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Megan, a budtender at House of Leaves in Ashland, shows off a vape pen. Photo by Andy Atkinson

Vapor trails

To vape or not to vape? That is the question you have on your mind as you walk in the cannabis dispensary for the first time — or maybe the umpteenth time.

The first thing you notice is a huge array of ganja and delivery systems, as well as an extremely well educated and experienced (and verbal) staff, ready to teach you all the ups and downs, ins and outs for you to make the right choice.

After half a century of weed’s popularity in America, most of it covert, our society pretty much knows how to smoke weed — mainly by rolling a number or using a pipe or making one out of a wild array of materials (ever try an apple?), but there are always new and interesting gadgets to try.

The main difference between vaping and smoking is that puffing on a vaping pen is quick, clean and you don’t produce any smoke. All you do is suck. A tiny light comes on to show it’s delivering the desired cannabinoids for your recreational or medicinal goals.

There is no fire or ashes, and you’re not producing that pungent odor (or fragrance, depending on your view) of bud, so it’s not wafting out into the street and revealing your lifestyle to anyone who walks by (let’s face it, there’s still a lot of judgment out there).

We all know how “grass” ('60s flashback) is shifted into its consumable form: You burn it and trap the smoke in your lungs with a sharp inhale and, according to longstanding custom, hold your breath.

With a vaping pen, you get a little cartridge of oil (refined from bud) and screw it into the pen. The vaping pen has a battery that heats the oil, delivering a cloud of vapor. Voila. Get ready for a consciousness shift or some relief from what ails you. Then you exhale. Not really necessary to hold your breath.

When you’ve had your “serving,” just toss your pen in its special bag or purse or shelf. No mess. No ashtrays. Just be sure and have a couch handy. For the recreational stuff, that is. Or you can go for a walk in the woods or play with your cat. Some people like to watch movies, which, you must admit, have a verrrry different spin. So does watching the news, though most say it’s too scary with reefer.

The options are endless.

This industry has just taken off, and one way you can tell is that the pen your correspondent bought plugs in with a USB cord and pops right into your computer for a recharge. Who would EVER have thought, back in the hippie days, that not only would pot be sold over the counter in our lifetime, but the pipe could be recharged in your laptop. What’s a laptop? We didn’t have those either.

The technology and the forms of weed are being innovated almost daily, challenging the most ambitious budtender (shop clerk) to keep up with them, however, the basic choice confronts you: vapor or smoke.

“Absolutely, I’m a flower smoker,” says Andrew Robison, general manager of Talent Health Club (notice what the initials spell). “The feel, the taste, the effect are more what I’m looking for. … I really enjoy being able to smell and taste what each farmer is growing. I’m all about the experience of it.”

Shop professionals say that everyone is different, and what works wonderfully for one person is not what works for another. You have to keep experimenting until you find your thing, whether it’s vape, pipe, tincture, sublingual, topical, high-THC, whatever. There is no one-size-fits-all. And that especially goes for the various types of high.

Is this prolonged personal phase of experimentation and research a bad thing? Hardly. It makes you the connoisseur, researcher and scientist in one stroke. Plus, it’s fun. Or could/should be. If it doesn’t work, give it to someone else and try again. Often, you have to try more than one serving, but you should feel the effects early on, they say.

Vaping has its pluses, too, says Megan McFarland, budtender for Talent Health Club. It’s easier to conceal and doesn’t have the invasive smell. If you want to hide it from the relatives, you can easily retreat to the bathroom and do it.

“However, a lot of people like the ritual of smoking. It makes the scene comfortable,” she says. “I get a better effect (than vaping), and I’m a seasoned smoker. … Flower is more powerful but, of course, it may not be advisable for everyone, like people with asthma. But smoking brings people together. That’s for sure. You hang out and talk and snack, get creative with art and music. Some strains do give you the munchies. Some people say smoking it gets them ready to clean house — and makes the task less daunting.”

McFarland says they sell mostly dried flower (about 65 percent) and “a lot" of vape cartridges (about 20 percent), with 12 percent edibles and a little bit of topical.

Jill Lefebvre, manager of Breeze Botanicals in Ashland, notes, “Vaping is milder. It’s a more healthy direction and has very similar immediate effects as smoking. It’s extremely popular, so clean, convenient and noninvasive, but smoking is still more popular. Some people don’t enjoy the vaping high, though everyone is different. Smoking is a great ritual. It’s what I know and like.”

Paranoia while stoned is still an issue, says McFarland, adding, “Just tell the budtenders. They can direct you away to different strains."

Keeping in mind that it’s dif’rent strokes for dif’rent folks, McFarland, pointing to an array of prerolled joints, notes that her vaping pen was “good at first,” but weed is weed and nothing quite matches it.

In the end, you don’t have to cram your head with the strains, delivery systems, the body high vs. the mind high, but rather, just walk in there and tell them what you want to feel or heal. To prep yourself and save time, check out www.leafly.com. The most-visited pot website in the world, it explains every imaginable detail and, like a top-flight wine site, delves into qualities of each strain.

It’s entertaining, too, just to read the names of strains — Green Crack, Girl Scout Cookies, Blue Dream, the latter pitching this nigh-irresistible squib: “a sativa-dominant hybrid originating in California, has achieved legendary status among West Coast strains. Crossing a Blueberry indica with the sativa Haze, Blue Dream balances full-body relaxation with gentle cerebral invigoration. Novice and veteran consumers alike enjoy the level effects of Blue Dream, which ease you gently into a calm euphoria. Some Blue Dream phenotypes express a more indica-like look and feel, but the sativa-leaning variety remains most prevalent. With a sweet berry aroma redolent of its Blueberry parent, Blue Dream delivers swift symptom relief without heavy sedative effects. This makes Blue Dream a popular daytime medicine for patients treating pain, depression, nausea and other ailments requiring a high-THC strain."

Watch Blue Dream’s smooth, hip and modern video at www.leafly.com/hybrid/blue-dream. Then get out your pipe.

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