“Travel is like cannabis; it broadens your perspectives…personally, culturally, and politically,” according to bestselling guidebook author and acclaimed PBS host Rick Steves. “Suddenly, the palette with which we paint the story of our lives has more colors.”
For a cannabis enthusiast, this idea of expanding our palettes rings especially true, because even in our current heady era of rapidly advancing legalization, many of the world’s finest and most exotic cannabis strains can only be found in their regions of origin. So if we think of each varietal of the plant as its own unique hue, then we must travel widely to truly experience the species in all its technicolored glory.
Much as your local liquor store carries wine and beer from around the world, we should be able to sample the finest cannabis available anywhere without leaving home. Another way to look at this is as an opportunity to get out and do some exploring.
As a longtime cannabis journalist, I’ve had the good fortune to travel widely in parts of the world where the love of this plant flourishes, and I can report back that each place comes complete with a particular cannabis strain that’s a point of local pride. Some among the finest I’ve ever sampled.
So what are we waiting for?
Origin: Barcelona, Spain
Much like the coffeeshops in the Netherlands, the cannabis social clubs that have cropped up in Barcelona and elsewhere in Spain over the last decade aren’t really legal, they’re just tolerated—for the most part. Clubs have been busted by the authorities in the past, and the Spanish legal system is still grappling with how to enforce (or not) a set of cannabis laws that allow for “personal” consumption in a “private” setting, without ever defining those terms.
Cannatonic is a cross of MK Ultra and G13 Haze with a slight earthy odor and a mild, sweet, vaguely citrusy flavor.
The city itself, of course, is one of the world’s ideal places to be stoned. Tapas is the ultimate stoner cuisine, and Gaudi is the best architect ever when you’re high. The most popular local strain when I was there some years ago was Jack Herer, an Dutch-bred varietal that most assuredly flourishes beneath a Spanish sun. But to experience a truly homegrown phenomenon, take the time to track down Cannatonic, a high-CBD strain bred by Spanish seed bank Resin Seeds.
With THC rarely above 7% and CBD potentially above 15%, it’s a cross of MK Ultra and G13 Haze with a “slight earthy odor and a mild, sweet, vaguely citrusy flavor.” While not providing much of a high due to its elevated CBD profile, the strain offers profound therapeutic relief for pain, inflammation, and anxiety. It’s the perfect way to unwind after a long hot day wandering La Rambla.
Origin: Amsterdam, Netherlands
As a travel destination, Amsterdam offers up many charms, from the picturesque canals and lively nightlife to the parks and museums and a place called Febo, where you can buy deep fried cheese out of a coin-operated automat in the middle of the night. The city’s also been a refuge for cannabis consumers and cannabis itself for decades.
Not only have Amsterdam’s famed coffeeshops attracted visitors from around the world since they opened in the 1970s, they’ve also served as a safe haven for cannabis strains from every continent to escape prohibition.
If you’re fortunate enough to make a visit, definitely sample some Neville’s Haze or any of its Haze cousins, and don’t miss out on the wide array of imported, traditionally made hashishes available from Morocco, Nepal, Afghanistan, and other distant lands. But if I had to recommend just one smoke in town, I’d say make an appointment with Dr. Grinspoon, a pure sativa heirloom strain bred by Barney’s Farm, a cannabis seed bank associated with one of Amsterdam’s top coffeeshops.
Like all purebred sativas, the strain (named for medical cannabis advocate Dr. Lester Grinspoon) takes a long time to harvest and doesn’t yield very well—but who cares? You’re not growing it, you’re smoking it. And the soaring, cerebral, invigorating high will set you off on an adventure to remember (or forget) in one of the world’s most beautiful cities.
Jamaica has long been associated with ganja, a local word for cannabis that derives from an ancient Sanskrit word that reached the Caribbean in the mid 1800s, brought along by indentured servants freshly arrived from India. In time ganja spread to native born Jamaicans. In particular, the Indians’ use of cannabis as a spiritual sacrament would be adopted by Jamaica’s Rastafarian community.
