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The year is 1969. The sounds of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan cover your muffled coughs as you try and hide the fact that you and your friends are “smoking dope” in your parent’s basement. You burn one down and get high as hell before you go upstairs and attempt to pull it together as you sit around the family dinner table and talk to your dad about the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. This is a scene that many of our readers probably weren’t even alive for, though it might be relatable to their hippie parents. The thing is, little did the stoners of that era know that the weed inside that joint – while it may have been effective relative to anything else they could get their hands on – would be laughable compared to the potency of marijuana that would hit the market half a century later.

Weed has been around for a long time. In fact, the oldest record of smoking cannabis is some 2,500 years ago. That said, over the past few millennia, there have been quite a few improvements to the happy green plant. These days, you don’t have to be a stoner to know that there are so many different strains of weed that trying to memorize even a fraction of them will make your head spin. Thanks to cross-breeding, there are now thousands of documented weed strains that have been named and are being grown across the world.

While having a detailed list of all the different strains and their histories would be nice, it’s not a very practical thing to hope for. Why? Well, because there are a ridiculous amount of strains and trying to figure out the lineage is a giant pain in the ass. That said, there are a few strains out there that just about everyone has heard of before. Thanks to pop culture, you don’t even have to use weed to know about a lot of them. Northern lights, Blue Dream, and of course Pineapple Express are all names that – if you were talking about them to anyone – people are going to know what you’re on about.

But where did they come from? Before the era of dab rigs and Soundcloud rappers, weed culture was still very rich and full of interesting stories. Stories of breakthroughs and discoveries that help blaze the trail for what the culture has become today. So, while we can’t exactly give you a tangled family tree of the lineage of all the different strains that you’re dabbing in your parent’s basement, we can give you a breakdown of some of the most iconic “grandfather strains” that exist – strains that set the table for today’s bud.

A Little Bit of Weed History

We know, a history lesson isn’t exactly what you were looking for by clicking on this article, but to have a complete understanding of the impact that one strain can have on the entire industry, you need to know a few things about the origins of our favorite plant.

The First Strains of Weed

Have you ever wondered what the oldest strains of weed are? If so, you were probably unpleasantly surprised by how unsure we are on the answer to that question. So far, our best research tells us that cannabis likely originated in central and south Asia in areas near the Middle East and the Himalayas. At some point, thanks to humans doing what humans do, cannabis spread throughout the rest of the world. Most researchers believe that the original strains were lost as a result of cross-breeding, but some of the oldest marijuana strains known to science include Thai, Hindu Kush, and Afghani.

These are what we consider landrace strains. They are pure cannabis strains cultivated in their natural environment and have never been crossbred with another variety. Landrace strains, having grown wild and indigenously over the years throughout various regions in the world with virtually no variations from one plant to another, maintained remarkable consistency.

Typically, landrace strains derive their names from their native or adopted regions. Traces of these forefather strains can sometimes be found in the names of their descendants (Afghan Kush, Chocolate Thai, etc.). Thanks to changing environmental conditions and a bit of selective breeding by the natives of the region, we saw the rise of these landrace strains – strains that would come to be known as the forefathers of all modern strains.

The First Variations

Throughout the 60s and 70s, weed enthusiasts around the world started to collect landrace strains so they could breed them in their gardens. These forefather strains, known as “heirlooms”, were now being bred in new environments, giving them slightly different properties. The environment in which cannabis is grown is a major factor in the development of cannabinoids and terpenes within the plant. The climate, temperature, amount of precipitation, type of soil, level of fertilization, and time harvested all have a major effect on the chemical makeup of the marijuana plant. Landraces – having naturally adapted to their environments over time – are considered by some to have the preferred synergistic balance of therapeutic compounds.

Arjan Roskam, founder of Greenhouse Seeds in Amsterdam, and his colleague Franco Loja favor landraces for these reasons. “Arjan always considered these landraces very important for the breeding process because they are the bases that have been selected by nature,” says Franco in one interview. “The [span of time] over which nature does this is so huge that they are not replicable by man under any conditions — not indoor, not outdoor, not in any way.”

The First Hybrids

Enter the 1980’s, when hydroponic systems became more common in the US. This system of cultivation led to a major spike in the potency of weed for Americans. People could now grow weed closer to where they lived, giving them access to a product that was far fresher. The ability to harvest marijuana locally was the beginning of higher quality cannabis and the birth of many new strains. With the popularization of indoor growing – making environment less of a factor – came the rise of hybrids. Since then, growers have been working like crazy to create better strains. By crossing high potency strains they have been able to increase the amount of THC in the plant and, within a few decades, the quality of weed has skyrocketed. We now have more varieties than you could ever imagine.

