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In The Weeds

With its ever-expanding legalization, marijuana has gained mainstream acceptance. But do we really know it’s safe? asks Hannah Wallace.

Celia Ellenberg

Last year, Oregon became the fourth state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. In my hometown of Portland, people began lighting up on street corners, friends threw pot-themed dinner parties, and I heard whispers about a chef who hand-delivers salted caramel medibles (medical-cannabis edibles).

Whenever my husband, an unapologetic marijuana enthusiast, invites me to join him, I decline. Past experiments always gave me a sense of creeping agitation rather than euphoria. I struggle with insomnia, however, and my cocktail of remedies—valerian, wine, and Ambien—has become less and less reliable. Which is how I find myself one recent afternoon at Farma, a dispensary a mile from my house, admiring buds with names like Island Sweet Skunk and Dogwalker that are displayed beneath glass like so many exquisite chocolates. “I’m looking for something that will help me sleep—an indica?” I stammer, naming the strain that I’ve read delivers a calming high (another, sativa, has a reputation for working as a stimulant).

“We don’t classify cannabis that way,” my budtender, a slender young beauty, tells me crisply. “It’s the terpenes that are important.” Terpenes, she explains, are the aromatic oily compounds that confer character on each strain of marijuana and are believed to be responsible for particular effects. So while every label at Farma lists the percentages of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), pot’s main psychoactive compound, and cannabidiol (CBD), the medicinal element that eases pain and anxiety but won’t get you high, terpenes are the ingredient of the moment. My attendant selects a glass jar and waves it under my nose. “I’d try Blueberry Malawi combined with Harlequin,” she cheerfully suggests.

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December 2016