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Cannabis strain names : The good the bad and the ugly


The Cannabis plant is a powerful medicine and a source of pleasure and spirituality for many civilizations around the world. It has been a valuable resource for humanity well before the time when we gave up our hunter-gatherer lifestyle and settling down in agricultural settlements.

From landraces to registered trademarks

As archeological findings have recently shown, cannabis has been a part of mankind’s journey for at least 120 000 years.

The Chinese gave us the first recorded cannabis plant name ‘MA’ from circa 10,000 BC. We know for sure it was used by the Egyptians thousands of years before Christ. We won’t go deeper into religious practices, but historical findings also suggest that the first Christians and their leaders were familiar with using hemp oil to serve the purpose of healing during religious rites.

Contemporary botanists agree that the common species “Cannabis Sativa” is the ancestor to two other well-known species: “Cannabis Ruderalis” and “Cannabis Indica”. These three distinct forms of cannabis evolved respectively in Europe and Asia, adapting to their different environments. They became the famous “landraces”, the progenitors of the myriad of strains commonly known today.

From these species there came original cultivars such as Hindu Kush, Pure Afghan, Lamb’s bread from Jamaica, Acapulco Gold from Mexico, Durban Poison from Africa, Panamean Red etc. Most modern strains are the result of crossing and breeding these into various hybrids.

Breeding Pioneers and Hybrid Makers

Back in the 1970s, the Counter Culture brought a wave of Cannabis growers and breeders to the west coast, bringing knowledge and experience from the secret grow rooms of Amsterdam. It was necessary to identify the new cannabis hybrids using exotic yet now familiar names. This is how the modern cannabis movement began.

The good

Just as Charles Goodyear and Henry Ford gave birth to their respective brands, R. and J. Haze from Santa Cruz created the Haze strain back in the 70’s. Yes: once upon a time in the west were the Haze Brothers.

In the same area during the same decade, Sam Skunkman aka David Watson and the collective Sacred Seeds invented the classic Skunk strain that we know today. The poetically named Northern Lights was developed by a mysterious grower named ‘The Indian’ somewhere in the Seattle area at the same time.

These new strains along with Neville’s Haze and the legendary Jack Herer soon made their way back across the Atlantic where they established themselves among the most popular strains in the coffee shops of The Netherlands.

The Dutch growers also played a significant role throughout history, back in the 90’s a major character called ‘Shantibaba’ and his partner Arjan Roskam created White Widow which is now a classic and one of the most highly regarded strains associated with the Greenhouse Seed Company.

The naming of the Gorilla Glue strain has led to recent litigation between Gorilla Clue Co. and cannabis developer GG Strains. Normally if two products are sufficiently different in nature then similar names are not an issue (think Domino sugar and Domino’s Pizza). In this case you may wonder if the negative historical associations of cannabis with illegality have prompted Gorilla Clue Co. to “protect” their image. Resinous sticky strain versus old school glue brand? Soon justice will tell.

Why the bad and the ugly?

In order to understand the world of many Cannabis strain names, you have to keep in mind that Cannabis culture comes from illegal perspectives, underground networks, and activism. Most of the growers only know each other by nicknames. The result of a patchwork of genetics and stabilized phenotypes along with tales of accidental crossings is a jungle of esoteric names.

For the record, Oregon recently banned a list of 14 Cannabis strains names from being sold in the state.

Stabilized strains persist through the grower’s obstinacy so let’s pay a tribute with quick anthology:

Blueberry, AK-47 Amnesia, Critical Mass, Hindu Kush, Blue Dream, Haze Gorilla Glue, Jack Herer, Durban Poison, Bubblegum, Maui-wowie, Northern Lights, OG Kush, Purple Haze, Skunk Sour Diesel…

As far as we know the reference website for Cannabis, Leafly, currently reports 2368 Cannabis Strains in total. That leaves quite a lot of room for imagination and word-games. Wikipedia also offers a great source of knowledge and inspiration with a special page dedicated to Cannabis names.

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