Every once in a while I am reminded just how much the cannabis culture has changed since I started using cannabis 15 years ago. That doesn’t really seem like that much time, but when I reflect on just how much has changed in those 15 years, I feel like I need to take a minute to try and remember what it was like when I first started exploring the world of cannabis. In my early thirties now, I know people who have been using cannabis for as long as I have been alive, but they too seem to find this shift towards full legality and cultural normalcy jarring and, sometimes, confusing. The world of cannabis and cannabis use has exploded, but sometimes it’s fun to take a trip down memory lane and remember what things used to be like and how adjusting to this new system may be difficult for some.
This may be a little redundant from past pieces I’ve written, but cannabis was never a boogy man in our household. I was aware of the legal repercussions at the time, but honestly, when I was young I just didn’t think about it that much. If we’re being totally honest, I fixated more on my parent’s tobacco habits because I thought it was so cool and sophisticated. Turns out it’s just expensive. My dad didn’t mess with anything that altered his ability to be in full control, so cannabis and alcohol were off the table for him while I was growing up. His major concern always seemed to be keeping us out of legal trouble, which is a completely reasonable concern. I wouldn’t know until basically adulthood, but my mom had been using cannabis for pretty much my whole life. As fun as cannabis can be, I’ve also noticed a trend among long-time cannabis users; the more they learn about the medical benefits throughout their life, the easier it is to look back and pinpoint things that cannabis was helping them with. It’s always kind of fun watching people go, “oh, yeah, that makes sense because of x or y” when you’re talking about some of the cool benefits of cannabis.
My cannabis use started in my junior year of highschool – probably. The specifics of it all are a little *ahem* hazy. We don’t need to rehash the story of my first time, but it was fun and I never really stopped. Most of my friends were weed smokers in highschool but it was pretty casual. I was more worried about getting caught with my cigarettes in the alley before theatre rehearsal than I was about getting caught smoking a bowl basically in the open “behind” a Jack-In-The-Box. It was something we just kind of did when we hung out, which is pretty similar to how I am now. Quality was shoddy and our supplies were usually the most basic glass and sometimes plastic-ware. People were usually impressed by my regular, glass bong.
Now, I follow the social media pages of 22 yr olds who make a living taking dabs out of $300 rigs more complicated than I have ever used. I watched a video once in awe of a cannabis cafe where you could order cannabis and concentrates and fancy gravity bongs or electric rigs and loaded french fries. It brought back memories of smoking out of my one hitter in my friend’s mom’s van and getting nachos at Denny’s, or trying to hide joints on bar patios. As nostalgic as it is to look back on the hookah bars and pool halls that I obviously and obliviously made smell like weed, it’s nice to know that there are places now that are supposed to smell that way.
By the time the medical laws in Arizona were being put into action, I had a few years of cannabis exposure under my belt. I spent some time working for a medical caregiver co-op and watching people grow and care for cannabis plants. At the time and in my experience with the people I knew, my cannabis knowledge and access seemed pretty novel. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t one of the things I considered most interesting about myself. I would wear my work shirt to the bar and wait for the keen-eyed stoner to spot the leaf in the logo and spark up a conversation. Cannabis was pretty much my whole life at the time and I loved talking to people about it – I still do.
Now, I can’t speak for the whole country, obviously, and I have a tendency to create little echo chambers on my social media platforms – a habit I’m working on breaking – but I want to share what the shift in attitude and perception of cannabis that I’ve seen has been like for me. It hasn’t been life changing or world shaking but it has been interesting and at times, a little overwhelming. Going from being involved in the medical cannabis community to living in a state where I am anxious about my cannabis use like, 65% of the time, while the rest of the country seems to be embracing cannabis consumption for all kinds of reasons, has been a strange experience.
I’m 31 years old, and if you’re around my age, we grew up at the same time as the internet. Social media seems to have grown up with us, so it only makes sense that the growing and changing cannabis industry would show up on the internet and social media platforms like every other industry. Cannabis legality by state was barely on my radar growing up. I knew it wasn’t legal where I was, I didn’t particularly worry about it at the time, and what other states were doing with their cannabis laws didn’t affect me.
