The half-million Amsterdam tourists that patronize cannabis coffeeshops each year come in a variety of experience levels: some are avid cannabis users in their home country; others see coffeeshops 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 coffeeshop. Read on for some tips for customer satisfaction and safety at these unique businesses.
How to Select (or Reject) a Coffeeshop
- Stick to reputable coffeeshops 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 Coffeeshop 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 coffeeshops than anywhere else in the country, but there are perks to coffeeshops outside the center and in other cities: fewer crowds, and oftentimes lower prices for the same strains (see the next point!).
- Cannabis strains usually aren't exclusive to one coffeeshop 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 web site (and an online search for a strain will often yield the company it comes from).
- Do your homework. Unlike many places where cannabis is prohibited, there are more than a handful of choices at most Dutch coffeeshops. 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 coffeeshops 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 (but see point 10), 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? (Neither can I.) Pre-rolled joints can be convenient, but be aware that Dutch cannabis smokers often bulk up their joints with tobacco to make them last. Coffeeshops often sell both "pure" and tobacco-added joints side by side, so make sure you specify which one you want.
- Not into the coffeeshop 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 the pool bar Nes Cafe and 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 coffeeshops), 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 home", 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.
How to Toke in Safety & with Satisfaction