The Great Skunk Hunt

Smoking one of pot’s original hybrids is a journey through time.
Skunk phenotypes growing at Haze Dispensary / Photo by Justin Cannabis

In the 1960s and ’70s, humanity finally pulled it together and began hybridlizing different types of cannabis. Although use of the plant has been prevalent for thousands of years, it wasn’t until this time that cannabis breeders began to take marijuana’s original expressions, the landrace cultivars, and blend them together. The incredible diversity of the types of marijuana we have today started with the first few cannabis seed companies and hybrids they created. Skunk #1 is one of the most widely recognized hybrids of those early days of cannabis breeding. An artistic creation that fused together landrace cannabis from different areas of the world, Skunk #1 is legendary pot.

“It’s in everything,” horticulture authority Ed Rosenthal tells me during a recent smoke session in the sunroom of his publishing headquarters and home.

Together we’re traveling through time back to the 1980s. I’ve brought over a sampling of six Skunk #1 phenotypes grown by Frank at Purple Caper Seeds in his epic 2022 Skunk hunt. Frank grew out 25 different packs of Skunk #1 seeds, some more than 20 years old, on a quest for the original flavor he loved when he first started smoking pot in the late ’80s.

Courtesy of High Times

“It’s been over 20 years now I haven’t had that flavor,” Frank says of his quest to bring back the weed he remembers. “First I started sniffing around. I heard the buzz that everybody’s starting to talk about Skunk again. I’ve always missed it, but I haven’t tried to bring it back. It’s expensive [to do], and there wasn’t a demand. And I talked to my people in Canada, I talked to my people in Amsterdam and asked them if there were any old packs in their freezers.”

Eventually, Frank was able to collect a lineup of seeds to grow fabled classics spread across the centerfolds of this very magazine in the ’80s and ’90s: Green House Seeds’ Exodus Cheese, Nirvana Super Skunk, Paradise Seeds Original Cheese (IBF), Dutch Passion’s Skunk #1, and Skunk #1 from Sensi Seeds. Amsterdam-based seed companies like Dutch Passion and Sensi Seeds, which received the Skunk genetics in the 1980s, still sell Skunk #1 seed packs to this day.

A Marijuana Marketing Milestone

The winner of the first High Times Cannabis Cup in the Netherlands in 1987, Skunk #1 was proliferated by a guy whom cannabis lore calls “Sam the Skunkman,” but whose real name is Dave Watson. Skunk #1 is a combination of two South American landraces, Acapulco Gold and Colombian Gold, as well as an Afghani. Rosenthal suspects some Thai may also be in the cross, but this has never been publicly acknowledged.

When this cultivar got into the hands of Watson at Sacred Seeds Collective in Santa Cruz, California, the genetics were developed and stabilized through inbreeding (in cannabis that generally means crossing the plant back with itself to maintain its traits in future offspring). As part of the great exchange that shaped the world of cannabis cultivars at that time—the fusion of minds and marijuana from California and Amsterdam—Watson brought Skunk #1 from California to Holland in 1985. By the late ’80s, it was in many seed banks throughout Holland.

The phenotypes Rosenthal and I are sampling have names that sound terrible: Fresh Kill, Rotten Carcass, Vomit, Burnt Rubber, Donkey Dick, and least offensively, Cheese. But they don’t have the acidic, rotten smell of a skunk’s spray or any of the other noxious odors their names suggest. They smell floral, some are decidedly cheesy, and they taste sweet. Rosenthal explains that Watson naming the strain Skunk #1 was an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of a type of cannabis around in the 1970s, which actually smelled like a skunk.

“People would say, ‘Is there a dead body or a skunk or something around? That’s what the original skunks smelled like. That’s why they were called skunks,” Rosenthal says. “So when [Watson] named it Skunk, I mean there’s no right or wrong on this, but it wasn’t what the animal smelled like.”

