On a recent Thursday night, a group of parlor game enthusiasts gathered at the cozy East Portland Coffee Roasters on Southeast Division to play a new card game called Higher Thought, basically the gentle, baked cousin of Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity. Contrary to everything my DARE office told me about social situations involving psychotropic substances, it was the purest thing.
Higher Thought ($24.95, higherthoughtcannabisgame.com) is a card game with a simple, non-competitive premise: You burn, meet up with fellow players and take turns answering cards printed with thought- and conversation-provoking questions.
The game's Portland creators hold monthly Higher Thought meetups at East Portland Coffee Roasters, and it helps that the spot has something most other coffee shops in Portland don't—an old school bus in the parking lot that's been converted into a toking lounge. Similar to the regulations that allow High Five Tours to operate, the bus counts as a private space where those of legal age can step inside for a little puff-puff-pass.
And that's how I came to spend a Thursday night hotboxing a small bus before considering what will await future generations and discussing what a tea party in the rings of Saturn would be like with an electrician, a computer programmer, a guinea pig owner, and a mother-daughter duo.
At first, I wasn't sure what to make of the concept— whereas Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity rely on knowing your friends' sense of humor, Higher Thought is all about getting to know whomever you're playing with better, especially if they're strangers. Co-creator Marc Polanski wanted to invent a game that would help draw stoners out of their isolated cocoons after recreational cannabis was legalized in Oregon in 2015. He also wanted to celebrate the collaborative, empathetic, cerebral, imaginative and whimsical effects pot can have on those who partake, pushing back against couch-lock stereotypes.
The result is something like the ice breakers you might have played at freshman orientation, except not horrifying or awkward. As a homebody with more than my fair share of social anxiety, I wasn't sure what it would be like contemplating what advice my future self might offer to my present self with a bunch of strangers. But Higher Thought lived up to the description offered up by its creators as "a pajama party for introverts."
It quickly became clear exactly what was meant by "let's get rowdy! (in a deeply spiritual way)" in the event description. Everyone was warm, welcoming and very intentional—in fact, I've never met moderators of any board or parlor game who were so on task and devoted to giving everyone a chance to be heard.
One question prompted a fellow participant to answer by way of referencing a book he had been reading, and of which he had a copy of in his bag. After the brief detour into the literary realm, we got back to the more extemporaneous answers. A question about whether or not cannabis helps individuals be more ethical prompted a flurry of positive responses as player after player referred to their increased self-compassion, lessening of ego, and greater awareness of the needs of others not only while high, but in between smoke sessions, too.
Some of the questions on the cards are actually a little easier to answer with strangers than with your close friends. Some of the questions—although carefully crafted to avoid overly personal or intimate inquiries—feel a little too heavy, like a card that asked whether the small children of tomorrow will have a bright future, which one challenges the optimism of every player with. But if you want, it's easy to skip to frothier cards, like the one that prompts you to share the least sexy word you can think of—"festering," "panties" and "moist" all made the list.
If you're looking for some friends who partake, a fun, low-stress activity to get involved in once a month, or find yourself wishing for more real, authentic conversations that go a little deeper than the weather and what the Timbers are up to, head to East Portland Coffee Roasters for next month's Higher Thought get-together. Or, you can buy the game for yourself and unleash the wholesome madness on your nearest and dearest.