Medical marijuana dispensary review: Altitude Wellness Center (just barely) in Denver

My health issues come and go in waves. Some weeks I'll be fine, others I'll spend my days nauseated and my nights waking up every few hours with a stabbing pain in my stomach. This past week has fallen into the latter category, so the last thing I wanted to do was visit a subpar dispensary. Not that I don't enjoy calling people out for selling schwag, but I didn't want to have to smoke crap herb all week.

Altitude Wellness Center

Location: 3435 South Yosemite Street Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday; noon to 5 p.m. weekends. Phone: 303-751-7888 Website: www.altitudewellnesscenter.com Owner: Chris Jetter Opened: September 2009 Raw marijuana price range: $35 an eighth Other types of medicine: Large hash selection, large edibles selection Handicap accessible? no.

This latest bout with stomach problems coincided with my good friend Henry suggesting that I check out his regular dispensary, Altitude Wellness Center. Since Henry knows the herb I need for my health problems, I took his word that this place would have it and drove, cramps and all, to far southeast Denver.

By far, I mean almost outside Denver city limits. The place is on Yosemite off Hampden, a few blocks north of Tamarac Square, making it one of the dispensaries closest to the southern section of the anti-dispensary town of Aurora. AWC is in a low-lying, unassuming white office building; unfortunately, there's no elevator for wheelchair access. Owner Chris Jetter says that back in September 2009, it was hard finding a landlord who'd rent out space to a medical marijuana center, and they took what they could get.

The dispensary has made good use of the space, which has several different rooms in a layout reminiscent of a dentist's office or small medical clinic, but any sterile atmosphere is long gone. Replacing it are MMJ product posters, weed, psychedelic concert fliers and framed pictures of Jerry Garcia. If the decor sounds stoner-heavy, that's because it is. But instead of coming across like a slacker's college dorm room, the place feels more like that older hippies's house where you used to buy weed. You know, the single dude who had a steady blue-collar job but still enjoyed his "reefer" after work, said "Far out" a lot and kept a fish tank.

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I filled out my paperwork while listening to classic rock on the radio, and then, after having my card and ID copied, I was called to the waiting room to meet my budtender, who I later figured out was Jetter. He walked in as he was finishing up his lunch and greeted me with a casual "What's up, man? How's your day goin'?" I lied and said it was going well, when really my stomach pain had kept me from eating much that day and I felt nauseated.

Our first stop on the way back to the bud bar was Altitude Wellness Center's in-house head shop. I've been in several dispensaries lately with impressive glass for sale, and AWC's selection was as good as any I've seen: lots of heady hand pipes and slides, as well as production glass from PHX and other big-name companies. The shop also had the usual vaporizers, papers and grinders, along with a rack full of weed-themed T-shirts. Jetter, a glass artist himself, said he'd tapped a lot of his artist friends from Colorado and around the country to fill up the cabinets.

Outside of the head shop is a hallway converted into an edibles area. The store had coolers full of Dixie Elixers and a large glass countertop loaded with North Shore Edibles, Mile High Snacks, Standing Akimbo and Simply Pure bars, cookies and other medicated confections and treats. As good as the selection was, the thought of eating anything -- let alone rich, sugary ganja food -- made my stomach knot up even more. I declined any treats this time, but will remember the variety for a future visit.

Jetter pointed out the clone room on the way to the bud bar, noting that rooted clones sell for $25. From what I saw, the shop had a dozen or so plants -- but since I'm not growing right now, I didn't check any of the little girls out for health issues. The bud bar is at the back of the shop, in a small room made smaller by large cabinets, a huge fish tank and a flat-screen TV -- but it was cozy rather than cramped. There were maybe 25 strains of bubble hash stored in a tackle box and a half-dozen strains of BHO on display on the top shelf of the concentrates counter; the bud is kept nearby in tall, air-sealed jars that were slightly opaque from years of kief collecting in them. The haze made seeing the buds through the glass countertop difficult, so I mostly went by strain name when checking out the cuts.

I told the budtender that I preferred sativa-heavy strains for ongoing stomach issues, and he silently pulled out six of his top choices. Everything I saw was of good quality, including Durban Poison, Headband, Sour Diesel, Cough and a strain called Dead Monk that was a cross of Hash Plant and g-13. I The only strain I wasn't really into was the King's Kush, which had a funky, Kraft-cheese smell. All of the indoor herb is capped at $35 an eighth, which is good considering that $10 per gram is a reasonable price for even a private caregiver.

Altitude Wellness Center also had some cheaper outdoor herb that was definitely outdoor quality; none of it seemed bad, but the buds lacked the color and trichome coverage we're so used to in indoor-heavy Colorado.

After it was weighed out, the herb was crammed into one of those thin metal-and-plastic tins that I always see my friend Henry with. As cool as they look, they don't really fit the buds and aren't airtight; my buds got crispy after a few days. And while nothing really blew my mind, that wasn't my goal this week; all I needed was some clean medicine at a good price -- and I found it at Altitude Wellness Center. Page down for strain reviews and photos. Dead Monk ($35/eighth) Interestingly, the buds resembled the name -- or at least my stereotype of monks: fat, round and jolly. That surely wasn't the intent of the breeder, but sometimes things like that work out in your favor. The herb had a lemony, hydroponic smell at first that came out stronger broken up. Since the container let the herb dry out, it crumbled easily and left an oily, leathery scent on my fingers -- though that came through really well in a joint. And that joint did well at keeping me from puking up my dinner Tuesday night, focusing on how it was burning instead of the nausea. I don't know this strain, so I can't say what it should look like -- but a few more days in flower wouldn't hurt, judging by the trichome color. Headband ($35/eighth) I've never seen Headband with this much red in it, and the smell out of the big jar was good enough for this to be my first pick at the shop. But (again, with the tins) it lost a lot of that funk as it dried out. Breaking it open released some of the sweet diesel in its genetics, but overall it had a bland, generically hydroponic airiness that I don't get from soil versions of this cut. Still, it surprised me with a strong, diesel-meets-fruit punch taste and an uplifting, cerebral buzz with a few bowls. Lesser amounts were more manageable for a mid-day hit. For my belly, this strain tends to be only good for appetite while doing nothing for the nausea, and the cut from Altitude proved no different. One or two hits left me without a buzz and with an appetite mid-day, when my pain isn't as bad. "Tandy Mix" BHO ($55/gram) The hashy color and consistency drew me to this strain over the others, including a very fresh-smelling batch of Alaskan Thunderfuck wax. For BHO, it resembled well-done bubble hash more than anything else. Purged well, the substance felt like flaky, drying Play-doh and left a deep, hashy smell on my fingertips that reminded me more of old-school pressed than bubble. The oil left a black, flaky ash on my quartz nail, though; I'm assuming that was due to there being too much plant material in the wax, which would explain the darker color and true hashy, plant-material smell. (If anyone has any more insight on that, feel free to add it.) Otherwise, the oil was perfect for my stomach ailment: A dab in the morning before a hot shower helped clear out the nausea for several hours, often through to lunch. It also worked well in conjunction with a few hits of Altitude's Headband. William Breathes is the pot pen name of our medical marijuana dispensary reviewer. Check out our archive of his reviews in our Mile Highs and Lows medical marijuana blog.

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