Vomit / Photo by Justin Cannabis

Recently scientists at ABSTRAX, a laboratory devoted to terpene research and botanical extraction, pinpointed the origins of that skunky, gasoline-like scent and, as it turns out, it comes from a class of compounds in cannabis that has just been discovered, volatile sulfuric compounds (VSCs). The ABSTRAX study, which appeared in the American Chemical Society journal, shows that the skunky smell in cannabis also has similarities to the heady, pungent smell of garlic.

“When people are referring to the skunky/gassy scent of cannabis they are actually smelling this class of VSCs that we are referring to in the industry as cannasulfur compounds,” explains T.J. Martin, VP of Research and Development at ABSTRAX.

“While they are not the same identical compounds in garlic, they have very similar structures and an eerily similar family of VSCs. The main difference is that the structure of cannabis VSCs contain what are called prenyl groups (i.e. prenyl thiol, diphenyl sulfide, etc.) and garlic has allyl groups (i.e. allyl thiol, diallyl sulfide, etc.).

“What makes it so interesting is that chemically they may be different, but they are also very similar, and they follow the same trend. Current research in garlic shows that its VSCs may possibly contribute to the cardiovascular and proposed anti-cancerous benefits found in garlic. With these families being so similar, with just a small minor change, we were wondering if maybe this contributes to some of the medicinal benefits of cannabis.”

Rotten Carcass / Photo by Justin Cannabis

At our sunroom smoke sesh, Rosenthal says the study shows Afghan Skunk (aka Afghani Skunk) had a lot of cannasulfurs in it.

“You’d have a bag of it, you’d open the bag, close the bag, the room would stink, you couldn’t get the smell out of the room,” Rosenthal says of Afghan Skunk. “I haven’t seen that in 15 or 20 years.”

For Rosenthal, Skunk #1 itself is decidedly more common. He says he last smoked Skunk #1, a strain that came out when I was still a young child that I’ve never tried until now, two months ago. Like White Widow, it was widely used for breeding. When Rosenthal and other cannabis experts I’ve spoken to in the past wax nostalgic about a strain from yesteryear, it’s usually Northern Lights #5 x Haze (aka NL #5 Haze). Northern Lights #5 is Afghani x Thai, and NL #5 Haze combines that strain pairing with the Haze that came out of Santa Cruz in the 1960s.

“The reason you don’t see NL #5 Haze is because it’s very difficult to grow indoors because it takes so much longer,” Rosenthal says of those long-flowering equatorial sativa genetics present in the Haze family. “It takes a long time to finish, and it’s a moderate yield. But if you’re growing outdoors like in Southern California, that would be a great variety to grow. It has an unbelievably zonky high, [With NL #5 x Haze] like you say, ‘Oh, that’s what my brain was looking for.’”

Together Haze, Skunk #1, and Northern Lights #5 are the first main types of hybrid cannabis and, therefore, some most influential types of weed of all time.

These seeds were grown out on the hunt to find the best Skunk #1 phenotype. / Photo by Justin Cannabis

Skunk #1 in 2022

To rediscover the Skunk #1 experiences of his youth Purple Caper’s Frank gathered the seeds, including 1996 seeds from expert grower and cannabis author Mel Frank, and grew them out at Haze Dispensary in San Jose, California.

“We procured the best 25 packs of Skunk that we could find and popped them,” Frank says. “Of over 200 seeds, we found 70 keeper females and 20 keeper males, 90 plants total. Out of those 90 plants, 10 males and 10 female keepers are isolated.”

Those 10 female plants are now being tested in clone and breeding projects in all types of growing environments, outdoor full-term, light-dep, and indoors. The final plants Frank will use for Purple Caper’s planned Skunk #1 seed release will be from one male and six females.

“The keepers we found are better than expected,” Frank says. “These had long, big colas, especially the Donkey Dick. I mean, that plant had just three branches. Each one had a 24-inch cola, like the size of a baseball bat almost. The Donkey Dick was just a beautiful plant. It’s been so long since I’ve seen that.”

