Virtual Reality and Marijuana: A Match Made in High Heaven?

This piece was co-created by Michelle Janikian and Catherine Goldberg.

I got high and went to VRLA Expo 2017, the largest virtual reality expo in the world. Before I ordered an Uber to head downtown, I smoked a joint of Double Tangie Banana from KvSh, the only flowers I trust in LA. I chose Double Tangie Banana, a sativa-dominant hybrid, because I was going alone and wanted something that would make me feel social and euphoric.

This was my second recent VR experience. I thought it was the coolest thing when I was a kid in the ’90s, but now, in its “renaissance,” it’s out of this world. I recently attended Dan Braunstein’s awesome Virtual Reality Weed Party, a private party for medical marijuana card holders only. In a stunning loft downtown, Braunstein’s party was clearly a hybrid of my two favorite things: VR and cannabis.

Cannabis social events, like painting classes and high tea parties are becoming popular, especially on the West Coast, where you and chill, smoke and meet new, like-minded people. I personally prefer events with an activity involved, like VR, rather than just a medicated meal, and I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of these types of events next year when adult use cannabis is totally legal in California for anyone over 21.

The North American cannabis industry brought in $6.7 billion in 2016 and is expected to grow to $20.2 billion by 2020. Combine that with the VR industry—which is projected at almost $34 billion by 2022, with a big chunk of that coming out of LA—Braunstein might be onto something.

Virtual reality has come so far, especially in the last 20 years.

At VRLA, there were three main types of virtual reality experiences: classic VR, augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality. Augmented reality got its big break last summer with Pokémon Go and is characterized by its combination of real world objects and virtual animation. Mixed reality often includes motion simulation during the experience, and in the future, could include things like emitting smells. Most use headsets, but not all, and not all headsets are created equally; they range from high-end options like Oculus Rift to Google’s cardboard headset you can get for less than $10.

Plus, VR is way more than just video games.

VR experiences include 360 tours of exotic places, can be used for space, military and medical training, pain management and anxiety treatment and even engineering and construction projects. Basically, entertainment is just one use of the multi-faceted industry.

At VRLA, the first experience I tried was driving an ATV through space, a two-player, mixed reality game created by 3D Live. It was mixed reality because all four tires moved up and down to simulate motion. I drove, and my partner, a nice Australian advertiser I had just met, shot the gun. With the headset on, not only could I see the incredible, futuristic landscape that reminded me of Mario Kart 64’s Rainbow Road on steroids, but also the steering wheel, and my partner’s gun.

Although, what I couldn’t see clearly was my gaming partner, and when I wanted to show him something interesting on his dashboard, I accidentally hit him in the face—so much for making new friends! All in all, the five-minute simulation was fun and exciting, and it hardly made me dizzy.

Next up, I went to lay down in a 360 dome created by Microdose VR.

It was me and 12 other people laying on low to the ground gaming chairs, looking up at a planetarium-esque 360-degree video screen. It took storytelling to a totally new level, fully integrating the viewer into the experience. At one point, we were even on top of a mountain able to see everything, 360 degrees around us. This display was not disorienting at all and might be the best VR to try after consuming cannabis.

A similar seated experience I enjoyed was with the Experience 360 team.

I soared over California’s coasts, toured a city in Japan and even went to Yosemite. It was hyper realistic with incredible details, especially the tour of Yosemite; I felt like I was right back in the park although I haven’t been there for years.

In fact, VR is becoming popular for travel, heritage and archeology enthusiasts. Whether it’s traveling somewhere users could barely afford otherwise, like Japan, or to places back in time, like reconstructions of medieval castles, or into the future—users may soon be able to explore the surface of Mars. It may sound eerily similar to the plot of Philip K. Dick’s famous sci-fi novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, but don’t worry, no memory implants are required.

After that, I tried the VR Kiosk. Although the technology and concept were great, this was the first VR experience during my day at VRLA that I couldn’t handle.

In a small kiosk with moving chairs, this experience simulated a carnival swing that breaks at the end, propelling users to their virtual deaths. It was very realistic, even the feeling of being pulled backwards was accurate. However, it was too intense for me; I was holding on for dear life. After the three-minute ride was complete, I was very nauseous, but at least I had learned my limits.

To relax, I tried another stationary VR experience with Out of Frame VR. It was up-close footage of a tiger and trainer called “Feed the Beast,” where a beautiful, gigantic tiger effortlessly jumps to grab meat hanging from a hook. It was truly majestic and definitely a great way to use VR to both educate and see something from nature that would be next to impossible or too dangerous in real life.

Similarly, Discovery Channel has excellent VR content you can view right on your smartphone. Just buy the super affordable Google cardboard VR headset on Amazon, and anyone can experience exotic and dangerous natural phenomena at home on a rainy day. There’s tons of free VR content on YouTube as well.

Then, of course, there was the augmented reality experience everyone’s talking about from Microsoft.

It was the world’s first AR Easter egg hunt, where animated objects, like bunnies and Easter eggs, pop up on real world objects, which in this case was a set meant to look like a video game forest, complete with trees, mushrooms and shrubs. It was the biggest AR display at VRLA, and it gave me an idea.

What if dispensaries in the future used AR?

Here’s my idea, and please reach out if you want to help me develop this: Customers walk into a dispensary and receive a pair of glasses to put on. When browsing products, the glasses reveal all the pertinent product info. So, for a jar of flower, a little box would appear displaying the strain and genetic info, and for an edible, there would be experience reviews like: “This lemonade was delicious but very strong, best enjoyed for those with a high tolerance.” This would not only make the shopping experience more fun, it would help consumers make more informed decisions and enjoy cannabis in a safer way.

Even though the VRLA Expo is not a cannabis-centric event, I still had a blast and met other 420-enthusiasts.

The young founder of one of my favorite displays even admitted to me he came up with the idea for their product after consuming cannabis. I won’t reveal who, but I will say using cannabis, especially certain strains and products, are known to make people more creative and open to new ideas.

So, it’s no surprise some of the most awe-inspiring VR experiences stemmed from excellent cannabis ones.

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