibility. 

Any plans to expand with CBD?

I just created a CBD tincture for my dog. It’s a tincture of 500 milligrams, full-spectrum, called K-9ine. And it’s only offered on my website, I’m just putting it out there for other dog lovers. And I know it works: My dog couldn’t walk for three days, but then he chased me up the stairs.

Of all the cannabis legal states. What drew you to do business in Oregon, Colorado, Oklahoma and Illinois? Was it just a matter of less barriers to entry or was there anything more?

Well, I’ve also talked to companies in California, Nevada, and Pennsylvania. In Oregon and the other states where you can be a cultivator and distribute, I’m just having better luck.

Are you trying to become the Bobby Flay of cannabis, or are you more of the Oprah? Through your show, you’re making cannabis easy for the person who has no connection to any of this.

I think I have what it takes to create competence in cannabis. There are so many people that are curious about it, and I’m trying to use “Growing Belushi” to try and bridge that curiosity and show the viewers how it’s grown, how it’s tested as well as some of the medical things that revolve around it. Also, show them, this is how you smoke a vape pen; this is how you take an edible.

Have you had to deal with any chest-pounding trolls on Twitter for being a Belushi and also championing cannabis?

No, I haven’t experienced that. But I’ll tell you why. Everybody knows somebody who’s suffering. Everybody wants to stop their relatives or their friends from suffering, and they’re curious about cannabis. I know a lot of people are targeting the youth with cannabis, but there’s a lot of interest among Baby Boomers, too.

I literally take people into a dispensary and say “Look, it’s not a mom-and-pop place; it’s not where drug dealers are hanging out. It looks like an Apple Store.” I encourage people to just try going into a dispensary and not to be frightened.

What does success look like for you now? Before, your definitions of success had to do with opening box office figures or the week-to-week Nielsen ratings of a TV show. Is this moment different because you’re in it for the long game and you’re in it to help people?

I measure success by the letters and the tweets that I get from people who say our cannabis has helped them. Another measure that I’ve already reached is breaking even on the business side of things! [Laughs] I’m investing in myself. Instead of the stock market, I’m investing in the farm.

Is “Growing Belushi” going international?

Yes, it’s an international show now. We just made a deal with a foreign distribution company that’s taking it all over the world.

Ha! So, you are becoming cannabis’ answer to Bobby Flay or Guy Fieri!

[Laughs] Guy Fieri is actually in the show! He comes to the farm, and I make my ice cream for him, my chocolate. We cook some Albanian dishes. He cooks in my backyard and we make ribs in a smoker. The episode is awesome.

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