After we share a laugh about the ridiculous names of the Skunk phenos, Frank further explains how breeding cannabis, or in this case resurrecting a strain from the past, is an extensive process of selection. For the final stages of his epic Skunk hunt, Frank will cross one male plant with six female plants with the intention of growing an additional 300 phenotypes. The hope is to bring back the strain he’s loved and lost. “I want to resurrect it, and I want to have the flagship version of it. I don’t want anybody to have a better Skunk,” he says.

This article appears in the August 2022 issue of High Times. Subscribe here.

  1. Anything labeled “skunk”, “skunk #1, etc. has nothing to do with the original and true skunk line. You won’t find what you’re looking for in those beans. Haven’t had true skunk since the late 90s. It was an indica dominated afghan imo. Large wide and glossy leaves that were double serrated. Dense lime/neon green buds with fat red/orange hairs.

    1. u r correct sir. the skunk weed I am and maybe u was in texas in 1984-85 everywhere it was 35$ a quarter and had the fattest seeds and widest blades and skunkest smell i have ever seen. Even the small plants i had smelled strong. . I thought it was from returning GIs from afghanistan. I am in contact with afghan and pakistani landrace strains on FB. they have several strains that look similar. However there was so much of this weed. I saw it in Houston and athens and also lewisville. it had flooded the state. the fact that it had seeds makes me think it was field grown. also the amount was too much to be coming on military airplanes? unless there was alot of people in on it like the whole crew. u couldnt hide the smell. I have searched for this plant everywhere. it is just as good as anything today. is this the weed strain u are familiar with?

  2. I had one particular pheno from a pack of 10 Dutch Passions skunk #1 in the late nineties that grew like haze at least a couple feet taller than the other nine seeds. The soaring high was insane and came in waves over 4-5 hours. The flavor was very fruity and the even the stems were covered in trichomes. Very little afghani influence if any. Kept no clone, lost to the ages.

  3. I’m looking for 1980-2000 skunk 🦨 weed , I’m living in Joshua tree, (east San Bernardino) and will travel ! Please help me find the best I’ve ever had! Hopefull 🙏. 10/2/2022

  4. Growing up in South Carolina (i know i know🤣) i remember 1990 being my first Skunk taste. It was also a “Creeper” was warned to hit the bowl lightly, which i did not do, bc was on break at a gig (played in a cover band) got back on stage & they had to carry me off, sat out rest of show😱🫠🤦true story. Seneca,SC. Wish i had that strain again!!!

  5. Moabgenetix already has found it. Im a tester for them and its verified. They sourced seeds from everywhere with no luck and found two sources..1980 kentucky skunk and pre 90s skunk. Hunted and found and bred with 3 phenos. Each one different on its own. Dead animal terps to rotten animal with skunk to straight skunk spray terps. Ive ran all 3 of the cuts and its it. But I have not ran any of there seed line. Havnt popped my testers yet.

