Apr 11

Episode #38: Jackie Bryant

Cannabis writer and author of the newsletter Cannabitch.

Nicholas Gill
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The New Worlder podcast explores the world of food and travel in the Americas and beyond. Hosted by James Beard nominated writer Nicholas Gill, each episode features a long form interview with chefs, conservationists, scientists, farmers, writers, foragers, and more.
Episode details

Jackie Bryant is a Cannabis writer and knows the ins and outs of the marijuana industry in the United States. She writes the Substack newsletter Cannabitch, and you can also find her work in publications like the San Francisco Chronicle, San Diego Union-Tribune, Harper’s Bazaar, Leafly, and countless other publications. She is one of the hardest working freelance writers I know and I really appreciate how she is taking the once niche topic of reporting on cannabis seriously. We’re in this strange phase of weed in the US. It’s legal in some states. Kinda legal in others. And still not legal in others. The conversation is starting to move at the national level, but for the most part the process of legalization has been more or less a mess for growers, for regulators, and for consumers.

Still, there’s a lot to think about regarding cannabis in America and around the world as this new era opens up. Is cannabis media critical enough? Are cannabis growers being fairly paid. Are giant corporations going to take the industry over? Is the legalization process such a mess that it could turn back in the other direction? Does weed belong in fine dining? What is weed wine and should it exist. Is CBD total bullshit? Are there any celebrity endorsed weeds that are any good? Anyway, she has also done a lot of food writing, reporting on the US/Mexican border, and many other topics.

-Nicholas Gill

Photo credit: Matt Suárez

On cannabis media:

Nick: “You've written about your frustrations trying to get assignments that let you go deeper about cannabis, especially mainstream publications. They still don't really report on it, do they?”

Jackie: “They don't. They'll do the story of the moment that's really sexy, which is the social equity story. And it should be. It should be a huge national scandal. And of course, people don't care about it, because it's talking about social justice, right? But at the same time, it's a really easy way for publications to put out truthfully, a critical piece on legal weed without having to really dig into the intricacies of it. It's certainly valid criticism, I have nothing to say against that, but then they don't do any other reporting around it.

And there are plenty of other interesting stories in the weed world that are that affect why the equity isn't working either and just no one cares. And I get it. It's like one part of the world, but the thing is, that the war on drugs, which was really funneled initially mainly through weed and happened mainly through wee,d it shifted now it's different drugs now, but it really was about weed back when it started, and how it manifested in the US and that created the growing industry in the Emerald Triangle and everything. I don't know, it does touch everything. The our whole immigration, quote, unquote, problem, issue. It’s all over. Those are drug war refugees. Everybody coming into…”

Nick: “Everyone from Central America. It's all gang violence related to drug wars.”

Jackie: “So it's never just about weed. It touches our lives in so many more ways than we know. It affects policy. And also, because people aren't looking at it, legal weed in your community very likely serves as a cover for other nefarious bullshit because bad actors know that no one's looking at this. They know that all makers know nothing about it. They know that it's decriminalized. So, cops don’t do anything about it. They know that the average person doesn't know the ins and outs of weed policy. So, it becomes a convenient cover to do illegal things. That industry is regulated, but the laws aren't good. And nobody knows what's going on. So, the case I always try to make in cannabis reporting is this is more important than you realize. Because in California alone, the legal and illegal industries combined total about $15 billion.

Nick: “That's crazy.”

Jackie: “Can you imagine that publications don’t have a dedicated beat reporter? So, I think that's where the stigma comes in. Because people are like, ‘Oh, it's just weed.’ And it's like, oh, no, no, no, no, no. It’s never just weed.”

On weed in food and drinks:

Nick: “I want to talk about marijuana and food. You have written about this a bit. And I don't just mean like edibles. I mean fine dining where everything is infused with pot. That's the thing, right?”

Jackie: “It's interesting. It was more of a thing. It was more of a thing a few years ago, back when where New York is right now. In this gray area where sales haven't started, but it's legal to have it. In our gray area in California that was 2016 to 2018. That's when I would say was peak weed culture, because no one was getting caught for anything. And you could have these pop-up stands at farmers markets selling weed and shit like that. Like they're doing in Washington Square Park. I forgot I wrote this piece for Eater San Diego in 2018. This sprawling feature on pot dinners in the city, pot infused meals, you know, five, six courses and they don't exist anymore.”

Nick: “Okay, good. Good, because to me, they seemed weird.”

Jackie: “I get why people want it, but I agree with you. Is it a product that anyone really like needs?”

Nick: “For one weed…it's kind of a strong flavor. Just the flavor of it in food…it would be like putting bay leaves in every course or something, you know? And it's like, I don't want that. I don't want eight courses of fucking bay leaves.”

Jackie: “It's interesting. There are different schools of thought on that. Some potheads would be like, No, I love that. And I'm with you. It's weird. When I have edible gummies, I like the weed flavor. Not because I like it, but only because it indicates quality to me. But that's it. That's the only reason why.”

Nick: “I don't mind the flavor, but in a gummy, you know? But every course like tons and tons of it?”

