I Tried a Weed Vape Designed to Induce Euphoria
One hit made me high for hours.
Daniele Levis Pelusi
On a chaotic weekday afternoon in the thick of tax season, I decided to hit a vape pen called "Bliss" to see if I'd actually feel blissed out. If this pen could help counteract the bad mood caving in on me—visiting home for Passover, my neurotic Jewish mother hounding me over 1099s and unsaved receipts, an angry ex who blocked me on Instagram—then I'd concur that Bliss was aptly named.
Before I recount my experience, I'll confess that, aside from being unable to figure out taxes, I also have a surprisingly low weed tolerance for a cannabis journalist. Following the advice of Samantha Miller, chief science officer at Hmbldt, the company that makes the Bliss vape, I took just one hit and was nonetheless high for nearly three hours.
As it turns out, the day I chose to try the pen, Donald Trump chose to bomb Afghanistan. My mother, the news junkie, had CNN on full blast. If we were about to get blissful, step one was turning off the TV. Step two was inviting Mom, who's also a California medical marijuana patient, to test the pen out with me. Apparently, weed tolerance isn't one of those things that's genetically passed down—it took her four hits to finally stop bugging me about taxes.
Part of what makes this $100 vape pen so fancy is the hardware. If you take a full three-second drag, the pen automatically vibrates, notifying you that your 2.25 milligram dose is complete. If you keep pulling on the pen after the buzz, nothing will come out. Kudos on that from the girl who could easily get too high.
Initially, I found myself sedated, plastered to the couch, half asleep. I felt tingling in my shoulders and upper back, which I've been told is where I hold my stress. Kudos again for targeting muscle tension. Mom was sprawled on the living room floor doing yoga.
As I lay there, I began to notice my thoughts getting more psychedelic. Though I didn't get any visuals, which occasionally happens with weed, I was certainly tripping out over, well, life in general, analyzing my relationships, worrying about the unread emails I'd neglected that afternoon, staring into the seeming black hole that is being a mid-twenties freelancer with little to no idea where I'll end up in five years, let alone five months.
I didn't realize how anxious I'd become until I got up from the couch to instinctively hug my dog, my heart beating loudly. By then, Mom was jabbering on about who's marrying whom, being glib about my friends' massive life decisions. I was surprised to find myself crying, as if I'd hit a peak in some sort of acid-wannabe cannabis trip, and while not blissful per se, there was something cathartic about it.
I reminded myself that I was just high, and considered the chemistry of what was happening in my endocannabinoid system, a network that regulates various bodily functions, including sleep, pain, appetite, and emotions. I recalled that the vape oil contains a 9:1 ratio of THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, to CBD, a non-psychotropic compound often credited with reducing anxiety, pain, inflammation, and seizures. Miller had explained that the THC and CBD make up the 88 percent of the oil that's comprised of cannabinoid distillate, while terpenes, or aromatic molecules, make up the rest.
"The THC has a very definite effect when it stimulates the CB1 receptor [in the endocannabinoid system], which interrupts short-term memory and looping thought cycles, pulling you back from the stress of your day," Miller says. "The CBD and THC complement each other. CBD prolongs the effects of THC and lessens feelings of anxiety." The idea was to feel calm and happy, which I eventually I did, once I reclaimed my spot on the couch and listened to an oldies radio station.
Miller says the happy feeling was in part thanks to the added terpenes: alpha, beta pinene, limonene, and terpinolene. When cannabis flower gets concentrated into oil through a distillation process, it loses part of its chemical profile. Hence the Bliss concentrate, which is made from a higher-energy sativa, doesn't necessarily retain its characteristics unless you add the terps back in. (Often, as is the case here, these added terps come from other non-cannabis plant material.)
When you vape the oil, a microprocessor controls the temperature of the pen as you puff it, hoisting it from 70 to 500 degrees. Often, vape pens get too hot because they're made for e-cigarette liquids rather than for cannabis oil. "When that happens, the cannabinoids and terpenes are degraded before you inhale them [compromising the effect]," Miller says.
While the Bliss pen should logically induce some low-key euphoria, any claims about its effects are debatable. Without FDA approval (which no cannabis company has, since weed is federally prohibited) nobody can officially say a product treats any particular condition. There's currently no solid research that links the chemical profile of cannabis plants and products to treat specific disease states, though hopefully the research will head in that direction, says Frank D'Ambrosio, a surgeon and cannabis doctor. "If we can know, for example, that people who have anxiety have specific genetic markers and then cross reference these people to a specific strain and its genetic markers to see a pattern, then yes, we can get to a point where a specific strain can treat a specific illness."
Also relevant here: THC is biphasic, meaning that in high doses it can start to have the opposite effects from what it does at lower doses. But if one takes a reasonable dose for their tolerance (which the mechanism of the pen encourages), then the specific formulation of cannabinoids, terpenes, and how they interact with each other—known as the entourage effect—should have a mood-lifting effect.
Hmbldt, which describes itself as a cannabis-based health and wellness company (and is running a campaign this year to make 4/20 "the healthiest day of the year"), is moving the pot world away from stoner culture, says says Daniel Yi, a spokesperson for the California-based MedMen dispensary, adding that the controlled-delivery mechanism is part of what he sees people gravitating to.
Whether my mom and I consider ourselves stoners is a different story, but that afternoon on the couch, I was most definitely stoned. And despite the momentary existentialism and tears, the Bliss pen helped me reorganize my thoughts, see things differently, and intermittently, did make me feel blissful. Mom felt it too. And for the record, we finished my taxes.
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Update 4/28/17: A previous version of this story indicates that the Bliss pen alleviates anxiety while it is designed to elevate mood. The Calm pen—another Hmbldt vape—is targeted toward alleviating anxiety. The story has been amended to reflect the intended purpose of the Bliss pen.