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The Fascinating History of Durban Poison and the Origins of Cannabis

  • by Alfonso Colasuonno
What’s the difference between Panama Red and White Widow? What makes Afghani distinct from Northern Lights? How about Durban Poison and Trainwreck?

If you’re a breeder or just enjoy nerding out on cannabis genetics, you most likely already know the answer. Certain cultivarslike Panama Red, Afghani, and Durban Poisonare landraces.

Landrace cultivars are types of cannabis whose genetics have not been altered for millennia. They are indigenous to certain regions of the world, most notably to parts of Central Asia, South Asia, Africa, the West Indies, and South America. Landrace cultivars possess consistent and distinct attributes, leading to a diverse range of experiences for cannabis connoisseurs.

The History of Landrace Cannabis

According to author Ernest L. Abel, the history of humankind’s cannabis use dates back twelve thousand years. It is believed that cannabis’ origins trace to the steppes of Central Asia, specifically to present-day Mongolia and southern Siberia. In time, via trade and migration, cannabis spread to many other parts of the world. As a result of this early travel, the cannabis that cultivators grew adapted to new geographic conditions, leading to the landraces we know today.


The Current State of Landrace Cannabis

Longtime members of the cannabis community might recall youthful days when landrace cultivars were the primary types of cannabis available in North America or while traversing the Hippie Trail.

Now, as a result of increasing governmental permissiveness towards cannabis, experimentation, hybridization, and the transference of these cultivars into wildly different environments from their origins, the entirety of the cannabis landscape has been transformed.

Many landrace cultivars are threatened with potential extinction. Unfortunately, few protections exist for these "heirloom" species, so tracking their progress, lineage, and history is a concern. Even for landrace cultivars growing in the wild in their indigenous regions, the introduction of pollen from newer genetics has the potential to ruin these pure lines. It is imperative for the cannabis community to preserve the existing landrace cultivars before it becomes too late.


Back to the Roots

Today, there are an abundance of options for those who seek to use cannabis for recreational, medical, or spiritual reasons. However, the appeal of going back to “the roots” of cannabis by enjoying a landrace cultivar is an enticing prospect for many of us. The ability to partake in not only a unique cannabis experience, but a tradition dating back to the earliest days of civilization, holds a special draw in our fast-paced, increasingly disconnected world.

One of the cultivars especially sought after by those seeking a “throwback” cannabis experience is Durban Poison.


The History of Durban Poison

In the late 1970s, High Times columnist and cannabis activist Ed Rosenthal traveled to South Africa on a quest to discover new cannabis genetics. While visiting the coastal city of Durban, Rosenthal learned of a cultivar with a flowering time of only about sixty days, which at the time was remarkably fast.

After acquiring the seeds, Rosenthal shared his information about this new cultivar, which would come to be called Durban Poison, with botanist Mel Frank. Frank then shared his cultivars with Sam the Skunkman, an Amsterdam-based cannabis grower and enthusiast. Afterwards, Durban Poison, despite its South African roots, would come to be associated with the Dutch cannabis scene.


Durban Poison: A Unique and Pleasurable Cultivar

Durban Poison is a pure sativa with a sweet, piney smell. Its heavy presence of D-Limonene terpenes leads to a citrusy aftertaste. Durban Poison’s buds are known to be chunky and round, with a thick layering of trichomes and larger than average resin glands upon harvest. It has a fairly high level of THC, with an average of about 15% and a maximum of around 24%. In contrast, its CBD level is quite low, rarely surpassing 0.02%.

Durban Poison is often called the “coffee,” or even “espresso” of cannabis. It’s a cultivar ideally suited for when you’d like to feel high, yet also work or engage in other productive activities. The medical symptoms that tend to respond best to Durban Poison are nausea, pain, migraines, stress, and depression. Additionally, anyone needing a boost in energy, creativity, sociability, or work-related efficiency might want to consider giving Durban Poison a try.


The Goldleaf team has released an illustrated print of Durban Poison which highlights the anatomy of cannabis. Created in collaboration with The Stuudiio, Erin Hertz and Woody Ridge Farm. 

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