High Times Puts on a White Coat
By FRED GARDNER
June 25 - 27, 2010
High Times magazine sponsored the original "Cannabis Cup" in
Amsterdam in 1987. The event inspired plant breeders and publicized
their strains and their seed companies. It has been held annually
ever since a fine excuse for a trade show and an extended party at
The pretext of a cannabis cup is that discerning judges will sample
various strains and determine the best (to be announced at the
climactic awards ceremony). The truth is, it's impossible for judges,
after sampling strain #1, to then distinguish the effects of sample
#2. The body needs an interval of at least three or four hours for a
return to baseline cannabinoid levels. Lester Grinspoon, MD, thinks
that evaluating only one sample a day would be preferable.
High Times recently launched a glossy quarterly called HT Medical
Marijuana News and Reviews, edited in San Francisco. To celebrate
their arrival on the scene, the magazine staff organized the first
ever "medical" cannabis cup, It was held last week-end at Terra, an
events center an erstwhile factory with a large side-yard on
Harrison St., kitty corner from the Sailors and Seamen's Union hall.
The weather was okay on Saturday, perfect on Sunday, and a whompin''
good time was had by about 2,000 medical cannabis users each day.
Tickets cost $50, vendors paid $1,500 for tables. It was not the
standard High Times demographic there were more middle-aged people
and senior citizens. I figured about half the seniors had done time.
And all had lived in fear of the cops and endured social contempt.
Now they were passing joints in the sunshine, ignoring the "no
tobacco smoking" signs, enjoying a sliver of freedom.
Valerie Corral, the leader of WAMM, had been assigned to judge the
strains classified as Sativas. She was given 42 samples to evaluate
six days prior to the event. I saw her one day that week at a meeting
she was sampling #32 and conscientiously recording her impressions
in a notebook. DJ Short, the renowned plant breeder and seed
merchant, had to judge 38 Indica samples. He and Val each managed to
select a top five (in consultation with High Times editors), and then
Jorge Cervantes, the best-selling author of cultivation guides, made
the final call.
Valerie Corral is a very positive woman. She said that every bud she
evaluated was "a jewel grown with the best intentions." But the
chemical residue on some made her cough, and one gave her a
headache. DJ Short, who is not partial to Indicas in general, didn't
find any he especially liked among the cup entrants. But the show
must go on, and Cervantes made executive decisions based on
appearance and aroma.
And the winners were… Best Sativa: "God's Pussy," from GreenBicycles
up in Crescent City… Best Indica: "Cali Gold," from Mr. Natural,
Inc…. Best concentrate (chosen by Chris Conrad and Mikki Norris from
among 16 entrants): Ingrid, by the Leonard Moore collective,
Mendocino… Best edible: biscotti from Greenway in Santa Cruz.
Steep Hill lab in Oakland tested the entrants for THC content. Steep
Hill's David Lampach says that the cannabis cup entrants averaged
15-16% THC, whereas the buds the lab ordinarily tests average 10-12%
THC. "The winners all had high THC levels," according to Lampach,
"but not necessarily the highest." God's Pussy was found to contain
18.2%; Cali Gold 18.4%; and Ingrid hash 45.5% THC.
Lampach points out that Cali Gold, though classified as an Indica by
the Cup organizers, might actually be a sativa-dominant strain, based
on its lineage. The taxonomy of cannabis is very loose, to put it
mildly. Sativas are said to have longer, narrower leaves; to take
longer to reach maturity (important for growers); and to have a more
cerebral effect (as opposed to sedating Indicas). DJ Short says there
is no clear dividing line and cites the example of Flo, a strain he
developed that is "a quick finisher but has narrower leaves and a
Both Valerie Corral and DJ Short said they were struck by the
predominance of cannabis grown indoors and felt impelled to extol the
virtues of the sun. So did Jorge Cervantes, who gave a talk on
cultivation to a rapt SRO audience. Note that the Amsterdam cannabis
cup is held in November, when the outdoor harvest comes in. In
California, where most cultivation is indoors, the cup was held in
June. Obeying the law of supply and demand requires lots of electricity.
