With High Times passing into the hands of new owners this week, we took a deep dive into the pioneering cannabis journalism they’ve laid down over the years. It’s an impressive record. High Times was writing about cannabis and running–a precursor to today’s canna-athlete movement–way back in 1979. They pointed out the senseless carnage begat by the war on drugs during a time when doing so could have dire legal consequences. They featured cannabis culture legends like Cheech and Chong, Hunter S. Thompson, and Jack Herer before they were legends and stuck by them when mainstream outlets had written them off as has-beens. And they had some awesome covers.
In fact, High Times recently uploaded all of its covers and content, every issue and page, in a “High Times: Cover to Cover” package available here. We signed up and spent far too much time browsing in the library.
Here are a few of our faves over the years.
Issue #1, 1974: Smuggler’s Paradise
Technically, this wasn’t the very first issue of High Times. The prototype was a black-and-white summer ’74 edition that featured a woman suggestively considering a psychedelic mushroom. But the Fall ’74 issue was the first edition of High Times as we know it.
It featured a full color cover and perhaps the very first instance of nug porn, a half-joke on the Playboy centerfold featuring a full color photo of a dense brick of Colombia’s finest. This (left) is what fine cannabis looked like back in the day, dear readers. Makes you glad to be living in the legal future, doesn’t it?
Sept. ’77: Hunter at His Height
Three years in, High Times was packing great journalism between the covers. Here Hunter S. Thompson holds forth on Jimmy Carter (“I still like him”), smoking cannabis in the press corps, and the craziness of the Nixon years. “They tried to bar me from the White House during the impeachment thing,” Thompson told interviewer Ron Rosenbaum. “In order to get in the White House I had to promise not to call anybody a Nazi cocksucker.” Also in this issue: one of the earliest looks at the federal cannabis farm (“The Federal Joint Rolling Factory”) at the University of Mississippi, which continues to be the only legal source for research-grade cannabis.
March ’79: Runner’s High
The editors were way ahead of their time with this one. “Pot keeps you loose and lets you enjoy running—the longer the run the higher you get,” they wrote. We’re just now rediscovering the many ways that athletes can incorporate cannabis into their workouts and their recovery. Also in this issue: David Byrne pens a really weird “opinion” piece.
June ’88: This Was Acceptable in the Eighties
Bright pastels! Heavy metal! Sheena Easton haircuts! Electronic futurismo gizmos! This issue had it all going on, ’80s style: Ozzy, Motörhead, Mötley Crüe, and some trippy goggle set called the Synchro-Energizer. Lesson: The eighties had a lot of unnecessary umlauts, and not every invention will be the iPhone.
March ’92: Cypress Hill Embraces the Blunt
Cannabis wasn’t a signature prop in eighties hip-hop. Dr. Dre famously declared I don’t smoke weed or sess / Cause it’s known to give a brother brain damage on N.W.A.’s “Express Yourself.” Then came Cypress Hill, the first hip-hop group to truly celebrate the blunt. This March 1992 cover put a fat blunt, nugs, and B-Real’s leaf tattoo front and center. Eight months later Dre would release The Chronic, cement the place of cannabis in hip-hop culture, and introduce Snoop Dogg to mainstream America.
Aug. ’94: Vice Journalism Before Vice Existed
“There, lying on one of the beds with his ski mask on, puffing on his pipe, with adoring women on either side, was Subcommander Marcos.” So wrote Bill Weinberg in this 1994 feature that profiled the mysterious Mexican rebel who fancied a ski mask and an ever-lit (tobacco) pipe. High Times was running these Vice-style stories back before Shane Smith even conceived the idea. (Well, okay, technically there may have been overlap: Smith started Vice in Montreal that same year.)
Oct. ’97: That Brief Canna-Tech Overlap
How to explain Terence McKenna to someone who didn’t live through the nineties? Hmm… He was sort of a Timothy Leary-style guru for Wired Magazine subscribers, back when tech was less about billionaires and more about mind expansion and cultural revolution. Anyway. This was the moment when Wired met High Times. It didn’t really last long, maybe because the first tech bubble was about 24 months from bursting.
Dec. ’99: Santa Jack Herer
We haven’t actually done a scientific count, but we’d bet that the record holder for most High Times covers would be Tommy Chong, followed by Jack Herer. Herer served as a kind of jolly mascot for the magazine, a little more serious than Mad’s Alfred E. Neuman (but only a little). This is our favorite: High Times ringing out the millennium with Santa Jack and his bag full of sticky fat nugs. Happy Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight.
May ’03: Out of the Celebrity Cannabis Closet
Prior to the early 2000s, women on High Times covers tended to be (1) beautiful, (2) scantily clad, and (3) unnamed. The guys were almost always famous, named, and not half-naked. There were a few exceptions, but this May 2003 cover with actress Frances McDormand, star of Fargo, marked one of the first times a mainstream celebrity truly came out of the cannabis closet. It also marked a step forward for cannabis culture, simply by portraying a fully empowered and fully clothed woman on the cover.
Mar. ’04: Have You Tried This Volcano Thing?
Just two years after Markus Storz and Jürgen Bickel formed the business partnership that would become Storz & Bickel, High Times put the company’s revolutionary product on the cover of Grow, a short-lived High Times spinoff. It was a bold move; it’s almost impossible to find any other product featured as a cover subject. But the editors had an inkling about what the Volcano would do for cannabis consumers and the entire industry. It’s almost eerie how prescient this seems in hindsight. For every Synchro-Energizer miss, the magazine has also had plenty of Volcano hits.
Oct. ’06: What If We Just Ran Nug Porn?
There were a few years—2006 through 2009, to be precise—when the editors seemed to discover that High Times readers liked nug porn. They really, really, really liked nug porn. Couldn’t get enough of it. So the magazine ran beautiful photos of trichome-encrusted cannabis on the cover of 9 out of 12 issues every year. Give the readers what they want, right? It may have sated a desire back in the day, but in hindsight it makes for pretty boring viewing. Hey, nothing against great nug shots! We like a little variety in the mailbox, is all we’re saying.
Oct. ’12: Dabs Hit the Scene
As strong as the High Times brand is, it’s never strayed far from its roots in hardcore cannabis culture. That may not have been the easiest financial play, but it’s resulted in the magazine retaining its subculture credibility for nearly 50 years, which is a phenomenally difficult thing to do. It’s also paid off in covers like this one, which recognized the cultural shift happening with cannabis concentrates and dab rigs. “DABS! Is This the Future of Marijuana?” the editors asked, five years before the mainstream media began to learn the word.
Aug. ’15: O, What Might Have Been
Now that the Obama administration has left town, we hear peeps now and then from former officials who say they wish they had pushed harder for legalization. Please. Save it. Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, did the world a huge service by allowing Colorado and Washington to proceed with adult-use legalization. Period, full stop. Holder dialed back the war on people of color, aka the war on drugs, by ending federal for-profit prisons and ordering prosecutors to stop seeking mandatory minimum sentences in all drug cases. But so much more could have and should have been done. This photoshopped cover was the High Times editors’ attempt to goad Obama into making some sort of last-minute legalization move before exiting 1600 Pennsylvania. It didn’t work. Five months later Donald Trump took over, Jeff Sessions became attorney general, and a new era commenced.