The creators behind New York City's first immersive cannabis experience, The Stone Age, are seeking to change the narrative about cannabis, just in time for legalization.
The Stone Age occupies 9,000 square feet near Union Square in Manhattan. It takes participants through eight "states of being" that every human experiences but that the artists and founders believe are enhanced, deepened, or altered by cannabis. Arousal is the first, broken into four rooms: anticipation, excitement, plateau, and, finally, orgasm, which features a lighted sculpture by Brooklyn-based artist Jason Krugman.
"For me, when I consume cannabis, my heartbeat starts to increase," said Sasha Perelman, co-founder of The Stone Age. "The same thing happens when you experience excitement when you're experiencing pleasure."
After arousal comes creativity. Artist Bianca Romero invites participants to step outside the box, interpreted very literally through a pile of decorated boxes. The creativity installment also has an interactive light mural and DJ booth. 
"We've played off of this idea of mind, body, and soul when it comes to creating, and so not that traditional, 'Oh, I'm a painter,' 'Oh I'm a writer,' but creativity is experienced in all facets," Perelman said.
As with other popular immersive experiences like the Van Gogh exhibit and The Color Factory, The Stone Age is very social media-friendly — and that's the point. The experience is intended to be both aesthetic and educational, teaching participants about things like terpenes, which Leafly defines as the aromatic oils found in cannabis, and the endocannabinoid system. Perelman and co-founder Liz Santana hope participants will take what they learn at The Stone Age and share it with their friends and followers as New York gears up for adult-use cannabis sales.
"If you feel empowered coming out of here, knowing three things more than what you did coming in here, you're going to share that with your friends. And then all of a sudden, 100,000 people become half a million people, become two million people. And that's how progress happens," Perelman said.
Educational components are most evident in the installation's more somber rooms, like the one called "Pain." It contains a maze of gauzy curtains to represent the haze of opioid addiction with what Perelman called "pillars of relief" that recite facts about cannabis as participants move through the maze. Although cannabis has not been clinically proven to relieve pain in the same ways as opioids, research is promising. And there's more to come. The National Football League pledged $1 million in June to research alternatives to opioids for pain management, highlighting cannabis and CBD as particular areas of interest.
The Awareness installation takes participants through a timeline of the War on Drugs and past a wall with art from people currently and formerly incarcerated due to drug-related convictions. It also features a room that contains furniture from an actual prison, alongside art to help participants understand the feelings of surveillance and confinement inherent to incarceration.
"I think seeing this, if this doesn't evoke empathy, then we haven't done our jobs," Perelman said.
The Stone Age's Awareness section isn't intended to be discouraging. It offers participants options to take action through a partnership with Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit that aims to liberate some 40,000 individuals in the U.S. who are still incarcerated for cannabis-related crimes. QR codes posted around the exhibit direct participants to pages where they can make donations or sign petitions.
Fifteen to 20 creatives from the tri-state area collaborated to deck out The Stone Age top to bottom. When the creators take The Stone Age nationwide in 2022, they intend to work with artists local to those installations to give each an authentic flavor. 
"For the artists that are being showcased here, we tried to keep it at a mixed variety of, you know, people that are well known, from 100,000 followers...down to the sculptors in here who have just been behind the scenes," said Anna Sibel, artistry director at The Stone Age.
Consuming cannabis in any form is prohibited on-site, but the founders know people will want to experience The Stone Age high — and they encourage it! But Perelman also believes the exhibit has something for everyone, regardless of whether or not they choose to consume.
"We recommend that everybody chooses their own adventure," Perelman said. "This is a dope experience, regardless of your relationship with cannabis. And this is really for everybody."
The Stone Age immersive exhibit runs through November 24, 2021, in New York City.