An increase in general knowledge about cannabis has also had a huge effect on the quality of the usable product. Back in the ’70s, much of the cannabis brought in to the U.S. was a mixture of leaves, stems, flowers, and hodgepodge pieces of the plant. Very little of the brick-packed, mass-produced product was actually the feminized flower (sinsemilla) that we now expect when walking into a dispensary. This means that when people used cannabis, they were not using the plant parts high in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the most well-known compound in cannabis that produces psychoactive effects. Rather, members of the “Me Generation” were getting the leftovers.
It wasn’t until hydroponic systems became prevalent in the 1980s that marijuana imports slowed and we saw a jump in potency of the average sample. This new technology allowed more Americans to grow discretely right in their own backyards (or, more likely, their basements), which resulted in fresher marijuana closer to home. This new ability to produce cannabis on a local level meant the beginning of the boom in higher quality connoisseur strains.
They came in kilo bricks. By boat, in trucks, and in cargo planes, pounds of dried-up flakes and pieces of cannabis plants worked their way up from Colombia to be distributed and sold in the United States. While cannabis has been a part of American culture since the country’s birth, cannabis today is certainly not what it used to be. Not only has the industry changed, but so have the plant’s potency and general appearance.
Bagley, B. M. (October 01, 1988). “Colombia and the War on Drugs”. Foreign Affairs, 67, 1, 70-92.
After all of these statistics, there are a few questions which need to be asked. How much more more potent can cannabis get? Each year, more and more states legalize cannabis for medicinal use. The Green Rush to legalization is a step toward turning reality into safe policy. Yet, as technology continues to advance and strains become more specialized (bred specifically for potency and targeting for medicinal effects), the potential for turning cannabis into a different plant altogether only increases. Are these increases in potency a hopeful sign for the medical marijuana industry, or do they suggest that cannabis is going down a different pharmacological route? Right now, the future of cannabis seems wide open.
Speaking of hash. Many 70s references to marijuana referred to various types of hash. Red and Blond Lebanese referred to hash imported from Lebanon. Designated by color, Red Lebanese was darker in color and generally heavier in effect as its typically made from an indica blend. Meanwhile, Lebanese Blond (or Gold), made from a sativa blend, is light in color and provides a more uplifting, cerebral effect. While hash is less common today than the 70s, it may be making a comeback.
While this strain is often referred to as a landrace, breeders cross this strain with Skunk #1 for stability. Named for the fourth largest city in Afghanistan, and thought to have lineage stemming from the aforementioned Afghani strain, this potent indica regularly produces THC content above 20 percent. Because this strain typically produces high amounts of resin, it is commonly used for making hash, which was a popular method of consumption in the 70s.
Although many marijuana strains from the seventies are still around today, it will be difficult to prove or disprove the theory that these strains are stronger than they were forty years ago. Wildly debated, there are two theories in cannabis potency, then and now.
Mazar I Sharif
Colombian Gold is also a landrace sativa which produces a lemony, sweet scent with happy effects that may help regulate mood. Originating in the mountains of Colombia, this strain is less prevalent in some regions, but several dispensaries in the Pacific Northwest and Colorado still carry this old school strain. Averaging between 14 and 20 percent THC, this strain certainly isn’t the most potent strain known to man but has a solid reputation for creating potent cerebral effects.
On the other hand, others believe there’s no accurate way to make that comparison. Opponents claim many of the high-potency, premium cannabis strains, and products of the 70s were ignored or went untested in many cases, thus making any test averages inaccurate. Many of the common 1970’s marijuana strains likely produced just as much THC then as they do today.
As a classic sativa landrace, this strain gained its fame throughout the 60s and 70s. Earning the nomenclature from its origins, Maui Wowie first came from Hawaii which is evident from its luscious, tropical aromas and flavors. Averaging around 13 percent THC, this was a potent strain for this era. Many modern dispensaries carry this as a lightly euphoric and mildly energetic strain.
So, queue up your 70s playlist, pull up a bean bag, and turn on a lava lamp, then let’s take a walk down memory lane and review a few of the most popular 1970’s marijuana strains from four decades ago, their origins, and how they helped shape the future of the cannabis industry
One thing is for certain: the customer is central to the discussion on consumption and with the proper conversations, evolution continues.
Cannabis, which was widely used by hippies, represented to some the golden days of cannabis in history. Many who smoked during this period of time set out to transform the world by taking part in various forms of political activism and rejecting social, economic and mainstream society. On television and in films, stoner stereotypes could be found everywhere. Comedy groups like Cheech and Chong were depicted as jobless and careless, while CBS sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959-63) employed character Maynard G. Krebs, the “beatnik” sidekick who loathed work, authority, and what many consider TV’s first stoner, to keep viewers entertained. For a long time, being a pothead was seen as an insult, ranging from dirty hippie to lazy stoner. Abi Roach, the founder of Hotbox Lounge + Shop notes that “customers were afraid and the biggest fear seemed to be around the police.”
Right now, the future of cannabis seems bright. A lot has changed since the ’60s and ’70s but still, a lot of work needs to be done in terms of legalization, education and strain technology development. “There are thousands of strains available, with domestic cultivation on the rise,” said Campbell, of Lifford, noting that in Europe and the Americas the home-grow movement has resulted in a diversity of genetics combined with sophisticated growing technology. Roach has noted that pending legalization has allowed people the freedom to live free of fear and without stigma, noting, “normalization was the key in ending the war on drugs. When the masses stopped living in fear, the law was able to collapse and people were able to live free without prosecution.”
When it comes to the question of potency, THC plays a big role. Throughout the 60s and 70s, according to Leafly, a majority of cannabis was imported illegally to the US from outside countries, mainly Colombia. While we’ll often hear tales of “hippie weed” being so much better than our weed today, the journey between the farmers and consumer took much longer, causing the THC levels to decrease over time as the oxidation would take effect. Lisa Campbell, cannabis portfolio specialist with Lifford Wine and Spirits, explains: “Back in the 60s and 70s, there were a limited variety of strains and a majority of the products available were imported.” According to the American Chemical Society (ACS), the average potency of marijuana has increased by a factor of at least three percentage points in the last 20 to 30 years according to one CBS News article. Lab founder and director of research Andy LaFrate, PhD notes that average potencies right now are at 20 percent THC.
This era in cannabis culture was pretty special thanks in large part to the hippie counterculture which gave legitimacy to the mainstream medicinal plant we have today. Photo by Darryl Dyck / THE CANADIAN PRESS
In the United States, many scare tactics were put forward including charging many first-time marijuana-related offenders with a minimum sentence of 2-10 years and a fine of up to $20,000, as per the Boggs Act, 1952 and the Narcotics Control Act, 1956, these tactics did not stop people from smoking. For many young adults, taking a toke seemed harmless, although it was even more fun because it was breaking the law. Will Stewart, VP Corporate Communications, and Public Affairs at Tokyo Smoke, notes that the social consumption patterns of the ’60s & ’70s have remained a part of the culture today with many people choosing to engage in consumption at events, with groups of friends, and as part of larger gatherings.
For those who grew up in the 1960s and ’70s, it’s a fairly accurate assessment to say that people smoked it all: stems, seeds, leaves, and buds. While the dosage and potency weren’t quite the same as it is today, this era in cannabis culture was pretty special thanks in large part to the hippie counterculture which gave legitimacy to the mainstream medicinal plant we have today.