You’ve heard of it, you’ve probably smoked it, but what exactly is “kush?” The answer should be simple, but the truth is that it’s actually a very loaded question. At Herbn Elements we have some customers who specifically seek out kush strains, often viewing the word “kush” itself to be synonymous with “the best” or “the strongest” weed. Not to say that kush cultivars aren’t potent or memorable, but the 4-letter-word [arguably] refers to the strain’s parentage and shouldn’t necessarily be regarded as a status symbol.
Understanding Landrace Strains
In order to properly understand kush, it is first important to know what landrace strains are. The generally accepted definition for landrace strains are the original, naturally-occuring cannabis plants that existed before selective breeding, but the actual meaning is a little more nuanced than that. According to research by Leafly, cannabis plants originally grew in Central Asia thousands of years ago, and seeds were transported by humans across the globe since then. Sometime during the last 2 millennia, civilizations spread cannabis to the Middle East, and some of the escaped (“feral”) plants evolved to adapt to their natural environments: these are what we now refer to as landrace indica strains.
If you want to see a fascinating example of how a landrace strain evolves to adapt to its environment, Google “Australian Bastard cannabis”.
The Original Kush Strains
The term “kush” refers to the Hindu Kush, a mountain range between Afghanistan and Pakistan where the original landrace indicas flourished. The most famous and influential landrace kush strain also shares its name with this place of origin: Hindu Kush. In order to survive in the harsh climate of its homeland, Hindu Kush adapted by developing a thick and protective coat of trichomes, thereby making the strain an ideal choice for the hash makers of the region. The aroma characteristic of Hindu is earthy, floral, mildly sweet, and slightly sour, though some phenotypes have a distinctive anise flavor, such as the Jager cut of Hindu Kush from Puffin Farm.
Additional landrace kush cultivars that have helped to build the foundation for contemporary hybrids include Afghan Kush and Pakistani Chitral Kush. These original kush strains are all as close as you can get to “pure indica,” so the effects of all 3 are generally calming, contemplative, and sedative. Aside from a little euphoria, kush doesn't inherently have any sativa-like properties… remember this factoid before you’re tempted to shoot the messenger by the end of this article.
Though the origin of the landrace kush cultivars is not up for debate, the source of modern kush strains like OG Kush and Bubba Kush have been hotly debated in the cannabis industry (including the black market and the medical marijuana industry) for decades. We knew this was the case when we chose this subject for a blog article, but we were still surprised by the volume of conflicting information online and offline. It reminds me of the conspiracy theories I’m fascinated by, where no 2 sources corroborate the exact same information and you could spend your whole life seeking "the truth" but never find it.
As of now, the fact remains that there's still no consensus as to who bred these strains and which plants they’re descended from. There are, however, some commonalities in the varying legends as far as locations, aliases, and genetics. Though we can’t personally confirm if these are the true stories behind OG and Bubba Kush, one version of the story seems to come closer to the truth than the others (or at least it does a better job of “connecting the dots”).
The Legend of OG Kush
One of the most popular strains of all time, OG Kush has a major reputation, but its genetics and origin are as highly debated as the name itself (some people think OG stands for Original Genetics, some think it means Original Gangsta, and one [ludicruous yet] widely accepted story is that it stands for Ocean Grown… whatever that means). OG Kush has become so popular over the last 20 years that Southern California has collectively bred it into their entire weed supply, making it so there are now hundreds of OG Kush hybrids and phenotypes clogging up strain databases like Seedfinder and Leafly (a quick search of the latter reveals over 520 results for strains containing the word “OG”).
Upon cross-referencing several online sources, my understanding of OG’s origin story is that it began with a Florida man named Alec Anderson who found a seed in a bag of weed he bought in 1990. At that time strain names were less common, so Alec didn’t know what the strain was… just that it was good enough quality to be referred to as “krippie,” but that was merely a blanket term for 'good weed' akin to “kind bud” or “chronic.” Alec popped the seed and in 1991 or 1992 he passed a cut along to his friend Matt Berger, who is known amongst his friends as Bubba. Because these growers didn’t know anything about genetics, they gave the strain an arbitrary name that sounded cool to them: The Kush. "We seldom knew what strain we were smoking,” said Bubba in an interview with High Times. "If we had all the information that is available nowadays, we definitely would have called it something different.”
