The complete guide to smoking marijuana in Amsterdam coffeeshops
Vivien Yap plays marijuana tourist in Amsterdam on the pretence of research to compile this complete guide to smoking weed in Amsterdam coffeeshops
My imagination has run wild. I’ve half-expected to ride on a pink unicorn and meet God where the rainbow ends after a few puffs, but not in my wildest dream would I have foreseen myself discussing humanity, the impact of legislation and even medical journals with intellectual smokers in an Amsterdam coffeeshop. It’s a pleasant surprise, one that has tipped the scales of normality for me.
My friend Marlies and I are attending a free cannabis Smoke Session hosted by Amsterdam Genetics (a leading seed seller) and Coffeeshopamsterdam (a coffeeshop operator). In the dimly-lit basement of this cannabis-friendly café, we watch Tony Balboa the teacher work. His eyes focused, hands steady like a surgeon but with the flair of an artist as he crushes weed and hash, mixing them, rolling joints and filling up chambers (for vaporisers); every step is skilfully executed. It’s quite fascinating to watch, I must say.
Between actions, he talks about each and every strain like they are his precious heirlooms. He explains the unique tastes and discusses the effects of being high versus stoned. The aim of the smoking session is to educate – get smart before you get high, so you can avoid going after weed, hash or edibles that don’t match your taste or experience. Seasoned smokers nod in agreement while I, the complete novice, scribble down notes frantically.
I’ve never smoked anything in my life. I come from a place in the tropics where smoking cannabis carries a maximum of 10 years in prison, not to mention the shame it would bring to your family and break your mama’s heart, which is unthinkable from the perspective of filial piety. However, despite being illegal, a national research arm of my country has started to develop synthetic cannabinoids with an attempt to establish a ‘bio-based’ economy. It’s evidently clear that cannabis, be it in its glorious dried form or as a medicinal compound, is a trillion-dollar business which many governments, corporations and individuals are eager to get a share of. So it feels right, that at this moment I’m here attending a smoking session and filling huge gaps in my knowledge.
Sitting next to me is a blond, blue-eyed 22-year-old hipster from England. Back at home he stocks shelves at a local supermarket, dreaming of Japan and travelling around the Far East. But today he roams from one coffeeshop to another in Amsterdam searching for some sort of magic elixir. He arrived at the smoke session an hour late, eyes red-rimmed and 20 euros lighter in his wallet from having smoked a few joints beforehand. I thought his soul had left his bodily shell and he was far too wasted to hold a conversation but I couldn’t be more wrong. We hit it off. Like two school kids at the back of a class, we kept our heads close to each other as we exchanged strong views about legalisation and medical benefits of cannabis in a series of rapid but soft whispers. He is well-read and eloquent, quoting statistics and clinical trials like a priest quotes verses from the bible. I studied him for a few good minutes. Smart and streetwise, he portrays a good number of millennials who don’t necessarily use marijuana for the sake of getting stoned. Unlike the hippies of yesteryear, they tend to research and understand the potential risks versus medicinal benefits before smoking. I’m thoroughly impressed.
Kudos to my friend Marlies, Tony the teacher and ‘Justin’ the hipster, all of them have selflessly taught me so much about cannabis, I can compile this complete guide about smoking cannabis in Amsterdam coffeeshops and share it with you.
Cannabis vs marijuana
Although these two words are used interchangeably all the time and throughout this article, technically the term cannabis refers to the plant (genus) itself whereas marijuana or weed is more of a nickname for the recreational drug by-product.
What’s the marijuana situation in Amsterdam?
Contrary to popular belief, marijuana is not legal in the Netherlands but is tolerated with a surprisingly high threshold, so much so that the government grants permits to coffeeshops – in the Netherlands this term is synonymous with an establishment selling cannabis products, non-alcoholic drinks and snacks, as opposed to a place just serving coffee. Licensed coffeeshops are allowed to store a maximum of 500g of weed, hash and space cake at the premises at any one time. They can sell to customers who are above 18 years old; with each customer being permitted to buy a maximum of 5g of cannabis in any of the following forms: loose buds, hash, pre-rolled or edibles.
