Northern Lights is the epitome of a classic indica strain, with deep roots in a time before legal - and even medical - cannabis in the US. Today, Northern Lights - particularly the phenotype Northern Lights # 5 - are treasured in cannabis friendly regions all over the globe for their resinous buds and dreamy, numbing effects. After a foggy history in the US, Northern Lights made its way to the Netherlands around 1985 where it made a new name for itself in the competitive cannabis scene there as part of Neville Schoenmaker’s ‘The Seed Bank’ - which was later renamed ‘Sensi Seeds. The illustrious #5 strain first competed in the Cannabis Cup in 1989, and not only did it win that year, but it also won in 1990 and 1992 as well.
Personally, I’ll always think of my first Northern Lights experience as my first official induction into the blossoming world of legal cannabis, where I purchased the strain from a shop of the same name in Denver, Colorado. The effects of their flagship Northern Lights #5 strain were unparalleled and unforgettable. The strain had a robust, yet gentle quality, while also stimulating the imagination. At the time I was trying my best to endure sleepless nights in highway motels during my week-long cross-country trek to California, so it was a relief when I ended up getting the best night of sleep I had during the trip with some help from Northern Lights #5.
However, the roots of Northern Lights lie not in Colorado or the Netherlands, but reportedly in the Pacific Northwest, where a breeder known as “The Indian” created the strain on an island near Seattle in the 1970s. According to the legend, out of 11 of the breeder’s Northern Lights plants, #1 and #5 were considered the best of the bunch. Other sources claim an earlier California origin for the strain, but the Washington story in the 1970s seems to be the most widely accepted.
In any case, Northern Lights evolved from the Afghani landrace strains that were popular in the early decades of high-test cannabis in the US. Northern Lights #5 offers the best aspects of these coveted strains of western Asia. Instead of overpowering sedation - like many would expect from the average indica strains - the strain is known for dreamy relaxation and relative functionality, traits that it shares with its Afghani landrace fore-bearers.
Consequently, the easygoing effects are favored by patients for depression and stress, as well as for spasticity – tight, stiff, or even pulled muscles - and for other pain. Anxiety and paranoia are unlikely side effects relative to other strains, but you may be in for some dry mouth (also known as cotton mouth), so keep some water handy. Instead of a knockout strain for severe pain and insomnia, Northern Lights #5 shows off the other side of what the best indicas have to offer, in the form of mellow relaxation. This is not to say it’s a bad strain for insomnia either, but instead of knocking you out instantly, Northern Lights is more likely to put you in a state of relaxation before bedtime, nullifying any late night anxiety. For anxiety-based insomnia, this might be a good strain to try.
These buds also share qualities with other indica classics, many of which share genetics with the same Afghani landrace strains. Northern Lights #5 buds are dense, compact, and resinous. Dark green calyxes, dusted with trichomes, provide a backdrop for burnt orange hairs, alongside more muted shades of green that seem to have an almost purple hue.
The taste and aromas of Northern Lights provides what might be the most distinctive element of the strain experience. The first whiff has light notes of earth and honey, with spicy overtones – a sweet, light scent that differs from some of the stronger or even borderline repellent smells of strong sativas and some indicas. This smell is not sour or overly pungent, but instead earthy, botanical, and pleasant. Many strains that descend closely from Afghani indicas offer a similarly spicy and airy quality that is rarely found in other cannabis lineages. As the thick smoke rolls over your tongue, the first impression is airy and sweet, with end notes of earth and spice.
For me, this aroma and taste will always be associated with staring up at stars in the wide open Colorado sky, on a crisp fall night, and starting my exploration of the heights of the world of legal cannabis that continue to climb today. With such a classic and well-loved strain, its not hard to believe that many others associate the taste of Northern Lights with the discovery of everything the flourishing cannabis world has to offer.