High Times Medical News and Reviews gave an award to Lester
Grinspoon, MD, for his enduring service to the cause… Grinspoon
winced when he learned the name of the winning Sativa, and High Times
promptly took the offensive term down from its website. Grinspoon has
an idea to promote more dignified nomenclature in the future: judges
should give weight to the name of a strain when evaluating its worth
as a medicinal product.
Some Martin Gardner Trivia
When I worked at Scientific American in the 1960s, mail addressed to
Martin Gardner (no relation) sometimes wound up on my desk. The
author of the widely read "Mathematical Games" column lived in
Hastings-on-Hudson and never came into the office, which was in
midtown Manhattan. On a few occasions I brought him his mail. He
worked in the attic, which was lined with olive drab file cabinets
containing 3"-by-5" index cards. This extensive filing system, he
confided, was the key to his seemingly universal knowledge. "I don't
store much up here," he said, touching his forehead, "but whatever
the subject, I know where to look it up."
He was soft-spoken, his hair was almost white, his complexion was
fair, and he wore thick glasses. He would have been 49 or 50 when our
paths crossed, but I was in my early 20s and naively considered him…
not old exactly, but slightly past his prime. In the previous decade
Gardner had written an intellectually militant expose, "In the Name
of Science," debunking Eugenics, L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics
(Scientology), Wilhelm Reich's Orgone Box, Velikovsky's "Worlds in
Collision," Extra-sensory Perception (ESP), and other "frauds and
fallacies." (Those blunt words were added to the title when
Ballantine Books brought out the paperback in 1957.)
I thought then that for Gardner "Mathematical Games" was a step away
from muckraking and active struggle against irrationality, a step in
the general direction of the sunset. Little did I know that he would
leave Scientific American in 1981 and resume writing purposefully
and prolifically for almost three more decades. He also functioned
as a political organizer, helping to found the Committee for the
Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and its journal,
the Skeptical Inquirer.
Gardner died May 22 at age 95. Joe Wisnovsky, an old colleague with
whom I reminisced, had stayed in touch with him over the years. In
fact, Joe had published Gardner's last book, "When you Were a Tadpole
and I was a Fish" (Hill & Wang, 2009). He recalled that Gardner had
started at Scientific American as a freelancer, and even after his
column became a regular feature, had remained an independent
contractor until Gerard Piel, the publisher, encouraged him to become
a regular employee, i.e., entitled to benefits. "The last thing Gerry
Piel ever expected was that Martin would reach 65 and retire," said
Joe, "which he could afford to do because of the pension plan." Piel
and managing editor Dennis Flanagan did not want to lose Gardner,
whose column was a great asset. "They went into a tizzy," Joe said.
"They told him, 'Martin, you don't have to resign.' But Martin said,
'I think I'd like to retire and move south and write books.'"
Which is what he did, relocating to Hendersonville, North Carolina,
writing columns for the Skeptical Inquirer and other journals, and
bringing out numerous anthologies. Joe said Gardner never used an
agent but "struck a hard bargain around retaining the rights to
republish his material." A few years ago his wife died and he became
very depressed. He stopped writing, stopped seeing people, stopped
corresponding. (His medium of choice had always been the postcard.)
After several years of dysfunction, he moved back to Oklahoma, where
one of his sons was teaching at the University in Norman. "And just
like that he snapped out of it," Joe said, "and was his old,
productive self. He even learned how to use a computer."
It was astonishing to learn that Martin Gardner had not been a
computer user from early on. Joe said that one of the reasons Gardner
gave up his "Mathematical Games" column at the dawn of the 1980s was
that he anticipated the field becoming computer-oriented. (His
successor renamed the column "Mathematical Recreations.") Gardner
used the computer only for research, Joe said, and never used email,
continuing to correspond by postcard.
A few years ago Joe was publishing a book called "Irreligion" by John
Allen Paulos, a mathematician, and asked Gardner to contribute a
blurb. "Martin was friends with Paulos and had blurbed one of his
books in the past," Joe said. "I had totally forgotten that Martin
was not an atheist but some strange kind of deist. He wrote me a very
nice letter declining, pointing out that he remained a deist 'even
though atheists have all the best arguments.'"
Fred Gardner is editor of O'Shaughnessy's. He can be reached at: