Landrace strains of cannabis may seem mysterious since you hear about them but it is not often that you see landrace strains for sale in dispensaries. If you use only hemp flower and do not smoke marijuana, you may not have ever heard of these varieties at all. But if you are interested in cannabis and hemp genetics, it is very helpful to understand them. While many people mistakenly think that 'sativa' strains are energizing and 'indica' strains are calming, those effects actually have nothing to do with indica vs sativa! So why do some strains give you a boost and others calm you down? The answer is largely in the genetics of a variety which in turn influence cannabinoid and terpene profiles.
Landrace strains are varieties of cannabis that arise in geographically isolated areas over several generations. They arise from all areas of the world where cannabis seeds have hitchhiked to. It is believed that cannabis originated in China and then spread to the Middle East, Europe, and South America in the 16th century . Different varieties were used for different purposes such as hemp for nutritious seeds, oil, and fiber, and 'Indian cannabis' for intoxicative and medicinal properties.
Cannabis was used to treat epilepsy, rheumatism, migraine, asthma, neuralgia, and insomnia (and more) in Western Europe as early as the 19th century. Arabic scientists and physicians were among the first to discover these medicinal properties, however, even the Greeks found cannabis to be a medicinal bounty . But what were these civilizations of the past actually smoking? It is likely that they were smoking landrace varieties of cannabis or imported landraces from other regions of the world. Truly, the heavy interbreeding of cannabis varieties is a fairly new phenomenon. One thing is certain, cannabis has evolved alongside humans since ancient times.
The key difference between a cannabis strain and a landrace strain is that cannabis strains are intentionally crossed (sometimes with landraces) to produce offspring with desirable hybrid genetics. The traits of a landrace strain are evolved over a longer amount of time and isolation to yield a variety of plant that is most biologically suited to surviving in that location. While one can be bred over a short period of time to produce traits humans want, the other is more a product of evolution and its environment over a long period of time.
India and Afghani Landraces
North Indian and Afghani landrace cannabis varieties are some of the most famous. Many of these are indica varieties that have short plant stature and wider leaves. Hindu Kush, Mazar I Sharif, and Afghani are indica landraces from the Afghanistan/Pakistan region where they were traditionally made into hash (pressed resin) for smoking. Indian and Afghan cannabis landraces essentially define the species Cannabis indica, with the work 'indica' quite literally denoting Indian roots.
These are some of the few landrace strains that are still smoked today. If you are not smoking one of these varieties, you truly are not smoking an indica. Kush and Afghani varieties are characterized by their high THC content, deep body relaxation, and sedative 'couch-lock' effects. You may also notice that they share similarities in their terpene profiles which gives them floral and sometimes spicy flavors and smells. For those who are connoisseurs of Kush, it is even possible to spot their genetics from their loose and fluffy bud structure.
Asian and Thai Landraces
The landrace cannabis strains of Asia are some of the oldest and most diverse since the continent is likewise very large and has many different climates. Many of these are traditional sativa varieties which some breeders have explained are too buzzy and potent for an average western person to smoke comfortably.
Indonesia is home to the landrace stain Aceh which like all sativas is a tall plant with skinnier leaves. It is thought to have flavors of earth, lemon, and mango with low amounts of THC around 10%. This variety is smoked today and used as a medicinal strain for nausea and relief of stress and anxiety.
Higher THC landraces of Southeast Asia can be found in Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, and Thailand. Cambodian can reach up to 30% THC with floral and skunky flavors and euphoric energy-boosting effects. Luang Prabang (Lao Sativa) has been preserved from outside influences. It has more sour flavors of fruit, spice, earth, and pine and calming euphoric effects.
To the Southwest, Nepalese landraces are a diverse group of many different varieties that have mainly sativa traits (tall with thin leaves). Their THC content ranges on average from 14% to 17% and many also have about 1% CBD for more balances effects. However, these varieties do have cerebral effects that locals find helpful for relieving stress, fatigue, and depression.
Thai landrace strains are extraordinarily pure sativas that grow tall with skinny leaves and produce high THC potency buds with a bit of CBD. They are very aromatic varieties that have effects that are energizing, heady, buzzy, and euphoric. Chocolate Thai is one of the most famous Thai landrace strains that became popular as 'Thai sticks' in the 1960s and remained popular into the '80s. Chocolate Thai only has about 10% THC potency and thus lost popularity because of that and the fact that it was very hard to cultivate.
