Longtime cannabis journalist Ellen Holland’s first book, “Weed: A Connoisseur’s Guide to Cannabis,” recently hit the shelves of bookstores and online retailers across the country, providing cannabis enthusiasts with the quintessential tome on the plant we all know and love.
The 256-page hardcover coffee table book is loaded with gorgeous photography and blends cannabis science with culture in a way that is accessible for the casual consumer while still being informative for the most dedicated connoisseur.
Marijuana Venture spoke with Holland about her writing process and the interesting people she worked with to produce the book.
Marijuana Venture: How did “Weed” come together?
Ellen Holland: The publishers came to me because they were looking for a book on cannabis appreciation. I’ve done a lot of work with Ed Rosenthal in the past, and I had been working on the terpenes chapter for his new Cannabis Growers Handbook. I was really getting into that and realizing that there wasn’t that much information in terms of appreciating cannabis for the consumer in a book that talks about terpenes.
My book is split into two parts. The first part is an examination of how you can explore the flavors and aromas of cannabis within the categories of fuel, earth, fruit and floral. And then I went through some of the cultivar families and explained the building blocks of cannabis in that way.
And then the other part of it is different ways that you can enjoy cannabis, such as in food, through dinner parties, drinks and cocktails and the spiritual elements of cannabis — different ways that cannabis can enhance your life.
MV: How long did the project take from when you started writing it to having a printed book in your hands?
EH: I started on it during the fires and the shutdowns during harvest season in 2020. I had three months to put together the 50,000-word manuscript, despite all the setbacks, and then worked with the publishers throughout the rest of the year to put it out. And the book was ready for stores in December of 2021.
MV: Did you know it would turn out to be this big, beautiful coffee table style book, with a great cover, great photos and a really high-end feel?
EH: I knew how big it was going to be, and I knew how much photo support would be needed to make it really shine. I worked for Cannabis Now magazine for a number of years, so I knew a lot of photographers and different people in the industry, and I hooked in some of those people.
One of the main photographers is Kristen Angelo. On Instagram, she’s @apotfarmersdaughter. She’s someone I really respected and admired for a long time. A lot of what she does is outdoor farms, which is a big focus of the book.
Another person whose photos were featured is Kandid Kush. His name is Chris Romaine, and he’s just an incredible photographer. I’ve worked with him in the past. We went to Moon Gazer Farms in Mendocino and spent all day harvesting the plants with them. We fed the leaves to the goats. He does this spin photography where he takes the bud and shoots numerous pictures and puts them all together as the bud spins around.
MV: What did you want to achieve in terms of the content?
EH: I think, for me, as a writer, it was really important to get information out about how cannabis works. So right in the beginning, there’s a chapter on the endocannabinoid system, and I talked to Raphael Mechoulam, who has been a really valuable resource for me in the past. And I also talked to Ethan Russo
about how the endocannabinoid system works within our bodies and how terpenes can affect our highs.
It’s such a complex plant, and I think people always want to know, “which one is right for me?” And in terms of the huge diversity of cannabis, the only way that you’re really going to find that out is to learn more about the chemotype of cannabis, which is the cannabinoids’ interplay with the terpenes.
MV: You’ve already had a pretty extensive career in cannabis, but was there something you learned during the process of researching and writing this book?
EH: Yeah, I feel like it gave me a basis of tracing the lineage of cultivar families — figuring out, for example, what descended from Hindu Kush, or figuring out what other types of cannabis fit into that category of earthy flavors. I thought that was really interesting.
I think a lot of the stories about cannabis cultivars are just legends. They’re not written down. They’re often conflicting. I used Ed Rosenthal’s “Big Book of Buds” as the basis for some of my research for the book. In that series of books, Ed interviewed all the breeders directly and asked them about the creation of their cultivars and how they came about. So I feel like that information is direct from the breeders and is the most accurate that we can get.
It was important to me to put all that down, to accentuate the building blocks of cannabis and the types of cannabis so that you can have a better understanding of where we are.
MV: With so many commercial producers on the market and countless strains available, it seems impossible that there’s any consistency from one strain to the next, making the nomenclature basically meaningless. What are your thoughts on that?
EH: I was just talking to Leafly last night about some of the new strains, or the new cultivars that are coming out in 2022. I believe breeders are still trying to let you know the effects of their strain through the names.
But ultimately, cannabis is a representation of its place. And it also is a representation of how it’s grown. So even if you find a certain cultivar that you really like, it’s not necessarily going to be the exact same one that you find from a different brand. But it is helpful to know, just as a guide, what direction you’d like to go in.
MV: Was there a person you interviewed for the book that stood out to you in particular? What made them memorable?
EH: Yeah, the first people I interviewed for the book were Swami and Nikki of Swami Select. They grow cannabis outdoors in Mendocino, and they grow with a special spiritual intention. Swami (Chaitanya) and Nikki (Lastreto) also judged the Emerald Cup, which is a celebration in Northern California where all the farmers come down from the hills and show off their best harvest, so they have a really fine taste for cannabis and a really refined palate.
It was really cool to talk to them about how they explore cannabis and how they would encourage people to enjoy it. One of the things that I learned from them that I think is fun for people to try is doing a dry hit of cannabis. If you roll a joint and then you hit it before it before you light it, you generally get a sense of the taste and the terpenes in it.
MV: You’re based in California, so what are your thoughts about what’s going on in California’s cannabis industry right now?
EH: It is true that Prop 64 was an extinction event for the companies that previously existed. It’s hard to see companies that I loved and supported just disappear.
I feel like it’s more the corporations that are making money. So for a person who was invested in cannabis in the way that California defined cannabis, which was through compassion, I feel like we’re getting further and further away from those ideals.
That’s another thing I’m trying to impart in my book, the stories of the people who brought us cannabis and why they brought us cannabis, in the hopes that we can return to some of those compassionate thoughts.
In California, it’s great that we can grow it ourselves. It’s legal to have six plants, and we can give it away for free. So I hope that more people still want to do that and remember the ideals of where cannabis came from in California.
Hopefully we can save some of these legacy companies, because it’s sad when you see all these companies you used to love and they’re just not there any more. You think, oh, they were gonna be there forever. They had such good weed. They had such good ethos. They were respecting the plant. Everyone loved them. There was no reason for them to disappear other than all the hoops that have to be jumped through.
It’s making it a field where only the richest of the rich can compete. I just hate seeing that.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.