For years, people have talked about increasing marijuana potency. The idea that pot is getting stronger—much stronger than the stuff that got passed around at Woodstock, for instance—is treated like conventional wisdom these days. Maybe it shouldn’t be.
What has changed in the last 40 years?
The prevailing belief is that ‘old school’ marijuana was seldom as potent as today’s strains. Back in the 1970s, most weed apparently had THC content in the single digits. The suggestion is that a lot of cannabis strains contained little more than 4-5%. Today, it is normal for a marijuana strain to have over 25% THC.
In the 1970s, the majority of cannabis was imported illegally to the US from outside countries, mainly Columbia. Cannabis potency is affected by oxidation. Imports from outside of the country could take months to arrive, and during transport it was exposed to high temperatures, thus reducing the buds potency. The journey between farm and consumer was a lot longer, so the marijuana was older causing the THC levels to decrease over time.
Up until the late 1970s, if you were smoking pot, you were likely smoking what was often referred to as “sativa.” Referred to as landraces, these strains regularly carry the name of the place they were developed: Thai, Durban Poison, Acapulco Gold, etc. Whereas sativa landrace strains moved across the globe, indica landraces were isolated in the arid, mountainous regions around Afghanistan and Pakistan. These strains also carry the names of places they were developed: Afghani, Hindu Kush, etc.
It wasn’t until the late ‘70s that people decided to intentionally breed these two kinds of cannabis together. Eventually, breeders were able to produce offspring that consistently carried the desired characteristics from each type, and perhaps even more importantly, avoid unwanted characteristics that could weaken the plant’s health and production.
These hybrids have now taken over the cannabis market, and this, my ‘60s cannabis smoking friends, is the big difference between what you smoked then and what you smoke now: Today, you are smoking a hybrid of cannabis as opposed to a pure landrace strain.
Those strains from the ‘60s are not grown on a large scale today, but there are a few that carry a big enough following to keep them available in our current market. These are commonly referred to as “heirloom” strains, and they are produced in small batches and carry genetics of the landrace, but lack the original terroir.
Here are a few heirloom strains you can find in your local shop to hold you over.
Cheech and Chong first made this strain counterculture-famous with their jingle from their 1978 classic movie, Up in Smoke: “No stems, no seeds that you don’t need Acapulco Gold is badass weed!” This landrace is named for its region of origin, Acapulco, Mexico. Although it was likely less potent in the 70s, today this strain is known to reach THC levels of 20% or better.
Hailing from the port city of Durban in South Africa, Durban Poison is an energizing strain best known for its unique smell, taste, and bud structure. It offers a bouquet of anise, earthy spiciness, and sweetness. Nothing else in the cannabis world is like it.
Unlike other narrow-leaf strains, this plant produces flowers that are round and fluffy as opposed to long and wispy. It’s like a round cheese puff … that tastes like a black jelly bean.
Afghani is a broad-leafed strain with dense buds that produces heavy resin perfect for hash production. This strain evolved in an arid climate, therefore its buds tend to mold if it is grown in climates with high humidity.
Its sweet and earthy smell translates to a dank sedation loved by those looking to relax.
Named after its pungent aroma, Skunk lineage is hard to deny. Popular since the late 70s, this strain is also commonly used to create many of the favorite strains found in the legal cannabis market. Although indica-leaning, Skunk #1 is known for its balanced effects. Not a show stopper for THC production, the strain typically tops out below 20% THC. As a blend of Afghani, Colombian Gold and Acapulco Gold, this strain is practically royalty.
While this strain is often referred to as a landrace, breeders cross this strain with Skunk #1 for stability. Named for the fourth largest city in Afghanistan, and thought to have lineage stemming from the aforementioned Afghani strain, this potent indica regularly produces THC content above 20 percent. Because this strain typically produces high amounts of resin, it is commonly used for making hash, which was a popular method of consumption in the 70s.
This robust sativa-dominant hybrid (90%) was #3 in a High Times list of greatest marijuana strains of all time. It can have up to 26% THC with 4% CBN and 2% CBD. There is a dispute over its exact origins. Some say it is a cross between 91 Chemdawg and Mass Super Skunk. Others believe it is a cross between a Chemdawg phenotype and a Mexican Sativa.
Although it contains some indica, Sour Diesel is not for insomniacs! It provides you with arguably one of the best energetic, intoxicating highs on earth. Sour Diesel is unquestionably the strain for ‘good times,’ and you don’t have to worry about couch lock.
Once you start smoking Sour Diesel, you will be taken aback by how tasty it is. However, you won’t have time to dwell on it too much. The euphoria comes soon after, accompanied by energy and an uplifted mood. Sour Diesel also rewards users with one of the longest highs, up to five hours.
As a classic sativa landrace, this strain gained its fame throughout the 60s and 70s. Earning the nomenclature from its origins, Maui Wowie first came from Hawaii which is evident from its luscious, tropical aromas and flavors. Averaging around 13 percent THC, this was a potent strain for this era. Many modern dispensaries carry this as a lightly euphoric and mildly energetic strain.
Also known as Nevil’s Haze, Original Haze has a storied history. It was a creation of the Haze Brothers of California. Then, Sam the Skunkman (Dave Watson) brought it to Amsterdam in the 1980s. The incomparable Nevil, one of the kings of breeding, backcrossed and stabilized Original Haze.
In the modern era, this pure sativa marijuana strain contains between 10% and 20% THC. It is a potent yet well-balanced option. It has a positive reputation for its sweet and spicy haze flavor with the merest hint of citrus. Original Haze offers a slow-building high, which you should initially feel behind the eyes.
Soon enough, the force of the strain hits you hard and fast. In some cases, it offers a psychedelic experience. Although it is a cerebral and energizing strain, we don’t recommend using it to treat paranoia or anxiety. It is best to use Original Haze for migraines or chronic pain.
Said to be Bob Marley’s strain of choice, Lamb’s Bread is a landrace from the island of Jamaica. Also known as Lamb’s Breath, this strain is great for creative endeavors and introspection, as it provides an uplifting feeling and a sense of intense clarity.
Like many landrace strains, it offers a taste and smell that separates it from the rest.
This strain was a Cannabis Cup winner in Amsterdam almost 30 years ago and remains an all-time classic. Today, you can find Northern Lights #5 strains with a THC content of well over 20% along with small amounts of CBN and CBD.
It is a potent indica dominant strain (95%) and continues to be one of the most loved marijuana strains in the world. Be warned; Northern Lights #5 is not for casual users. We recommend building up a tolerance before taking on this behemoth.
Otherwise, this sweet and tangy sensation will overwhelm you. It can knock newcomers for six after one puff! However, if you can withstand the power of Northern Lights #5, it could reward you with a sense of happiness and well-being.
Like ancestry and genetics paint a picture of our biological origins, as cannabis products, strains, and even consumers continue to evolve, we mustn’t lose sight of our roots. They say that classic things never truly go out of style. This is undoubtedly the case with old school marijuana strains. Older strains must be of exceptional quality to compete with the newer bud.
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