To understand the soul of a drug, all you have to do is look at how it is used. Imagine walking into a bathroom at a party. There is a select group of people inside, or maybe just one person. They’re bent over the sink or the top of the toilet snorting lines of cocaine. Perhaps they invite you to join, but more likely, they scream a cocaine scream for you to close the door and get out. It’s a solitary drug and a stark comparison to the puff, puff, pass nature of cannabis. How many friendships have been forged over the passing of a joint?
COVID-19 is a destroyer of many things, and puff, puff, pass culture is one of its casualties. “You can spread coronavirus by sharing any type of paraphernalia together such as a joint, as you have to directly place your hands on it to use it, and then someone else puts their mouth to it too, which is pretty much direct contact,” says general practitioner Giuseppe Aragona, M.D. “I would suggest that you do not share anything at the moment, down to these risks that could end up meaning that someone in the group catches the virus, or even all of you if you all share.”
Cannabis is a community-oriented substance. It’s safe, and up until recently is safe to share, bringing people together. But now, cannabis communities such as NSFW, the New Society for Wellness, a sex and cannabis club based in New York City are changing the protocol to keep members safe. “We reopened the clubhouse two weeks ago with new COVID guidelines,” founder and chief conspirator Daniel Saynt. “Now we keep it at about 10 percent capacity which is no more than 20 people at a time including the instructors. We have a policy to encourage people to wear a mask inside the house. There are sanitizing stations at the door,” Saynt says.
A year ago, a trip to NSFW meant sharing joints in a circle with friends while making new ones. While the sexy aspect of the members-only club is indeed much of the appeal, the weed makes the club family. NSFW isn’t just the place you go to get laid, it’s where you spend Thanksgiving (I mean Danksgiving or a Thanksgiving meal infused with cannabis) with a chosen family. Saynt says he’s seen fewer people sharing joints, and more holding onto their own or opting for other intake methods, such as edibles.
While the research is based on cigarettes and nicotine vaporizers, evidence suggests that smokers are at greater risk for severe COVID, giving cannabis users another good reason to switch to edibles. “As a medical provider, I am recommending that my patients seek alternatives to smoking and vaping cannabis for the time being, and instead use cannabis products such as tinctures, capsules, patches, or edibles to treat their underlying conditions that have been clinically diagnosed,” says Laszlo Mechtler, MD, Medical Director of Dent Neurologic Institute.
Communal Cannabis In The Time of Coronavirus
When people do smoke with others, it’s no longer new friends, but quarantine partners, or “pods” of folks they trust. Melissa Vitale, NSFW’s publicist, says she only shares with people she’s close with and trusts, such as Saynt. “Daniel is someone who if I need to I can go and live at the clubhouse with my cat, I can. He is someone I consider more family than some of my family members,” Vitale says. When her job as a publicist asks her to have cannabis available for members of the press, she implements new safety measures. “The way I’ve been mitigating the press is that I have another joint to pass, and I have a little joint tip. The purpose of my joint tip is not for the safety of people who are smoking my joint, it’s for my safety,” Vitale says.
We can switch to edibles, we can only share with quarantine partners, we can put condoms on our joints. What we can’t do is expect puff puff pass culture to return to pre-COVID days. “Amongst people who are with their partner, they are sharing. But I think sharing with new people is definitely a thing of the past,” Saynt says. The shift begs the question: How do we maintain the community element of cannabis while protecting our health?
The first answer is to get creative. In addition to reusable joint tips, we can share edibles, and we can add cannabis tincture to drinks and sip them like alcohol. “We have someone bringing over a Volcano vaporizer. We have alcohol wipes so you can still use it together. That way it will still allow people to have that smoking experience without having to pass around joints,” Saynt says.
But what truly unites the cannabis community during times such as these is respect. Puff, puff, pass circles represent the heart of pot, but right now, the heart of the community is passing up, rather than passing around the joint. So always carry condoms and BYOB.