Zero To Hero

Despite suffering centuries of bad press, a global shift in perspective has helped cannabis’ reputation morph from gateway drug to miracle cure. 

Words by Justine Stafford
Photo by Dimitri Bång

Smoking weed used to be that dirty little habit we’d do in secret, sneaking around the back with the stoner boys for a quick drag of a joint we hoped our parents wouldn’t smell.

It wasn’t something nice girls like us – from good homes and private schools – would ever openly admit to doing, but do it we did. On the sly, as a subversive middle finger to the squeaky clean expectations of our old-school parents. Smoking dagga* was bad, and that made it feel good.

Then one night I was overcome by a too-strong joint and spent hours feeling paranoid and messy: convinced the bouncer was eyeballing me funny, that the raver kids on the dance floor were bewitched spirits and that I was seconds away from being bust by the cops for being high. This stuff is crazy, I thought, I’ll never smoke it again…. And I never did.

That was 25 years ago and in that time, dagga’s reputation has gone from being the ultimate gateway drug guaranteed to condemn you to a lifetime of substance abuse and lowlife living to the alleged wonder cure for every ailment known to mankind.

Anyway, it’s not dagga anymore... It’s called cannabis, and everybody from sage Millenials to the clean-cut corporate crew is smoking, vaping, eating or drinking artisanal strains of it while discussing their preferred dosage of CBD (the chill factor) or THC (the grill factor). Even my conservative 75-year-old mother casually asked me the other day where she could get ‘that CBD stuff’ her friends are all taking to help them sleep.

In countries like Canada and America, you can even access medical doctors online via services like HelloMD - coming soon to South Africa - who will advise and prescribe the strain and dosage suited to your lifestyle and ailment.

This radical shift in perspective makes one wonder what exactly happened to change the collective paradigm on pot?

The answer is simple: we finally woke up to the fact that we’ve been hoodwinked for centuries by paternalistic powers (read: uptight white guys) who knew that if they could suppress the marijuana trade, they would control the ethnic communities who have always used it as a medicinal healing herb and element of spiritual ritual.

And so for more than 200 years, it was systematically banned, the crop burned and growers and distributors jailed. In 1970, despite the United States having access to hundreds of medical journal articles, dating as far back as 1840, documenting the benefits of medical marijuana; as well as research from 1944 proving that marijuana usage cannot lead to addiction to other drugs like morphine, heroin or cocaine, it was classified as a Schedule 1 drug with ‘no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse’.

We now know that only 9-10% of adult users risk marijuana dependence, compared to cocaine which has a 20% risk factor while heroin sits at 25%. Tobacco tops the charts at almost 30% of users becoming hooked, with millions of smokers worldwide succumbing to their deathly addiction every year.

As with all things, however, the experts strongly emphasise a balanced approach. Too much THC may not kill you, but it’s powerful stuff, so know your grow and micro-dose (take tiny doses of THC) to acclimatise your body and avoid risking scary, unwanted highs.

What, you may ask, does any of this have to do with me, a self-confessed Chardonnay connoisseur (meaning: if it says Chardonnay on the label, I’ll drink it)?

Well, not much, truth be told, until last weekend when my husband and I reconnected with old friends, Martin and Amy, who live in Vermont in the States and were home for a visit. They're clean-living surfer/snowboarders so nobody was more surprised than me when Martin pulled out a slimline gold vape and asked me if I wanted a drag.

‘What is it?’, I asked, suspiciously. CBD oil with a bit of THC in the mix, was the answer. ‘Just enough to give you a teeny bit of a buzz,’ he said with a grin.  

Mind you, we were sitting in a trendy Cape Town club and, call me old-fashioned, but I have no idea how modern-day bouncers feel these days about patrons getting stoned in full view of the general masses. ‘Nobody cares,’ Martin said, and sure enough, it seemed nobody did…

Perhaps it was the foot-tapping tunes, the chance to relive my rebel self or even that I’m just a shameless sucker for good packaging (said vape was really very pretty) but I found myself shrugging nonchalantly, taking what I hoped was an elegant hit and immediately feeling a pleasant brain buzz complemented by the slow melt of my spine along with any previous anti-pot prejudices.

Time seemed to slow while the music sped up, so the four of us shimmied on to the dance floor for a wiggle and a giggle, then ambled outside to catch an Uber. I woke up the next morning feeling happy, hangover-free and, weirdly enough, convinced that getting high had actually been good for my (mental) health.

So consider me officially reconsidering my no-go-zone on weed. And while I do so, I think I’ll casually browse KushKush for a pretty little vape.

Dagga*: a South Africanism for marijuana

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