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Smoking a Joint Is a Journey

Photos courtesy of Nikki Lastreto


Smoking a Joint Is a Journey

Nothing quite compares to inhaling a perfectly rolled joint, filled with fresh, high-quality herb. It’s a multi-sensory experience that allows you to truly appreciate the magic of the entire cannabis plant.

I would like to sing the praises of smoking a well-rolled joint. By that, I mean a joint made with the finest organic flower, grown biologically in living soil in the sun for the long season. Then, properly dried and aged to realize and reveal the full power and complexity of the cultivar. As the popularity of dab rigs, vape pens, vaporizers, Volcanoes, Puffcos, pre-rolls and other forms of inhaling cannabis keeps increasing, let’s not forget that it all starts with the unadulterated flower.

Appreciating the Art of the Joint

Smoking a really good, well-rolled joint is a journey. As a smoking experience, it stimulates our olfactory and gustatory sensitivities, where the various smells and tastes bring to mind myriad memories associated with them. Each different aroma and flavor can give rise to different sets of associations from the olfactory and gustatory memory. These memories are the content of the smoking journey.

The experience is further heightened when you roll the joint yourself. You always start with a fresh, clean rolling paper and freshly ground flowers. There’s no bowl to clean, no pipe stem to unclog, no bong water to spill, no device to recharge, no flimsy dried-out pre-roll.

As you break up and grind the bud, in addition to the delightful aromas, you get tactile and visual stimulation, triggering memories and references to the sight and feel of previously enjoyed cannabis flowers.

Swami's well-rolled joint
Swami’s well-rolled joints are legendary.

Why I Prefer Joints

I’ve been smoking joints for over fifty years, so with all the other novel and unique options for inhaling weed, why do I still smoke joints? Obviously, the weed itself is so much better now, with higher cannabinoid percentages and more intense and varied aromatics. And there are amazing new cultivars being developed every year that I can’t wait to smell and smoke. Cannabis connoisseurship is alive and well.

On an experiential level, as a smoker, there’s something profoundly satisfying about a really good smoke, especially one hand-crafted from the finest ingredients available. I still enjoy a fine hand-rolled Cuban cigar on the rare occasion one appears.

But here is the underlying reason: Compared to the other modes of inhalation, burning a joint delivers the greatest spectrum of volatile organic compounds contained in the cannabis flower. Mind you, scientists have detected nearly one thousand different compounds in cannabis plants, including almost 150 cannabinoids and about two hundred terpenes. Each of these compounds first activates and then “boils” or vaporizes at different temperatures.

Activating the Aromatics

Although the conversation about the fragrance and flavor of cannabis is dominated by the discussion of the terpenes measurably present, these volatile organic compounds comprise only about 40 to 50% of the nose of a cannabis bud. Since they are the ones measured, they are the ones most talked about.

California cannabis labs typically test for 14 cannabinoids and 39 terpenoids. This means that there are potentially 947 other compounds they’re not testing for, many of which are, like terpenes, volatile organic compounds—all of which may be inhaled from a joint.

Cannabis plants, like most plants, produce many aromatic compounds in response to their environment, for purposes of attracting, repelling or signaling. These are volatile organic compounds such as esters, phenols, acids, alcohols, thiols, volatile sulfur compounds, hydrocarbons, aldehydes, benzenoids, etc.

I call these the “Aromatics.” It is the ratio of these various volatile compounds in combination with terpenes, which creates the total “nose” and “taste” of a cannabis flower. And these several volatile organic compounds all have different activation and vaporization points.

How, then does smoking a joint deliver all these compounds?

How to Properly Smoke a Joint

After the joint is rolled, I like to take a “dry hit” by puffing on the joint before lighting it, so you inhale the volatile compounds that off-gas at room temperature. This in-breath through the mouth should reaffirm or corroborate the aroma inhaled through the nose.

Now, light the joint and take a few shallow puffs to get it lit properly, and then take your regular hit. The cherry is around 450°F, vaporizing some compounds at that temperature. But at the mouth end of the joint, the temperature will have gone up only a few degrees above room temperature and at the midpoint of the joint the temperature will be somewhere between 100ºF to 200ºF, activating then vaporizing the volatile compounds at their trigger points.

As the glowing red ember slowly advances through the joint, the temperature at the mouth end rises on a continuous scale from room temperature until it approaches the point of combustion, activating then vaporizing each compound on the way.

This means that you inhale all of those hundreds of organic compounds. This is the journey of smoking, taking you on a trip into the memories catalogued through the senses.

‘Best Hit Is the Next to Last Hit’

And often, the best hit of all comes in the last inch of the joint. All the flavored oils produced in the joint from condensation at different temperatures aggregate near the mouth as the joint is smoked.

This phenomenon of the “best hit is the next to last hit,” only happens if the joint is made from organic flower, grown biologically in living soil. It also has to have no tip, because the paper or glass tips change the flavor of the condensed oils. In a tip-less joint, cannabis smoke only flows through cannabis flower, producing pure, unadulterated flavor. It helps that my joints, firm and fully packed, weigh 2.5 grams in a single 1¼ rolling paper. A Swami Joint is a real fatty.

well-rolled joint

Temperature’s Rising

All other inhalation methods do not have this built-in, gradually rising temperature change as you smoke through the device. Most vaporizers don’t allow you to change the temperature as you smoke, or you’re required to do it manually, step by step.

As a result, most vapes and carts deliver only a very narrow range of volatile compounds at a pre-set temperature. For this reason, almost everything I have smoked in a device seems to taste more or less the same no matter what the cultivar, because it’s always set at the same temp, vaporizing the same volatiles.

A Natural Selection: Enjoying the Whole Plant

Of course, I know everyone has their favorite way of inhaling or ingesting the sacred weed and there are many rational and convincing arguments in favor of each method. But this is why I smoke well-rolled joints: It gives me the most of what the whole plant has to offer while providing a thoroughly enjoyable smoking experience. It’s about the journey.

Now, if I were offered a bowl or chillum of some Frenchy Cannoli-style hash, mixed with some flower of the same cultivar, I wouldn’t refuse. But that’s a whole other journey.

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