It’s 1 a.m., I am currently more high than I have ever been in my life. A ghostly apparition is coming out of the ceiling. My cat is looking at me with concern—or maybe I’m imagining the concern, like I’m imagining whatever is hovering above me. This is all the fault of a fancy new gadget I’ve just used to get high, though the fault may lie with me, the dumbass who didn’t know what he was getting into. Welcome to the world of smoking pot in 2018.
There are so many new ways to get high. I’m investigating four of them personally, to provide some insight and tips to A.V. Club readers on the electronic revolution happening in what used to be a low-tech world. For legal purposes, let me say that all of this research was conducted somewhere outside the state of Illinois, somewhere where it is all very legal. And, um, my cat traveled with me.
Most people’s first experience with marijuana is watching a stoner from the grade above you shake some extremely low-quality weed into a cigarette whose paper had been partially emptied of tobacco, then re-rolled. Or maybe you happened upon a bong constructed out of a plastic soda bottle and an empty magic marker tube. Whatever your experience growing up, things have changed a lot. It’s the 21st century, and we have electronics to do these things for us now. Not all of it, unfortunately—you will still have to purchase your drugs and crumble them up into the device of your choosing. But if you’ve upgraded to a vaporizer in the past decade, you’ll know the sense of satisfaction that comes from the streamlined process these gadgets can offer. No more hunching over, wrapping papers, painstakingly assembling your pot delivery system by hand.
I’m not an experienced pothead. Like most kids, I tried it in high school, but unlike most kids, I found it tremendously unpleasant. I set it aside, and didn’t come back to it for a decade. In recent years, though, I’ve struggled with prescription pharmacological aids to combat a severe inability to fall asleep at night. And I discovered—upon the recommendation of multiple friends—that standard-issue marijuana really did the trick. The sleep problem eventually went away, and so did the pot smoking. So my knowledge never expanded past the rudimentary level of, “You set fire to it and then inhale, right?”
I’m almost certain my coworker Clayton didn’t know any of this when he asked me to take this assignment off his hands. Then again, we also know that he’s a sadistic bastard who really enjoys watching me suffer for this job. It was a fairly simple assignment, though: Try out some fancy new devices for getting high, and then evaluate each one to provide some guidance for anyone looking to expand their repertoire of marijuana delivery systems. So that’s what I did. It did not exactly go as planned. But still, I am a professional, so here are my findings.
Vaping is on the rise among nearly every demographic, including teens. (But teens are smoking a lot fewer cigarettes, and their use of hard drugs is at its lowest level in 43 years. Great work, kids!) Having never partaken of these labor-saving devices, I was curious to give a vaporizer a shot. I was provided with a product assured to be top of the line in the affordable realm, the Vapium Summit+ ($149.99), which backs up its quality claims with a host of five-star reviews on Trustpilot. This will come as a surprise to no one who has used one, but as far as I can tell, even compared to other vaporizers, it’s fucking great. You just load in the weed, turn it on, press the buttons to adjust the temperature, and upon activation, the thing vibrates to let you know it’s ready. Voila—you’ve got a smooth, easy hit of smoke.
What I especially like about the Summit+ is the no-muss, no-fuss simplicity of it. It’s small and lightweight. (One of the lightest on the market, a mere 88 grams, it’s a literal pocket vaporizer.) It has a sleek, all-black design and it’s all one piece, so there aren’t parts that will get lost. Better yet, the durable construction meant I could drop it repeatedly without damage, which I did, albeit inadvertently. The product’s website is pretty funny, since it seems to be targeting the rugged outdoorsy type: “BUILT TO HANDLE THE BACKCOUNTRY, THE BACK NINE AND THE COUCH” the ad copy boasts, though anyone spitting on the Oxford comma like that shouldn’t be so boastful. Best of all, the instruction manual is clear as day and well-written, meaning vape ignoramuses like me can quickly and efficiently get the hang of it.
Regardless, after trying my new toy I went out and asked a few other folks to let me try their vaporizers, just to make sure I my amateurism on the subject wasn’t giving undo weight to the Summit+. But mine kicked the shit out of all five competitors—in ease of use, cleaning, and more. Hell, it’s got a damn Bluetooth connection to pair with your smartphone, so you can monitor temperature, battery, boost the strength, and basically turn your pot smoking into a nerdy activity, if you want to.
Our next product, the Hydrology9 by Cloudious9 ($250.00), is “the first water filtration integrated vaporizer on the market,” according to Cloudious9’s website. As near as I can tell, that means it’s a cross between a vaporizer and a water bong. It looks a a MacGuffin from a sci-fi action movie, or maybe the handheld detonator for a bomb planted by a James Bond villain. It definitely is cool.
