Higher Profile: Remembering Lawrence Ringo, Father of CBD (1956-2014)

Educated by the Hells Angels, called to God’s plant.

Cultivar Charlotte’s Web was first introduced to the world from Denver, Colorado, via a television documentary. But what viewers couldn’t know is that the high CBD variety actually began many years prior on a farm in Southern Humboldt County, in Northern California.

When the U.S. Cable News Network (CNN) aired Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s documentary episode “Weed” in 2013, Charlotte’s Web seemed like a miracle plant. High in one of the cannabinoids, cannabidiol or CBD, and low in the psychoactive compound of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, with little to no psychoactive properties, it was the seeming answer to ending the stupid stoner stigma. 

What was difficult to wrap one’s head around was the fact that this was the same plant as the cannabis we’d known that tested high in THC. The differences within the some 400 compounds in the plant were minimal, albeit for the excess of CBD.

The cultivar Gupta introduced was named after then-four-year-old, Charlotte Figi, who suffered from Dravet Syndrome, with Figi enduring up to 300 grand mal seizures per week. The toddler benefited greatly from the oil derived from the cultivar, with her story told on national television via Gupta’s documentary, with much fanfare after its airing and international recognition for the Stanley brothers, who provided the plant.

As a sidenote, Charlotte Figi’s mother had found an article penned in 1949 stating that “marijuana” successfully treated epilepsy. When she heard that the Stanley brothers had a cannabis cultivar with little to no psychoactivity, she asked to make oil from the plant to treat her daughter.

Due to the legalities of the prohibition of cannabis, the story of the cultivar’s lineage was left untold. As Charlotte’s Web actually came from a combination of seeds and starts purchased from the Southern Humboldt Seed Collective, after being painstakingly hybridized for nearly 15 years by longtime Southern Humboldt cannabis farmer, Lawrence Ringo.

Another little known fact is that a group of some 40 children suffering from seizures were already being helped with Ringo’s CBD cultivars, long before Figi’s story made headlines. Due to the historically covert nature of the Emerald Triangle in Northern California, combined with a fear of having children taken away by federally funded Child Protective Services, the stores of healing from the unique cultivar were kept under wraps until Gupta got wind of the Figi’s in Colorado.

Important to note, the day before Gupta’s documentary aired, the CNN Medical Correspondent/Producer/Neurosurgeon, went on Piers Morgan’s talk show and apologized to the American people (and the world), for being ignorant on the plant’s potential, confirming that cannabis is medicinal. Sadly, that was 2013 – 10 years ago, with nary a change in descheduling the plant by the Federal Drug Administration to reflect beneficial use.

How High is High Enough?

Historically speaking, it was the cannabis farmers in Northern California who first focused on hybridizing the psychoactive properties of the plant to the heights we have today for a more elevated experience.

Ringo had been growing weed since he was 15 on the Central Coast of California, then farming in Southern Humboldt for 35 years, founding the Southern Humboldt Seed Collective in 2010. He was one of the farmers who focused on raising the levels of the cannabinoid THC in cannabis for decades.

Even today, the debate of how much THC is really necessary or is there a plateau reached with an elevated amount of THC intake, rages on. In the plant’s unnatural state of high THC, testing upwards inn the 20 and 30 percentiles, we do know that too much can cause anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia, and trigger (not cause) psychosis and neurosis in those already prone to emotional episodes. 

When Ringo began hybridizing the THC back down on some of his plants by taking the low THC cultivars and pollinating them together by hand, he had no idea the one compound of cannabidiol (CBD) would be raised to new heights. Why this one compound was lifted and not the hundreds more within the plant remains a mystery.

It’s important to note, that before cannabis farmers as hybridizers began upping the level of THC in the plant in the 1960s, cannabis overall had tested with an average of just 3% of the psychoactive compound, producing a very mild and more therapeutic dose.

The cultivar Sinsemilla from Southern Mexico is the first known cultivar documented to have the THC hybridized up to 15%, brought up to the states in the early 1960s (High Times archives, 1999).

Ringo’s intent of lowering the THC back down was personal, as he’d suffered from severe back pain since childhood, missing a disk between his third and fourth vertebrae. His widow, Kat Hart, said this bone on bone pain required more than pharmaceuticals could offer.

He hybridized the plant back to what he called the “God plant.” Back to its origins, said to be used in Holy Annointing oil from the Bible. 

It’s also interesting to note, that this low THC version was also found in more than 250 marketed remedies prior to the creation of the pharmaceutical industry in the late 1930s, and the plant’s prohibition in the 1940s.

