Holidaze: Other days that celebrate drug culture

Photo credit: Annie Spratt via Unsplash

Now that 4/20 has passed and we’re all cleaning out our ashtrays after a day spent emulating Sublime’s “Smoke Two Joints”, it’s a great time to remind ourselves of a few other, perhaps less popular, days of the year that we’ve set aside to celebrate drugs and drug culture. (After all, in these crazy times, it’s important to have something to look forward to.)

While 4/20 is the preeminent weed holiday (and this year it happens to be a month long), there are a few others that pay homage to ganja for different reasons. And as the hype around psychedelics increases, so too does our awareness around particular dates and our desire to celebrate their impact. Most of the days we’ve included are acknowledged and celebrated around the world, but a few are ones we think deserve a little nudge, too.

Crowds throw coloured powder on each other during Holi. Photo credit: Tom Watkins via Unsplash

Holi (March 28 – 29, 2021)

Cannabis is consumed and celebrated by many during the Hindu festival Holi, which occurs each spring for one night and one day during a full moon. Also referred to as the festival of spring, the festival of colours, or the festival of love, it is said to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. After a night of bonfires, during which observers pray away evil, people fill the streets hurling colourful powders and water balloons at each other. In India the festival calls for bhang, a concentrated paste made of cannabis buds and leaves that is used in a wide variety of beverages, sweets, and snacks. Acquiring bhang legally can be challenging but there’s an unspoken rule that many foods sold during the festival contain cannabis. Sacred Hindu texts such as the Vedas teach that cannabis is a sacred plant and refer to it as a source of happiness, a liberator, and a plant provided to help relieve us of fear and anxiety.

Bicycle Day (April 19)

At 4:20 p.m. on April 19, 1943 in Basel, Switzerland, a Sandoz chemist named Albert Hoffman intentionally consumed what he believed to be a rather negligible amount of lysergic acid diethylamide. Three days earlier, he had accidently absorbed a small amount of the compound on his fingertips and experienced “a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination.” The compound he had derived from the fungus ergot five years earlier was an attempt to create a stimulant to treat respiratory and circulatory issues, and in previous experiments with it he hadn’t observed any psychedelic or disorienting effects. The self-experiment involved taking a dose of just 250 micrograms, an amount that would get Hoffman so high he felt he couldn’t carry out the remainder of the experiment in the lab. In 1943, wartime measures meant cars weren’t permitted on the streets of Basel, so he rode his bicycle home. The effects were intensified during the ride, and Hoffman would later write about them in his book LSD: My Problem Child: “17:00: Beginning dizziness, feeling of anxiety, visual distortions, symptoms of paralysis, desire to laugh… Home by bicycle. From 18:00 – 20:00: most severe crisis.” Today, the day is celebrated around the world to honour the first-ever acid trip.

April 20, 2018 at Sunset Beach in Vancouver, B.C. Photo credit: Amanda Siebert

4/20 (April 20)

There are several (rather ridiculous) myths behind why the ideogram “4/20” is so significant to cannabis culture. It’s not a police code for a cannabis-related crime-in-progress, or related to Hitler’s birthday, or to signify the number of strains in California. It’s a reference to a time at which a group of high schoolers in San Marin County, California would meet, smoke up, and pile into a friend’s vehicle in search of a wild patch of weed that had reportedly been abandoned. The group, eventually known as the Waldos, would never find the mystery patch, but their code had sticking power. Soon, a popular local band would pick up on the term and refer to it in one of their concert flyers. The band in question? The Grateful Dead. In 1990, High Times editor Steven Bloom uncovered a flyer at a concert and later wrote about the term in the magazine for the first time. Subsequent publications would refer to it and soon it caught on among cannabis consumers. Now, every year on April 20, stoners gather together at 4:20 p.m. for a communal smoke up. Several cities around the world have adopted day-long celebrations to make the occasion, with one of the largest in the world taking place in Vancouver, B.C.

R. Gordon Wasson in Life (June 10)

In 1957, a LIFE Magazine story titled “Seeking the Magic Mushroom” was the first to expose Western culture to the idea of using medicinal mushrooms in a cultural and ritualistic setting. By today’s standards, R. Gordon Wasson is the last person you’d expect to visit rural Mexico in search of wild hallucinogenic mushrooms: a New York City banker and the vice president of J.P. Morgan Incorporated. But when Wasson travelled to Mexico in June of 1955, he and photographer Allan Richardson became “the first white men in recorded history to eat the divine mushrooms”. Wasson’s story is said to be as crucial in initiating interest in psychedelics among the west as the publication of Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, and would inspire Harvard professor Timothy Leary to begin studying them. Other prominent psychonauts, such as Terence McKenna and Albert Hoffman, would eventually pay tribute to Wasson for his work with hallucinogenic mushrooms.

In 2013, Ari Shaffir (far right) spent Shroomfest with Tony Hinchcliffe, Mat Edgar, and Pete Cornacchione at Joshua Tree National Park.

Shroomfest (July 4, 5, and/or 6, 2020)

Comedian Ari Shaffir isn’t shy about being a proponent of psychedelics, particularly of magic mushrooms. Since 2012, Shaffir has set aside one weekend every summer to encourage fans to consume mushrooms at the same time. The event’s Facebook page describes it as “a psychedelic mushroom party happening all over the world” and “the largest geographical mushroom party in history.” Those who want to participate can take part on one, two, or all three days if they’re feeling keen. The comic has even authored a Shroomfest Primer for first-time consumers, complete with the following advice: “People won’t know. Just avoid the instinct to tell them you’re on mushrooms and the only people who will be any wiser are old bearded hippies who will feel nothing but happiness for you.”

7/10 (July 10)

While the history around 4/20 is a little more definitive, the story behind “Oil Day” or “Dab day” is far less exciting. The relatively new term has rather simple origins: turn the number 7/10 on its head and you get OIL. For the consumers among us who prefer heady concentrates like wax, shatter, and other dabables, it’s simply a day to consume and celebrate how far we’ve come from hot-knifing hash and reclaim (although The Stranger has a pretty good alternative origin story if you’re in for something fun and fictitious).