Joe Dolce's Adventures in Cannabis

The conversation about pot was marooned between two varying points of view represented by “the U.S. government and High Times” on either side
Cannabis has earned a place in the pharmacopeia, and society, says the author Joe Dolce in “Brave New Weed.” Henny Garfunkel

Joe Dolce is not a stoner. The author of “Brave New Weed: Adventures Into the Uncharted World of Cannabis,” he makes a point of that, but also has no hesitance in “piercing the veil” and talking from a user’s as well as a researcher’s point of view about pot.

The former editor in chief of Details and Star magazines, and a writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Travel + Leisure, and other publications, Mr. Dolce, who lives in Amagansett and New York City, operates Joe Dolce Communications, a presentation and media-training company. 

He had no plans to spend years traveling the globe to meet key players in the world of pot, from the Cannabis Cup competition in Amsterdam and laboratories in Israel where researchers examine the extraordinary properties of the plant, to grow sites in California and the offices of new pot entrepreneurs in Colorado. 

But, as he describes in the book, one day his cousin told him about a new hobby: growing pot. “He introduced me to a strain called Super Lemon Haze — which was like my mind on jazz,” Mr. Dolce said in a recent interview. “It was a delight — stimulating, thoughts ticking through the brain.” 

He had just had a birthday, a longtime relationship had ended, and he felt due for a shift. 

“I went and started looking,” the author said. He discovered that information about cannabis — the target, he said, of a political and propaganda war in this country since the 1930s, which has obscured the reality about the use and benefits of the plant — stemmed only from widely disparate sources. The conversation about pot was marooned between two varying points of view represented by “the U.S. government and High Times” on either side.

“There was no one speaking to me about weed.” And, the author said, what information was generally available was skewed to either side as well.

He resolved to look at the topic “across science, the culture, the economy. I wanted to paint a real picture: What are people doing, what are the facts behind it, and what are the effects on society at large?”

“The new world of weed is about so much more than getting high. It’s about science, the chemistry of emotions, politics, criminal justice, entrepreneurship, and, of course, a lot of money.”

“My whole job was trying to parse the fiction from the fact,” Mr. Dolce said. “I went for the highest authorities — some of them who used the plant, some of them who never even smelled it.” 

“The journey itself was fun,” he said. “I tried to write it as a mystery, in a way, that I was solving as I went.” 

Getting the right tone, sounding “both cool enough and respectable,” was the key. With both well-researched passages that provide the reader with fascinating cannabis facts, and the author’s anecdotes about how he navigated the world of pot production and smoking, he seems to have hit the mark.

Every step of the way, from details of the U.S. disinformation campaign about the “evil” weed (remember “Reefer Madness”?) to the known and only suspected properties of cannabis, or an inside look at the cannabis biz, the process was surprising, Mr. Dolce said. 

On his website, BraveNewWeed.com, he writes that he “was nervous at first about telling people” what he was doing.

“I started smoking when I was a teenager, and used it all the way through college,” Mr. Dolce said in the interview. But at a certain point in life, “I had sort of lost the reason I had used the weed.” And, he said, pot itself had changed from back in the day into a much stronger product that could more easily evoke unwanted experiences.

When he started researching cannabis and told people about his project, “I got a very consistent response,” Mr. Dolce said. “Either, can you get me some, tell me more, or, my cousin has this or that disease — would it work? My lawyer, my broker, accountants, my colleagues in the media all wanted to know more, or said, ‘I’ve been smoking for years.’ ” He likened the finally honest conversations about pot to the process of coming out as a gay man — what happens when a discussion leads to deeper understanding and broad generalization becomes impossible, when someone becomes “less other,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m coming out again; here we go again.’ ”

In Amsterdam, “I had a very bad time,” he said. “Too many white guys in dreads, and too many people in tie-dye. I wasn’t finding a group of people who were me.”

Then he went to visit a Denver resident who was “cutting-edge at the time in making oils and concentrate.” It was his experience there after trying a “dab” — a tiny, potent concentration of THC and cannabinoids — when he vomited violently after inhaling, that led him to deeper investigations of how pot works on the body.

“I went to Israel to really learn the chemistry and biochemistry,” interviewing pre-eminent researchers there, Mr. Dolce said. Despite recent legalization for medical as well as recreational use in some states, restrictive laws in this country that place marijuana in the category of “highly addictive” drugs with “no medical benefit” constrain scientific study of cannabis here.

“I felt it was very important to learn that complicated science and write it for my peers.” He learned, for instance, about how properties in cannabis interact with receptors in the human brain and body, and was left with a strong belief in the beneficial properties of the weed. 

Not only can it relieve suffering from a host of diseases, but it can be “a wellness product,” Mr. Dolce said. “Let’s reframe this plant,” he said. “Let’s think of it as something that may actually be good for you. Let’s look at all the properties.” 

“All of my research showed me how effective this could be. I don’t believe in miracles. And I also believe in allopathic [traditional Western] medicine — I think it works.” Nonetheless, for insomnia, pain, or other, more serious diseases, “I would use cannabis.”

In fact, for a touch of arthritis, he obtains transdermal patches that deliver a cannabis dose — not something that’s legally obtainable in New York for that use.

“I think it’s outrageous that I have to smuggle an analgesic made from a plant from one state to another,” Mr. Dolce said. Soon, though, he expects laws and policies to change as we reach “a tipping point,” with increased legalization of cannabis use. Medical and even recreational use of marijuana is legal now in several states, and Canada is not far behind.

“In a way, cannabis has been a very large clinical trial for 10,000 years. The ancients really understood this plant,” and science today is proving some of their beliefs and theories.

“Can we use it mindfully, can we use it for retreat, can we use it for deeper connection, to heighten the senses? I see it as another portal to approach life.”

On a bike ride around his Amagansett neighborhood after taking a toke, “I smell the pine trees more vividly, I feel the wind differently,” he said. “It’s an enhanced state; it’s really wonderful. And then when I stop to eat afterwards, I taste the food wonderfully.” 

“That to me is a great simple pleasure of life. It’s just completely pleasant. And why not?” 

“It’s about more than getting high. It can be as complicated as the neurotransmitter system of the body, or it can be as simple as smelling the pine trees.” 

Heading back to the East End after a cross-country book tour, Mr. Dolce will be at BookHampton in East Hampton on Saturday at 5 p.m. 

“I want people to come ask questions,” he said. “Let’s talk about this.”