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Tried and Tested; Emma D May and her ever-willing panel visit Amsterdam in search of the perfect spliff
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The Independent Culture
Dope: so many different types, so little time. There are the classic Summer of Love favourites, Northern Lights and Zero Zero, there's squidgy Afghan and Moroccan hashish, and there's skunk and its stronger sibling, super skunk. There are the bio-varieties, grown with the aid of nothing but water, soil and sunlight; then there are the hydroponic varieties, hot-housed with sodium lamps and complex irrigation systems. Which to choose? Answer: all of them.

THE PANEL

Anna, 26, a Scottish lawyer with a long and varied drug career; Vikram, 27, a trainee doctor at a London hospital; Tinky-Winky [not his real name], 30, a website designer and weekend drag queen; Dylan, 26, a small-time south-London drug-dealer, part-time eco-warrior and dole claimant. Notes taken by the Independent on Sunday's own columnist, Emma D May.

THE TEST

Due to unfortunate illegality of the soft drug cannabis in the UK, panel forced to go to Amsterdam - where soft drugs decriminalised - in order to perform legal tests in controlled laboratory conditions. Ten varieties tested over three-day period, covering hashish (cannabis resin), grass (cannabis buds) and skunk (enhanced cannabis). Panel rated hashish varieties against each other and grass varieties against each other. Methodological drawbacks included (a) piggybacking - where hard to tell which variety was doing what (b) high background consumption of "space-cookies" (hash cakes), dope-coffee and Hoegaarden beer (c) inflation of marks due to Dutch cannabis being so much better than UK varieties (d) some confusion caused by "cannabis cocktails" with several types loaded up into one joint (e) bouts of short-term memory loss (f) notes somewhat illegible.

***AFGHAN

pounds 4 for 1.2g

Deliciously black and squishy hash, coiled in the packet like a lump of Plasticine. No need to heat to get it to crumble, just roll it out Blue Peter style into a nice long sausage and lay it in a Rizla with some tobacco. Very mellow anti-Vietnam vibe. "Goes well with Bailey's," says Anna. "I can't believe Michael Hutchence is dead." After silently watching MTV with the sound off for an hour, panel agreed it had conversation-limiting effect. "But it's a lovely smoke," says Dylan, who gave every cannabis variety 10 out of 10 (except Northern Lights, which he gave 11 out of 10). Lost the Afghan half-way through, or, on other hand, might have smoked it all.

***SENSIMIL

Grass: pounds 4 for 1g

Lowest mark awarded for grass, but still a very pleasant sweet-smelling smoke with a tangy aftertaste. Less sticky than Super Silver Hydro, with delightful powdery dust that can be licked off fingers to enjoyable effect. Not the strongest grass but calming, laid-back, easy-going variety. Had serious "munchies" side-effect, but luckily Dutch pancakes and cannabis milkshakes on hand to counteract starvation. "It's, like, a really pretty colour," says Tinky-Winky.

*****NORTHERN LIGHTS

pounds 5 for 1g

Panel awarded the good old-fashioned hippy-smoke - sampled at several different coffeeshops, just to be thorough - first prize in the grass category. Powerful in effect, producing tingly limbs, general sense of well-being and relaxation, and recurring school-assembly-style fits of uncontrollable giggles. Sticky to roll. Panel also reported improved colour vision. "But that might be the Sensimil and the Afghan, erm, or the Hoegaarden and the Bailey's and the Space Shakes or the hash-cookies or the ... what were we talking about?" says Vikram.

****ORANGE BUD

Free from friendly coffee-shop owner

A new day, a new bud, donated gratis by a kindly Dutchman. "It's good for breakfast alongside a nice cappuccino," says Dylan, currently considering a career in advertising. "As smooth as air, it just lightly wafts down." Quite mellow most of the time with intense patches where brain enters outer space. Mixes well with most kinds of black. Caused Anna to pass out. High dry-mouth factor quickly solved by a couple of rounds of Hoegaarden. "I was just a bit overheated," says Anna.

****SUPER SILVER HYDRO

pounds 6 for 1g

"I hope you aren't thinking of going into town after smoking this," says kindly coffee-shop man, taking one look at the panel's pupils. "It's better to stay near to your hotel in case you need to lie down." "The ideal travelling companion for a visit to the Van Gogh Museum," says Vik- ram. Very sticky grass, hugely pungent, strong flavour. Instant kick which fades, followed by slow, creeping, relaxing effect. Panel reported disturbed visuals (particularly at famous Sunflowers painting) and old-person's hearing leading to repetitive conversations. Mixed well with Super Zero (panel felt obliged after coffee-shop man told it not to, under any circumstances, mix the two varieties). High giggle-factor, making even Tinky-Winky's jokes hilarious. Panel resolves to remember to use tobacco to dilute next variety. "What I want to know is, why did Van Gogh go and cut his ear off?" says Dylan.

****SUPER ZERO

pounds 8 for 1g

Very sticky smoke. Contact lens-wearing panel members reported misty vision with spooky lost-on-Dartmoor effect. "Can't even see the end of the pool cue," says Anna. Vikram and Dylan fast asleep balanced on bar stools after third spliff. Very smooth, very strong and, erm, notes tail off somewhat at this point. Something about the Summer of Love? "Bet Bob Marley never had this trouble," says Tinky-Winky, trying to get his contact lenses out, then remembering he has 20-20 vision.

*****SUPER MAROC

pounds 4 for 1g

Judged top of the hashish category by our, by now, very experienced judges. Solid, dense - slightly awkward to roll because doesn't burn very well. Not very squidgy but a good herby smell for a hash variety. Nice aftertaste with immediate buzz, followed by "sensation of general happiness" giving greater joythan all other varieties - and exceptionally high silliness effect causing panel to revert to primary school behaviour. Appears to cause hand tremors after a few joints, as notes on this category resemble brain-scan graph rather than actual handwriting. "Have you noticed how it makes everything get louder?" shouts Vikram. "WHAT?" shouts Dylan. "Vikram," said Anna in tiny playground voice, "Emma's stolen my packed lunch."

****THAI SUPER

pounds 8 for 2g

"Write down 'obsessive, repetitive movements'," announces Anna, as rest of panel sit bolt upright on coffee-shop sofa tapping manically to nasty Dutch disco music. Panel decides grass is a "bit speedy". Smoothish gear, despite being full of seeds, with a nice crackle when it burns. Not a very distinctive smell. Better when mixed with Super Zero or the ubiquitous Northern Lights. After a while, speedy effect fades to be replaced with an hour of stomach-cramp-inducing giggling, then mild hysteria. "Can you believe this is, like, commissioned work?" says Dylan. "Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ..."

***CRYSTAL SKUNK

pounds 4.50 for 1g

"Acts like a layer of cotton wool, insulating you from reality," says Dylan. "God, I'm deep." Er, no more notes.

STOCKISTS

Erm, none in the UK, but in Holland friendly coffee-shop people will help you get the most for your Guilders. Coffeeshops in most towns and cities, with highest concentration in the Warmoestraat near Amsterdam central station.

! For more of Emma D May's exploits, see 'Real Life'

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