Adolfo Gonzalez: Debunking the myth of modern Superweed

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      By Adolfo Gonzalez

      What we do not understand scares us. It is human nature. And how can we embrace cannabis as a positive force in our communities if we simply "do not know enough"? There is no question that we need more research to help us better understand the threats and benefits of this plant, but you may be surprised at what you can learn if you take a moment to appreciate the long road travelled.

      How did we get here in the first place? Fortunately, here in B.C. we are blessed with a variety of cultural and botanical resources that can help one elucidate such matters. A brief tour into the world of growers and breeders can be one of the most helpful tools in clearing the mist on some of the most common cannabis misconceptions, such as the case of modern "superweed".

      A myth in the making

      The British call it "skunk". In B.C., we call it "weed", "bud", or in the case of a particularly good cultivar, we may even use connotations like "dank nug" or "gas". But to the British, skunk is not just a particular variety of cannabis, but rather a hulked-out form of modern superweed that is (in some versions of the story) genetically engineered or chemically altered in order to increase potency 10, 20, or even 30 times over what nature would permit.

      The narrative around the adoption of skunk weed by English youth has become the perfect setting for a whole host of prohibition era spectres to come pouring out of the U.K.’s cannabis closet. Today in Britain, skunk is widely accepted as a gateway drug, causing mental illness, killing brain cells, and bringing youth to a general state of apathy, leading to an impoverished and intellectually stifled existence. 

      Although not as culturally prolific, the concept of modern superweed has also become popular in North America, with many in government, medicine, and academic institutions giving a great deal of credence to the idea. It is important to recognize that this assumption does not arise out of nowhere. Publications using tests sourced from U.S. narcotics departments have shown a steady rise in concentration from one percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the late '70s, up to 20 and 30 percent THC today.

      However, this concept is difficult to accept for many who have had the opportunity to work directly with the genetic building blocks that were used to make modern cannabis varieties. In fact, in B.C. you don’t have to look far to find physical evidence that weighs heavily against the notion of modern superweed.

      The evidence is right in our backyard

      Texada Timewarp is a local B.C. variety that has achieved legendary status amongst breeders and growers. When properly grown, Texada Timewarp can produce 20 percent of its weight in THC content, with up to one to two percent cannabidiol (CBD). And yes, these plants are commonly grown in nature with nothing but healthy soil and water.

      This cultivar was bred in Northern California and was brought up to Texada Island (B.C.) sometime in the '70s where it adapted nicely to the local climate. The number of people who will attest to the consistent and enduring nature of its physical qualities and intoxicating high over time—together with modern test results of this American heirloom variety—confirm that in at least some parts of the U.S. and Canada there was in fact quit potent cannabis by the late '70s.

      Keep in mind, this is strictly an outdoor or greenhouse plant; she doesn't like to grow indoors, which also speaks to the myth that any plant grown indoors is always more potent and more desirable than if it was grown outdoor in natural conditions.

      There are many interesting qualities about this local B.C. variety, like the dark green colouration with purple hues, the unique musky aroma with hints of spice, and, above all, the potency. Funnily enough, the most desirable version of this genetic is the original that has not been crossed with more modern varieties.

      For those in the know, this is typically the case. Everyone is usually looking for the oldest or original version of a particular variety, as those with experience know that older genetics tend to have more unique qualities that can often surprise you in terms of potency.

      Respecting your elders

      Among the older generation of growers in places like B.C. or Northern California, this topic is old news. Any of the community elders can name a dozen varieties, like Texada Timewarp, that were around in their current form as far back as the '60s.

      It is well known that when popular old varieties are tested in modern laboratories, sometimes after having been preserved in seed form for decades, they tend to show results that range from the high single digits, hovering up to around the high teens in THC content, with varying amounts of CBD also present (typically ranging 0.1 to four percent). Some lineages, like Kush and Pakistani, may have even produced phenotypes containing THC close to or in excess of 20 percent.