Durban Poison is and African variety of cannabis that comes from South Africa. It is a traditional sativa that features a diverse and potent cannabinoid and terpene profile. This landrace was traditionally cultivated by native tribes until famous marijuana activist Ed Rosenthal smuggled it into the US in the 1970s. Like other African landrace strains of cannabis, Durban Poison is uplifting and energizing. Today, you can even get low-THC hemp varieties that have been bred from this strain. Durban Diesel hemp flower shares many of the traits of the Durban Diesel landrace, but does not contain enough THC to get a person high.
Swazi Gold is another African landrace strain that is smokable and still on the market today. It comes from Swaziland where it was traditionally cultivated by the Nguni people. Swazi Gold's genetics are particularly valuable because this variety is extremely robust and vigorous, allowing it to grow in a wide variety of weather conditions. We often forget that cannabis genetics are not all about the end user, breeders also look for traits that will help ensure their new strain will thrive in cultivation conditions and resist stress from pests and the environment. Swazi Gold is also a traditional sativa with tall stalks and thin leaves. It has very potent THC levels and has potent mental effect that may be uncomfortable for some. Medicinally, this cannabis strain is still used for conditions such as attention deficit disorder, stress, and depression.
Probably the most important and influential landrace from the Soviet block is Cannabis ruderalis. Ruderalis, like indica, is thought by many to be a separate cannabis species. It is unique in that it flowers according to plant age and is not a short-day plant that flowers based on light exposure time like the majority of cannabis plants. Ruderalis is basically 'ditch weed' and is not something you'd want to smoke on its own. However, it has become an important genetic stock for breeding 'autoflowering' cannabis varieties.
Towards the Asian border of Russia, China, and Mongolia, in the Altay Mountains, the landrace Altai is a pure sativa that also holds valuable genetics. This landrace variety withstands extreme climates including long cold winters and short, hot, and dry summers. This variety is largely unknown in the West but is another valuable source of genetics. Altai is known for producing robust and large flowers in a very short period of time. It has powerful energizing psychedelic effects and strong pine flavors.
Jamaica’s Lamb’s Bread (aka Lamb's Breath) is a sativa with strong energizing effects. This variety was rumored to be a favorite of Bob Marley's and is named after one of his songs. However, Lamb's Bread is actually an early hybrid of a variety of Skunk that was imported from Holland in the late 1970s to early 1980s. “Longtime Weed” is a true Jamaican landrace that gets its name from its very long flowering period. It is a pure sativa, but there are thought to also be some pure indica Jamaican landraces.
South American Landraces
Acapulco Gold and Panama Red are sativas from Mexico and South America. Both are now rare to find for sale, but have enjoyed great fame and popularity since the 1960s to 70s. We hear a lot about landraces from that period because of the 'hippie trail' and the explosion of interest in cannabis breeding and cultivation that happened at that time. When varieties were brought back to the US they were crossed and selectively bred, so it can be hard to say what the original landrace really was like when cultivated using traditional methods.
Final Thoughts: Can You Smoke Landrace Strains?
While there are some landrace strains that have had minimal breeding to stabilize their genetic for commercial cultivation, most landrace strains are varieties that no one has heard of because they are not desirable for smoking. For example, Cannabis ruderalis itself is not going to be much better than “ditch weed.” On the other end of the spectrum, Thai landrace strains are known for being overly-potent and too psychoactive to provide an enjoyable experience. When it comes to Afghani landraces, many can be very enjoyable for smoking but still benefit from being crossed with a domesticated cannabis genetic derived from the same heritage to preserve its terpene profile.
When it comes to hemp flower, you won’t find landrace genetic at all. That is because traditional hemp is used for fiber and would not be enjoyable or beneficial to smoke. Smokable hemp flower has been crossed and selectively bred from marijuana strains to impart desirable terpene and cannabinoid profiles. However, some hemp strains are less crossbred than others. The closest hemp strains to landrace genetics are CBD Kush (Afghani roots, relaxing), and Durban Diesel (African roots, uplifting).
- Chandra, S., Lata, H., Khan, I. A., & ElSohly, M. A. (2017). Cannabis sativa L.: botany and horticulture. In Cannabis sativa L.-Botany and Biotechnology (pp. 79-100). Springer, Cham.
- Russo, E. B., & Grotenhermen, F. (Eds.). (2014). The Handbook of Cannabis Therapeutics: From Bench to Bedside. Routledge.