How Cooking with Cannabis Changed My Life

The experience of purchasing pot in San Francisco led me to question the trajectory of my life; why was I attempting to climb the ladder of a likely stultifying career, trudging through sleet and snow to an ugly office in New York, when I could be working for a tech company in a position with an inscrutable job description, starting my mornings out with a puff from a “focus” sampler pack and unwinding to the suitably hazy effects of an OG Kush.

I was first introduced to the charms of the Green Giant in high school (typical, I know). My family rented out rooms to various and sundry transients in our Manhattan home. One summer, a jovial and moderately rotund young man, whose name was Jeff, I think, took to ordering the substance to be delivered along with his pizza. While experiments with booze made me dizzy, overly gregarious, and, of course, nauseous, pot was a revelation, heightening the experience of consuming a Domino’s pizza to nearly orgasmic levels and awakening my frequently morose adolescent senses to simple joys, silly jokes, and abstruse thoughts. Far from being a gateway, I never felt the urge to explore harder substances or even to purchase pot on my own, instead relying on the generosity of others for the occasional escape.

Trips to the Bay Area later in life awakened a dormant passion. What was a clandestine, occasional indulgence on the East Coast became a center of social life. Fragrant, potent bud was just a few clicks away and pot consumption was an accepted and often expected aperitif or post-dinner dalliance, consumed, after the children were asleep, through high-tech gadgets that could be charged with an iPhone plug.

As a native New Yorker, I was amazed by the medicalization of marijuana across Northern California, which allowed the plant to be marketed as a highly lucrative salve to cure a panoply of ills ranging from anxiety and attention-deficient disorder to the side effects of HIV medications. While the East Coast weed-buying experience is often akin to being let into an exclusive club, with referrals for high-end delivery services fervently sought in hushed and tentative, in the Bay Area I was easily able to use a friend’s card to order an activity-themed “sampler,” and it was delivered with a note thanking me for making the weed farmers a part of my day.

While not yet ready to uproot my life and switch coasts (I did not quite have the hook-up to slide into one of those vaguely titled cushy jobs), I was determined to bring a tad more West Coast relaxation into my stress-filled and often-dreary East Coast existence. Pot brownies sold by a green truck on the street proved to be total duds, either lacking in cannabis or inadequately prepared. I decided that if I wanted to experience professional levels of potency, I would have to prepare my own concoctions. As New York still adheres to stringent restrictions on medical cannabis consumption, most users must still turn to the black market. Finding a hookup proved relatively easy once I got over the embarrassment of asking my little sister’s hippie friend — who was, it turned out, happy to refer me to her friend, who worked as a sculptor by day. Of course, the lack of established commercial conventions can create some awkwardness. I had no idea that a text in which the friend stated that he could “come to hang out for a half-hour” was a code for selling half an ounce of pot rather than a wish to come over and enjoy a brief kibitz.

Once obtained, the question of what to do with the plant arose. Of course, the same high-tech devices are easily obtained in smoke shops, even if euphemistically marketed for tobacco, or for putting “your stuff” into, as one salesman explained. But the appeal of cooking something that would not only satisfy hunger but also alter consciousness proved irresistible.

While we demand seamless convenience in most aspects of our lives, the process of preparing pot edibles has a satisfyingly painstaking quality that leads to a certain feeling of accomplishment with minimal stress. If you follow the steps, you will transfer the potent chemical in the plant into whatever it is you are making, but it does take some time. My favorite source for mastering the mechanics of cannabis cooking is the Herb Kitchen YouTube channel. A large quantity of testimonials about the life-changing effects of Ayahuasca notwithstanding, the channel provides helpful step-by-step guidance on the process of making butter or oil infusions, which can be added to virtually any recipe. The process involves grinding and then roasting the cannabis flower, as explained by a good-natured chef named Melissa Parks, who gives the impression of being equally at home running a four-star kitchen and baking pot-infused cheese pizzas for hungry Colorado frat boys. She explains that toasting converts the inactive TCHA in the cannabis into the psychoactive form of THC, by removing a carbon atom from the molecule. (I have yet to confirm this with any of my chemistry-trained friends).

After toasting the pot in the oven for the appropriate amount of time, the pot then simmers for many hours in either butter or oil (depending on one’s intended recipe goals). I felt both like I was working in some kind of lab and stirring an ancient potion in a cauldron as I undertook the endeavor. I did not realize the extent to which my apartment had become a massive hot box, until I noticed that my dog was eating massive amounts of his kibble and demanding endless petting. Five hours of cooking and steaming decarboxylated cannabis proved substantially more potent than high-tech vaporizers. Before I could even begin baking an actual dish, I was totally baked. This certainly made a date night at the opera with my new boyfriend rather interesting. I found Mozart’s intricate polyphony endlessly fascinating and beautiful, but he expressed concern at my slurred speech and intense swaying in the hallway during intermission. While this led to something of a kerfuffle after the opera was over, I, like the Count Almaviva in The Barber of Seville, was able to ask for forgiveness. We are still dating, and now I am able to measure out my dosage in teaspoons instead of hours of steam. And while I am still trudging my way up the ladder of a dull career in progressively uglier office buildings, at least I now have oils and butters to go with my Mozart at the end of the day, and someone who will put up with me while I indulge.