Believe it or not, the word “landrace” comes from the Danish language and simply means “origin.” So as you may have already guessed, landrace marijuana strains are the original cannabis strains – the ancestors of the massive 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 advantages (as well as disadvantages) of landrace strains over the more popular – and easier to find – hybrid phenotypes.
Landrace Strains vs. Hybrids: What’s the Difference?
Without a doubt, most strains of weed that are available today are hybrids. This means that they have been created through selective breeding to have particular genetic properties: high-THC, low THC, no THC, high-CBD, low-CBD, purple nugs, fruity flavors – you name it, it’s probably been bred before!
| Whether you use your weed for medicinal or recreational purposes, 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, in fact, 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 — and a brief refresher on global geography.
Landrace Weed: A Brief History
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/Pakistan 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, which were a group of nomadic warriors well-known for their love of marijuana).
| By the 18th century, landrace 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 as a species. For example, to grow a plant in a warmer climate that traditionally had thrived in cold, mountainous conditions, evolutionary changes obviously have to be made. Ultimately, it was likely this non-selective breeding which gave us the hundreds of cannabis strains we have available today.
Of course, the thing that sets landrace strains apart from the “crowd” of genetically mixed hybrids is that they are still as close as is possible to the original strains of marijuana that grew naturally thousands and thousands of years ago.
Landrace Cannabis: The Original Sativa and Indica Strains
You are probably familiar with the terms sativa and indica, and are aware 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 where a strain originated?
Generally speaking, sativa strains grew naturally in areas that were closer to the equator. Due to the long, hot summers and lack of water, the plants grew tall and slender, reaching heights well over six feet. They have narrow, delicate leaves and a longer flowering cycle than their indica cousins.
In terms of effects on the body and mind, 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, as well as stimulating the appetite.
Indica strains, on the other hand, historically grew in more temperate mountainous areas – further away from the heat of the equator. These plants needed to be hardier in order to withstand the shorter summers and colder winters of their natural habitat.
| Landrace indicas historically grew in Central Asian mountainous regions, while landrace sativas were common to tropical areas closer to the equator.
They also tend to grow shorter and bushier than sativa strains, and usually have much broader leaves. To allow these plants to deal with sudden and drastic seasonal changes, they have a shorter flowering cycle than their sativa counterparts.
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 probably 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 [modern] 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.”
In other words, it seems likely that the real reason why sativa and indica strains – even landrace strains that have existed for thousands of years – have such different effects is due to another of the active compounds in cannabis – terpenes.
What are Terpenes, and What do they Have to do With Landrace Marijuana?
Cannabis is of course 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.
Simply put, terpenes are the chemicals which determine the aroma and flavor of a particular marijuana strain. They are actually found in many plants however, not just cannabis (it is terpenes which make lemons smell like lemons, pine smell like pine, and so on).
These aromatic compounds are also thought to play a crucial role in the entourage effect. The entourage effect is the name for a phenomenon in which cannabinoids used in combination with one another appear to be more effective rather than if they were used alone.
Because landrace marijuana strains historically 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 original 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 would have had a very different genetic profile from a Hawaiian strain 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 differences in high — as well the variation in medicinal benefits that are experienced. In any regard, it is without a doubt that the thousands of strains we know and love today are all descendants from original landrace strains that once grew 100% naturally in distinct geographical regions across the globe.
The Best Known Landrace Cannabis Strains
Although landrace strains are becoming increasingly rare, there are a few that are still available today (that is, if you trust the breeder who claims “landrace status”). Some of the most popular sativa landrace strains 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, which is believed to be the original geographical 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 iconic 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 as compared to its ancestors.
For a truly authentic experience, you would need to go back to the weed’s original source. Considering the geographical location of many of these places though (i.e. the Middle Eastern mountains), you might want to take a raincheck on that one. While Hawaii sounds tempting, the Afghan border… well, not so much!
Final Thoughts on Landrace Cannabis Strains
Landrace cannabis strains ultimately evolved and developed naturally based on their habitat, rather than as a result of artificial/selective 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 marijuana 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?