Heirloom Cannabis Strains: What Exactly Are They?


An heirloom is defined as something valuable which is passed down through the generations. But when we talk about heirloom weed strains, we aren’t referring to some dusty old bag of pot handed to you by your granny. What we mean when we talk about heirloom strains is that these cultivars have been around for a long time, bringing joy to generation after generation of stoners around the world.

Today we will discuss exactly what heirloom cannabis strains are and whether they are something you should be trying to hunt down in your local dispensary.

What are Heirloom Weed Strains?

There is some variation in how botanists define heirloom plants, but generally speaking, they are cultivars which have remained unchanged for at least 50 years. The seeds of heirloom strains are passed down through generations of gardeners and will produce very similar features between the offspring and parent plants.

Heirloom cannabis strains are ‘open-pollinated’, meaning that they are pollinated naturally. This could be by the wind, birds, or insects, and in some cases, even by human hands. However, heirloom weed differs from ‘landrace’ cannabis strains, a term used to describe marijuana plants that grow in the wild with no interference from humans.

For obvious reasons, there are nowhere near as many heirloom weed strains out there as there are heirloom tomatoes or pears, for example. In fact, if you want to try heirloom marijuana, you could have a real task on your hands.

So, is it worth the extra hassle to try and find one of these traditional varieties of weed, or should you just stick with what you know? Let’s take a closer look.

What’s the Difference Between Heirloom Weed and Landrace Strains?

Whereas landrace strains occur naturally in a specific region (for example, the mountains of Afghanistan or the tropical forests of Thailand), heirloom weed comes from seeds which were taken away from these regions and grown elsewhere.

During the 1960s and 70s, many stoners embarked on a journey through the Middle East and Asia on a route which has become affectionately known as the ‘Hippie Trail.’ These pot pioneers would have had the opportunity to see marijuana growing in its natural habitat, sample these indigenous landrace strains, and of course, bring back some of their precious seeds.

During the early days, landrace cannabis strains were pretty much the only option available to anyone wanting to get high, but that did not remain the case for long. Apart from the fact that once you grow a seed away from its natural home, it is technically no longer a landrace, it was not long before breeders began experimenting by cross-pollinating these strains to create new and exciting varieties.

Most heirloom weed strains were developed in the states of Hawaii and California. As it turns out, the tropical climate and fertile soil of Hawaii was ideal for growing strains originating from areas such as Thailand and India. On the other hand, Northern California, with its slightly cooler climate provided the perfect conditions for strains originating from the high altitudes of the Hindu Kush mountain range.

And so, in these two states, the very first marijuana hybrids were born, and these are what we now know as heirloom weed strains. Although it is rare to find heirloom strains for sale today, and even rarer to find pure landraces, all of the weed we now know and love originated from these few varieties.

Heirloom Weed vs. Hybrid Strains

Most of the cannabis strains that are available today are hybrids, meaning that they have been bred over and over again to produce specific qualities. Whether it be astronomical THC levels, hefty yields, fast flowering times, or increased resistance to pests and mold, all of these qualities have come about as a result of selective breeding.

But while there are literally hundreds of different strains available today, there are three major ‘families’ of marijuana with which every pot aficionado is bound to be familiar. These are the Kush, Haze, and Skunk families, and these classic strains have passed their genetics on to many of the modern-day hybrids that have now become so popular.

Kush strains are probably one of the closest things you will find to a landrace strain today. These plants are direct descendants of the Hindu Kush strain which is native to the area around the Afghani/Pakistani border. This strain was imported during the 70s and quickly soared in popularity due to its relaxing, sedative effects. OG Kush and other strongly indica-leaning strains are still well-loved, and there are plenty to choose from; Master Kush, Bubba Kush, and Purple Kush to name just a few.

At the other end of the spectrum, Haze strains are known for their uplifting, energizing effects. These strains were created during the 70s by combining the genetics of landrace strains such as Acapulco Gold and Colombian Gold with Thai and Indian sativas. The original Haze, sometimes known as Neville’s Haze has given birth to many well-respected strains including Amnesia Haze, Silver Haze, and Lemon Haze, among others.

Skunk strains have a combination of indica and sativa genetics, although the ever-popular Skunk #1 is slightly indica-dominant at 65%. These varieties, best-known for their pungent aroma, also originated in the 70s when Acapulco Gold and Colombian Gold were crossed with an Afghani landrace. Some notable modern-day strains with Skunk genetics include Jack Herer, Cheese, and Green Crack.

The Benefits of Heirloom Weed Strains

Now that there are so many different hybrid strains available, heirloom weed is often overlooked in favor of these exciting new creations. However, there could be certain advantages to growing and using these more classic strains.

One problem with cross-breeding marijuana is that the results can be unpredictable. For example, you might cross an indica-dominant female with a sativa-dominant male in the hope that you would get perfectly balanced 50/50 offspring. Unfortunately, what is far more likely is that you would get some offspring with more indica-like qualities and some with more sativa-like qualities.

This situation can be prevented to some extent by backcrossing offspring with your desired properties with one of its parent strains. However, it can take several generations of backcrossing and a lot of patience to fully stabilize a new strain.

Heirloom weed strains have genetics which are closer to landrace varieties and are therefore far more stable. As we previously mentioned, heirloom seeds produce offspring that are usually very similar to their parents, meaning that you can more easily predict what you are going to get.

Another potential benefit of heirloom cannabis is that it may actually be better than many hybrids in terms of quality and cannabinoid content. People who cultivate other heirloom fruit and vegetables swear that their produce tastes better than intensively farmed, genetically-modified crops, and may provide more nutrition too.

Similarly, there is a school of thought that landrace and heirloom weed strains contain more beneficial compounds than strains that are repeatedly bred over several generations. While it is hard to either prove or disprove this theory, there is indeed some logic behind it. For example, many new strains are bred specially to have an insanely high level of THC. While this is great if all you want is to get completely stoned, it does come at a price.

There is a finite amount of space in each cannabinoid-laden trichome, and so the more THC you try to cram in, the less there will be of everything else. This means reduced levels of CBD and cannabinoids, as well as other beneficial compounds like terpenes. This may not be an issue if all you want is to get high, but for medicinal users, it could mean missing out on some of the most useful aspects of the herb.

So, although it is human nature to want to try new things and have as much variety as possible, by creating so many crazy hybrids, we could be sacrificing part of what made marijuana great in the first place!

Heirloom Weed Strains: Final Thoughts

In a world where brand new cannabis strains are springing up all the time, it is becoming increasingly challenging to find pot which is just the way nature intended. Although there is no denying the appeal of these new creations, there is also something to be said for keeping it simple.

While heirloom weed strains might not have amusing names or THC levels that are guaranteed to send you into a tailspin, there is no denying that these classic cultivars have a certain charm of their own.

When you smoke an heirloom cannabis strain, you are smoking a little bit of history. And these days, that is a novelty in itself. So, if you have the chance to get your hands on one of these classic buds, be sure to snap it up. You may find that you are pleasantly surprised!