Add in the global impact of reggae music, and the indelible idea of Jamaica as a cannabis paradise took root in the public’s imagination. Even though, until recently, cannabis remained highly illegal and the laws against it seriously enforced.
Happily, however, that all began to change in 2015, when a new law decriminalized up to two ounces of cannabis and made personal grows legal.
So how best to celebrate if you happen to be lucky enough to make a pilgrimage? Well, nothing could be more appropriate than rolling up a joint of Lamb’s Bread—the definitive Jamaican cannabis strain, and purportedly Bob Marley’s favorite throughout his life. A bright, green, sticky heirloom sativa, it’s an uplifting, inspiring, energizing high that pairs nicely with a cup of local Blue Mountain coffee if you really want to get your day started right.
Revered as a food, fiber, and medicine, cannabis flourished throughout Malawi until 1964, when the newly independent republic joined the United Nations and adopted the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
Malawi Gold remains a vital cash crop throughout the African nation, but growers now plant their seeds in remote mountain clearings.
Fifty years of mandated federal enforcement later, what the locals call chumba, and the world calls Malawi Gold, remains a vital cash crop throughout the impoverished African nation, but growers now plant their seeds in remote mountain clearings, hoping to elude the authorities. According to a 2011 report from the World Bank, Malawian farmers harvest around 150,000 pounds of remarkably potent cannabis in this manner every year, the vast majority bound for Europe. The plant remains illicit to this day, but there’s a strong movement in Malawi to legalize both cannabis and hemp.
Famous throughout Africa for its potency, Malawi Gold is a pure sativa strain that’s slow to mature, with a flowering time of up to 120 days before it’s ready to harvest. But it’s worth the wait to smoke the long, resin-coated buds that have made the strain famous far beyond Malawi’s borders.
Origin: United Kingdom
Britain’s cannabis scene isn’t well known for producing high quality cannabis or award-winning strains, with one notable exception. An indica-dominant hybrid named for its sharply sour aroma, Cheese has been the herbal pride of the United Kingdom since the late 1980s. Local legend has it the original Cheese (sometimes called Original Cheese) descended from a Skunk #1 phenotype that was selected for future breeding based on its incredibly pungent aroma.
Big Buddha’s version put Cheese on the global map when it took home top honors in the Indica category at the 2006 Cannabis Cup.
The most popular modern version comes from Big Buddha Seeds, and features the same pungent funky aroma plus the addition of Afghani indica genetics to increase trichome production and yield. Big Buddha’s version put Cheese on the global map when it took home top honors in the Sativa category at the 2006 Cannabis Cup and has been spreading out geographically ever since.
But it’s still best enjoyed at home, in Merry Old England, paired with a cup of Earl Grey and some tasty crumpets.
Island Sweet Skunk
Origin: Vancouver Island
British Columbia—Canada’s westernmost province—stretches from the ocean to the Rocky Mountains. The region became a hotbed for cannabis cultivation starting back in the 1960s, when the ranks of the area’s homegrown farmers were swelled by the arrival of draft resisters from the US who began fleeing to Canada to avoid service in the Vietnam War. With Vancouver eventually earning the nickname Vansterdam for its tolerance of cannabis coffeeshops, and the entire province boasting vast stretches of remote land in which to grow cannabis, a culture of tolerance and acceptance took hold in BC even in the darkest days of Canada’s cannabis prohibition.
And now that it’s set to be legalized nationwide this summer (with the recreational market functional by late summer/early fall), British Columbia will remain the ultimate Canadian cannabis travel destination, a place of natural beauty and vibrant culture. Island Sweet Skunk was originally bred on Vancouver Island, a 290-mile long, largely undeveloped stretch of coastlines and mountains just off the Pacific coast. A sativa with an electric buzz and a flavor profile that mixes classic skunky notes with ripe grapefruit undertones, the strain is a descendant of Skunk #1 and grows tall, straight, high-yielding plants.