From Cat Piss to Alaskan Thunderfuck, marijuana strains have strange names; here’s why we’re in for more soon
Golden Goat is a strain of marijuana distinguished by a citrus scent and a potent but mellow buzz. “The person who originally created that strain, I knew him personally,” explains Garrett Pearson of Natural Remedies Medical Marijuana Dispensary in Colorado. “There was a recycling plant out in Kansas where the strain is originally from. When the sun hit those empty bottles and the scent of soda and beer mingled, it smelled a certain way, and that’s just what the strain smells like. So he named it Golden Goat after the Golden Goat recycling factory.”
Greg Williams, better known as Marijuana Man, told me the story behind another strain. Williams used to sell seeds by mail order, “There was a strain in our catalogue called A-Frame. We always wondered why it was called A-Frame,” he said, in exactly the sort of leisurely drawl you might expect from someone known as Marijuana Man. “We thought maybe it was because the shape of the plant was like an A-shape but it turns out, the seeds originally came from a guy who lived in an A-frame.”
OG Kush, Big Afghan Skunk, AK47, Alien God, Fraggle Rock, Smelly Guy, Blueberry Yum Yum. There’s one named Snoop Dogg too. It’s potent and cerebral. According to online reviews, your brain will feel like it’s hovering over your body.
Linnaean biological classifications divide the genus Cannabis into three species: indica, sativa, and ruderalis. The strain named for DO-double-G is one of many indicas, distinguished from the sativas by its drowsy, fullbody effects. Sativas provide a more energetic high. To speak in reductive binaries, indica is nighttime while sativa is daytime. No one really cares about ruderalis because it has a negligible THC count.
Many of the strains come from crossbreading indicas and sativas to get that perfect high, the best of both worlds, the stoner’s holy grail. (Ruderalis are often cross-bred as well, but only for the plant’s auto-flowering and therefore fast-finishing trait.) S.A.G.E. stands for Sativa Afghani Genetic Equilibrium and was designed to be 50-50 sativa and indica.
At Natural Remedies in Colarado, they cross-bred S.A.G.E. with another strain called Hanis. For no good reason, they call that one Bob Saget. That’s the non-story behind a lot of these strain names. Others are descriptive. Girl Scout Cookies supposedly smells and tastes not like the cookies themselves but the box they come in, a mix of mint and cardboard.
The demand for all these different strains is relatively recent. Once upon a time, pot was pot and you bought what your dealer down the street was selling. But a new breed of cannabis connoisseur has emerged alongside increasingly nuanced legal restrictions. In the Netherlands in the 1970s, coffee shops dispensing marijuana tolerated by the government started cropping up. For the first time, there were dozens of different strains on the menu. Today medical marijuana dispensaries in North America offer a similar range of choices.
Even before growers started crossbreeding there were regional varieties. The term “landrace” refers to a strain of cannabis that was geographically isolated and pollinated itself — it’s the same phenomenon that we refer to as “heirloom” in the world of vegetables. Marijuana Man’s favourite strain is one of these landraces, a rare pure African sativa called Congolese. The landrace indigenous to Jamaica is known as Lambsbread (or sometimes Lamb’s Breath, a mondegreen suggesting the oral history of these names). Whatever you call it, its effects include energy and positive introspection.
One of the most sought-after landraces is the Afghani. The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan beginning in 1979 disrupted access to these seeds, but US soldiers were able to smuggle seeds out in the 1980s as well as during today’s war in Afghanistan. That’s the story in last summer’s blockbuster Savages – one of Blake Lively’s two boyfriends gets his hands on the prized seeds while overseas as a Navy SEAL.
Up until the invasion of Afghanistan and the revolution in Iran, longhaired love children followed the Hippie Hash Trail from Amsterdam to Nepal, sampling all the regional varieties along the way. Some smuggled seeds back with them. Growers experimented, cross-breeding to adapt the plant to its new climate’s conditions. By mixing together indicas from the Middle East with sativas from Central America, they were were able to develop strains suitable for growing outdoors in North America. They also experimented for certain effects — mostly to get users Cheech-and-Chong stoned. Still, the fully black market meant most people just smoked whatever they got their hands on. They didn’t have much choice.
