As someone who was a staunch non-smoker for most of my life, and tried pot for the first time as a fully mature adult (and who took notes on the experience), I have a pretty unique perspective on the matter.
Everyone else I met at the Cannabis Cup had either been smoking pot for many years, often decades, or had started as a teenager (or both). Either way, everyone else had been smoking pot for a pretty long time.
Actually, I found it surprisingly easy to learn to smoke pot, although in retrospect, it makes sense. As a life-long asthma sufferer, I'm quite used to inhaling a strange gas and holding it for as long as possible. The mental block was thinking of pot smoke as a hideous, life-ruining substance instead of as a healing medical herb.
There are many ways of using cannabis, but the most common formats are: as hand rolled cigarettes ("joints"), in a pipe, or in a water-pipe ("bong"). It can also be cooked... "space cakes", cupcakes laced with marijuana extract, are for sale in a number of places. On Kristin's advice, we bought a small bong at the Bluebird, the first coffeeshop we went to, and having since tried the other popular methods, I recommend a water-pipe for the novice pot-smoker. The smoke is drawn through a reservoir of cold water, which acts as a filter and also cools the smoke down so that it isn't as painful on your throat.
The first time pot-smoker should also give careful thought to the setting in which they first try it out. Pick a location that's warm and comfortable. (If you can't get to one of the many nice coffeehouses in Amsterdam, I'd recommend your own living room.) Make sure there's nothing you need to do for the next couple of hours. In particular, make sure you don't need to drive anywhere.
It's also a really good idea to have an experienced guide with you during your first time out, someone who can teach you what to do and help make the experience a pleasant one for you.
This brings me to another of the many surprising things I learned about the art and practice of smoking pot: it's an extremely social activity. The people behind the War on Drugs portray all illegal drug use as a solitary and self-destructive activity, and that stereotype left me completely unprepared for the reality of the shared experience that is the smoking of pot.
One more thing: I would not recommend a week-long binge for the first timer.
As anyone who met me there will attest to, I was constantly taking notes in little notebooks during the Cannabis Cup. I wrote down all sorts of things, but a key question throughout my first experiments with pot was to evaluate the experience itself. I saw myself as a man with a mission: to go into the hazy world of the pot-smoker and come back with a description of what it's actually like to get stoned, from the perspective of someone who's never tried it, and for the benefit of anyone who's curious about what it's like.
One of the first and most surprising observations I had about marijuana is that it wasn't at all like I imagined it would be. Somehow, although I had no experience with it, I had developed my own ideas about what it would be like: I sort of figured it would be like watching a really strange movie, or having a bizarre dream. However, it isn't like that at all. It's more like you're IN the movie, or the bizarre dream. It's not a passive experience; instead, it changes the way you perceive things.
Attempting to describe what it's like is actually rather difficult. It's like trying to look at something that moves out of sight whenever you look it its direction. Marijuana does not make things look different, or sound different, or taste different... and yet, it does. You tend to notice things you'd never noticed before. You appreciate more fully details that you'd otherwise have skipped. But they are nonetheless no different than they were before you got stoned.
One night (Tuesday, actually), we were sitting in the Grey Area coffeeshop (a place where the chairs say hello) with Maria and Jessica, and I was discussing my desire to find a way of describing the experience to a virgin (although I didn't use that term at the time). Maria used the phrase "transportation of reality," which I really like. "Yeah, it's like going to another place," I replied.
It's kind of like that episode of Star Trek when Captain Kirk finds himself on the evil starship Enterprise, except that its a calm, beautiful place, not an evil one. It's like stepping into parallel dimension, or onto another plane of existence. Physically, everything is the same. It looks exactly like our own universe. And yet, something's different. It's hard to put a finger on it, but it's undeniable.
Your senses seem to become heightened. Physical sensations, like if someone runs their fingernails along your arm, are more intense. Things taste better. This of course is the well known "munchies" effect, and it's true. Imagine the most delicious tasting thing you know of, and then imagine turning the volume up a notch or two.
Time seems to slow down. There were times when I'd look at my watch, and then check it again after what seemed like an hour, to find that it had been 10 minutes. Contrary to the old saying, I was having fun, and yet the time was not flying.
Without question, it makes you feels good. I'd previously heard this effect described as a feeling of euphoria, although that seems a bit strong to me. Happy and contented seem more accurate.
The feeling creeps up on you. After you've had your first hit, you start wondering, "OK, when's it gonna start happening?" After awhile, you realize that it's already started. The transition is hard to identify. It's like trying to examine the moment of falling asleep. Try as you might, you always wake up the next morning with no memory of what it was actually like to fall asleep.
The first observation I had, when the effect had become distinctly noticeable, was that being stoned is something you need to consciously point out to yourself. One part of your brain starts wondering what's going on, and another part of the brain has to remind the first part that things will be different because of the drug. "When someone says 'I'm really stoned,'" I wrote in my log that first time, "it's like when someone in a dream pinches themselves and says 'I must be dreaming.'"
Here's another observation I wrote down: "When you think back on something you just said, you can't be sure if you actually said it or if you merely thought about saying it."
The effects last around 3 hours, although they get decreasingly intense as the time passes.