Bubba moved from Gainesville, Florida to Los Angeles in 1996, bringing the Kush with him. He shared the Kush with a couple of buddies, including his friend Josh D, who then shared the heavy hitter with B-Real from Cypress Hill. By 1998, B-Real mentioned Kush by name in a Cypress Hill song and it had already become the must-have strain in the greater LA area; at this point several growers had access to cuts of the Kush, partially due to widespread distribution by ORGNKID (pronounced "Oregon Kid”). Because many of the growers failed to cultivate this tricky strain to its full potential, Bubba and Josh D tried to differentiate their crop as the “Original Kush," which they shortened to OG Kush. Unfortunately this attempt to brand OG failed, as all the other growers adopted the name OG Kush and continued to propagate it all over the world.
According to the story, Matt “Bubba” Berger is the Bubba behind Bubba Kush too: Apparently he crossed Kush with Skunk, and one of the phenotypes was so stunning that he gave it his own moniker of “Bubba.” After he moved to LA with his plants, a hermaphrodite Bubba pollenated a Kush plant and inadvertently created the Bubba Kush we know and love today.
But even if we assume that every word of that story is true, it still leaves us wondering what strain the OG seed came from (some sources believe it may have been Triangle Kush or Kryptonite). Bear in mind that there are several experienced growers & breeders who think that the above story is bullshit but that it does have several kernels of truth.
What’s In a Name?
As stated before, the actual genetics of OG Kush are still a mystery, but some oldskool growers believe that it’s a cross of Lemon Thai (a landrace sativa), Chemdawg (an indica-dominant hybrid), and some Afghani landrace strain (possibly Hindu Kush, or Old World Paki).
So is OG Kush actually kush? In a word, no; the alleged propagators stated that they had never even heard of Hindu Kush when they gave their strain the arbitrary name of “Kush” (this is corroborated here, here, and here). OG Kush may contain kush genetics, and it’s likely a kush cross, but no, OG is not actually a kush in itself... it’s a carelessly named hybrid that has bolstered confusion among growers, customers, patients, and budtenders for years. Speaking of hybrid...
Are Kush Strains Always Indica?
It depends. If we’re talking about a landrace kush, then yes, it’s safe to say that it’s indica. But if we’re talking about OG Kush and its numerous descendants, the simple answer is no.
The effect of OG Kush can be difficult to nail down for a number of reasons; aside from the fact that every strain affects every individual in different ways, there are countless phenotypes of OG Kush that span the spectrum of indica, sativa, and somewhere in between. For example, if you went to a pot shop in Los Angeles— or literally any Southern California dispensary— you’ll notice that their inventory is almost entirely OG strains or OG crosses: the indica menu, sativa menu, and hybrid menus are all just lists of OGs.
But some folks in the cannabis community (like myself) don’t think that “indica" is an accurate classification for OG Kush; in order to better manage consumer and patient expectations, I describe OG Kush to novice customers as a sativa-dominant hybrid, or a balanced hybrid at best. Personally speaking, no less than 90% of the OG strains I’ve tried over the last 13 years have only exacerbated the symptoms I use cannabis to manage; OG Kush and most of its descendants tend to make me more anxious, more restless, often times more irritable, and these effects are completely at odds with the way landrace kush strains react with my body. Shortly after moving to Seattle 4 years ago, I convinced a friend at Leafly to reclassify OG Kush from an indica to a hybrid, arguing that the indica classification harmed patients by perpetuating false information.
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Hopefully now you have a better understanding of what we meant when we said “what is kush” is a loaded question. We still don’t have all the answers regarding OG Kush, so it’s probable that growers, smokers, and the rest of the cannabis industry will continue to speculate about its true origin and genetic makeup for years to come. If nothing else, can we at least put the “Ocean Grown” myth to rest now?
Article by Ramsey Doudar; an in-house marketing and social media strategist at Herbn Elements. Ramsey's perspective is influenced by 1.5 years of budtending, 5 years as a cannabis industry marketing professional, and 10+ years of being a super picky medical patient.