Lately, there has been lots of talk and debate about the validity of cannabis strain names, from the meaning of terms such as Indica and Sativa to the breeder given names such as OG Kush, Bubba, or Sour Diesel. Some say these names have very little scientific value and are thus, essentially meaningless. We respectfully disagree. While these names may not be scientifically valid in many ways, they still have a purpose and deserve to be preserved as cannabis moves into a legalized marketplace.
Recent studies conducted by Canadian scientists have found very little genetic similarity within samples of cannabis strains with the same name. They also reported a lack of genetic division between what is commonly considered Sativa and Indica. The data reports that Indica and Sativas are not technically genetic lineages or accurate terms to define the effects across strains.
The one distinction they found between Indica and Sativa breeds was in the morphology of the plant. The differences in growth characteristics can be attributed to the natural evolution of the landrace strains as they grew in the environment from which they originated. The major evolutionary difference between Sativas and Indicas is that Sativas evolved to take advantage of humid conditions. This resulted in the development of thin, lanky stems and long, narrow leaves to promote greater respiration. Indicas, on the other hand, developed to survive in drier, more arid climates, evolving into short, stocky plants with thick, stubby leaves designed to minimize the loss of water through respiration.
It is true that most of the terms we use to describe or categorize cannabis today are not scientifically sound. However, that is to be expected as science and cannabis have only just recently met! Due to its illegality and tainted image, few serious scientists wanted to besmirch their reputations by studying the plant. While Israel has been investigating cannabis since the 60’s, it is only recently that mainstream science has been able to research and access cannabis without receiving harsh criticism from their peers and the media.
Science Didn’t Name The Strains, Culture Did
Despite prohibition being in effect for almost a hundred years, breeders have been cultivating in secret for just as long. The culture of cannabis growers is community-based as they often collaborate and share genetics and tips on growing methods. Decades of their cultivation brought us the strains we recognize today as top-shelf quality.
The names of these famous strains are creative, to say the least. To many outside of cannabis culture, they seem random or ridiculous and might consider them “street names” similar to smack, blow, or crank. However, cannabis strain names contain much more information than the street names of hard drugs, they are rooted in the origins of the genetic building blocks used by the breeders who created them.
The urban myths and lineages of these names can be just as fascinating as the genetic lineages of cannabis itself. Fascinating in ways beyond science. There is a social, cultural, and human element to them. Breeder names are loaded with folkloric backstory, and many are interwoven creating a tapestry of connected breeders who make up the cannabis community. Through these stories we can trace some of the genetic building blocks used to create the strain, but not necessarily their exact genetic breakdown.
Genetically, cannabis is much harder to trace as every seed has a unique genotype and two different seeds from the same mother plant (same genotype) can have significant variation in the resulting plants (phenotype). A phenotype is simply a difference in the outward, physical appearance of the plant. This includes the atoms, molecules, cell structures, metabolism, and basically everything else that is a function or behaviour of a plant (different smells, tastes, and effects). There is in essence, an endless amount of marijuana genotypes/phenotypes beyond Sativa and Indica. When you examine different types of “pure” Indicas, there are obvious differences in traits across the strains.
What Is In A Name?
OG Kush, for example, is a widely celebrated and recognized strain. You can tell someone you are carrying some OG Kush and they will know what you are generally referring to.
The story behind the name “OG Kush” is much more wholesome than the reason behind names like Molly or smack which are code names that were created in order to avoid suspicion from eavesdroppers or authorities.
The story behind OG Kush goes like this:
In 1993 an LA based breeder named Putz got a cut of a Chemdawg and crossed it with a male he referred to as his “secret ingredient” which was a cross of Lemon Thai and an Old World Paki Kush. These buds made it around the LA county and in 1995 someone remarked to Putz that his grow had a superior flavour. They said it must be so good because it was mountain grown. To this Putz laughed and replied, “nah, it’s ocean grown, bro”. The tag stuck and it became known, henceforth, as OG Kush.
The urban legend continues describing how Putz moved to New Zealand with his new bride but not before sending cuts of his OG to his friends in California. One of the recipients then bred his cut of OG with a West Coast Dog and a male Old World Kush. The result was what became the original Bubba Kush.
The term “Kush” also comes with its own story and family tree which begins in the Hindu Kush mountains where a variety of Kush genetics can be found. Here they have evolved naturally over time and with some human influence via natives of the land selecting the best breeds for hash making. Varieties such as Old World Paki Kush, and Chemdawg all come from these regions. These original mama strains were eventually taken to new climates and territories where they were bred to thrive in these environments. Once a landrace strain has acclimated it is then considered an “heirloom” strain which will have its own set of characteristics. Meaning that the Kush found in different communities will not be identical to the original strain that came from the Kush mountain range. Therefore, results vary based on the environment in which it grows.
From there the history continues. Anyone who is curious and motivated enough can find out more by doing a little independent research. The great thing about these creative names is that they are perfect keywords and can easily be found using search engines. Getting rid of these names will undoubtedly create a blip in our traceable knowledge. Much of what we know about cannabis has been lost to time and prohibition, these breeder names are some of the few artefacts that remain.
Contrary to the title of the Wired article “Sorry, But The Names For Weed Strains Are Kinda Meaningless”, we believe the terms we have collectively adopted for cannabis strains are still useful, but maybe just not in the ways many of us thought. They may not be based in science but that’s because science didn’t name them. There is an anthropological and human element to these names that is worth holding on to. If it weren’t for these underground breeders and their crops, we would not have many of the sought after strains that we have today, nor would there be this industry that is projected to inject over 22 billion dollars into the Canadian economy.
Terms like Indica and Sativa and other breeder names are general terms that can be used to describe certain physical characteristics and origins, but in order to provide information on specific genetics, we will need to further research to develop our taxonomy to include additional information that accounts for terpenes and cannabinoids. The roots of these terms are rich with history and if they are discarded completely we may lose much of that traceable information, and we have already lost so much of it due to prohibition.
If the issue lies in how to properly label cannabis for medicinal purposes then perhaps a new system of categorization can be put in place. Instead of doing away with these terms completely and throwing the baby out with the bathwater, we can build upon these terms with the help of science. By including other details such as terpenes, THC:CBD ratios, and breeder names we can give patients and consumers a much clearer idea of what they are buying and the terms necessary to conduct further research if desired. Delta 9 is an example of an LP that has recently begun doing this.
As new strains are created, new names will be given, and hopefully, they aren’t all hyper-complex molecules or oversimplified colours that only provide THC/CBD content. Patients and consumers want to know what they are consuming and will do the extra research when necessary. It is essential to keep people informed while still preserving and giving tribute to the culture that sustained the tradition of cannabis cultivation while it was wrongfully prohibited for almost a century.