We test the taste-transforming power of marijuana

I have the greatest job in the world. At least, that's what everybody says after I tell them I review restaurants and cover marijuana, among other topics, for the Indy. They're always disappointed, though, when I clarify that the two never mix — that I would never judge somebody's food while under the influence of anything.

Until now, that is. But first, here are the facts.

In February, European scientists published a study in Nature Neuroscience looking at why cannabis affects the appetite as strongly as it does. Using mice, they postulated that THC, the psychoactive component of pot, essentially convinces the body that it's starving. Also, cannabinoids bind with stuff in your brain's olfactory bulb, increasing your ability to smell and, thus, taste. As Smithsonian magazine notes, other studies show that weed also increases the flow of both the happy stuff, dopamine, and ghrelin, called "the hunger hormone."

With this in mind, I wanted to see if a cloudy head and raging stomach could transform food I would never otherwise eat into something pleasantly palatable. I wanted to see, in essence, if the munchies could conquer crap. To this end, I bought two of everything, eating the samples one night under the influence of some high-sativa Green Crack, and completely sober the next. Also, all food was microwaved, because cooking with a microwave is disgusting.

I also tested an urban myth: the theory that eating mango an hour before partaking would increase the speed and effectiveness of your high. My results: Uh, no. I waited an hour and a half, and the only effect I noticed from the supposedly complementary myrcenes and terpenes in two cups of microwaved, previously frozen organic mangoes was a pretty regular gag reflex from eating slimy cubes of fruit that, for some ungodly reason, tasted sort of like raw shrimp smells. My co-testing fiancée, who wisely blended the whole mess into a smoothie, was likewise unresponsive.

To our results. Note: All words were written in the advertised mental state.

Quorn Chik'n Nuggets ($4.49)

I'm sure we could argue the deliciousness of meatless, soy-free, imitation chicken nuggets made of mycoprotein — also known as vat-grown fungus — but for my tastes, they qualified. Befitting their highfalutin status, the box demanded nuggets be microwaved on a double layer of paper towels and be flipped halfway through.

High: Their shape reminds me of generic eastern U.S. states and they feature random dark patches. I pull them out of the box, put them in the microwave, put the box in the freezer, forget how long they were supposed to be in, pull the box back out of the freezer, punch it in, and put the box back in the freezer.

Coming out, they smell like fish sticks and feel something like soft, crumbly moss. The meat's kind of cool, as it does look like shredded chicken. But they taste ... warm and vaguely weird. They also back up in your throat like a sock, so hydrate, kids. But they're warm, and there's a pang in my stomach and a hunger in my heart, so I go back and kill them all with some barbecue sauce. WEED POWER.

Sober: These are much grosser sober. The texture is a combination of tough, overcooked and mushy, and the flavor disappears into the barbecue sauce. On their own, they taste like a memory of chicken and, today, look more like a dried-out sponge than a nugget of delicious processed pollo.

Banquet Beef Pot Pie (87 cents)

This is the one I'm most worried about, not least because of the price and the fact that the ingredients list beef, carrots and potatoes as things this dish contains less than 2 percent of.

High: Reading the directions. I'd first like to acknowledge how long I've been contemplating the concept of a microwave-safe plate. "DO NOT COOK in microwave ovens below 1100 watts as pot pie may not cook throughly." That sentence begins much scarier than it ends. And who the hell knows how many watts their microwave is?

Two minutes into its warming cycle and the 4-inch pie's starting to bulge aggressively. "I think you should note that our microwave no longer spins," says my fiancée in the background, adding: "Oh my god, what a ghetto detail."

It's watery at first; thick with gravy; tastes neutral-to-gross. But then it hits: salt. Salt, salt, salt. So much salt. (Later research reveals 700 milligrams, a third of your daily intake.) The crust is gross, sticking in my teeth, but goddamn me if they didn't engineer the taste of real butter into this bitch. This is 87 cents of pure, salty meh.

Sober: The gravy spews through two holes in the crust, splattering the microwave-safe plate in an indestructible brown lacquer.

I first notice the smell, like powdered gravy. A few bites in and it still tastes pretty watery, but interestingly enough the balance feels about right: The sodium doesn't hit you like a sledgehammer. On the other hand, the peas taste like what you'd get if you licked the bottom of your freezer, except worse. I stop halfway through.

White Castle Microwavable Cheeseburgers ($4.49)

They arrive in three packs of two, and pretty much the only thing you need to know is that the ingredients list contains 31 different substances — in the bun.

High: Steaming from an opened plastic baggie, at first they taste like American cheese and onions. Then I hit a giant patch of still-frozen burger and basically gag myself to death. No effing way should that happen after following the directions. Otherwise, it was OK, like stomach acid in your throat after you've already thrown up. Thank you, God, for short-term memory loss.

Sober: Oh man, these are terrible. Having learned my lesson, I nuked them a few extra seconds, resulting in boiling cheese to go with my meat square. Now I've eaten two bites and all I can taste is American cheese and sadness. Maybe some rehydrated onions but that could just be the sadness. It's this sort of soft, mushy, steaming thing punching all my monosodium glutamate buttons, but disgusting. Jesus. Test over, yo.


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