You can’t smoke cannabis anywhere as you please in the Netherlands either, though you can generally smoke it in a licensed coffeeshop, and sometimes in a pub or café if the owner allows, like in the case of Coffeeshopamsterdam café which is conveniently located near its cannabis shop. To make it even more complicated, some coffeeshops don’t allow you to smoke a joint that is mixed with tobacco (or spliff).
Why is cannabis so popular nowadays?
Cannabis coffeeshops in Amsterdam have been going strong for four decades, welcoming locals and tourists to purchase weed and hash from a safe environment rather than seeking out some dodgy backstreet dealer.
While Amsterdam solidifies its position as the go-to marijuana tourism destination in Europe, cannabis has received much greater global attention in the last few years thanks to Uruguay, Canada and ten progressive states (plus Washington DC) in America having chosen to legalise the cultivation, acquisition, possession and consumption of cannabis.
Also, we the general public now possess a better understanding of cannabis and how it reacts with our endocannabinoid system. To keep this biology lesson short and simple, let’s start by stating the fact that we humans have cannabinoid receptors throughout our body including the brain. These receptors are responsible for regulating a myriad of physiological and cognitive processes from appetite, fertility to memory. Cannabinoid acids found in marijuana can activate these receptors when they are decarboxylated (activated by heat) and release THC and CBD which we will cover later.
How do you go about visiting coffeeshops in Amsterdam?
First of all, seek out a reputable coffeeshop; you can check out this post on the 10 best coffeeshops in Amsterdam or visit the Coffeeshop Information Centre once you’re in Amsterdam.
Walk into one and ask to see the menu. The ‘budtenders’ are likely to ask you the following questions which are also covered in this guide:
- Are you looking for hash or weed?
- Do you want loose buds, pre-rolled or edibles?
- Do you want to experience a high or get stoned?
Bear in mind that choosing a cannabis product is a highly personalised decision as each strain has a unique taste and produces different effects.
What’s the difference between weed and hash?
When a cannabis plant is in full bloom, the buds are harvested and processed in two ways. The first step is to hang them up to dry and produce weed or marijuana; while another process involves separating out trichomes (the shiny and sticky epidermis) from the dried buds via fine sieves or other methods, resulting in a block of brownish substance called hash or hashish.
The primary functions of trichomes are defence, protecting the plant against fungus, insects and other environmental elements. Because trichomes contain a high concentration of cannabinoids and terpenes which give each strain a unique aroma and flavour, you can expect hash to taste differently from weed and you are likely to experience different effects too.
Each hash and weed strain can be further broken down into three distinct groups: Indica, Sativa or hybrid; and the next answer aims to provide some clarity.
What’s the difference between Indica, Sativa and hybrid?
Originating from the Hindu-Kush regions in Central Asia, the Indica strain has wider, thicker leaves and is easier to grow. When smoked or consumed, it produces a calming effect and makes you want to curl up and have a good nap. This effect is also referred to as being ‘stoned’. Indica-dominant strains are known to relieve anxiety, insomnia, pain and muscle spasms.
On the other hand, the Sativa strain has slender leaves and the plants can shoot up to 12ft high and enjoy a longer flowering cycle when grown in a warm climate. This strain gives you a more uplifting high and is generally best for tourists who want to make the most out of Amsterdam after visiting a coffeeshop. Sativa-dominant strains are known to help with depression, ADD, fatigue and mood disorders.
Another strain that you’re likely to come across in Amsterdam is Ruderalis. Short and stalky, this strain has low concentrations of THC and is usually mixed with other strains.
It’s hard to find a pure Sativa or Indica strain. In fact most coffeeshops in Amsterdam sell cannabis that is a hybrid of Indica, Sativa and Ruderalis . For example the popular Lemon Ice strain is made up of 40% Indica and 60% Sativa; while Blue Amnesia is made up of 20% Indica, 50% Sativa and 30% Ruderalis.
