Finally, Weed Meant to Be Smoked in a Hookah

The inspiration and origins of High Desert cannabis hookah mixture.

High Desert
High Desert Pistachio Ice Cream cannabis hookah mixture | Photo courtesy of High Desert
High Desert Pistachio Ice Cream cannabis hookah mixture | Photo courtesy of High Desert

For all the intricate glass pieces, space-age vaporizers, and creative consumption devices at our fingertips, one experience has remained just out of reach: smoking cannabis in a hookah.

It’s an experience many of us have attempted and regretted, as a traditional hookah oven is designed for the wet, sticky texture of shisha tobacco, so hits of dried cannabis buds only result in harsh inhales and a waste of weed. But who can blame us for trying? There’s something so special about this centuries-old device: the carved metal details, the ritual rhythm of passing the mouthpiece and tending to the coals heating the tobacco. There’s a slow, patient quality to hookah seshes that just can’t be achieved when passing around a joint. Until now.

High Desert cannabis hookah mixture is a new product now available in California that solves this consumption conundrum. The proprietary mix of small cannabis buds, trim, and a molasses mixture creates the right texture for traditional hookah ovens, allowing for low-dose tokes and more social, substantial seshes. Developed by a longtime hookah-lover, the brand is the culmination of years dedicated to the art of hookah manufacturing, his own love for cannabis, and the transformative high (and love) that can be found in the Californian desert.

“I grew up on Sakhalin Island,” the founder says. “The nature there is actually very similar to the Northern California region. Then I moved to Saint Petersburg for university, and then Beijing for three years. It was there that I got interested in business and I started to manufacture very unique hookahs which saw huge demand.”

In fact, a 2013 Rolling Stone article featured Drake smoking one of the founder's LED-lit hookah pipes. The founder continued to work in the tobacco and hookah industries, ending up in California where he longed for the shifts in hookah culture that were happening in the cannabis community. He didn’t appreciate how smoking hookah was so exclusively associated with college kids killing their time or only Middle Eastern cultures. Hookah is global, and it fits into the trends of microdosing and a return of ritual to wellness practices. The founder began to wonder if cannabis could be the missing key to rebranding hookah for modern audiences.

He began experimenting with making a cannabis mixture that would work in a hookah, playing with different strains and formulations for the right potency per sesh. Just when the mixture was ready, the COVID-19 outbreak put it on the back burner. Amidst all the chaos and change that 2020 and 2021 brought, it introduced him to his future partner in business and life, a fellow ex-pat also taking time during the pandemic to see more of America, and who would reignite his excitement to get people hookah-ing weed.

The pair fell in love with each other and the desert, too, returning soon after for a few weeks of stargazing, meditation, wandering “nonexistent trails,” and climbing up rugged boulders for a better view of the sunset. And every time the couple visited Joshua Tree, the founder brought his hookah and his joints.

By the fall of 2021, they’d dedicated themselves to combining these things that felt so right: hookah, cannabis and the desert. He dusted off his recipe for the hookah mixture, and within a matter of months, High Desert had beautiful jars on display at the December installment of the major California cannabis trade show, Hall of Flowers.

“High Desert is both a manifestation of our trips, dreams, and memorable conversations, as well as our attempt to breathe new life into hookah culture,” the co-founder says. “The designs and visuals are inspired by the Joshua Tree desert—all those sunsets and sunrises that we were lucky to catch and the beloved friends we made while immersed in nature.”

The founder hopes the desert vibes can help people open their minds to how cannabis fits into their weekday lives and weekend adventures. As much as he enjoys heavy-hitting products lining dispensary shelves, he knows that the majority of people out there are intimidated by the super potent offerings.

“The majority of our friends can’t smoke an entire joint,” he points out. “It gets them too high. And even when you do share, a joint lasts only a few minutes. With hookah, you get to enjoy sessions for hours, constantly sharing the hookah and maintaining a social vibe as the gentle high slowly comes on. You feel the uplifting and happy high, but still stay present in the moment.”

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Lauren Yoshiko is a freelance writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. She writes The Broccoli Report, a bi-weekly newsletter for creative cannabis entrepreneurs.