Jackie: “And you’re paying $200 for it.”

Nick: “And personally, I like eating and then getting high. Or I like getting high and then eating and sleeping. But I don't know if I would enjoy eating and getting high at the same time.”

Jackie: “So personally, I agree with you there and I every time I say this weed people scream at me. They're like, ‘You're wrong!’ But I do totally agree with you and I just deeply in my soul believe that weed is not a social drug. Sorry. I just don't think it is, despite what anybody wants to say about it. I personally smoke weed all day every day. I can go out and be really sociable, but I'm a rather seasoned pothead. It's a little bit different. I just don't think that for most people, the effect that edibles have on people, they will be doing that in public. Personally, I may be wrong, but I just don't think that that's really what they're going after. Like the drunk buzz is very different. It's more uplifting. It's more social. It makes you chatty, it brings your guard down, right? Like the edible high is very body intense. For me. It's very introspective. It's a little paralyzing, I don't want to talk that much. It's a weird vibe to put in a social situation and I offer an anecdote: weed parties.”

Nick: “Like when everyone's high. That's fun.”

Jackie: “Oh, it's actually not. So these weed industry parties that are happening…they usually don't have too much booze. Think of it as the same you would a media event for a restaurant or wine company or spirits company, but with weed. After like two hours like everyone's just like sitting in a corner and talking with their people and complaining, like ‘I don't really want to talk to anyone.’ And it gets weird, you know? For me. I just think it's overblown. And I think that carries into cannabis drinks. There's a big debate in the cannabis world about whether or not drinks are going to be this top category as an alcohol replacement. I know people who struggle with alcoholism, who say it is a good replacement for them, but they also concede the high is not the same.”

Nick: “I can't say I've had a lot of like weed wine or weed cocktails. Like the wine to me. It seems super weird. Is it usually infused?”

Jackie: “Infused and de-alcoholized.”

Nick: “So, it's like what the fuck? Like why? Like, why even call it wine for one?”

Jackie: “I agree. And I wrote a little rant on this a few years ago about how it hinged on the fact that, for me, alcohol content is key to understanding of wine. It affects so much. It tells you about the winemaking process, right? It tells you about the storage. It tells you about so much that when you take that out, it takes out so many points of evaluation. It's just that alcohol percentage is such an intrinsic part of the textures, tastes and experience of the wine. And so when you take that out and put weed in, it's just you're missing a key part of what makes a fine wine. How can you evaluate if a winemaker did something good when you take the alcohol out? What if it was a hot year? If they stored it badly, you'd be able to tell that in the alcohol and if you remove that you don't know anymore. So, I personally think it's shitty. But there are hardcore weed people, again, who just think weed can be in everything and trust me, the packaged goods industry is moving in that direction. They want weed to be an ingredient, not the product. And that will happen as a wellness ingredient. But I think that the drinks category again, I just really don't think that that many people want to be high on edibles in public. That's what it comes down to for me.”

On whether CBD is useful or not:

Nick: “What do you think about CBD? Is it just fucking placebo? Like, I've never like had CBD that's had any sort of positive effect on me whatsoever.”

Jackie: “So I'm with you personally. I've never been able to stick to a routine with it because I haven't noticed any benefits. So, I always end up dropping it. Here's the thing, and please divert me back if I go too far down the path because these are all rabbit holes. CBD has proven medical benefits for epilepsy patients and for other people it has shown in real actual clinical trials to being anti anxiolytic. It helps anxiety. It can be anti-inflammatory. These things are proven, and they do work. The thing is that quality and purity of the product, like where it's derived from, as well as the dose, and part of that quality thing is does it have a little bit of THC or other cannabinoids? So, hemp derived CBD, which is legal to buy and sell anywhere in the United States, on the internet, you name it, that doesn't have THC in it. The belief is, and there's hard science to back that up, is that the presence of THC, which is legal for hemp is actually what activates the CBD and the cannabinoids. So, if you have like a little bit of THC, probably not enough to get you fucked up, but just a little bit…because in nature, these, chemicals come in the plant and they grow up in the plant together and they're supposed to work together in our body with our endocannabinoid system, but we don't 100% know how it all works. But we know that they come from this plant and it's formulated in this way. And so when you strip that out, and you take the THC out because it's illegal to have it there and you just have that CBD molecule, you're losing something. And we don't fully know what that is yet, but it's clear in the efficacy hemp derived CBD is almost always a worse product than marijuana derived CBD is. Every hemp stream will have a little bit of THC in it somewhere. You just have to breathe. So it's a number of things.

Also a lot of it is a shitty quality, it's extracted poorly, or they put the whole plant into it. Like the stocks, the leaves, everything, which don’t have any CBD in it. So that can dilute it. There's a whole number of things. Also dosing, we don't have a good handle on dosing and certainly not in the CBD industry. Certainly not in the consumer packaged goods. Industry dosing is all over the place. There's no real consensus but generally, for oral applications, like a tincture or an oil. If you're taking below like 20-30 milligrams of CBD, it's probably not going to do anything. If you take more than that, you it'll make you drowsy, most likely. Long story short, back to your point, I think at high doses and for acute things, CBD does work and people really do claim it does and studies have shown that.

