The half-million Amsterdam tourists that patronize cannabis coffee shops each year come in a variety of experience levels. Some are avid cannabis users in their home country; others see coffee shops as an opportunity to experiment with a new substance in a safe environment. But no matter your past experience, unless you hail from the Netherlands, it's likely that there's no institution back home that's quite like the Dutch cannabis coffee shop.
Read on for some tips for customer satisfaction and safety at these unique businesses.
How to Select (or Reject) a Coffee Shop
- Stick to reputable coffee shops with a name in the business, and where the staff is well-trained and professional. Just like any substance you put in your body, be it cannabis or food, you want to hold vendors to a certain standard. Need some pointers? Check out the Amsterdam Coffee Shop Directory.
- Don't settle for poor service. Don't be intimidated to ask questions -- and if the staff doesn't respect your inquisitiveness, it's best to leave. If a waiter refused to answer questions about a restaurant menu, would you still order a meal there?
- Cannabis is sold all over the Netherlands. Amsterdam Center is certainly more populated with coffee shops than anywhere else in the country, but there are perks to coffee shops outside the center and in other cities: fewer crowds, and oftentimes lower prices for the same strains.
- Cannabis strains usually aren't exclusive to one coffee shop only -- so if you don't care for the vibe of the place that sells your favorite variety, you can probably find it elsewhere. Seed companies sometimes even list their distributors on their website (and an online search for a strain will often yield the company it comes from).
How to Toke in Safety & With Satisfaction
- Do your homework. Unlike many places where cannabis is prohibited, there are more than a handful of choices at most Dutch coffee shops. Specialists and hobbyists have written loads of online and print resources to educate the public. You don't need to master horticulture to smoke a joint, but even if you just learn the difference between Indica and Sativa, you'll be better able to tailor your experience to your own preferences.
- Some coffee shops have smoke-free alternatives: If the idea of a pipe or joint doesn't appeal, some businesses will have one or two other options: 1) "space foods" prepared with cannabis, usually in the form of brownies, cookies or drinks, or 2) vaporizers, which extracts the THC (the psychoactive substance in cannabis) and delivers it as a vapor with none of the toxins of smoke.
- Can't stand tobacco? Pre-rolled joints can be convenient, but be aware that Dutch cannabis smokers often bulk up their joints with tobacco to make them last. Coffee shops often sell both "pure" and tobacco added joints side by side, so make sure you specify which one you want.
- Not into the coffee shop crowds? Smoke somewhere else. Some hotels are fine with on-premise cannabis consumption (but do check with the staff first), and there are businesses all over town that welcome cannabis smokers, like Barney's Restaurant, the culinary arm of the Barney's empire; see here for more businesses in Amsterdam that welcome tokers.
- Know thyself. Listen to advice (especially if you're a novice to cannabis and/or coffee shops), take it slow and don't overdo it. Just like alcohol, every individual needs to learn his or her own limits; "too much, too fast" is a sure recipe for discomfort, and in severe cases even black-outs. Dutch cannabis is usually far more potent than what's available back in the States, and even seasoned pot smokers can be overwhelmed.
- If you do consume too much cannabis (a particular temptation with cannabis-laced foods -- brownies, cookies, shakes etc.), don't panic; a solid meal or a nap does wonders to lessen the toll on your body. Effects of overconsumption include dizziness, nausea, and anxiety.