What’s the difference between loose buds, pre-rolled and an edible?
If you’re a novice and you don’t have any paraphernalia like grinders and rolling papers, opt for pre-rolled. A pre-rolled joint can come in two forms – weed or hash. Pre-rolled weed can be pure (100% weed) or mixed with tobacco. Pre-rolled hash is always mixed with tobacco.
Loose buds are ideal for connoisseurs who know what they want. They can either roll a joint, fire up a bong, or vape it (which involves a device called ‘volcano’ to decarboxylate or heat up the buds to get the beneficial THC and CBD compounds).
Pro tip: As smoking is said to reduce the intake level of THC and lighting up rolling papers can be carcinogenic, consider investing in an aluminium smoking ‘pipe’ with an active carbon filter instead. With this, you can simply fill up the chamber of your ‘pipe’ with loose buds, light it and vape it. You can get this pipe called the Weezy for only €9.95 here.
Another way to consume cannabis is to buy a sweet treat prepared with marijuana. Commonly known as ‘space cake’, they come in a delicious array of cookies, muffins and brownies. Read the instructions carefully before eating so you will know how much marijuana is in each treat and how long it will take for the effects to become apparent. Edibles are widely said to be the best way to consume cannabis as THC/CBD can be fully absorbed by your body.
What’s the difference between being high and stoned?
While the distinction between being high and being stoned is blurred to a novice like me, the connoisseurs would politely remind you that there is indeed a difference. Being high is a feeling of happiness and uplifting, and some people may feel enlightened and become highly creative. Depending on how much Sativa-dominant products you’ve smoked/consumed, you can be high for 2-4 hours.
On the other hand, being stoned refers to a heavy, dopey sensation on your mind and body. You may feel like time has slowed down and your stomach may growl (this urge to eat is known as ‘munchies’; it happens because cannabinoids can mask the brain cells that suppress appetite). This feeling can last up to 6 hours if you have consumed quite a few Indica-laced space cakes.
Apart from feeling high or stoned, you may also experience dry mouth so order a drink when you’re ready to smoke.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant and its by-products. Although often associated with euphoria or high, it can also induce anxiety in some people.
THC is said to have several medicinal properties including anti-inflammation, improving mood disorders, digestive disorders and managing chronic pain.
In 2017, researchers led by Andreas Zimmmer at the University of Bonn in Germany found that low doses of THC can boost the number of connections between brains cells in the hippocampus in older mice – meaning it can potentially reverse brain aging. However, the opposite is also evident in young mice whose endocannabinoid system is already at its most active state.
Hint: If you think your memory is failing, perhaps it’s time to visit Amsterdam once a month and get some ‘treatment’ to extend your healthspan.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is the second most prevalent active compound found in cannabis. Safe and completely nonpsychoactive, CBD doesn’t make you high but seeks to keep a perfect balance between your mind and body. My friend Marlies puts it best, “think of CBD as a dimmer which tones bright light down to create a calm and relaxed atmosphere.”
CBD is touted for its far-reaching health benefits and commonly used to treat anxiety, insomnia and different types of chronic pain. But the strongest scientific evidence it offers is in treating epilepsy in children, reducing the number of seizures or even completely stopping them.
In the UK, a row between the government and public erupted in 2018 when the Home Office confiscated the CBD oil used by a boy with severe epilepsy at Heathrow Airport (when the family were returning from Canada and attempting to bring the CBD oil with just 2mg of THC into the country). Many ridiculed the outdated policy on cannabis medicines. The government ministers promised a review but no progress has been made since.
Not all CBD products are created equal, however, as some CBD products aren’t what they claim to be so do your research and ask questions. If you’re keen to learn more about CBD and available products, check out this website supmedi.com.
What are terpenes?
Terpenes are aromatic compounds that give each cannabis strain a distinctive flavour like earthy, piney, sweet, citrus, spicy, among others.
12 useful tips for a first-time marijuana user in Amsterdam
- Bring your ID. Only those above 18 can visit a cannabis coffeeshop in Amsterdam.