Hart also added that the low THC cultivars enhanced Ringo’s guitar playing in a way the high THC cultivars didn’t. This anecdotal story demonstrates the versatility of the plant as a crossover from recreational to medicinal in one strum, so to speak.

“His first love was music, then weed,” Hart laughed. “His grandmother, Hazel, encouraged his first solo performance on the guitar at Margaret Harloe elementary school when he was seven years old. He loved writing music – mostly rock and roll, but he also loved classical compositions.”

During the 1980s, Ringo was known throughout Northern California as the “Guitar Monster,” playing at Reggae on the River in Humboldt County in 2006, with international reggae artist, Jade Steel, who was born and raised in Humboldt.

Mike Grafton aka Granddaddy Purp, back facing me, talking to Ringo, 2011 HT Cup. / Photo by Sharon Letts

A Gun, a Good Deed & the Hells Angels

Ringo was born in the conservative enclave of Orange County in Southern California. By 1971, he was living in the small town of Arroyo Grande, two miles south of Pismo Beach on the Central Coast of California.

When he was just 15 years old, he found a snub-nosed .38, a sapphire gold ring, and a film can of cocaine. He threw the cocaine away, returned the ring and gun, and noted a rather large sativa plant in the man’s yard.

The man was none other than the leader of the local Hells Angels chapter. When the man asked what he wanted for returning the items, he quickly replied he wanted to learn how to grow weed. And the rest, as they say is history.

He would eventually settle on 40 acres he’d purchased in Blocksburg, a rural farming region in Southern Humboldt, after raising his boys as a “Gorilla grower” within the illicit market in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Ringo worked for Seagate Technologies from 1989 to 2001, helping to start-up its 540,000 square foot research and development facility in Longmont, Colorado, returning to his beloved Blocksburg, where he lived out the rest of his life.

From Gorilla Grower to Innovative Farmer

The cultivars he originally worked with were landrace cultivars from Mexico, Thailand, Afghanistan, to name a few. He made all the F-1 crosses, crossing male genetics with those from the female to produce a “first generation cross.”

The lineage of the plants he ended up producing is complex. For instance, the plants grown from New York City Diesel seeds, purchased from Canadian Marc Emery, were crossed with Sour Tsunami starts to get the Sour Diesel we know today. The irony of the lineage of Charlotte’s Web continues, as Emery would later spend time in prison for selling seeds across borders.

Ringo relied solely on the cultivars he developed to control his pain. In an O’Shaughnessy’s Journal article published in 2011, Ringo stated, “I’ve been to every doctor and chiropractor. No one can really help. When my back really hurts I do the high-CBD kief. Two pipe loads and I can go out and do anything – ride a motorcycle, work in the garden.”

Though Ringo is known for his hybrids, he’s also known for using Light Deprivation (light depo), starting in 1980 – a technique commonly used today, tricking plants into thinking it’s time to flower.

Ringo used the technique by covering his greenhouse, blocking out all sunlight. This encouraged early sexing, enabled females to be planted in early May, and ensured that large plants would harvest earlier. 

The light depo process also ensures fresh medicine through the summer months when there is typically a void of plant material until a fall harvest. Because the CBD cultivars are not trimmed, allowing for whole plant compounds, there is no excess.

Ringo purchased seeds from Emery’s seed company, and with eight initial cultivars, Ringo developed 20 new ones, starting Kush Seeds, then the Southern Humboldt Seed Collective, or SoHum Seeds.

According to Hart, Sour Tsunami was the first low CBD cultivar Ringo created, then Harle-Tsu, Canna-Tsu, Swiss Tsu, and ACDC.

Author’s Note: ACDC was developed in Mendocino by Dr. William Courtney, as a cultivar to be juiced, putting his wife Kristen’s Lupus into remission (High Times, Higher Profile: Dr. William Courtney).

The day Samantha Miller of California laboratory, Pure Analytics, called to let the team know his Sour Tsunami measured in upwards of 11.3% CBD, while retaining 6-7% THC, Hart said everyone cheered. 

This was the first time Miller had come into contact with high CBD cultivars, and the findings were not lost on her. The bigger news from Miller was that Ringo had eight other cultivars that also had the potential of testing high in CBD.

“At that point we knew very little about CBD, but Samantha conveyed its importance,” Hart shared. “It was really a defining moment for So Hum Seeds.”

Current cultivars available in its catalog include ACDC, Canna Tsu, Cheesel, Purple Cheesel, Pineapple Cheesel, Harle Tsu, Hula Budda, Pineapple Tsunami, Purple Diesel, Sour Tsunami, Swiss Tsu, and OG Ringo (cultivars subject to change).

