Cannabis activist, entrepreneur and counter culture icon Tommy Chong says there’s a simple - albeit selfish - reason he’s still smokin’ at age 78: it keeps him young, man.
“Even though, up close, I look ancient, from a distance you couldn’t tell if I was 30, 40 or 80, like I am close to being,” Chong said. “It’s kept me curious. It’s steered me in a spiritual direction. Marijuana affects that part of our spirit that is eternal.”
Civilized caught up with the cannabis folk hero last week in advance of the latest extension to his cannabis line, on offer in Arizona, Colorado, California, Montana, Washington and Oregon. Curated by Chong personally, the aptly named Chong’s Choice line includes pre-rolls, buds, oil cartridges and THC-infused breath strips.
The latest offering dropped in Colorado last week: cookies baked using free-range eggs, all-organic ingredients, and a conservative, 10MG dose of THC.
“They won’t put you in a coma,” he quipped.
While he’s tried all manner of vapes, dabs, edibles, topicals and everything in between, Chong is still an old-school smoker at heart. He still prefers the taste, smell and sensation of a bong hit best of all.
“I’ve done it all. The vaporizer is O.K.... you’re at a meeting or in a movie, vaporizers are nice,” he says. “But there’s nothing like a good toke.”
And despite his iconic chronic image, Chong admits he’s a slow and steady, two-toke guy. Partly, to stretch out his stash, but mostly, because he’s not the type to smoke until he’s TKO’d.
“I’ve watched some rappers light a blunt and most of it will burn up in their hand when they’re holding it. I’ve got a little ‘Chong bong’ and I put a tiny bit in there, take a shot and it’s perfect.”
The two-time cancer survivor has taken his consumption seriously over the past four years. After battling - and beating - prostate cancer in 2012, Chong was subsequently diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2015. Surgery that removed a rectal tumor and re-routed his colon has left Chong with an external ostomy pouch, but he doesn’t mind.
“That’s what I’ve learned to do with my life – whatever’s handed to me, I make it work in my favor,” he says. “There are certain things I can’t do, but a lot that I can do. Looking good is my biggest accomplishment. I like it when people look at me and go ‘wow!’ ”
Cannabis played a major role in combating the ravaging effects of treatment, he says, crediting the plant with contributing to his back-to-back recoveries from the disease. He began injecting a solvent-free cannabis essential oil following surgery, a method he says was essential for relieving pain and stimulating his appetite.
“Especially when you get older, it’s so much easier to lay there and suffer than it is to want to get up, eat and enjoy the world. What pot has done for me – and a lot of people – is give me an appetite…the next thing you know, instead of eating at home, you want to go out. The next thing you know, you’re working out. Then, you go to the doctor to get diagnosed, and you’re cancer-free. I’m cancer-free.”
On the subject of recreational use versus medicinal, Chong opines the two are one in the same.
“All use is medicinal – especially at my age,” Chong says. “It calms the mind.”
And when it comes to the mind, Chong waxes philosophical in the way only a nearly 80-year-old stoner can. He believes humanity’s sole purpose for being is to learn and he credits pot as a major contributor to the advancements in art, culture and technology.
He’s pondered the power of cannabis for decades, but says he achieved enlightenment on the plant’s most significant potential during a nine-month stint in federal prison between 2003 and 2004 – a period Chong was abstinent from marijuana entirely.
Sharing a cell with the infamous "Wolf of Wall Street," Jordan Belfort, Chong says while he missed toking up, he didn’t feel a compulsion to get high. And though guards and prisoners urged him to smoke, he refused. Unwilling to risk a lengthier sentence or trip to solitary confinement, Chong opted to explore spirituality.
“The great thing about pot is you don’t need to smoke it…I can’t do that with ice cream, but I can do it with pot,” he explained, detailing his exploration of Catholicism, Judaism and Native American rituals, namely, sweat lodges.
“It’s so hot in there, the only way you can stay in it is to turn your whole being over to the spirit. Just like that, cannabis puts you in the moment. It will awaken the spiritual side of anybody.”
Today, Chong keeps active – unusually active for a weathered old stoner and two-time cancer survivor. The secret to his vitality: ‘doing,’ rather than ‘having,’ he says. That, and having a good time, man.
“We’re not here forever, so we may as well enjoy it.”
Victoria Dekker is an award-winning print and online journalist, covering culture, life and business in the cannabis sphere and beyond. Connect with her on Twitter @deadtowrite.
Banner image: Tommy Chong performs during a Cheech and Chong show at the Uptown Theater in Napa, California, as a part of the 4th annual BottleRock festival. (Sterling Munksgard / Shutterstock.com)