Have you ever walked into a dispensary and found the immense variety of strains confusing? Violator Kush, Glass Slipper, Gorilla Glue, whatever happened to the stuff people were smoking in the ‘70s? Well, the majority of the classic strains are still around, albeit in a more concentrated form. However, their genetics have gone on to become the foundation for over 2,300 unique strains, and the number is only going up as breeders test new genetic combinations.
Let’s get into the history of some of the most classic cannabis strains that become some of your favorite topicals, vapes, and edibles – and some of the newer strains that they’ve gone on to become!
Kush, and Cannabis Indica in general, are both named for their origins: The Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan and India. Following the boom in hashish production in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Indica strains achieved a much greater prominence than their humble origins would’ve indicated. In the world of travel, a similar boom was happening: experiencing a post-war economic boom, young westerners would travel to Europe for guided travel routes spanning the continent. This grew into the “Hippie Trail”, a path spanning from Istanbul in Turkey all the way to Lebanon, through Iran, Afghanistan, and across India to reach as far as Kathmandu and the Goa coast. This melting pot of different cultures led to, and fed off of, the rapid adoption and popularity of Cannabis Indica and its main flagbearer, Kush.
Many of its relatives including the similarly classic strains OG Kush, Hindu Kush, Afghan Kush, and Bubba Kush would become legendary, timeless strains in their own right as Kush swept across Europe and the Americas. It was quickly adopted by legendary breeders such as Sensi, and there still exists a rich tradition and industry of developing new strains from landrace seeds harvested directly from the Hindu Kush mountain range.
Some popular contemporary relatives include Hades OG by way of Fire OG, itself a blend of San Fernando Valley Kush and OG Kush. Kush’s story as a legendary strain is intimately intertwined with the growers who’ve worked with it, such as Matt “Bubba” Berger (the namesake of Bubba Kush), as are many other strains such as Haze and Chemdog (which we’ll get into later on). Another popular contemporary relative to highlight is SFV OG, not to be confused with the previously named SFV Kush or the related SFV OG Kush (confused yet?). Some relatives, such as SFV OG, are actually sativa-dominant and lack the familiar sedative qualities of their forefathers while still maintaining the pain-relieving qualities. Outside of those exceptions, though, Kush and its relatives are almost ubiquitously sedating, relaxing, night-time smokes.
Sour Diesel Bud
The history of Diesel as a strain, is, at the same time, a history of Chemdog. Chemdog, a young Grateful Dead fan, encountered growers P-Bud and Joe Brand at a Dead concert where he purchased a bag of what was called dogweed. Its potency impressed Chemdog enough that he acquired the contact information of the growers and received another batch in the mail. By some stroke of strange fortune, however, he famously found 13 seeds. 4 of those seeds would be germinated immediately: the first was discarded as a male, and the other 3 were labeled Chemdog, Chemdog A, and Chemdog B. Of the remaining 9, 3 more were germinated by Chemdog and his girlfriend, labeled C, D, and E. Only D would go on to produce, and is known today as Chem D. With 6 seeds remaining, Chemdog reunited with Joebrand and gave him 4. According to legend, Chemdog still retains 2 seeds which are capable of legendary status on par with Chem itself.
So when does Diesel come into this? When the grower Weasel acquired the Chem ‘91 (the first strain) from Chemdog. Legend suggests Weasel simply named Chem ‘91 “Diesel”, and it wasn’t until he combined it with Massachusetts Super Skunk that it became East Coast Sour Diesel, or Sour Diesel for short. As the name suggests, Diesel strains lend themselves to an energetic, dynamic high that can have you moving around.
It was this story, and the strains involved, that gave birth to familiar contemporary strains such as Chem 4, Sour Amnesia, Rebel Sour, and Lemon Chem. The Chem and Diesel families, named for their pungent, gassy odors, have left their stink across the entire strain landscape.
