I love a good joint. Typically, I mix from the many cultivars I have laying around. I’ll choose what’s about to go dry so I don’t waste it. A little scribble of ATF, a pinch of Sour Diesel, some Space Queen, oh, how I love Space Queen, a sprinkle of ice hash—twist it up—blast off.
Years ago, I spent a cloudy afternoon at Grey Area, a staple Amsterdam coffee shop. In Amsterdam, that means they sell weed...and a lot of it. And magic mushrooms, too. And space cakes. And, I’m high just thinking about it.
The gentleman next to me offered a toke. I took a generous hit, inhaled for the requisite 10 seconds, and then, nearly choked to death.
“What the hell is this?” I wheezed. “You’re a silly American,” he replied as he held out his hand, shaking mine. He introduced himself as Rudolf. This was my introduction to spliffs, those pesky European joints mixed with ungodly amounts of tobacco.
“Why on Earth would you add tobacco?” I stammered, gasping for air.
“We always smoke this way,” Rudolf insisted. “Because it tastes good.”
His friends agreed, “My brother taught me to smoke...and showed me how to roll joints...we always add tobacco.” As I looked around the room, a shy guy in the corner murmured, “I do it to save money.” Suddenly, I’m hosting a session of Spliffy’s Anonymous. I swiveled around the bar, noticing most everyone had a pack of cigarettes. Good habit.
“I mean, it’s convenience. I smoke both and enjoy the two together,” chimed Renae, the gentleman’s girlfriend. Her voice pleasing as I drifted off into hyperspace. I was now sufficiently stoned.
The experience left me wondering if this was purely a cultural thing and how it came to be.
Turns out, in the 2014 Global Drug Survey, out of 38,000 cannabis users sampled, only 7% of U.S. cannabis users added tobacco to their marijuana. Meanwhile, nearly 80% of all dope fiends living elsewhere made it a regular habit.
Both cannabis and tobacco have been used in a spiritual, religious, or shamanic context dating back further than 5000 BCE. There are references to both in Greek mythology. Hindu saints used cannabis and tobacco for centuries in Nepal and India. The first European explorers to reach the Americas told stories of rituals performed by native priests who smoked themselves into intoxication with assortments of herbs.
The Native Americans have used tobacco in ceremonies to cultivate a relationship with the energies of the cosmos, our Creator; tobacco smoke rises sky high while the plant’s roots travel deep into the earth, connecting the worlds.
And, we all know deep rooted Rastafari culture, the one Bob Marley so endearingly made world famous, is accustomed to aligning cannabis spiritually with all manners of ceremony and appreciation.
The further back you look, civilizations have been smoking something for a long, long time. And, often, people were smoking all sorts of something to get high. You think a little cannabis and tobacco is hardcore? Try the ancient ritual of mixing banisteriopsis, psychotria, and diplopterys — the blend of plant botanicals better known as ayahuasca, aya, yagé. Yes, you drink that, not smoke it, but shit your pants you will. Try one of William Shakespeare's infamous cannabis, cocaine, tobacco cocktails he enjoyed regularly from his pipe. The man apparently loved an earlier form of Method Man’s beloved Tical. The Beastie Boys may or may not have rolled their spliffs with a bit of Sherm, or PCP. When people imbibe, they tend to imbibe. When they smoke, they tend to smoke. No sense in stopping at weed. Bring it all the way to 7th gear. Dip that shit in crack, meth, deemsters, roll it up in a blunt.
People, tobacco, and cannabis have had an intimate long-standing relationship. Persia’s hookahs, for example, were often filled with tobacco, cannabis, and hash. In China, from the 17th century and beyond, opium smokers often didn’t stop at that; cannabis and hash often compliment the poppy demon well.
Pay-Pay, a rolling paper company formed in Spain in 1703, made some of the first commercial rolling papers. And you know, most people, including George Washington, were tossing in a little bit of sweet cannabis flower from time to time.
By the 1800s, hashish came to Europe: Napoleon’s troops brought it back north after his ridiculous “rule” of Egypt. European interest grew as doctors and botanists touted its therapeutic uses. Eventually, though, Prohibition began across the map. By sprinkling weed inside a cigarette, it could help mask the smell. But as an American, and ex-cigarette smoker, I both love and hate the idea of a spliff. It’s a special occasion to consume nicotine. And, usually, it’s the fantasy I love. The reality leaves a weird taste in my mouth.
In the end, I’m a purist. Cannabis only, please.
It’s a Big World
Modern day smoking preferences differ all across the globe. In India, it’s chillum, or chilam — a straight conical pipe made of clay and used since the eighteenth century by holy men in India. Cannabis is cheap and abundant there. Packing a big chillum is prefered over spliffs and joints.
In much of western Europe, it’s spliffs. In places like Paris and London, tobacco culture is still seen as somewhat fashionable, although that’s waning. It’s the same in Amsterdam, where recreational cannabis consumption is status-quo. In the immortal words of Rudolf, “It’s a more mellow, even feel.”
I agree. It is. A spliff rolled with some tobacco definitely smooths out the experience for me. But, since I quit smoking, I can’t handle the tar. Maybe that’s why so few people in the U.S. roll spliffs. Big tobacco took a big hit a few years ago and cigarette prices went through the roof. They’re nearly twelve-dollars a pack now. Just fifteen years ago they were three-dollars. 1969, thirty-nine cents.
The history of cannabis tradition is largely an oral one. Prohibition suppressed many writers from speaking about their experiences over the years. Certainly there’s Burroughs and his Moroccan hashish, Thompson and his...well...everything.
I asked notable cannabis blogger and photographer, SheSmokesJoints, to weigh in on the debate: “I enjoy both spliffs and pure joints. I first learned how to roll while hitchhiking through Europe and, literally, no one rolled pure joints. They all had excuses ranging from "it’s impossible to smoke indoor pure, it'll get you too high" to "it's a waste." I personally feel a lovely nostalgia from a good spliff. I normally smoke pure joints for the hard hitting high. Spliffs tend to have a creeping, relaxed high.”
I say, smoke it how you like it. Enjoy what you will. We all have our rituals. Maybe it’s a cigarette after sex or a drink on New Year’s Eve. I like to get high and dance. I can see how cannabis and tobacco naturally end up in a rolling paper together. Whatever the debate, relax and spark up.