I was in the kitchen when I noticed I'd been scrubbing my garlic press for an awfully long time. As I stood at the counter, admiring how it shimmered in the kitchen light, I realized I was stoned — for the first time in 34 years.
The last time I'd gotten high — in high school — I'd listened to "Dark Side of the Moon" on giant headphones, sunk into my red vinyl beanbag chair. This time, I was cleaning a kitchen utensil.
Novel experiences help keep the brain healthy. When we encounter something new, it triggers the release of dopamine; that, in turn, leads to the creation of new neurons and neural connections. But as people age, they become resistant to change. People my age have to go our of way to keep having new experiences, to keep growing emotionally. So some people in their 50s play Lumosity. Some try to learn new languages. But I live in Oregon, and on October 1 of last year, our state legalized recreational marijuana.
I thought: I'm a child of the '60s. I thought: I like trying new things. In the name of new neural connections and emotional growth, I, whose narcotic experience had been limited for more than three decades to a nightly glass of wine, was going to smoke some legal weed.
My husband wanted to try some, too. Jeff's even cleaner than I am: After he got a heart stent and his cardiologist suggested that red wine might be beneficial, he tried a small glass. It left him with a slight buzz, a massive headache, and no further interest. But we were curious about legal weed. This was a historic moment, we thought, like the end of the Volstead Act, but for stoners.
On the night of the 1st, we drove to our neighborhood marijuana shop, a mom-and-pop place just a mile from our house. It turns out our neighbors were curious, too. We arrived to a line out the door, folks we usually saw walking dogs around our family-centric Portland neighborhood or shopping at the farmers market, all nodding along to a Grateful Dead cover band playing on the lawn.
A bearded 60-something kept order, allowing only a few people into the store at a time and checking IDs to be sure all were over the age of 21. Everyone was — by at least a decade.
When we finally got inside, the helpful pot proprietor showed us a laminated price list. "Are you looking for something that will relax you or a more wide-awake buzz?" he asked, explaining the various strains.
It was so serious. We started giggling like kids.
"Sorry for laughing," Jeff said, "but where I grew up, you bought this on the street corner, hoping there was actual marijuana inside your baggie."
The owner smiled as if he'd already heard that story a few times today.
Legal weed, like Tylenol or coffee, comes in strengths. Jeff and I picked the weakest strain on offer.
"Is this locally grown?" I asked.
It was. We paid and left.
By the next day, Jeff and I were having doubts about the whole thing.
"I'm not sure about smoking," Jeff told me, "My lungs aren't great."
"I'm worried Lizzie will smell it," I said.
Years ago, I blew smoke out of my bedroom window while my parents slept. They never suspected a thing. But I suspected that our teenage daughter, a little savvier about the signs of a smoke-out than my parents had ever been, might realize what was going on.
So Jeff and I did the responsible thing: We decided to try edibles instead.
This made things slightly more complicated. While edible marijuana is sold medically in Oregon, it wouldn't be available recreationally for a few more months. We didn't want to wait. After checking to see if we could buy some in Washington (where stores have been legally selling marijuana for more than a year) and bring it home, we drove 20 minutes to the Portland suburb of Vancouver, Washington.
Vancouver's marijuana mega market made our local shop look like a kid's lemonade stand. A well-dressed man checked our IDs. Salespeople sat behind glass counters. Bongs and more mysterious imbibing devices were displayed like objects in an art gallery. Rock music played softly.
We approached a suit-wearing salesman and told him what we were after. He flipped open a thick binder the size of an old-fashioned coffee shop menu — a product catalogue — and began explaining the different types of edibles. So many! Dark and milk chocolate, hard and chewy candy, tea and cookies, granola and truffles. I was overwhelmed with possibilities. We settled on a three-pack of salted caramel dark chocolate and some raspberry hard candy. Once again, we picked the weakest strength.
The trouble with trying to get high for the first time in three decades is that there's never a good time. Weeks passed. There were family dinners and work deadlines. We had to judge our daughter's speech and debate tournaments and drive her to cross-country meets. There were dinners with friends. We were simply too busy to get stoned.
On top of everything else, I didn't want Lizzie to see us do it. I'm not sure why I felt that way. It's legal. I'm an adult. I happily have a glass of wine or beer in front of her. I wonder if when Prohibition ended in the early 1930s, parents then felt the same way about having a drink in front of their children. Did they have lingering feelings that it was bad or inappropriate? What's a parent to do about legal pot?
Jeff managed to try it one night while Lizzie and I were upstairs. It was a disaster. During a writing break he ate a THC candy bar, but after an hour and a half, he felt nothing. So he ate more. Two hours later, he said the words on his computer screen began jumping up and down. He didn't get much work done that night, and he had a headache for days after. Meanwhile, I still hadn't found an opportunity.
We were both failing at our attempts to be late-middle-aged potheads.
But a few days after Jeff's adventure, Lizzie was due to be out late with friends. I decided to get stoned solo.
I was glad one of us would be sober. If Lizzie needed one of us to drive, Jeff would be there. I carefully unwrapped one of the little chocolate bars engraved with "420" and tentatively nibbled on a corner. It was delicious. I ate the entire bar. Then ... nothing.
A bit disappointed, I went upstairs to cook dinner. But as I was sautéing spinach, I started to feel a tiny bit different. A little later, while I was washing up after dinner, it hit.
"Jeff!" I screamed. I was laughing so hard, tears streamed down my face. Jeff bounded up the stairs, concerned.
"What's wrong?" he said. He thought I'd hurt myself and was sobbing.
"I have an important question to ask you, and I need to know the answer — so tell me the truth," I said, trying to make a serious face and failing. "If you saw me on the street and didn't know me, could you tell I was stoned?" I started giggling. Jeff started laughing.
"Jeff? I've never been so stoned. Can you please make it stop?" I was definitely not enjoying myself. I was pretty far from mellow and relaxed. I decided I didn't want to be alone, so I went downstairs to watch the Mets game on television with Jeff.
Normally, I'm not much of a baseball fan. But as I watched the game, suddenly I found it fascinating. The way the players swung at the ball! The speed of each ball posted — 95 miles an hour! So fast! Why hadn't I watched this amazing game before?
"I'm getting some ice cream. Do you want some?" Jeff said, hopping up from the sofa and nearly toppling me onto the floor. Somehow I'd gone from sitting to lying down.
"I'd love some!" I exclaimed. Ice cream seemed like the best idea ever. Jeff returned and tossed me an ice cream bar. I missed it.
I have never tasted a better ice cream bar. My taste buds reacted as if they'd never experienced anything as delectable. I told Jeff, over and over, that it was the best ice cream in the world. Then I snuggled into him and promptly fell asleep.
I think the Mets won.
I'm glad Oregon has joined Washington, Colorado, and Alaska in legalizing pot. I hope the new industry will help the state's economically depressed southern section — apparently it's fertile land for growing cannabis. According to a local television station, the first week legal marijuana sales topped $11 million, far higher than expected. Willamette Week, our alternative weekly, runs a "Cannabis" column, with articles about strains and reviews of shops, and the Oregonian, ordinarily a stodgy paper, recently ran an illustrated guide to rolling a joint. Local businesses have adapted, with one bicycle company offering a pot tour and another a "farm-to-table experience," including an "infused brunch" and chef-led cooking lessons.
Still, I think it'll be another 34 years before I try marijuana again. My curiosity is sated — and, to be honest, it'll probably be that long before my garlic press loses its sheen.
Sue Sanders's essays have been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Real Simple, Salon, and others. She's the author of the parenting memoir Mom, I'm Not a Kid Anymore.
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