Updated: Nov 15, 2019
Mysterious, influential, and endlessly imitated, the strain of cannabis known as OG Kush swept through California in the mid-1990s, sparking a craze that changed the culture forever. At the height of its popularity, pounds of OG were selling for $8,000 and dispensaries had entire menus devoted solely to OG Kush varieties. Name-dropped in rap songs, the word “kush” became shorthand for any primo weed, and the true strain became harder to find.
Today, finding a true OG Kush is like hunting a chimera, since the famously finicky plant adapts and changes with every different grower. Characteristics for the original Kush include deep dark green leaves and small, tight light green buds on a low-yielding, temperamental plant.
The legend of OG Kush
The true origins of OG Kush are murky, with a few competing versions floating around in stoner lore. One account holds that OG Kush came from shipments of Pakistani Kush flowers that were distributed to Florida, Houston, and Los Angeles in the 1980s and early ’90s. Finding seeds in these compressed bricks, ingenious rose growers in the San Fernando Valley began growing out the cannabis and sharing it.
Another story researched by High Times Cultivation Editor Danny Danko contends that OG Kush is descended from Chem Dog, seeds from which were grown near Lake Tahoe. He writes: “The provenance of the OG will always be in dispute, but its resemblance to the Chem 91, and its proximity to the Chem family, makes this one of the more compelling and believable origin stories.” Seeded Chem Dog buds were sold on a Grateful Dead tour in the early 1990s, including shows in Tampa, so there’s a possible Florida connection there too.
Specializing in growing only OG Kush, Josh D is a central figure in the legend of this famous weed. Speaking with us on the What Are You Smoking? podcast, Josh shares his background in developing and popularizing the strain in the LA area.
It all began in 1996 when Matt Berger, Josh’s roommate and fellow cannabis enthusiast, returned from Florida with the Kush. As the ugly duckling of the group, the Kush was a low-yielder, growing tall and lanky with small buds that nevertheless smelled incredible. “It was dynamic and layered,” Josh says of its fragrance when flowering. “There was piney lemon, rotten skunk, and vanilla.”
A Kush by any other name
“It came as Kush so that’s what we all called it,” Josh says, but by 1998, the variety was so popular that it became impossible to keep track of all the names. “There were 100 different names for the same cut,” Josh says, sharing that many friends and other growers had renamed the plant. “The SFV OG, the 818, even the Diablo was created by a partner of mine named Spencer. We named it in the parking lot before we walked into the club. Diablo was just OG grown at a different location from a different grower.”
Ghost OG was discovered as a phenotype by “Oregon Kid,” who spread the word about this phenomenal weed through sites like Overgrow. Swerve and the Cali Connection crew further developed the variety, selling seeds and making new crosses. Larry OG, Tahoe OG, True OG, and other related varieties won numerous awards, making their growers successful and getting many thousands of people super stoned in the process.
Blind taste test methodology
Leafly sourced six of the best OG Kushes on the market in California over several weeks, and impaneled a jury with years of combined experience in the cannabis business.
We asked each of our cannabis connoisseurs what they consider the trademark characteristics of classic OG Kush. Then we blinded the samples and performed smell and feel tests before smoking in joints, pipes, bongs, and bubbler. Read on to see which won!
How do you judge the effects of multiple strains after smoking them in a row? All strains tested, suffice to say, are very strong for a novice. But all judges have a high tolerance to THC, and took water breaks and ate meals over the course of an afternoon. Veteran judges will also tell you that really potent cannabis pokes through a high tolerance. Each judge scored contestants on a scale of 1 to 10 in categories of smell, look, cure, grind ability, smoke, taste, and effect, as well as “OGness,” meaning how well it represents a traditional OG Kush.
Here’s what the judges said about OG Kush
Ellen Holland, Senior Editor, Cannabis Now
“I think about how many phenotypes there are of OG and how it’s hard to know if you’re actually getting an OG.”
Debby Goldsberry, CEO, Magnolia Wellness
“I remember back in the day of the OG taking over Southern California when I’d go to a dispensary, there’d be an Indica menu, a Sativa menu and an OG Kush menu. What a good OG Kush means to me is that you’re gonna get really, really stoned.”
Kysa Butler, Assistant General Manager, Magnolia Wellness
“OG Kush signifies classic Cali, especially when it comes to that good taste. It’s one of my favorites.”
David Downs, California Editor, Leafly
“Lemon, pine, and fuel. Tight, often smaller buds. Resinous. Dark-leafed. I first smoked OG Kush in Santa Barbara in 1998. It was the first time I paid $20 a gram, which I thought was astronomical for such a small amount until I tried it.”
Gabe Reeves, Terp Whisperer, C.R.A.F.T. Cannabis Delivery
“OG Kush usually means a really unique terpene profile, you should be able to smell it immediately when you crack the jar. It could either be really piney or some version of lemony or even floral, or gassy, but not skunky, which is the delineation between a lot of the Chem lines; OG is gassy, like kerosene or fresh floral fuel, it just isn’t the same as a Diesel or a Chem.”
Terryn Buxton, Former Wholesale Buyer
“Definitely gas, but a unique gas, it doesn’t have the gas of a Diesel, Headband, or Chem Dog. It represents a generational shift in cannabis, and the OG Kush era was a very distinct era. In a lot of ways, OG Kush is the most important strain in the last 20 years so it’s a legacy at this point.”
“I think of fuel and earth, you get intense fuel with an earth tone to it. A lot of my experiences with OG come from Los Angeles when it was just ten OG Kushes on the board, and it’s not really like that anymore. It was this rare smoke that started everything.”
The top six OG Kushes in California
Here are the results of the strains we tested. Judges graded traits on a scale of 1-10; trait numbers show the totals of all seven judges.