There are so many well informed people now, young and old, educating about cannabis all over social media platforms. I’ve seen doctors explaining endocannabinoid systems and chemists explaining the specific chemical structures that cause certain effects. People who run medical or recreational cannabis companies of all kinds use social media to advertise and educate in fun and trendy ways. Bubbly young stoners I could have gone to highschool with have the opportunity now to turn their love of cannabis into a social media job, but there’s always a catch.
As states are expanding their medical cannabis laws, and even the federal government seems to be taking steps towards removing cannabis from the list of controlled substances, social media platforms are still private entities with their own rules, regulations and terms of service. In my experience, there are two ways that social media platforms deal with cannabis – they don’t care or they care a lot. You can either talk about it and post about it as much as you want, or you can’t. This is the very, very simplified explanation of what I see, but there is of course nuance to it.
On some platforms, and mostly on those that are video based, educational content seems acceptable and usually isn’t messed with. These are your aforementioned doctors and chemists, maybe a celebrity or cannabis personality, and you usually won’t hear them refer to it as anything other than cannabis. Depending on the platform, different things are considered acceptable for educational content that in another context may be flagged as a violation of the rules, which leads me to the next type of content that stands out to me; speaking in code.
I have watched so many cannabis videos on all kinds of platforms, but it will always be funny to me when a creator hits a bong just off camera or says they’re making “oregano butter wink wink”. Even creators that I watch regularly that I know live in adult use or medically legal states seem to have to tiptoe around a slew of complicated and most like pretty confusing rules when it comes to talking about or using cannabis on camera. Regardless of the rules surrounding cannabis discussion on these platforms, it still feels surreal to me sometimes that this openness about cannabis is a thing now. I would never have even considered posting about it on my early social media accounts where that’s pretty much all I do now.
The prevalence of cannabis content and education – not to mention the apps and games that exist now- is just one of the things that throws me for the occasional loop. Like I said earlier, I have been a cannabis consumer for about 15 years now and my access to quality cannabis wasn’t really stable until I became involved in the medical industry. That gave me the exposure to the change in quality and potency that a lot of people, especially in prohibition states, don’t get.
The crowds I hang around with out here average sometimes twenty to thirty years older than me and I can’t count the amount of times I have heard about how much stronger cannabis has gotten in their lifetime. Most of the people I know, though, have been cannabis users for a while, and have also had a little more exposure to the increase in potency. I also know people who partake every once in a while, and when they do, it usually surprises them. Recently, I had to reassure someone that you couldn’t overdose on an edible. In my estimation, it had probably been at least a few years since they had made and ate an edible, and I don’t think they regularly consume cannabis either, but they have been having some health problems and wanted some relief in edible form. Having made them before, they followed their own recipe with a little quantity recommendation from my partner, and ate a “regular brownie” sized brownie that proceeded to hit them like a truck. Edibles, being the unique experience that they are, can be especially overwhelming for someone who’s not used to the increase in potency that’s available now.
From now on, there will be generations growing up with essentially boundless access to cannabis knowledge and in some places, when they reach the right age, cannabis products. You can play a virtual cannabis growing game on your phone or watch a chef create a gourmet, medicated meal online. While there will always be people who don’t understand the benefits or disagree with the progressive cannabis legislation, the cultural shift towards normalcy and away from the taboo is, in my opinion, good for everyone. The more mundane and accessible cannabis becomes, the more people who need it may decide to give it a try because the stigma is finally being worn down by the medical and adult use states taking good advantage of their platforms.
Kelly Mahoney worked at a medical cannabis Co-op with her mother, Laura Mastropietro, dealing mainly with helping new patients acquire their medical cards and helping them find the best strains and methods. Diagnosed at a young age with spinal muscular atrophy, she was also a medical cannabis patient and still advocates for the incredible benefits, and downright fun, of cannabis. She now lives in a prohibition state as a cat mom and gamer wife.