In the 1990s a legal green zone developed. California enacted Proposition 215, or the Compassionate Use Act,, in 1996, allowing patients with a doctor’s recommendation to use marijuana. The same year, a Canadian man who used marijuana to control his seizures was arrested for possession, but the next year a judge defended his right to smoke pot for medical relief. Medical marijuana dispensaries started cropping up across California and Canada. Colorado soon followed suit when an amendment legalizing medical marijuana was approved in 2000.
Around the same time medical marijuana first became popular, Marc Emery, Canada’s “Prince of Pot,” was spreading the gospel of ganja. In 1994, Emery started selling seeds by mail order with Marijuana Man, and in 1995, he started publishing the magazine Cannabis Culture. Through the seed catalogue and the magazine, the recreational smoker became literate in boutique strain names. The thirst for knowledge and seeds extended beyond Canada’s border, and many of those ordering seeds were Americans — which is why Emery is currently serving time in a federal prison in Yazoo City, Mississippi.
After the catalogue, stoners started wanting certain “brand-name” weed. “The black market took advantage of that,” explains Marijuana Man. “If Green Kush is popular, they’re going to tell you what they have is Green Kush.” He warns that with current market conditions there’s no way to know that what they say you’re getting is what you’re actually getting.
Forums suggest evidence of such insidious business practices. On grasscity.com, Gods Boner [sic] from Delaware responds to the thread “How Do They Name Weed,” writing, “People just make shit up. My first grow I named my bagseed ‘white dogshit’ because it smelled like shit but was frosty. My current one is going to be ‘dogshit orgasm’ regardless of whether they turn out good buds or not.”
Even if the dealer is selling you what he says he is selling you, Marijuana Man notes, prohibition creates inconsistent growing conditions and, in turn, an inconsistent product. “The environment where this is grown, whether it’s one guy’s basement or another person’s attic or outdoors, this has a tremendous role to play on the outcome.”
The exemptions made for medical marijuana, however, have changed the game. Though in the U.S. all marijuana is still illegal at the federal level and in Canada the distribution and growing of medical marijuana hangs in a legal grey zone, the trend in both countries is toward increased legalization. And increased legalization means more marketing and more brands.
At the medical dispensary where Pearson works in Colorado, they have 60 to 80 varieties in their garden and offer about 20 different strains at a time. They always have a mix of sativas and indicas to provide different types of relief to their patients. Pearson sees clients refining their tastes. “There’s lots of nerds out there,” he explains.” It’s like wine.” He adds that a lot of this comes from an increased level of comfort talking about marijuana on the Internet and on the phone. “People don’t use secret code words anymore,” Pearson said.
And they don’t have to. The state decriminalized marijuana during the election in November. The new law makes possession and home growing legal on a small scale.
While you still need documented medical need and a Red Card to buy marijuana from a legal dispensary, Pearson explains that the medical market affects the black market in Colorado. “Anybody who has bought off the street has tried dispensary weed before,” he says. While the dispensary can only sell within the law to a Red Card holder, there’s nothing stopping a patient from sharing his quality bud with friends. The recreational user now has higher standards. “Even the illegal guys, they have more and more variety,” Pearson notes.
Marijuana Man agrees that increased legalization will lead to a more regular product. But he also points out that Mother Nature is still bound to create unpredictability. “Each crop is going to be a little bit different,” he explains. “In Amsterdam, I would go in and buy Haze and then go in again and ask for the same thing, and the guy would say, ‘It’s not as nice this time.’”
Just as wine from the same type of grape and the same vineyard varies dramatically year to year, marijuana of the same strain and same growing conditions varies too. And a refined palette will be able to tell Dogshit Orgasm 2013 from Dogshit Orgasm 2014 even if it’s grown in the same dank attic in Delaware.