Trippy Cannabis Circles: 'One of the most powerful experiences of my lifetime'

Trippy Cannabis Circles: 'One of the most powerful experiences of my lifetime'

VicesSeptember 23, 2016 By Reilly Capps

The location of one of the most intense cannabis experiences in the world is a secret. I could say that it’s a compound in the Colorado foothills where shoes are optional, kale grows like weeds and you’re asked to put toilet paper in the wastebasket, not the “fragile septic system” — but that describes a hundred different places outside Denver. 

In the compound, you duck under a vine arch, past tiny dogs named Little Boy, Junior and Eastwood and step into a circular room where silks and a disco ball hang from high, skylighted ceiling. Here, at dusk, three single men and one couple, ranging in age from their mid-20s to their mid-60s, sit on mats with blankets and pillows. A tub of Play-Doh sits in front of each blanket. There’s hot tea. A MacBook Air bumps trippy grooves. Then all five load up their pipes with Super Silver Haze or Golden GOAT and fire up their lighters for a one and a half hour session of music and meditation designed to let them feel the mind-altering affects of cannabis as fully as humanly possible.

This is a new thing. As soon as cannabis was legalized for recreational use in Colorado and Washington nearly four years ago, companies have experimented with stoner events. Nearly all just added cannabis to stuff people like sober — symphonies, dinners, cooking classes and yoga. But one company, Medicinal Mindfulness, is making cannabis the main event, and putting on these events aiming to reintroduce to the mainstream what stoners, Indian mystics and Deadheads have always said: given the right conditions, cannabis can send you flying.

“We’re trying to see how much damage we can do,” smiles Medical Mindfulness’s Kelsey Armeni, mischievously. 

Rave reviews have poured in.

“It made me fall in love with cannabis again, and changed entirely my relationship with the plant,” says Chris Walker, 29, who says he’s had visions, and felt his entire body melt into the floor during these Conscious Cannabis Circles. Walker won’t smoke for months beforehand, so that the experience wallops him.

“It’s like, with the legalization of cannabis, a psychedelic snuck into the mainstream,” the organizer, Daniel McQueen says. “People just don’t know it yet.”

Tonight, as this session starts, Richard Dannelley, a 60ish author in t-shirt and sweats, is having trouble with his bowl. “Where’s my weed?” he asks. The weed fell out. Armeni, one of the two sober “sitters,” helps him reload. “Ok, cap-e-tan!” Dannelley says. “I’m loaded!” Like the others, Dannelley takes seven of the fullest, deepest hits, hits so big he looks like he’s choking. Then he pulls on a blindfold, turtles onto his side, and snuggles into his mat like a newborn baby snuggling into an incubator.

McQueen is going to try to make him feel it deep. McQueen is a therapist who’s been involved in the research into whether MDMA can cure Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For these sessions, he scrupulously obeys every Colorado law: 21 and over; bring your own trees — Medicinal Mindfulness doesn’t sell; it’s in a private residence; there’s a psychological survey to screen for unstable people and a big liability waiver for Medicinal Mindfulness. McQueen takes extra safety steps, too, like the two sober “sitters,” and requiring designated drivers.

Sure, things have gone awry. Spilled water. Knocked-over candles. In this space, McQueen encourages people to play the edge of how much they smoke, and a few people, consequently, have smoked too much and thrown up, and a few had mini panic attacks. But McQueen says he’s never had to call the paramedics or take anyone to the psych ward or anything.

The music gets weird — swamp sounds, disembodied breaths, didgeridoo and garbled voices — and McQueen keeps whispering “breathe, breathe” and shaking rattles and doing some kind of tai chi, and Armeni is burning sage, and if you were a certain type of squarish person it would annoy you endlessly, but if you have hippy tendencies and a desire to fall under a spell I can see how these little details would accumulate into a kind of hypnosis. I mean, I haven’t smoked weed in a long time, I’m sober and my eyes are open, and I almost feel like I’m in a trance.

Richard Dannelley, the author, isn’t sedated. He’s looking like he’s having convulsions, head bobbing up and down, feet twitching, hands waving like he’s conducting an invisible symphony. I can’t tell if he’s loving life or worrying about dying.

After thirty more minutes, the session ends. Dannelley suddenly bolts upright, bobs back and forth like a devotee at the Western Wall, kneels forward as if toward Mecca, then pops to his feet. He whips out his pipe to take another hit, but McQueen stops him. “We’re coming back now,” McQueen says. Dannelley nods and puts away the pipe.

“I just had one of the most powerful experiences of my lifetime,” Dannelley says, smiling big. “I was as high as I was when I took three hits of white lightning, (a flower seed that contains the psychedelic LSA). I would highly recommend it to the entire universe.”

“That’s great,” McQueen says, slyly. “Do you have the universe’s phone number?”

Dannelley smiles big. “I do now.”

The sitters hand out lemonade, strawberries and chocolate. One woman, Gina Robles, 28, plays with her Play-Doh. Armeni gives out paper and markers for people to draw about their experiences. No one does. The couple rubs each other, the younger guy rolls his neck, and the older guy doesn’t move. He’s out.

Others share their experiences. Some are nearly as crazy as Dannelley’s. Robles says she hallucinated. “I was a cobra, and I was eating a mouse, and I felt the mouse going through my body,” she says.

Again: sounds weird. But the truth is that a lot of people don’t know what to do when they smoke weed. They corpse on the couch. They retreat into the Internet. They don’t see the point. A Conscious Cannabis circle is somewhere new to go, and might maximize the effects of this newly legal mind-altering plant.

McQueen hopes to train others and expand across the country. For now, though, this remains a unique experience. Sessions cost between $55 and $150. More info here.

The participants seem happy and content. Ready for bed. Except Richard Dannelley. He wants more.

“Aren’t we gonna smoke any more ganja?” he asks.

“No,” says McQueen. “The session is over.”

Dannelley smiles and hugs him. And everyone walks outside to their designated drivers, in the semi-secret Colorado night.