Kandahar is a ninety-percent indica strain bred by the Ministry of Cannabis, and named for a city in southeastern Afghanistan that happens to be central to the history of cannabis. The city, these days more widely associated with violent imagery in the news, is said to be the birthplace of cannabis indica - an ancient trade hub in the dry foothills southwest of the Hindu Kush mountains. Kandahar the strain is bred from an Afghani landrace indica from near the city, along with Afghani skunk – itself bred from other Afghani indica paired with the famous hybrid Skunk Number One. Though not a pure landrace in itself, Kandahar is representative of a region with a rich history of cannabis cultivation, and some of the best indica the world has to offer in particular. Much of the cannabis bred in North America and Europe today would not be the same without the influence of indicas from this part of the world. How did genetics from such a far and seemingly inhospitable place make their way into so many of today’s indica leaning strains?
Landrace strains are strains native to a region, which have undergone thousands of years of adaptation to their environment sometimes with minimal tweaking by local farmers as well. Landrace strains are first discovered either growing wild, or cultivated by indigenous growers. They make up the backbone of the genetics which today comprise the colorfully named strains we know and love. These strains themselves are hard to find in dispensaries and shops, as the most popular strains have been bred for decades to optimize certain qualities – sometimes for the benefit of growers as much as smokers. But at the end of the day, the foundation for all these strains are original landrace strains with names like “Panama Red”, “Acapulco Gold”, which might sound familiar to you if you’ve spent some time listening to any old hippies talk about the best cannabis of the sixties and seventies (or if you lived to try them yourself). Essentially, these strains are the best cannabis that nature has to offer.
Landrace indicas in the Kandahar region hold an especially cherished place in the history of cannabis. Indicas, with their small stout plants and relatively short growing times, are said to have first evolved in this cold, dry belt of mountains stretching from Northern India through Pakistan and into Afghanistan. These plants evolved their low stature, shorter growing times, and high resin production to adapt to a cold, dry mountain climate. Traditionally, they were used in bulk hashish production in these countries. Besides an ideal climate, this region held the Silk Road trade routes of ancient times.
The Silk Road was a series of routes which served as the primary trade link from Asia to Europe throughout history, most travelled during the time of the Tang Dynasty China, in 618 – 907 C.E. The route carried silk, spices, jade and other non-perishable items unavailable in Europe, facilitating the movement of hashish and probably cannabis seeds as well. The route ran west from China into the Taklamakan desert north of the Himalayas, continuing west into Afghanistan, present day Iran, and the Middle East, then finally reaching Europe – which at the time, was home to the remnants of the Roman empire. The route was responsible for goods reaching the Middle East and Europe that never would have otherwise. The Silk Road traces the history of Cannabis through Eurasia, and Kandahar was one of a number of cities that owed its bustling economy to its place on the trade route.
The route was famous for its role in cannabis history, and the 60s and 70s saw a new wave of travelers in the reverse direction, this time the rebellious cannabis smoking youth of Europe and North America. These wanderers went east in search of spiritual truth and widely available cannabis. Famously, a 45-dollar bus could take these young travelers from London to Delhi – right through the cannabis hubs of central Asia such as Kandahar. Afghanistan was a particularly popular stop on this “Hippie Trail”, with friendly locals who already possessed their own enthusiasm for hashish use, rather than simply marketing it to tourists. This was Afghanistan before it became known as a war-torn hellscape - a welcoming place with longstanding openness to foreigners, having been exposed to every type of outsider traveling the Silk Road for centuries. The late 70s would see political changes in Afghanistan and the rest of the region that would lay the groundwork for the chaotic and authoritarian extremes of today, and end this era of relative peace and openness.
These hippie travelers took the time to interact with local cultures, adopting local dress and other practices during their stay. When they ran out of money and went home to places like California, Holland, or Britain, they brought with them the cannabis seeds and know-how of their Afghani hosts. The Afghani indicas offered a different kind of experience than the Latin American landrace sativas prominent in high quality cannabis circles at the time. Afghani was considered a rough smoke, since it had been bred for bulk hashish production, so it was bred with other sativas or hybrids to create some of the popular indica leaning strains we find today. Not only did this result in more available indicas, but these genetics also made their way into sativa dominant strains, imparting an ability to grow denser and smaller, as well as a tolerance for temperate climates. The term ‘homegrown’ would evolve a new positive connotation to eclipse its older derisive use, in large part thanks to the influx of Afghani indicas.
Kandahar is a strain that exemplifies this history, with its roughly ten percent sativa influence, dense buds evolved for an arid mountain climate, and deep stony Afghani indica foundation. However, the small amount of sativa genetics make their presence known as well. My first impression of Kandahar is the unusual smell wafting out of the jar as soon as I open it. This is not the sour or sweet of so many strains. It is a dry aroma, somewhat nutty and reminiscent of walking into a recently built treehouse, or any room where woodworking goes on – a light, woody, sawdust scent. It is fruity but not in the usual berry or tropical direction, not incredibly sweet, more like dried apricots or the smell (rather than taste) of raw honey. The unusual smell alludes to its exotic origins. The dense buds are colorful with a range of warm yellow-greens covered in crystals, and long, pale-orange hairs.
The taste is airy and woody, with a hint of roasted walnuts and a finish of airy pine. A creeper, but not as delayed as some other indicas, the effect will take about five full minutes to truly set in. Once arrived, it is happy and uplifting by indica standards – this strain may put a smile on your face without you even realizing it. After about 20 minutes I realized the muscles in my cheeks were tired from constant smiling and internal laughter. The high is content, dreamy and a little bit funny, without any truly heavy couchlock or lethargy. There is muscle relaxation but not the kind of heavy weighted feeling that makes it hard to make it across the room. This is one indica that did not make me sleepy in the least, making it a great daytime solution for those who prefer indicas.
The name and the history serve only to add to the experience for me, lost in dreams of wandering deserts between continents, and life spent traveling from one colorful market town to the next. At first, I had some concern that smoking a strain named after a warzone would insert images of conflict and chaos into the always suggestible cannabis experience. Instead, the effects and the name are more truly evocative of the Afghanistan of mid-century and before - a tolerant, outward looking nation that served as a bustling link between Europe and Asia. After my research for this article at least, the effects paired perfectly with dreams of big skies, desert winds, and the dazzling variety of life and color on the old Silk Road.
Chasteen, John Charles. Getting High: Marijuana through the Ages