Here’s how it works: You unscrew the bottom chamber cover, insert the ground material of choice, close it back up, and tap the power button three times. A series of different colored lights tell you what temperature setting you’re on, and once you fire it up, the lights will turn from flashing to a solid green to let you know it’s ready to go, at which point you pop off the magnetic top cover and smoothly breathe in a nice cloud of pure, water-cooled smoke from the glass mouthpiece. Ta-dah. You’re getting a nice, groovy high.
The main advantage is obvious: Combining the benefit of a water bong with a vaporizer means you’re getting an even cooler and dryer hit than you would from the average vaporizer. But unlike the typical water bong, this thing is leak-proof, thanks to the aforementioned magnetic seal. I believe I already mentioned that I can be clumsy as fuck, so this is a huge bonus for me. Also, there’s a little built-in stirrer you can twist to get even heating without needing to open the chamber, and once it’s heated up, it stays at the maintained temperature for a solid two minutes, meaning it’s a good one for passing around the party.
Our buddies at Gizmodo really liked this device, too; in fact, their only major gripe (aside from lack of portability, though I think the $50 leather carrying case is super-cool as well; not everything needs to fit in your pocket) is that it’s so damn smooth, you will not realize how much you’re taking in, and get wayyyyy too high. I was happy to hear that my coworker and actual monster from hell Clayton had this experience. Now that I think about it, he actually handed me all this stuff and asked me to take the gig after admitting that he practically had an out-of-body experience during his initial test of this item. He was hoping the same thing would happen to me, wasn’t he? Nice try, Clayton.
Cooking with weed isn’t fun. It’s annoying, time-consuming, and the one time I helped make pot brownies in college it stunk up the whole place so bad, every hacky sack-playing motherfucker with a ponytail and a Phish shirt within 500 yards came running to our dorm floor to see what was up. It feels like more trouble than it’s worth, especially when you have an eighth sitting in front of you and a pretty good idea of what you’d like to do with it.
Enter the Magical Butter machine—in this case, the MB2E model ($174.95). It eliminates all the obnoxious parts of cooking, making for an absurdly easy and low-maintenance process. Seriously, it’s literally a three-step recipe, with only two ingredients outside of your botanicals. You just dump in the weed, unsalted butter, and a small amount of lecithin (sunflower, rice, or soy is best, which you can find in any old health-foods store or vitamin place). Select the appropriate temperature button, and hit start. After an hour or two (there’s a timer based on what you’re making) you open the top, pour it through the included filter, and abracadabra! You’ve got weed butter, ready to use in baked goods or other food items. I just made some basic butter, and poured the liquid butter into an ice cube tray to cool. Or rather, that’s the version I will tell people later. Here’s what actually happened.
When I was pouring the still-warm butter through the filter into my tray, I was inattentive to the flow from purifier to container, and ended up spilling some on my hand. It looked like a small amount—no big deal, Alex—so I licked it off. I then put the ice tray in the freezer to harden and cleaned up the Magical Butter machine. (Cleaning it only took a minute or so—again, so handy!)
Within about 45 minutes, things started happening. I started to feel a bit lightheaded, and looked down from my desktop monitor to discover my fingers had taken on a greenish pallor. I’m not sure why skin tint is always an early indicator of your mind starting to play tricks, but there you go. I sat back from the computer, and quickly began a transformation from “all systems normal” to “oh dear, I must have got a little high from that butter” to “wait, this is getting intense,” before finally ending up at “SYSTEM FAILURE ABORT BRAIN FROM HEAD BEEP_BOOP 1001101000111.”
The next several hours are a bit of a fog. I spent the time watching the floating specter on the ceiling, the walls bleeding unusual colors. I said things to my significant other that I don’t remember saying, and patted myself on the back for turning off my social media access when the bad trip began. Cumulous clouds gathered in my apartment.
It finally started to wear off around 2:30 a.m., and I sent a short message to my coworkers saying I might be a bit out of sorts the next day, thanks to my research for this feature. (In retrospect, admitting this happened was a mistake. Everyone likes making fun of people who accidentally get too high.)
Nevertheless, at the end of the night I had some excellent butter ready for whatever recipe I might care to make. Rice Krispie treats? Muffins? Just straight-up buttering toast? The world was my THC-infused oyster.
