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Ride the Wave

Jan 29, 2018 11:00AM ● By Marketing SENSI MAG
I’m unabashedly stoned as I hunt for the warehouse space in a trendy part of West Oakland, California, where every building looks like it could hold either a machine shop or a rave depending on which door you knock on. Flickering candlelight draws me toward a slightly ajar door, but opening it fully reveals a 12-foot-tall man with futuristic goggles slashing at the air with his controlled-laden hands. I’ve found the virtual reality party.

I flash my ID to the 20-something woman working the door who details the selections for the night. “Edibles and vape pens are to the right, with complimentary dab stations in the back,” she tells me. The cannabis is gratis, provided by upscale brands like baceae and Alexander Fields, for guests at what feels like an upscale cocktail party sans alcohol. My hosts for the evening are Grassfed, an events company based in Los Angeles that specialize in swanky parties centered around cannabis. Being in the Bay Area, it only feels right that the main attraction for the night is tech.

Occupying several stations are young guys throwing mock knives at mock attackers or slaying invisible zombies while onlookers see their progress on monitors nearby. Everyone is high, adding to the difficulty level when split seconds can mean the difference between life and death. I meet Ben, a local budtender who is trying VR for the first time after dabbing a glob of Sunset Sherbert, as he removes his gear. “You feel like you’re in there, like really in there,” he says, wiping sweat from his brow. He’s nearly breathless and confesses it’s one of the better workouts he’s had in awhile. “I didn’t notice how hard I was going until I got out.”

My own experience with VR is limited, having played Rick and Morty: Virtual Rickality when it was released on 4/20 using the same HTC Vive unit that tonight’s guests are strapping on. I need to find out what makes this new gaming experience so inherently cannabis friendly, so I pop an 8 milligram truffle covered in chopped nuts from To Whom It May Chocolates and wander over to the main stage. The crowd is completely different.

A young woman and her mom who don’t want me to use their names. A recent retiree from San Jose named Hank. A group I would mistake for a bachelorette party in any other circumstance. They’re all lined up for Tilt Brush, a 3D painting studio where brushes change at the tap of a button and you become completely immersed in your creation. Running the show is Micah James Zayner, a sharp-dressed 35-year-old in a bowtie that looks fashionable rather than campy. I recognize him as the giant man I saw earlier, as this area is green screened and slickly projected onto the brick wall adjacent to us. He’s a VR art director slash artist and self-described biohacker who microdoses THC, fitting right in with the increasingly lit crowd. “I feel artists throughout history have used substances like cannabis to relieve creation anxiety and help in- spire creative thought,” he says. 

But why is VR so uniquely suited to being high? Zayner has given this some thought. “The pairing is a perfect match. Cannabis users have always been look- ing for immersive experiences that they can experience while in that perfect state of euphoria, and virtual reality definitely fulfills that void in so many ways,” he posits. “Especially when you give the user the power to make art without fear. Virtual reality has had a nausea stigma attached to it since its early testing days, and some users can still feel a bit disoriented,” he says as I find myself nodding. “I feel cannabis— a known nausea inhibitor— is perfect when introducing new users to the intense immersion that virtual reality brings.”

This is a common gripe I have heard: motion sickness and a sense of dysphoria when the goggles come off. I can’t read in cars for fear of losing my lunch in the glovebox, so I’m apprehensive when it comes to entering an entirely differ- ent world. Art seems like it’s my speed, but I take a hit of some SFV OG I was gifted earlier to make sure.

A fresh insert means I’m sharing forehead sweat with the previous unit’s wearer as Zayner fits the headset to my skull. Suddenly, I’m in a black room, staring down at a disembodied controller that will act as my brush. Despite my increasing high, it’s very intuitive, and I’m changing brushes and colors with simple clicks. I fire off a huge swath of blue that seems like it’s on fire, not ideal for the wave I’m working on, but erasing it takes seconds.

I tell Zayner I want a larger brush to work with, but he explains it’s not the size of the brush I want to change, but the size of my art itself. This is mind blowing, as I’m learning how to create in a completely new atmosphere: I shrink my piece and my brush is now huge, I rotate it and work on the crest. My head high is soaring while I’m not cognizant of my body at all, as if I’m riding the virtual wave I’m creating.

 I leave in awe, that quiet euphoria you feel right after leaving a good movie. Walking around the corner, I see Grassfed founder Dan Braunstein behind a dab bar in a red and white windowpane button up as he chats with a guest. He’s eager to know about my experience, but I don’t have the sense it’s in a perfunctory host role, but rather genuine curiosity. “Cannabis enhances all your senses and makes different experiences more spiritual and immersive,” he says, and I remember the immersiveness Zayner talked about earlier. “VR is already a very immersive experience involving more than one sense. Mixing both creates this explosion.”

After attending my fair share of cannabis parties, I note the tone and vibe seems very different, something he’s quite attuned to. Part of it is no smoking, he tells me. “With vaping it’s easier to control your high, and get more of a creative and giggly mood, rather than to get too stoned and feel disconnected.”

I wonder if the La Croix provided have anything to do with that effervescent mood. Every event I’ve been at in Oakland for the New West Summit has been drenched with alcohol, whereas this party is dry, sans for a suspicious water bottle a blonde woman keeps sharing with her partner. According to Braunstein, this is a conscious decision beyond the tricky legal issues that can arise. “I wanted to give great focus and respect to the cannabis plant. When you involve other substances you lose the true high of each strain.”

I thank him but need to leave as the space fills up with nattily dressed couples. When I was younger, I always pictured cannabis parties as similar to the basement scenes in That ’70s Show, only with a larger table and better weed. But here I am, sampling the latest in technology and sophisticated consumption concepts in dimly lit, chic spaces. Grassfed is shifting the entire narrative. Stoner is now sophisticated.

Jake Browne