      In addition to this evidence, we must consider that one can still find varieties that developed in traditional cannabis growing areas, and that when we conduct testing on those plants favored by the local people of those areas, we often find similar results. This type of ethnoarchaeological experiment builds even more credence to the idea that "good cannabis" is not an exclusively modern occurrence, and that you do not need chemicals or unnatural forms of genetic engineering to achieve this type of quality. (To be clear, there are no GMO varieties available in the black or legal market today.) Congolese, for example, a wild African variety brought to America in more recent years, can test anywhere from 13 percent up to 20 percent THC depending on the phenotypic expression.

      The grain of truth in the myth is that many modern growers have actually managed to obtain up to 30 percent concentrations of THC. This means that the highest concentrations found today in cannabis are actually only about one-third higher than the most potent of varieties being grown in the mid 1900s (not 30 times stronger). However, this increment was obtained via gradual trait selection from one generation to the next, which is ultimately how humans have bred domesticated plants and animals for thousands of years.

      To be clear: this means that modern cannabis is not a type of GMO product. Genetically modified organisms are defined as organisms that have been modified via genetic engineering, as in gene splicing or other forms of genetic alterations using modern gene-modification techniques. None of this was necessary to develop modern forms of cannabis, nor do these varieties need to have been grown indoors or with any type of synthetic or salt based feed in order to obtain a high potency. Natural growing techniques are well known for being able to obtain high resin contents (and hence high potencies) comparable to any other modern, man-made growing method when applied correctly.

      Celebrating a forgotten past

      The medicinal and recreational use of cannabis is nothing new. The fact is, we are still rediscovering our forgotten past. It is important that we use all of the information at our disposal to rewrite this story, rather than relying on a limited set of "official data" that does not take into account the variety of product that was actually available in the past and the long history of the genetic bases used to make modern versions of this plant. Traditional people from the Hindu Kush valley, Mazar I Sharif, or those living at the skirts of the Himalayas, or on Hawaiian Islands...well, they have their own stories to tell. Perhaps we can put down the talking stick and listen to a different narrator.

      Below is a quick list of popular varieties from the '60s and '70s. These varieties obtained their legendary status due to their pleasant aromas and effects, and were used to develop all modern varieties. Keep in mind that most of these traditional varieties were brought from India, Afghanistan, and Southeast Asia in seed form during this time period by hippies travelling the hash trails. A few are also popular Hawaiian, Mexican, Caribbean, and central and south American varieties.

      There are also other examples, like Skunk #1 and Blueberry, that represent modern hybrids of these ancient building blocks. I present this list with hopes that we may once and for all discard the obsolete notion of "modern superweed", and begin to celebrate the great cannabis tradition which we have inherited from our elders and ancestors:

      Varieties:

      • Hindu Kush  (Afghanistan-Pakistan)
      • Chitral Kush (Pakistan)
      • Chemdawg (Pakistan)
      • Afghan #1 (Afghanistan)
      • Nepalese (Nepal)
      • Burmese (Myanmar)
      • Skunk #1 (USA/Netherlands)
      • Blueberry (Created by DJ short in the late 70’s in Oregon)
      • Roadkill Skunk (California Biker strain first appeared in late 70’s)
      • Texada Timewarp (BC, Canada, unknown breeder)
      • Acapulco Gold (Guerrero, Mexico)
      • Santa Marta Gold (Santa Marta, Colombia)
      • Lemon Thai (Thailand)
      • Chocolate Thai (Thailand)
      • Idukki Gold (Kerala, India)
      • Lambs Bread (Jamaica)
      • Maui Waui (Hawaii)
      • Congolese (Central Republic of Congo, Africa)
      • Malawi Gold (Malawi, Africa)
      • Durban Poison (South Africa)

      And the list goes on...

      Hash Types (all typically well above 20 percent THC concentration):

      • Afghan hash
      • Red Lebanese hash
      • Moroccan Gold Seal hash
      • Jamaican Gum hash
      • Himalayan Charas or ‘Temple balls’
      Adolfo Gonzalez is the co-founder of CannaReps, Canada’s first interactive dispensary worker training program based out of Vancouver, BC. He will be a featured speaker at Grassroots: An Expo for the Cannabis Curious at SFU Harbour Centre, September 15 and 16.

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