The word “landrace” comes from the Danish language and simply means “origin.” So as you may have already guessed, landrace strains are the original cannabis strains, the ancestors of the wide variety of hybrids that we enjoy smoking today.
In this article, we will explore the historical and geographical roots of the plant we all know and love, and take a look at some of the potential benefits of landrace strains over the more popular hybrids.
Landrace Strains vs. Hybrids: What’s the Difference?
Most of the strains of weed that are available today are hybrids. This means that they have been created by selective breeding to have particular properties: High THC, low THC, no THC, high CBD, low CBD, purple nugs, a fruity flavor – you name it!
Whether you want to use your weed for medicinal or recreational purposes, or just to impress your friends, you can be sure there is a strain out there that is perfect for you.
While having all this choice is a definite plus, it can also be confusing, especially if you are new to cannabis and don’t know what you are looking for. If you have ever browsed the various cannabis strains available, you undoubtedly will have come across terms such as “sativa” and “indica,” and you may be aware that these are renowned for producing slightly different effects.
However, most of the time these terms are actually a little misleading. It is more accurate to use the terms “sativa-dominant” or “indica-dominant” as these strains are so often hybrids. The only pure sativa or indica strains are the landrace strains, and these are increasingly hard to come by.
So why are landrace cannabis strains so special? To fully understand, first we need to take a quick lesson in cannabis history.
A Brief History of Cannabis
Humans have used cannabis for thousands of years. It can be used as a food, a medicine, a building material, and its fibers can even be woven to make cloth or rope. It is thought that the plant first originated from central Asia, but due to its immense usefulness, it quickly spread across the globe.
It is widely believed that the very first strains of cannabis grew in the foothills of the Himalayas in an area which lies on the modern-day Afghan/Pakistani border. Even now, this area is still known for producing prized marijuana strains with a high resin content, making them ideal for producing hash.
From here, cannabis quickly spread across Asia. It was used in ancient China as an herbal medicine, and across the Indian subcontinent it became an integral part of the Hindu religion. Weed was introduced to Europe later on, probably by the Scythians; a group of nomadic warriors who were well-known for their love of marijuana. By the 18th century, cannabis had even made it as far as Australia, completing its advance around the world.
With so many people transporting cannabis from place to place, it is no wonder that it began to evolve. For example, to grow a plant which usually thrives in cold, mountainous conditions in a warmer climate, changes obviously have to be made. It is this selective breeding which gives us the hundreds of cannabis strains we have available to us today. But the thing that sets landrace strains apart from the crowd is that they are still as close as is possible to the original strains of marijuana that grew naturally all those years ago.
Landrace Cannabis: The Original Sativa and Indica Strains
You are probably familiar with the terms sativa and indica and know that these different cannabis phenotypes are renowned for the different highs that they produce. But did you know that these terms can tell you just as much about from where a strain originated?
Sativa strains grow naturally in areas closer to the equator. Due to the long, hot summers and lack of water, these plants grow tall and slender, reaching heights of up to five feet. They have narrow, delicate leaves and a longer flowering cycle than their indica cousins. Sativa strains are known for providing an energizing, cerebral high that is great for socializing or sparking your creativity. Some of the most commonly reported medicinal benefits include relieving anxiety and depression and stimulating the appetite.
Indica strains, on the other hand, grow in more temperate areas, further away from the heat of the equator. These plants need to be hardier in order to withstand the shorter summers and colder winters of their natural habitat. They also grow shorter and bushier than sativa strains and have much broader leaves. To allow these plants to deal with sudden and drastic seasonal changes, they also have a much shorter flowering cycle than their sativa counterparts. Indica strains are known to produce a relaxing, mellow high, which could be too sedating for some people. Their medicinal uses include chronic pain, muscle spasms, and insomnia.
For years, it was a commonly held belief that the difference between a sativa high and an indica high was due to differing levels of cannabinoids such as CBD and THC. However, we now know that this is not the case.
Dr. Ethan Russo, a neurologist and researcher with a particular interest in the endocannabinoid system says:
“There are biochemically distinct strains of cannabis, but the sativa/indica distinction as commonly applied in the lay literature is total nonsense and an exercise in futility. One cannot in any way currently guess the biochemical content of a given cannabis plant based on its height, branching, or leaf morphology.”
It seems likely that the real reason why sativa and indica strains have such different effects is due to another of the active compounds in cannabis – terpenes.
What are Terpenes?
Cannabis is best known for its active compounds called cannabinoids, which include the infamous THC and CBD. However, the cannabis plant also contains chemicals called terpenes which may be just as important in deciding the effects of a strain as its THC/CBD content.
Terpenes are the chemicals which determine the aroma and flavor of a particular strain. They are actually found in many plants, not just cannabis. It is terpenes which make lemons smell like lemons and pine smell like pine.
These aromatic compounds are also thought to play a crucial role in the entourage effect. The entourage effect is the name for the phenomenon that means cannabinoids used in combination with one another appear to be more effective than each one used alone.
Because landrace strains often grew under harsh conditions, they had to evolve and adapt to their environments over time. This evolution would have affected each strain’s chemical makeup, as well as its growing habits.
Since each of the landrace strains developed in complete isolation from one another, each one went on to produce a very unique terpene profile. For example, a Kush strain grown in the high altitudes of the Himalayas will have a very different profile from a Hawaiian which grew in a warmer climate with rich, volcanic soil.
Research has shown that different strains have very different terpene profiles, which could account for the difference in high, as well as variation in medicinal benefits.
The Best Known Landrace Cannabis Strains
Although landrace strains are increasingly rare, there are a few that are still available today. Some of the most popular sativa varieties include:
- Acapulco Gold from Mexico
- Lamb’s Bread from Jamaica
- Durban Poison, Malawi, and Kilimanjaro from Africa
- Panama Red and Colombian Gold from South America
- Thai and Chocolate Thai from Asia
All of the indica landrace strains come from Central Asia, the original home of the cannabis plant. Some of the most popular include:
If you want to try landrace cannabis, you could do far worse than picking up one of these great strains. However, one thing to bear in mind is that marijuana grown away from its natural habitat will probably have a slightly different cannabinoid and terpene profile to its ancestors.
For a truly authentic experience, you will need to go back to the weed’s original source, and considering the geographical location of many of these, you might want to give that a miss. While Hawaii sounds tempting, the Afghan border… well, not so much!
Landrace Cannabis Strains: Final Thoughts
Landrace cannabis strains developed naturally based on their habitat, rather than as a result of artificial breeding. They are the only strains which can be considered 100% sativa or indica, rather than the hybrids that we typically smoke today.
So if you are looking for a truly natural cannabis experience, you should definitely try a landrace strain. And if you are a grower, why not choose a landrace for your next crop and help to keep the origins of cannabis alive?