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Discussing dankness with Mark Haskell Smith.

Caitlin Podiak: Your quest for the “heart of dankness” centers on the annual High Times Cannabis Cup event in Amsterdam. But how relevant do you think those awards are to cannabis users in California? I know many of the strains we have here come from Dutch seeds, but beyond that, I wonder how much the Amsterdam Cannabis Cup results should matter to us in the United States.

Mark Haskell Smith: Oh, I think they’re very relevant to what goes on in California. The strains that win the Cannabis Cup ultimately become the popular strains you find in medical dispensaries or being sold by dealers. AK-47, Super Silver Haze, Willie Nelson, Lavender, LA Confidential…these are all fairly common strains nowadays, but they were first introduced at the Cannabis Cup. I imagine Kosher Kush, which is originally a SoCal strain, will become huge in the next year or two because it just won the Indica Cup in Amsterdam. It’s sort of like Coachella for cannabis. It’s where the unknowns get their shot at the big-time. And that resonates in California. We want those seeds.

Keep in mind that there is an established infrastructure for the development and distribution of cannabis seeds in Amsterdam; it’s a multimillion dollar a year business, and the competition between seed companies keeps the Cup relevant.

CP: I’m just not sure how seriously to take any competition in which so many strains are sampled in such a short time frame. I don’t feel comfortable writing a strain review or even a brief menu description for a strain until I have sampled it more than once, and had time to evaluate the effects completely on their own, without the lingering effects of any other strains in my system.

MHS: Yeah, if you were going to judge all the entries in all the categories you’d be smoking something like seventeen samples of imported hash, Dutch hash, and cannabis a day. I know I couldn’t do it and be able to put a sentence together, much less judge a winner. But then, that’s how they do wine tastings.  Judges taste literally thousands of wines in a week.

I talked to a few celebrity judges who took part in the blind tastings for the seed company categories and it was pretty well organized. For sure they’re smoking a lot, but they do it one category at a time. So like, Tuesday is for sativas, Thursday is for indicas, etc. Also, I think they’re able to look at the entries and know which buds are going to be worth smoking and which aren’t.

That said, I think that’s why strains with strong flavors, like Super Lemon Haze, win these prizes. They’ve got a distinct taste and a pretty strong rush, so they can cut through the pack. Personally, I prefer more equatorial strains, like John Sinclair or some of the Jamaican sativas. These strains don’t give you that uplifting head rush—they creep up on you, but they’re more psychedelic.

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Heart of Dankness

Being a highly discerning and intellectually curious cannabis connoisseur is rewarding, but often frustrating and lonely.

Since moving to California, I have spent enough time wine tasting to become something of an oenophile. I enjoy expanding and developing my palate, exploring new varietals and regions, visiting vineyards, playing with pairings, and sharing these experiences with family and friends. I have also had the pleasure of indulging a burgeoning enthusiasm for coffee — specifically, slow drip coffee and espresso drinks from Four Barrel, Sightglass, Blue Bottle, and Ritual Roasters. I have similar penchants for fancy/local/artisan cheese, chocolate, jam, caramels, honey, soap, cashmere…

But above all, I prefer cannabis, and I am passionately eager to deepen my understanding of the plant and its effects, ideally by reading interesting, informative writing by someone who is willing to be stringent about grammar and has an appreciation for production value. Unfortunately for me and any other would-be cannabis connoisseurs, that sort of content is incredibly difficult to come by, despite the accumulated quantity of research and commentary on the subject.

So I was thrilled to get my hands on a pre-publication galley of Mark Haskell Smith’s Heart of Dankness, a nonfiction account of the author’s exploration of the world’s “dankest” cannabis, from the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, to dispensaries in Los Angeles and Berkeley, to the Sierra Nevada mountains, and back to Amsterdam. He seeks out the best growers and breeders, visits coffeeshops and seed companies, asking everyone he meets what dankness means to them.

(I attempted to define dankness myself, for the now-defunct Pot Couture: “Potency, quality, bag appeal, freshness, and aroma. By potency, I mean that the cannabis has a high THC and possibly CBD content. Quality means a good strain, cultivated with care. Buds with bag appeal are pretty and sparkly and sticky with trichomes, or resin glands. Dank buds ought to be fresh and moist, rather than old and dry. And I would expect a strain described as dank to have an intense, permeating aroma.”)

Smith is a sharp and engaging storyteller, weaving a compelling narrative packed with intriguing new facts and discoveries to ponder. I don’t think I have ever read a nonfiction book from cover to cover without putting it down before, but I was utterly fascinated by each and every page of Heart of Dankness. I hardly dared hope that any book could satisfy my desire for something skillfully composed that would delve beyond what I already knew about cannabis, but Heart of Dankness absolutely did.

If you’re considering buying this book, I emphatically suggest that you go for it. And if you pre-order before the April 3rd release date and send a copy of your receipt to, Broadway Books will throw in some free rolling papers and a signed bookplate, plus you’ll be entered to win a Cannabible boxed set. (Details here.)