For me personally, I have not found a routine or anything and maybe I just don't have anything that would benefit from it. I do know that I tried to manage my anxiety with it and it did not work for me. Other people claim differently. But basically, I'm with you. I have not a benefited from it.

But at the same time, a couple of years ago I was at – and I've written about this – I was at a photo exhibit here in San Diego for kids who use medical cannabis. They have debilitating epilepsy and things like that. And it was a photo exhibit of kids who are quite sick, who use medical cannabis. There was sort of an activist thing in Colorado that got medical marijuana passed and basically started the tide of legalization. So at that exhibit I watched a man snap into a grand mal seizure. And he had a dog with him and a nurse with him and his father with him. This was obviously somebody who probably has a number of grand mal seizures a day. He’s quite sick. And It was the crazy. I actually get emotional thinking about. It was the craziest thing I've ever seen. She just whipped out a vape pen with a cartridge of CBD oil. One we could just buy anywhere. And she pressed the button and he was seizing and breathing really sharply, and she just pressed the button put it up to his nose and his eyes just like rolled back forward and his whole body relaxed and he was instantly fine. Just from CBD right there. It was the craziest thing I've ever seen in my life and I'm like tearing up. I will never forget this as long as I'm alive. I always believed in it, of course, but this is the first time I saw it acutely. So, I think for acute things, there’s a measurable purpose.”

On the woman who got lobsters stoned as a way to kill them more humanely:

Nick: “There was one story you had on Cannabitch I have to ask you about. So a woman named Charlotte Gill, who I am not related to by the way. We have the same last name, but she's  a woman who owns Charlotte's Legendary Lobster Pound in Southwest Harbor, Maine. And again, I'm not related to this woman, as far as I know.”

Jackie: “Kind of wish you were.”

Nick: “I kind of wish I was to. She's a funny woman, to say the least. And one day she ate an edible and she owns a lobster shack. So, she's killing lobsters a lot and has concerns about them. And one day she ate an edible and started to ask herself, maybe there's a way to kill lobsters humanely by getting them high. Right? I mean, that's basically what it was. And so basically, her experiment was she was just hotboxing lobsters.”

Jackie: “Literally, she enlisted her employees at the lobster pound to come up with…they rigged up a box with a tube. And they were just literally huffing weed and blowing it into the box that had a little bit of water that they put the lobster in. Just enough so it could breathe. And they watched for its tail moving. Gotta give her credit. She tried to make it as scientific as she could, which for like a lay person is really hard to do and I get where she's going with it. And the thing is, and what writing this brought up is, is it even inhumane to kill lobsters in the pot the way that we do? I realized that there's a whole world out there of people asking this question. Obviously, David Foster Wallace famously did that. But it turned out to be this like, Wait, do lobsters even feel pain? Like, is it even inhumane to kill them in the pot? And we still don't actually know about that.

Nick: “I know, but just in general, with seafood and all these things, there are still a lot of concerns about the ethical killing of animals. And, you know, I think maybe there's something there, even as crazy as it sounds. Her experiment was a mess, obviously. And I'm sure it didn't prove anything. But you know, just maybe there is something there and trying to use weed to kill animals in a more compassionate way.”

Jackie: “So how I came into the story is I just saw a little news item on NBC7 here in San Diego that was like UCSD researchers test, you know, can marijuana dull pain in a lobster and I'm like, I'm sorry, what? This is the most me story. So I immediately was like, What the fuck is going on here? And then I realized, yeah, so they got the idea from Charlotte. Actually, these researchers at UCSD, a very esteemed medical research university, they recreated it in their own way. So, what they did was use tissue samples. They didn't use live lobsters, but they infused tissue samples and all this stuff and their results were kind of inconclusive, but it did show that there was a central nervous system. It did depress the central nervous system. So, we still don't know if lobsters can feel pain, but we are pretty positive they can get stoned. Which, who knows what that means? I don't know if they feel funny, but they definitely calm down.”

Nick: “Aside of the compassion issue. There have been countless studies about animals that are killed while they're stressed…they don't taste as good. Right? Like the meat tenses up. And all this happens. And so, I wonder if there's been any follow ups of this, because it actually seems like a good idea.”

Jackie: “You could do it to mammals.”

Nick: “And I'm sure it's better than injecting them with some shit that you don't know what it is.”

Jackie: “100%. Oh, and that's another thing. With both UCSD study and Charlotte's unscientific study, if you inject or smoke out a lobster, you're not going to get high from eating it. It's in such trace amount that you can't get high from it. And also, THC doesn't work that way. It doesn't metabolize that way. So, yeah, it's no risk to humans I imagine. I mean, I hate factory farming, I wish it could all go the fuck away. But imagine if you could just like…this is such a bad view and forgive me, but just like, I can't believe I'm saying this out loud. But just like pumping weed into…”

Nick: “A slaughterhouse?”

Jackie: “…a CAFO and it's a little bit better. I don't know. That's good, right?”

Quotes from this interview have been edited for clarity.

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