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Coronavirus and weed: The pandemic changed how we get high

Nearly every contour of our lives has shifted to fit the new reality of the pandemic. For those of us who use cannabis, that includes how we imbibe. Passing a blunt, once a chill bonding ritual, now carries great risk, and the respiratory symptoms of COVID-19 have made some of us wary of smoking, period. Here’s how the pandemic has changed how we get high, plus some suggestions for how to remix your weed habits during this strange time.

For starters, consuming cannabis — especially with friends— requires way more planning now. A self-described germaphobe, 38-year-old Bethany Moore of Denver, Colorado had already mostly avoided sharing joints and vape pens pre-pandemic, but now, it’s “totally off the table unless it's a partner or member of your household you trust.” For the handful of small quarantine pod gatherings she’s hosted, she’s encouraged guests to bring their own joints and vapes, and asks them not to share. “Everyone seems to get it, and has come prepared,” says Moore, the deputy director of communications at the National Cannabis Industry Association.

Liz Benton, 34, of San Francisco, shares her weed at socially distanced hangouts, but in the form of products intended for one person. “If I’m with people who I know will want to partake but never have any of their own, I bring extra,” she explains. Instead of letting them use her vape pen, she provides flower and rolling papers, for example, or individually wrapped edibles.

Truth be told, there are a lot of options, if you're open to them. Darwin sells a 10-pack of individually wrapped gummies that come in five fruity flavors. One of my fave new edibles are Select Nano Gummies in Sour Blues, a sugary-tart, lemon-blueberry confection. Each gummy contains five milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the compound in weed that gets you stoned, enough to give me a gentle, giggly buzz.

Passing out pre-rolls is another COVID-friendly way to get lifted with friends. Besito’s 10-pack tins come in indica, sativa, a hybrid, and will make you the most popular person at your next socially distanced hangout. They’re fun-sized, which is a plus — otherwise, they can be hard to finish in one sitting, making you more likely to share or save for later, at which point it’ll probably taste pretty stale and gross.

Or, think beyond the usual joints and edibles, and pour a round of a cannabis-infused drink, like this one by Saka, which is made with Chardonnay grapes and has a buttery, tropical flavor profile.

The pandemic has also changed our individual weed consumption habits. “I personally have increased my edibles consumption during the pandemic as a way to give my lungs a rest,” Moore says. These days, I get high almost exclusively on edibles, also out of concern for my lungs. There's some limited but concerning research about how smoker and vapers are more vulnerable to coronavirus complications. Plus, smoking usually causes me to have intense coughing and sneezing fits, which would understandably freak out the people around me right now.

How we spend our money on weed has also evolved. If you buy from a dealer, in-person transactions can be challenging, product can be hard to come by, and handling cash can feel a little unsafe too. Some people began hoarding right at the beginning of the pandemic. All that being said, those committed to financially supporting the person who's been selling to them for years have found ways to be as safe as possible about it — and that takes being way more intentional about copping.

Since cannabis qualified as an essential business in almost all places where it’s legal when shelter-in-place orders began, “people could still access their cannabis, but online pre-orders were encouraged, and people stocked up on bigger orders so they could take fewer trips out of the house,” Moore says. “I know I did.”

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Indeed, basket sizes — the amount of money spent per customer transaction — began to increase in March in the U.S., according to Cooper Ashley, a data analyst at Headset, a business intelligence platform for the legal cannabis industry. They peaked in April and stayed steady into August, indicating the buying pattern Moore described: fewer, bigger purchases.

Basket sizes also grew in Canada starting in March, but shrank since peaking in April, toward pre-pandemic sizes, possibly reflecting greater certainty around COVID-19 in Canada than in the U.S. (As of November 12, Canada has had more than 282,000 total reported cases, while the U.S. has had more than 10 million, according to the New York Times.)

A water bong can be a way to conserve your supply and minimize trips to the dispensary — for some of us, we’re pretty much good after one substantial hit. This beauty from Higher Standards can double as a coffee table piece, its neck and base adorned with Keith Haring’s signature vibrant artwork.

Moore adds that “the already-booming interest” in products containing cannabidiol, or CBD — the compound in weed that doesn’t get you high but purportedly has anti-inflammatory and other health benefits — “are also of interest to consumers as they're looking for ways to boost their immune systems.”

With no end of the pandemic in sight, we might as well find opportunities in it where we can. The constraints it imposes forces us to get creative about how we enjoy cannabis, alone and with others, and try products we wouldn’t have otherwise. I’m personally excited about getting high while I hydrate, and expanding my cannabis-infused seltzer horizons.