A Closer Look at Grandfather Strains

Okay, now that we’ve covered the origin story, let’s dive into some of what we consider to be the OG’s of Weed. These are strains that almost every stoner has heard of and – aside from their notoriety or how many awards they’ve won at the cannabis cup – they also led the way to some of the baddest buds ever to be rolled up.

These grandfather strains are both genetic and cultural benchmarks as they allow us to peer into the recent past (when specific strains were moved from their place of origin to be grown and refined alongside the history of the counterculture). “Old school” strains were not intentionally bred solely to get you higher, but rather for the flavors and effects that were prominent in other cultures. As these strains traveled around the world and continued to become more popular, new genetic hybrids were created from them, both on purpose and sometimes by sheer accident.

Skunk #1

Skunk is the winner of several harvest festivals and the High Times Cannabis Cup. Skunk #1 was originally a cross between Afghani, Mexican Acapulco Gold and Colombian Gold. Bred since 1978, Skunk is now a stabilized, homogeneous strain. It blooms with long, thick buds that vary in color from light green to golden and has a very high flower to leaf ratio. Skunk has a soft and sweet aroma and a very strong “up” high. It is an excellent variety for indoor growing or greenhouse with a darkening system. Very high yields. This variety serves as a standard against which others can be measured.


AK-47 is a Sativa dominant hybrid with Indica undertones that produces a quick stone with a long-lasting cerebral high. While the name suggests intensity, this strain will leave you mellow and uplifted. The result of a four-way cross of Columbian, Mexican, Thai and Afghani strains, AK-47 is tall with large girth and giant calyxes. Due to its high THC content, AK-47 has become hugely popular, winning a couple of Cannabis Cups. This Sativa heavy hybrid offers a long-lasting cerebral high without dulling the senses. Medically, AK-47 can aid in dealing with anxiety and pain while also providing relief for those struggling with insomnia.

White Widow

White widow is the most rewarded strain of recent years in Holland. It was the winner of the 1995 Cannabis Cup and is among the most popular varieties on coffee shop menus in Holland. The buds are fairly compact to support its massive amounts of white resin and the plants, even the leaves, are white with THC glands. With high THC levels, White Widow is an extremely popular hybrid strain. It has been a global favorite for over two decades due to its high energy, euphoric high and fast-acting and long-lasting effects. It puts off a very soft smooth smoke with a classic skunk flavor and an aroma that is like a beautiful mix of pine and lemon-lime candies with a distinctive earthy undertone.

Northern Lights

Northern Lights is a pure Indica. It won the Cannabis Cup in ’88, ’89, ’90. Renowned for its high resin buds, powerful body-high and resiliency during its growth cycle, Northern Lights’ strong genetics have made their way into some of today’s top strains including Super Silver Haze and Sour Diesel. It is widely used for crossbreeding because of its strong and big buds and is hands down one of the most famous strains throughout the world. Everyone has heard of Northern Lights.

Other Notable Classics

Purple Haze – Purple Haze is a top-shelf Sativa strain with an amazing aroma and beautiful color. Its buds generally turn a vibrant purple hue that is very aesthetic. Purple Haze produces a clear and energetic high that is quite heady. The euphoria and powerful cerebral effects leave even the most seasoned of smokers giggling all day long.

Cheese – Cheese is the inordinately pungent offspring of Skunk #1. Known for its sour and funky aroma, Cheese made its mark on the palates of yesteryear. Cheese retains just enough sweet, floral funk to push the aroma from tropical to gnarly.

Sour Diesel – Sour Diesel is a Sativa dominant strain that has a strong diesel smell. Its fast-acting effects and dream-like cerebral high makes it a great choice for users looking to relieve stress and ward off depression. This strain is good for daytime use as the high is energetic and uplifting with a full-bodied taste.

So, as told by many who grew up smoking in the 70s, modern weed is without a doubt stronger than the old fashioned “hippie weed” was. As technology advances and specialized strains continue to be created, the potency of cannabis will continue to grow. This, plus the fact that weed can be sourced closer to home are making all the difference. Thanks to grandfather strains like the ones listed above, we’ve been able to create the strains that are now being used to crossbreed new strains that are even more potent.

Christopher Wright

Meet Christopher Wright, aka Blue, successful radio host and creator of Cannabis Talk 101. As well as CEO of Cannabis Talk Network. For over a decade now, Chris has had his hands in all faucets of the Cannabis Industry. From medicinal marijuana dispensaries and cultivations to controversial cannabis activism, Chris is a pioneer for the cannabis movement.