The first time I smoked cannabis, I was at a party and someone passed it to me. My boyfriend at the time leaned over and whispered “The rule is puff, puff, pass, you take two puffs and then you pass it.” I appreciated knowing the rules of etiquette, and appreciated the generous sharing even more. I never thought puff, puff, pass etiquette would become so complicated. But years later, as a long time medical cannabis patient, my views on the culture of Puff, Puff, Pass have become much more nuanced.
To be fair the term puff, puff, pass is not universal, in the ’60s and ’70s the rule was to not “bogart” the weed. One patient shared with me that she grew up with “Puff, Pass” and so was confused in college when her friends took two puffs before passing. The rule is slightly different in different times and places. Still, what carries through all these rules is the expectation of sharing in relatively equal portions. So what are the pros and cons of this implied social norm?
On one hand, the culture of sharing is a beautiful aspect of the cannabis using community. We like to share, and to do it in a fair and orderly manner. When people smoke together they bond. Some of the most unexpected groups of people come together over cannabis and a lot of that happens in circles of smokers, happily passing their joints.
But this cultural habit is not without its problems. One of the biggest issues is the transmission of germs. Sharing joints, pipes, e-cigs and anything else that you put your mouth against is a pretty personal act. Like kissing, it might bring you closer together, but it will also swap the germs in your mouths. Unfortunately we are likely puff, puff, passing any illnesses around the circle with our joints and pipes; putting ourselves and others at risk for anything from the flu to oral HPV. Even for healthy people, much less for patients with compromised immune systems, this can be a dangerous way to socialize.
The norm can also backfire against patients who need to use large amounts of cannabis to manage their condition. These patients are usually already pressed financially by their high cannabis bill, but need to be able to medicate throughout the day. If they are in a social situation with other cannabis users, they may feel pressured to share. Their five joints may seem like an incredible abundance to those around them, but when split between a few people will leave them in pain and under medicated. Those who need more, sometimes are pressured to share more, and can bear the financial burden of the sharing culture.
Not sharing is an option, but the social norm to share is often palpable and can bring negative social consequences. I’ve gotten glares and raised eyebrows, or annoyed comments when I’ve tried this in the past. At a recent wedding, as one of the few people who had brought any cannabis, I was surprised at how many people seemed to feel entitled to my joints. I was happy to share, and did so often, but I am also a chronic pain patient and didn’t feel like I should have to share my joint every time I needed to medicate. Still I got irritated comments from several friends and new acquaintances. “Are you gonna pass that to me before it’s out?” one person burst out with indignantly, as an unshared joint neared its end. I had shared with him earlier and now he seemed to think my cannabis was community property.
Other patients have shared similar stories about pressure to share. “If I roll it, it’s a big bummer,” one patient told me. “You just don’t know what everybody else’s etiquette is.” Because of this, some end up removing themselves from the social context in order to medicate, pushing them further away from other people, rather than closer together.
Ultimately, some kind of middle ground may be best. Puff, puff, pass is a beautiful thing but it can’t apply in every situation. I would never want to give up those circles of people smoking and sharing, but maybe we should all start bringing personal joint holders to the circle. If someone’s feeling sick or worried about getting sick, maybe they should smoke on a personal joint. Either way, the foundation of puff, puff, pass is generosity. Look for hygienic ways to share with others and if you notice someone bogarting their own joint, just remember that they may have a good reason for it.