The history of old cannabis genetics
Genetics is what makes one cannabis variety completely different to another. Cannabis genetics influence the content of THC (and other cannabinoids), terpene profile, taste, appearance, yield, and many other important properties. One of the key properties is the quality of the high. This isn’t simply a measure of THC content, it is affected by the presence of other cannabinoids and influenced by the terpenes. Cannabis genetics has never been as diverse as they are today, but what is the history of old cannabis genetics and how did they influence today's cannabis varieties?
Old cannabis genetics. Amsterdam in the late 1960s and early ’70s
Before the arrival of our modern, sophisticated and diverse array of cannabis varieties, life was quite different for the cannabis lover. Back in the ’60s and 70’s the cannabis market was embryonic in comparison to the rich assortment of modern cannabis seeds. Today we have auto-flowering and photoperiod cannabis seeds. We also have feminized cannabis seeds rich in CBD. Soon there may be varieties rich in other cannabinoids such as THCV, CBDV, and others. But back in the early days of the 60’s the picture was very different.
Henk Van Dalen talking with politicians about cannabis legalization
Cannabis in early Europe
Amsterdam had been a European centre for cannabis ever since the first merchants began to bring it back from exotic tropical destinations. Amsterdam has been a major port for centuries and cannabis would be shared amongst the sailors. The Dutch authorities were aware and disapproving of cannabis. Cannabis was banned in Dutch Indonesia in 1927 and also banned in Dutch Suriname around the same time. In 1953 cannabis was criminalized in The Netherlands. Cannabis has been around Europe for a long time, but ironically it only really started to achieve widespread popular use following global prohibition in the last half of the 1900s. In the 1960s and 1970s the hippy movement and liberalisation of society marked the real start of widespread cannabis use in modern Europe. Today, despite several decades of crumbling prohibition, cannabis use has never been as widespread.
Early European cannabis genetics
Amsterdam was one of the early centres of cannabis use thanks to the numerous ships that passed through this old European port city. Amsterdam retained its position at the center of the European cannabis world throughout the middle to late 1900s. Today Barcelona is also challenging for the title of the European cannabis capital. Although illegal, possession of personal amounts of cannabis was tolerated through the famous Amsterdam coffee shop system. The ships entering Amsterdam Port continued to bring in most of the cannabis that supplied early users and the eventual coffeeshops. These ships came from all corners of the world, often with cannabis hidden onboard. Cannabis genetics arrived from Africa (Nigeria is a common source), The Philippines, India, Thailand, South and Central America and occasionally North America. Hash would often be imported from North Africa and areas such as Afghanistan, Nepal and the Middle East. These shipments of cannabis buds often contained cannabis seeds. For the early Dutch cannabis breeders in the 1960’s and ’70s this was a golden age. Cannabis seeds from all corners of the earth were being conveniently delivered straight to Amsterdam. The pioneers of some of the earliest seed companies including Dutch Passion would use this genetics for their first cannabis breeding experiments.
Early North American cannabis genetics
Exactly how cannabis first arrived in North America is uncertain and fiercely debated. Some think it arrived via South America, possibly from Brazil or Chile. Others think it was a native species. Hemp was certainly extensively cultivated as the population expanded. Some believe cannabis came to the USA from Mexico. But however cannabis arrived, it quickly became very popular. Just like in The Netherlands, laws were made to stifle interest and prevent enjoyment of cannabis. In the 1950s and 1960’s the Beatniks and Hippy cultures began to use and popularise the recreational enjoyment of cannabis. The West Coast, with a gentle cannabis friendly climate, became one of the main cultivation centres.
Skunk #1 and early USA cannabis breeding
The original Skunk #1 was one of the first iconic ‘modern’ varieties. It is thought to have been first bred by Sacred Seed Company, a group of cannabis growers based in California, USA. They included David Watson, better known as Sam The Skunkman who was one of the early breeding pioneers. The genetics used in Skunk are thought to include Afghani, Acapulco Gold, and Colombian Gold. The skunk was used as one of the genetic foundations for many of the modern cannabis varieties. It has a reputation for being easy to grow under any growing conditions with potent and heavy harvests. The Super Sativa Seed Club was one of the first Dutch seed companies, and used their links with Sam the Skunkman and Neville Schoenmaker to source their first varieties. Skunk #1 and Haze were two of the key varieties used. Karel, the founder of the Super Sativa Seed Club, used the seeds from Neville to start the Super Sativa Seed Club in the 1980’s. Today the Super Sativa Seed Club is a joint collaboration with Dutch Passion. The seeds are still produced by the same team of original Super Sativa Club breeders.
Haze. Pure sativa genetics with longer bloom times
Another important early cannabis variety from the early years of cannabis breeding is Haze. This is thought to be the result of selectively bred and hybridised sativa varieties in Santa Cruz, California in the 1960s-70s. The mild California autumns proved ideal for the longer blooming sativa varieties. The high from a good Haze is highly psychoactive with a ‘soaring’ euphoric exhilaration. It’s another of the early cannabis genetic lines, and many breeders have experimented with sativa varieties from Mexico, Colombia, India and Asian countries such as Thailand. Haze may take longer to ripen than many other varieties but the quality is excellent. Much of the modern Haze breeding has focussed on trying to retain the Haze quality but reduce the long bloom times which can be as much as 16 weeks on some haze selections.
One of the most famous old cannabis varieties, Northern Lights is an indica variety which is thought to descend from Afghan and Thai landrace strains. Origins are uncertain, with many feeling that Washington State (USA) and Dutch breeders played an important role in developing this genetics. Several versions of Northern Lights exist and she is another early cannabis variety which has found it’s way into many modern hybrids and crosses.
This is another old cannabis variety, with roots back in the 1970’s and involvement from DJ Short. Dutch Passion was involved in bringing this variety to Europe. It’s an indica dominant variety with some sativa Thai genetics. The fruity berry taste combines with a strong THC high. Blueberry remains a popular variety today and again she has been used in countless modern crosses.
Old cannabis genetics and modern cannabis
Old cannabis genetics carry a great sense of nostalgia with them. They were the foundation of many of the modern cannabis varieties and they are rightly held in high regard. Modern breeders have taken old cannabis genetics and used them to create some excellent new varieties. Future work will involve further refining the properties of cannabis, especially for the medical market. This will involve selective breeding to produce varieties rich in some of the ‘minor’ cannabinoids. As medical cannabis continues to grow into a multi-billion dollar industry the role of cannabis genetics will become more important than ever.