Haze, much like Kush, traces its roots to the first modern wave of Californian cannabis cultivation in the early 1970s. In the area of Santa Cruz, the brothers R. Haze and J. Haze – known as the Haze Brothers – began cultivating cannabis from imported seeds as well as strains provided to them by their neighbor Sam “The Skunkman” Selezny, who would go on to develop the iconic – you guessed it – Skunk strain. Haze itself was developed, as many legendary strains are, from a combination of landrace cannabis strains – that is, indigenous cannabis that grows naturally in the wild. In the case of Haze, it’s suggested that the landraces came from Mexico and Colombia. This landrace male was then bred with a landrace from Southern India, and their female offspring bred with a landrace from Thailand. This is how Haze was created by the Haze Brothers: by continually hybridizing 100% sativas from Mexico, Colombia, India, and Thailand together into one powerful, cerebral strain.
Haze would go on to be hybridized so effectively that some growers would go as far as to call it the most important sativa in the recent history of cannabis breeding. The equally iconic Silver Haze would be created by Nevil Schoenmakers, the creator of the first cannabis seedbank, and the success of Northern Lights 5 x Haze at the 1988 Cannabis Cup would guarantee the legendary status of Haze. Schoenmakers became a sort of torchbearer for Haze, who would go on with Sensi Seeds to develop Jack Herer, Mango Haze, and the award-winning Super Silver Haze.
Contemporary examples of relatives you might find at Los Angeles dispensaries, include Pineapple Jack, Candy Jack, Hazelberry, and Extreme Haze. Echoing its upbringing and roots in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the Indian Subcontinent, Haze and its relatives are known for an aroma of spices, sandalwood, incense, and hints of citrus. As the name implies, it imparts a strong headiness which can leave one euphoric and uplifted while still maintaining a relaxing quality. When making your purchase of a pre-rolled joint marked “sativa hybrid”, be mindful of these traits; you just might be enjoying a Haze relative.
Often treated with a sobering amount of respect, White Widow is widely recognized as a classic, legendary strain and has been winning Cannabis Cups for almost 4 decades. Tapping the power of landrace strains that have had millennia to develop their traits, White Widow is a cross between a Brazilian sativa landrace and an Indian indica landrace. Owing to its potency and desirable effects, White Widow has spread its spider legs across a plethora of breeder’s inventories and smoker’s lungs. Its presence explains the inundation of spider-related names in strains as diverse as Purple Widow, Black Widow, Blue Widow, and White Russian.
First developed in the Netherlands by Green House Seeds with clones from famous breeder De Sjamaan, it has graced Dutch coffee shops since the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Legend suggests it was around as early as 1987, being called at the time Arnhem’s Wonder. Its name stems from the long, spider-like trichomes whose bright color, alongside the frosty buds, lends a white color to the cannabis flower. With a terpene profile rich in Humulene, Myrcene, and Caryophyllene, its scent even suggests the same musty, dank, dark environments you might find one of its namesakes.
Distant family members you might encounter at California dispensaries, especially in the Melrose or Studio City areas near Los Angeles where many of these strains were developed, include strains such as White Rhino, White Cookies, and Storm Trooper. White Widow and its relatives are known for, despite their name, a very relaxed, non-paranoid high excellent for relieving anxiety – perfect for sudden onset arachnophobia.
Honorable Mention: Landraces
Their names are only uttered in private, and their legacy is the stuff of legend. Acapulco Gold. Colombian Red. Thai. Durban. Named less for effects and more for where they’re from, their name is reminiscent of the Afghan and Hindu Kush mentioned previously. These are strains that predate the explosion of popularity in the ‘60s and ‘70s, who’ve had nothing but the processes of natural selection – and selective breeding from its early adopters – to help them develop into strains worthy of notice.
Landraces such as these are easy to spot by their naming conventions. Morphological descriptions are more common in landrace and legendary strains who have no genealogy to appeal to in their identification. Their appearance and indigenous location was the only information that those categorizing it had to go off of. Acapulco Gold was specifically defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a special grade of cannabis growing in the vicinity of Acapulco… with a color of brownish gold, or a mixture of gold and green”.
These strains would go on to become every single strain one might find in a dispensary, and their history – as well as the early agriculturalists who developed them – should be treated with the reverence they’re entitled to. Every discrete product from your edibles you take for anxiety to the vapes you carry with you owe their existence to these landrace strains.
That’s it for our exploration of a few legendary strains, so next time you pick up a pre-rolled joint, think amount all the human stories that have culminated in this final product. You hold a lot of history in your hands, and the individuals who made that history are universally interesting characters worthy of articles all themselves.