Just to be clear, the kind of potpourri to smoke to get high is not the kind that you put in a little pot with some water and boil to make the room smell nice. That kind of potpourri is nice, but it won't get you high, and if you inhale that potpourri smoke it will probably make you sick. No, that kind of smoking potpourri is has got certain psychoactive plants and herbs in it that produce the kind of effects that other smoking alternatives like tobacco or marijuana produce. Things like damiana or egyptian blue lily or wild dagga flower tops are the kind of exotic plant derivatives that can be found in potpourri herbal smoke that belongs in a incense burner in order to inhale the smoke and allow your lungs to absorb the psychosomatic ingredients and experience the relaxing calming cumulative effect of all these herbs.
A little examination of the history of smoking shows that smoking potpourri is by no means a new phenomenon. The history of smoking in America stretches way back into the Native American tradition of a lemongrass potpourri to smoke up the sweat-lodge and produce an environment conducive to the kinds of trances required for a spiritual experience. But that's just North America—in other countries the history goes back even further. Ancient civilizations such as the Babylonians (2,000 B.C) and the Indians (2,000-3,000 B.C) show evidence of using tobacco and cannabis to get high much earlier. Potpourri smoking mixtures of cannabis, butter, and even fish poo (they call it "offal") have been discovered in the form of incense sticks that date back at least that far.
And in Chinese society, opium-based potpourri smoke mixtures became popular in the 19th century. However, the history of smoking in Chinese society also goes back much further than that. Traditional Chinese medicine calls upon a special potpourri herbal smoke that produced hallucinogenic effects and dates back to at least two millenia before Christ as well. And beginning around the 4th century A.D., religious texts in the Taoist tradition talk about using incense censer potpourri to smoke to get high, referring to cannabis and its ability to call down the "Perfected Immortals." And opium was commonplace in Chinese society before the 19th century, it's just that up until then it was ingested by mouth rather than by smoking.
Mixing a hallucinogenic potpourri to smoke is by no means an extinct tradition, either. Numerous holy festivals, including the festivals of Shivrati and Holi, include ingestion of cannabis by sages or sadhus as a ritual part of the festival. The three forms of cannabis found in India today (bhang, hashish, and ganja) are all made from various parts of the cannabis plant, and use of these illegal mixtures is more or less tolerated by authorities during the religious festivals. Nor do you have to all the way to Indian to find examples of toleration of cannabis consumption. In sixteen states, the dispensation of marijuana through state-approved medical marijuana dispensaries has been legalized, and last year in California alone receipts for medical marijuana totaled more than $2 billion. In a bizarre twist on the legal/illegal controversy, the U.S. Health Department actually holds the patent rights to "medical marijuana," while marijuana itself remains a Schedule I illicit substance.
Pros of Using Legal Potpourri to Smoke. To avoid the massive confusion over cannabis and its status (is it legal? Is it illegal?), many fans of smoking have turned to legal potpourris such as herbal incense and the like. These smoking alternatives present a number of advantages, including: Will not cause you to fail a drug test, period. Are not addictive. No known negative or harmful health effects. Require much less smoking than tobacco to feel the effects. The number one reason people begin using potpourri to smoke is because of their fear that they will fail a drug test. Whether you are in the military, playing semi-pro sports, or even just applying for an apartment, it's reality that Western society today requires drug tests for many things. The consequences can often be as dire as actual jail time, such as:
Loss of job or home. Loss of medical or health insurance. Disqualification from the service or from competing. Significant financial penalties. For most people, these potential risks are greater than the benefit, so they avoid smoking pot. But given the possibility of cannabis-like effects with no chance of negative consequences like those listed above, these same people will jump at the chance to relax and unwind using herbal potpourri to smoke. Although it is true that sometimes the effects (and even the aroma) of legal potpourri can be similar to marijuana, it would be a mistake to pose these products as some sort of marijuana substitute. Rather, they are part of a group of smoking "alternatives" from which people may choose for their smoking pleasure.
And while many fans of using potpourri to smoke come from a cannabis background, there are others who simply want to avoid the social stigma that comes with smoking tobacco. Cigarettes have undergone a dramatic social transformation in the last 50 years (beginning with the Nazi anti-smoking campaign, interestingly enough) and plenty of smoking aficionados have simply had enough of being pariahs for their choice of relaxation method. Using potpourri to smoke offers a similar experience without the negative social stigma, negative health effects, and with relatively little actual smoking required to gain the same effects. Who wouldn't want to try that?