- Remove your sunglasses and baseball cap (or hat) when visiting a coffeeshop.
- Seek out a reputable coffeeshop such as Boerejongens, Coffeeshopamsterdam (formerly Dampkring) and Tweede Kamer. Alternatively, check out this post on 10 of the best coffeeshops in Amsterdam.
- Opt for pre-rolled, a pure weed joint if you aren’t a regular smoker and enjoy it slowly (never rush). You can also try a spliff (weed with tobacco) but bear in mind that nicotine can partly cancel out the effect of cannabis. Choose a Sativa-dominant strain if you want to continue with sightseeing after visiting a coffeeshop.
- Don’t worry about having a lighter. You can always ask someone for a light.
- Order a drink and some snacks.
- Sit down, relax and enjoy. But don’t fall asleep. If you feel lethargic, order a cup of coffee or tea.
- It’s worth noting that you may not get high when you smoke cannabis for the first time as your body may not know how to react or it simply doesn’t have enough cannabinoid receptors yet.
- Don’t mix cannabis with alcohol. Coffeeshops in Amsterdam cannot sell alcohol anyway, but if you choose to smoke in a nearby pub instead, don’t drink alcohol if this is your first time trying.
- If you opt for an edible, read the instructions carefully. Consider eating a quarter of the cake and see how you would react before tempting the entire piece.
- Visit the Coffeeshop Information Centre (Prins Hendrikkade 10, a 5-minute walk from Amsterdam Centraal Station) or attend a free smoke session hosted by Amsterdam Genetics if you want to learn more about cannabis.
- If you aren’t used to the smell, wear light-weight quick-dry clothing so you can do a quick laundry in your hotel or a laundromat later.
Useful advice for connoisseurs
Expand your horizon by trying new strains and seek out quality products. In Amsterdam, I met Niklas from Hannover in Germany. He drives four hours to Amsterdam to purchase quality weed and hash from Boerejongens Coffeeshop once a month. His favourite is the wonderful Lemon Ice strain that induces an uplifting creative high.
How many coffeeshops are there in Amsterdam?
Roughly 170 coffeeshops operate in Amsterdam, check out this post on 10 of the best coffeeshops in Amsterdam for recommendations.
Can tourists visit a coffeeshop in Amsterdam?
Anyone above 18 can visit a coffeeshop in Amsterdam. It’s estimated that about 25% of tourists in Amsterdam will visit a coffeeshop during their stay. The rumour that only Europeans can visit a coffeeshop is untrue. Also, the talk about banning Brits from coffeeshops following Brexit is also untrue.
How much will you spend?
A pre-rolled cannabis-with-tobacco joint can range from €3.5 to €7 while a pure joint can range from €5 to €10.
For loose buds, you can pay anything from €7 to €18 per gram for weed, and €5 to €20 per gram for hash. If you want something cheap, seek out ‘shake’, leftover bits and pieces that don’t look pretty but are still potent.
If you opt for space cake, expect to pay anything between €6 and €12 per treat.
Originally a code word for smoking cannabis at 4:20pm, it has now evolved into an international ‘counterculture’ celebration where people gather to smoke and consume marijuana on April 20.
My first experience with marijuana
Amnesia Haze (30% Indica and 70% Sativa) is one of the most popular strains in Amsterdam and a good one to start with. The fresh and herbal smell is rather alluring. I took a puff, exhaling clumsily and watching the smoke drift across the space in front of me, lifting the paper-thin veneer of my self-discipline in the process. I haven’t lived on the edge since… well, ever, so it should come as no surprise that I rather enjoy this self-redefining moment.
As I’m typing this article in the coffeeshop, watching fellow smokers and listening to their stories, it becomes apparent to me that in Amsterdam, weed growers, coffeeshop owners, budtenders and tourists like you and me are all in it together. It’s our unique personal experience with cannabis and great stories that come out of it that bring the cannabis culture to life.
Just like choosing a cannabis product that best suits your personal taste and experience, it’s you, only you, that can decide how far down the rabbit hole you want to go.
Enjoy the ride.
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