Skunk weed is a term that is used in several different ways, depending on geography and who is using it.
In the US, it's used primarily among cannabis connoisseurs to refer to strains that come from the Skunk #1 lineage of genetics or carry a characteristic skunky aroma. In the UK, the term is used more generally to refer to any potent strain that has high levels of THC. Over the last decade, the term skunk has also been misused by UK media outlets in questionable reporting around the effects of cannabis.
Skunk #1: how it all began
The Skunk line of genetics can be traced back to California, where the original Skunk #1 strain is believed to have been developed in the 1970s by breeder David Watson, who later became known as “Sam the Skunkman.” Working with Sacred Seeds in Sacramento, Watson combined three heritage, or landrace, strains: Acapulco Gold, Colombian Gold, and Afghan.
This combination of sativa genetics (from Acapulco and Colombian Gold) and indica genetics (from Afghan) produced a new strain that offered both the uplifting high and citrus notes associated with sativas along with the relaxing effects for which indica strains had been known. This hybrid also produced a pungent and strong-smelling bud that could only be appropriately called skunky, and it was eventually officially named Skunk #1. It became one of the first well-known indoor-grown cannabis varieties and went on to win several awards including 1st place at the inaugural High Times Cannabis Cup in 1988.
Watson brought Skunk #1 seeds to Amsterdam in 1982, where the strain was immediately embraced by the small and tight-knit breeding community there. Its popularity took off, and Skunk genetics continue to be a staple for Dutch pioneers like Sensi Seeds, Royal Queen Seeds, and Dutch Passion Seed Company.
Today Skunk #1 has reached something of a legendary status because it is hardy, easy to grow, and offers impressive harvests. Its lineage is long and deep, and its genetics can be found in countless other cultivars including more well-known strains like Green Crack, Shiva Skunk, and Super Skunk.
Why use the word skunk to describe cannabis?
The term skunky has also become one of the most common descriptors for cannabis's distinctive smell, and it comes directly from the characteristic aroma produced by the well-known North American mammal of the same name.
How does cannabis end up smelling like the defense mechanism of the skunk? It's all thanks to a complex class of flavor and aroma compounds called terpenes. Terpenes are found in everything from fruits, vegetables, and trees to flowers, edible herbs, and even some insects.
The terpenes most commonly dominant in Skunk #1 are limonene, pinene, and myrcene. Limonene and pinene give Skunk #1 its citrusy and forestry notes, while myrcene offers some of the musk you might associate with a skunky aroma.
There are also hundreds of other terpenes found in cannabis and hemp plants. That signature smell of any cannabis strain you might call skunky is likely coming from less common terpenes that produce aromas very similar to thiols, the group of compounds produced by skunks. Cannabis strains that are heavy on terpenes reminiscent of sulfur, rotten eggs, fuel, and potent musk will be referred to as skunky or skunk weed.
Skunk in the United Kingdom
After Skunk #1 genetics made their way to Amsterdam, Skunk flower became available and later cultivated in London and across the United Kingdom. Here, the term skunk took on a life of its own and is colloquially used to refer to any strain of potent cannabis that has high levels of THC.
Unfortunately, this commonly used slang got picked up and its meaning further confused, and taken even further away from its origins as a cultivated variety, by the UK media. Outlets like The Sun reported that “skunk cannabis wrecks brains,” while The Daily Mail claimed that regularly smoking skunk was found to damage the brain and even lead to mental illness.
Oversensationalized and under-informed articles like these have come about due to a less-than-critical look at the studies used to create the claims in the first place, along with a general lack of understanding in and around cannabis science due to cannabis prohibition. As a result, mislabeling weed skunk has become an easy crutch for prohibitionists to use in their fight against cannabis.
Like the original strain's genetics, the term skunk weed has had a wild and interesting ride. It is used to refer to its namesake strain Skunk #1 and its descendants, along with any strain that has that distinct skunky aroma appreciated by connoisseurs here in the United States. It's also used as slang referring to any strain of potent weed by consumers in the United Kingdom. While media outlets in the UK have misused the term skunk to promote negative and generally uninformed views of cannabis, for cannabis lovers the term will continue to be associated with positive experiences.