My First Toke: From Environment to Etiquette
In the future, I’d like to think first-time smokers will be introduced to cannabis in a completely different environment. But unfortunately, it will be a long time coming as many newcomers will have to endure the touch and go setting of the black market. In a legalized, regulated Ireland, first-time smokers will have safe access to the plant and will be able to benefit from its properties more safely and appropriately. Due to the fact that they will know exactly the strain and potency of the cannabis they are smoking. This can’t be said for those of us back in the day or currently for that matter. For my generation, we had to go through the necessary channels to access the drug to experiment for ourselves. As a result, many of us have found ourselves in situations that weren’t particularly safe, but alas, at the time this was the only method at our disposal.
In my case, thankfully it was nothing drastic. Though, looking back I have to wonder how much worse it could’ve been. My story begins conveniently under a bridge, smoking my first hash joint. As is the case for many who need to shield themselves from the public eye before embarking on their first journey with cannabis. For many of my generation in the 2000s, ghost sites where construction had come to a halt and derelict uncomplete houses were left behind leaving ample spots to smoke were the best locations. For me though, it was with two ‘friends’ from school, one of which was well versed in the area of cannabis resin. We climbed over a wall and made our way down a riverbank, to which there was a ledge that we could prop ourselves on away from the stream flowing below us. From there, we watched the ‘friend’ that had procured the hash slit a cigarette to dump its tobacco into a three-skinner rollie he had made moments prior.
We watched in awe as he filled the skin with the tobacco and then slowly burnt the hash with his lighter which allowed small little nuggets to break away from the eighth that we were all there for. I still remember the smell singeing from the hash. It is a smell that I’m not particularly fond of even today as the most vivid memory of my first time was how harsh the toke was. But this couldn’t happen before the joint roller had the first pull, as were the rules you see. Many, many rules were formulated in the culture of teenagers chasing the magic dragon, rules that I never want to hear about again. He was the first to spark up before giving it to my ‘friend’, who took a few more tokes before passing it to me. I inhaled and exhaled. Coughing a little bit as I hadn’t lost myself to nicotine just yet meaning my virgin lungs weren’t equipped to take the puff like the champions sitting next to me under that bridge. My coughing, of course, was met with roaring laughter from my two associates, who clearly forgotten we were meant to be incognito for the duration of our smoke but had no qualms about letting anyone passing above us know that there were teenagers up to no good underneath them. As you might have noticed from my use of putting ‘friends’ in quotations, there was very little concern for how I was dealing with the harshness of the smoke. I don’t remember much else other than really playing up the act of feeling high. I still don’t know why I did that. I assume it’s because I was trying something new and had consumed so much stoner media that may be a placebo effect took over and in wanting to enjoy it more, I played up its effect on me? I’m not sure. I was a dumb 15-year-old.
Still though, even then, I felt that I could have been with people more enjoyable to smoke with. Honestly, I don’t remember much from my first time other than the circumstances in which I smoked it. I would have longed for an opportunity to smoke indoors with a group of people that were all in the same boat as opposed to the hierarchy of experience I was subject to. Instead, my adolescence was confined to the 2000s when one-upmanship was the go-to method to signal how masculine you were. I won’t dispute this is no longer the case but, in my hometown, it was a lot more prevalent when the mid-2000s culture afforded it.
This was the culture surrounding weed, where your mate pulling a ‘whitey’* was seen as a great source of entertainment. Instead of looking after one another and making sure everybody was accounted for, smoking games would break out. One of the games I always hated playing was called Around the World, a game whereupon you take a pull from the joint and keep the smoke in your lungs until the joint has passed around to every individual in the circle where it makes its way back to you to which you can finally exhale only to start the whole ordeal all over again. I don’t exactly remember the penalty for exhaling before the joint reached you again but I do know it was just another mechanism for certain people in the group to capitalize on those in their worst moments and encourage them to not pace oneself to enjoy it for all its worth. This was far removed from how the characters in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused acted while enjoying a joint amongst one another.
I thankfully never found myself in a situation where I got sick, but I have been exposed to those who have and it was this type of competitive behaviour, the bullying, the intimidation, that cultivated an atmosphere where you gained satisfaction from another person’s suffering. That left a bad taste in my mouth regarding the weed culture for teens. It was only until I got older that I realized that I had been introduced to the drug through individuals that, let’s say, aren’t of the most trustworthy character. Shocker I know.
I didn’t expect myself to be smoking with bleeding heart empaths for the first time, but at the very least I expected concern for how I was doing. It should come as no surprise that those I experienced my first joint with are no longer on speaking terms with me, not due to any negativity or in-fighting, but rather we were simply not the same people. And by growing and maturing, we went in completely opposite directions. One of the most potent memories I have of my early years of smoking was the price. I became aware very quickly that drug dealers, especially when you’re a teenager, have little to no respect.
This obviously came in the form of getting ‘maced’. The art of getting screwed out of your money. Keep in mind, my first time as a smoker, Ireland was a different place in regards to the accessibility of cannabis. It’s crazy to think of a time when the only cannabis product you could acquire was cannabis resin. Instead of being handed a bag of oregano to pass off as weed, I vividly remember being handed my first soap bar which had the complexion of a balled-up play-dough. Though yet it smelled exactly as it should. It wasn’t until I smoked it that I realized that I had been conned, such is the life of being a teenage black-market customer. What was I going to do about it? Complain to my mother? This of course wasn’t the last time either.
Sure, you’re aware the black market isn’t exactly known for its professional integrity. It wasn’t until my mid to late 20s that I finally found a dealer that was more concerned about the well-being of his customers. While he didn’t have access to information regarding the strain or potency of the weed on offer, he at the very least knew which types would suit each customer. While Ireland in 2004 is a far cry from Ireland in 2022, one thing that hasn’t changed is the reality that drug dealers only want to make a quick buck.
I would have hoped by now things were different for younger people, but in a lot of ways, I should be thankful for the timing of my introduction to weed. Currently, there is a minefield to sift through for new smokers as synthetic weed has been making the rounds to which drug dealers have no shame or remorse when passing it off as real cannabis. As a result, there are higher chances of first-time smokers ingesting this fake cannabis leading to severe psychosis problems and other mental health issues that this artificial strain induces. Obviously, the strength of weed has increased over the years, which is something that many first-time smokers will have to experience the hard way. Drug dealers are only interested in making a profit, and if that means selling a highly potent cannabis strain to a first-time smoker then so be it, because all that matters is that they get paid.
My experiences with weed never affected my judgement of the plant itself, only the behaviour of the individuals I was smoking with. I could only dream of discovering cannabis in a legal regulated environment as I imagine the atmosphere, attitude and overall experience would be far more enjoyable and remembered more fondly than the memories I have.
*a term for one’s skin tone when in the midst of getting sick after consuming too much cannabis