A few weeks ago, my fiancee and I spent a good chunk of Friday night at the edge of our bed, huffing a shaker of black pepper.
We were really, really high. And we desperately didn't want to be anymore.
I'm a very new cannabis consumer. Growing up, most of my friends would qualify as stoners. But weed never really agreed with me—a guy who's always in his head doesn't need to be pulled into it any further.
In the past few months, though, I've started dabbling in the reefer (y'all still call it that, right?), partly to deal with some anxiety issues, and partly because, as the editor of this column, I figure I should have a base-level knowledge of what I'm editing.
And as part of my new job, cannabis companies occasionally send me free stuff. One such item was a tin of small, pre-rolled mini-blunts, from a company called Honest Marijuana. Wrapped in organic hemp leaves and stored in what resembles a tiny cigarette case, the packaging is certainly handsome. While the weed inside, a strain called NYC Diesel, had a higher THC level than I'm used to, the whole presentation was too inviting not to try.
We were having a night in, playing the SNES Classic we bought ourselves as a seventh anniversary gift. What's the worst that could happen in our home, anyway?
I should preface this by saying I don't blame the blunt or the company that produces them for what ended up happening.
Again, I'm a new smoker, and don't yet have a handle on, well, what I can handle. If anything, these things hit a little too smoothly. My fiancee—hardly a pothead, though much more experienced than I—took two hits, and I did the same. I coughed heavily, but that's nothing out of the ordinary for me.
I went back to playing Donkey Kong Country. The game was getting intense. It was a water level, where you attempt to guide the titular cartoon ape through a phalanx of aggrieved swordfish. I was doing well. But the more I got drawn in, the more overwhelmed I started to feel. Then I began to fixate on the neighbors talking outside my window. What were they doing out there? Why did they sound so loud? Could they see me? Do they know I'm stoned? What's up with these goddamn swordfish? Why won't they let Donkey Kong swim, man?!?
By the time I pulled myself off the couch and into the bathroom, my heart was pounding out of my chest. Or at least, that's what it felt like. Part of my brain knew I was just too high, and needed to calm down. But the other, more dominant part reminded me that I hadn't bought those blunts from a dispensary. Who sent them to the office? "Honest Marijuana"? Isn't that exactly the sort of ironic name you'd give a blunt secretly laced with, I dunno, PCP or whatever, that you'd send to a newspaper that people occasionally get mad at?
My fiancee, meanwhile, had retreated to our bedroom, to "read her book," she said. When I walked in, she was lying prone in the dark.
"Are really high right now?" I asked.
"Yes," she replied. "Is your heart beating really fast, too?"
I laid down next to her and closed my eyes. It was like a sieve had opened in my head, with every stray thought and strange vision pouring forth at once.
"It says Neil Young's trick for when you're too high is to chew on peppercorns," my fiancee said, looking at her phone.
We didn't have any—but we did have ground pepper, and apparently the smell is enough to bring you down.
We spent the next 10 minutes taking turns inhaling pepper fumes. My cat climbed up on the headboard and watched us. I could feel his judgment.
It wasn't helping, but my fiancee insisted she felt better. We turned the lights off and tried to sleep. Once again the floodgates of my subconscious opened. I had to keep opening my eyes and staring at a fixed point to convince myself I hadn't fallen into my own personal Sunken Place.
"Do you actually feel better?" I asked my fiancee.
"No," she said.
We decided to put on a guided meditation app, to see if a calming voice in the background would shut our brains off enough to lull us to sleep. It didn't exactly help—the guide's insistence on having us picture ourselves standing in a field of sunflowers really did not agree with me—but I did eventually drift off.
I woke up about two hours later, at a more moderate level of highness, with my cat staring at me with a look that said, "You guys did drugs and neglected to feed me. You are terrible parents." I yanked myself into the kitchen and opened him a can.
Anyway, that sucked. What did we do wrong? And what do we do if, God forbid, that happens again? I talked to Mary J. Poppins, founder of the Sativa Science Center, to get some answers.
WW: Are there any general rules of thumb for knowing how much is too much weed?
Mary J. Poppins: In short, no. There are just too many variables at play. In addition to our own unique body constitution and tolerance levels, we have to consider the unique chemotypic makeup of the flower itself. And, just like people, no two flowers are going to be the same. If you are new to cannabis, start low and slow. Take a very small puff and wait a good 15 to 20 minutes before you decide to take another. For the best results, keep a journal. Here you can record your findings and start to identify trends. For example, you might find that OG strains tend to make you feel relaxed while Diesel strains tend to make you feel anxious.
Is there any validity to that pepper trick?
The concept behind the pepper trick draws from the entourage theory. This is a fancy way of saying that there are many compounds found in cannabis and these compounds work together at receptors inside of the body to cause an effect. These compounds are called terpenes, and you interact with them every single day. For example, one of the terpenes that give peppercorns their spicy aroma is called caryophyllene. And, thanks to cannabis researchers like Dr. Ethan Ruso, we know that when caryophyllene and tetrahydrocannabinol bind to the same receptor in the body, it tends to create a calming effect. For best results, crack open a few whole peppercorns, take a nice deep inhale, being careful not to actually snort the pepper, and then chew on them for a bit. There is enough evidence to support that this may help you ease into a relaxed high.
What are some of the other myths related to calming a high?
Over the years, I've heard everything from drinking milk to eating cabbage. There may be a little bit of something to a lot of the rumors, but I highly doubt that anything is going to completely solve the problem.
So what should you do if you find yourself being way more high than you want to be?
Planning ahead is perhaps the most important step. If you are trying a new cannabis flower for the first time, do it at home or someplace you feel safe after all of your responsibilities are done for the day. If you have them handy, eat some healthy fat like avocado or coconut oil shortly before consumption. If you feel like you may be a little too lifted, don't panic, remember that it will pass with time and cannabis cannot harm your body. Go grab a few peppercorns, crack them open, take a nice deep whiff, and then chew on them for a bit. Maybe pour yourself a nice tall glass of lemonade introducing an uplifting terpene called limonene. And if you want to bust out the big guns, keep a tincture of organic, high-quality hemp CBD on hand. CBD works synergistically with THC for a mellowing effect.
Most importantly, don't let this scare you away from cannabis altogether. Remember that no two flowers are created equally, and your own body constitution will fluctuate from day to day.