The Lineage of High CBD

Ironically, legalization in Colorado allowed the Figi and CBD story to be told, which, in turn, has helped change public perception of the plant altogether. 

It’s safe to say that it probably took the handsome, blonde, blue-eyed Stanley brothers to introduce CBD to the world via television. The story may have never been told coming from its originator, a seemingly old hippie from the left coast, sporting classic tie-dyed t-shirts in the heart of the Emerald Triangle.

Hart said it stung when a version of Ringo’s CBD cultivar took center stage in the CNN documentary, laughingly referred to as a “Hippie’s Disappointment,” for lack of THC. Its Humboldt lineage went unmentioned due to the legalities of crossing state lines with the seeds and starts.

Records provided by Hart reveal that Charlotte’s Webs’ ancestry may stem from a combination of Harlequin and Sour Tsunami, but Hart said the profiling shows a grab bag of varieties, albeit, with Ringo’s strains predominantly in the mix, with no other farmer claiming the years of work on bringing the THC back down, as Ringo had.

“Phylos Bioscience, a lab up in Portland, Oregon, genetically tested Charlotte’s Web and it does show a connection, but it also shows that we were not the first to work with high CBD strains,” Hart shared.

What Phylos Bioscience discovered, is that while Ringo was honing his CBD in Southern Humboldt, breeders in Spain were working on the same exact process. If the universe really is aligned, then cannabis was a conduit in this instance.

Where Charlotte’s Web is concerned, Hart said Ringo remembered selling Harle Tsu seeds to the proprietors of Charlotte’s Web during a High Times Cannabis Cup in Northern California.

Ringo’s assistant remembered the Stanley brothers coming to the farm after the Cup and purchasing both Harlequin and Sour Tsunami starts, spending nearly two hours in what she called a failed attempt to explain the medicinal qualities of the high CBD plants. When during Gupta’s documentary the plant was referred to as “Hippie’s Disappointment,” their ignorance to the lesson was confirmed.

Remembering Ringo

We lost Ringo in 2014 from cancer. With little warning, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and given just two months to live.

Though Hart said they consulted with some of the top experts in cannabis medicine, they were encouraged to do a round of radiation due to the severity and the location of the tumor.

“He immediately began eating the oil,” Hart shared. “He was ingesting his own CO2 high THC oil, with a 3:1 ratio of CBD. He never regained any strength after the radiation to even be able to try the chemo.” 

The genetics he left behind are his legacy, carried on by his children, who were raised in the farming life.

His eldest son, Levi and his wife Danielle, now run the SoHum Seed Collective, and are the keepers of the cultivars.

“The cooperative was formed to help support local farmers and be able to provide enough CBD medicine to meet supply and demand,” Hart explained. “We provide clones of our genetics, the farmers grow it, and the cooperative purchases it.”

Hart said she’s not the farmer Ringo was, but she’ll never be far away from the magic he made.

“CBD is everywhere now and we as a cooperative are very proud of Ringo’s legacy,” she concluded. “He was extremely generous, which is why the cultivars he created are so widespread. He believed in helping others for the greater good.”

For more information about Lawrence Ringo, the cultivars he created, and to purchase seeds, visit the Southern Humboldt Seed Collective.

1 comment

    “It’s important to note, that before cannabis farmers as hybridizers began upping the level of THC in the plant in the 1960s, cannabis overall had tested with an average of just 3% of the psychoactive compound, producing a very mild and more therapeutic dose.”

    In fact delta9-THC was only isolated by R.M. in 1964, so there literally was absolutely no potency testing done before that year and the technologies to doe that testing were far more limited compared to now. Yes law enforcement authorities did slowly start testing their confiscated weed after that year, BUT the whole concept of ‘sinsemilla’ i.e. minimising or eliminating seeds to increase yield and potency wasn’t widely recognised until the 1970s.
    This means that during the 1960s (post 1964 when testing started) the weed being sold was mostly VERY leafy, poorly manicured if at all and often full of stems as well as seed. That’s the crappy quality that those early tests represent and that’s what people (the DEA, prohibitionists & ignorant media) are comparing to todays highly manicured sinsemilla buds which have become the standard item of commerce.
    YES breeding since the 1960s has absolutely dramatically improved the AVERAGE potency of plants, but we will never know how good the best buds from the mid 1960s could have been compared to today’s; had they been grown seedless, then dried and manicured to modern standards.

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