Having even less knowledge about using pot in the kitchen than I do with smoking it, I asked around to a few colleagues at The Onion and discovered that the simplest starter formula for using my weed butter was most likely a pan of Fruity Pebbles treats. (The stronger sugar flavor masks the pot taste much more effectively than Rice Krispies.)
However, the butter-licking incident left me incredibly gun-shy. So I decided to hedge my bets: Instead of using the entire amount of butter, as the recipe called for (basically two sticks infused with half an ounce), I used four tablespoons. Maybe one-tenth of what was suggested. I now see how ridiculous that is, but you have to understand, I didn’t want to spend another four hours watching spirits pass through solid objects in my apartment.
But I didn’t get high at all. They were just Fruity Pebble treats, with no evidence that any mood-altering substances had been added. People who micro-dose would turn up their noses at these creations. I brought them in to the office, dumped them on a table, and invited my colleagues to help themselves to the world’s most expensive batch of normal Fruity Pebble squares ever made.
I was determined to rescue this sad state of affairs. The MB2E had done its job marvelously, and I wanted to make sure I tasted the benefits. So I made another batch, this time dumping the entirety of the butter (minus four tablespoons) into the mix, as I should have the first time. And the results were much better, if still not quite to the levels I had hoped. Perhaps because of the missing tablespoons, the treats were slightly less potent than expected; it took between and hour and 90 minutes for them to really kick in, and once they did, it was never more than a low-level buzz, nice but not terribly strong. Still, it was proof that if I just followed instructions a little better—and the MB2E came with crystal-clear directions about making the butter, along with additional recipes for oils and the like—my Magical Butter machine was a welcome addition to the arsenal.
The final stop on my journey into Joseph Conrad’s heart of dankness is also undeniably the most fun. Just look at that thing! I won’t lie, when I first unpacked the Switch from Dr. Dabber ($399.99) I was intimidated, but mostly amused. A massive black doorstop of a product, with multiple interlocking parts, delicate glass construction, and a rulebook that takes a good half-hour to fully understand, I was ready to pass on it immediately. Nothing this involved, I reasoned, should be necessary for the casual smoker.
I take it all back.
The Switch is a beautiful miracle. I don’t pretend to understand how this enormous vaporizer’s induction heating technology works, but let me explain what makes the Switch so great when it comes to its heating modes: When you turn it on, determine your heat settings, and hit the button to fire it up, it is ready to go in roughly 4 seconds. That is almost faster than you can exhale in preparation for your hit. I can’t overemphasize the speed of the Switch enough. There have been nights when I was getting ready for bed, popped into the other room, turned it on, took a hit, felt it kick in, and turned it off again, all in less time than it takes me to refill the Britta pitcher in the refrigerator.
The battery life is almost cartoonishly powerful. I charged it briefly once, months ago, when I first got all this gear, and haven’t needed to plug it back in yet. (150 uses on a single charge is the stated capability.) It comes with all the necessary cleaning supplies and extras, so there’s no additional purchases needed. Plus—and I do so enjoy this—unlike the less expensive products, it knows that you need a little razzle-dazzle with the extra cost. So it puts on a light show for you any time you’d like. The circular light display can switch (no pun intended) to a fireworks-esque display of patterns and swirls with the push of a button—and will even stay that way, should you desire something to stare at after a few sessions with the glass pipe attachment. This machine allows you to choose between five different heat settings, or with the Pro mode you can toggle amongst up to 25 customized heat settings. If that seems a bit over the top, let me say that utilizing some of the lower settings has made a single thimble-sized amount of marijuana last for almost a week with daily use.
The Switch is the obvious winner when it comes to a party setting, or having some friends over to zone out in front of Enter The Void again. But in all honesty, it would be my go-to machine if I were a routine smoker. (It almost makes me want to become one, just so I can interact with the Switch more.) I’ll be damned if I can tell the difference between a $25 and a hundred-dollar bottle of Merlot, but in this case, there is a clear additional value you get for your money. It’s an investment, but a damn good one.
All of these devices have their own strengths, and the appeal of each one is clear. From the extremely small and portable Summit+ to the badass chill of the Hydrology9, the kitchen-friendly ease of the MB2E and the opulent majesty of the Switch, this experience has awakened a new appreciation in me for technologically enhanced methods of marijuana consumption. “Alex, I think we’re all really proud of you for finally getting into weed in your 30s,” a friend recently said. I don’t know about all that, or if this fascination will last, but I do know that with a rapidly expanding universe of legalization and the ever-more-advanced possibilities, nothing will change the fact that I almost lost my mind licking some butter off my hand like a real Mr. Smart Pants. Thank god Dr. Dabber was there to prescribe a solution.