  6. I was fortunate enough working for the Forest Service 69-80′ to meet returning Vietnam Vet’s and their stash of seeds that they grew 1 time in Idyllwild, Ca. environs in 1969 on the Desert Divide, now the Pacific Crest Trail at Oak Springs……….the Rangers had acquired seed from both Thailand and Laos incursions and taken the seed to other deployments in 1970 to Darien Mts of Panama and Colombia….others they met there had ‘Iranian Blue’, obviously an Indica from Zagros Mts and Aghanistan, Hindu Kush regions having bluish purple leaf tint, squat, and easy to mold in rainy mountains……the Brotherhood of Love had purchased Desert Sun School at 6000′ in semi-arid California mountains so Leary and Hoffman could have their acid lab and use cannabis strains also….the smell they used to describe the weed was ‘skunky’ and remember distinctly the odor from a joint passed around returning from a fire in an open cab with E-51 Vista Grande crew…….in 2010, 40 yrs later at Geno’s 65th birthday, he recalls he has some hash in his fridge…after digging thru an ice crevasse in his freezer for an hour, hear a metallic clink, and several large shells roll out unto floor….after some stories about the Mekong, Geno hits one with a pen and can hear sumethin rollin around….yep, seeds……..we’re rolling and laughing and most of us had been pretty straight-laced working as teachers, nurses, and forest service firefighters for last 40 yrs…..well, we decided to give it a grow……..if you go to High Times centerfolds of Feb. 2013, you’ll see our result as Tahquitz Peak Fire Lookout (the fire tower at 8828′ above town!)…it amazed us with the pinkish pistils, got 6-7′, produced almost a lb of sweetish hash flavor and mild fun stone….tested at WERC at 10% THC, 2-3% CBD, and the Afrikan over 4% THVC… has since been crossed with other from Cal Poly and Missouri Botanical Seed Repository from our Afrikan, Costa Rican, Trinidad, Alaskan!, and Sikkim travels over the 80’s and 90’s………the recent HT article Skunk search seems pretty trite as if they only went back 30 yrs, that gap is missing or bottlenecked a decade……we give free seeds to Vet’s and did just that at Kushstock in Adelanto last year, along with screened hash and weed on Vet’s Walk……It’s NOT the recrossed European Indica that really smells, rather is anise sweetness…..PS…Offered them to Grow Magazine Contributor and friend of ‘the skunkman?’ AND THEY JUST SCOFFED! The trend to DO INDOOR, AUTO, AND/OR FEMINIZE and mix it up with Hemp will lead to the loss of many cultivars, so, look out soon for our Snow Creek Boiz’ local seed…thanx!~

  7. I was born and raised in Kansas City Missouri, and still live here today. Marijuana becomes recreational February 6th, 2023. I am 42, and have lived in the culture, and fought for the cause since 1993. I have many complaints about what has happened to the marijuana culture since legalization, which led me to reminisce about the best kind bud’s from my youth. Northern lights, white widow,AK 47, lemon Haze, purple passion, Acapulco Gold, and my absolute favorite SKUNK 🦨. When I look at menus on despensery site’s here in KCMO. They have little variety,no real pics of buds, and zero old school classics like skunk. I haven’t smoked skunk since 1996. As soon as the guy with the bag walked in the door, the living room smelled like he was sprayed by a skunk. It was beautiful, and actually home grown right here in KCMO back then. Beautiful bright lime green 💚 color, moderately crystalized, with some red hair. Fat, fluffy bud’s. The bouquet once smelled and tasted was amazing, broad, deep natural taste of green. Not like the pine green taste of some. But it really tastes like what you would imagine the skunk smell to taste if it were good. Almost spicy, but clear and clean… It was one of the TRUE creepers I’ve had! It literally took at least five minutes later, probably more, until it rose up and kicked you right in the teeth! Boom! You’re totally stoned all at once. It didn’t slowly climb on top of you from the first hit. It was an easy , smooth smoke in a nice sized joint. The feeling was a truly soaring high, and felt good, no paranoia or grogginess. Clean,clear, up in the clouds, happy and focused… Something I never forgot after smoking it for the few weeks I could actually get it. And that smell. I’m always looked at strangely by square’s, when we’re driving down the road, and pass a dead skunk 🦨, and the cab is filled with the pungent stench of skunk. Because whilst everyone else is covering their noses, and practically puking 🤮, and saying how disgusting it smells. I am sniffing as much as I can, while remarking on how good it smells. You can always identify an old school pothead,if you drive by a dead skunk, and they love the smell. I’ve been searching for 26 year’s for all of the classics. We old head’s need to demand our skunk. As I said, I feel the weed culture has been ruined by the way people have handled the end of prohibition. With business people who never cared about the cause or the culture till they could make money off it. Who then hire young kid’s, because they mistakenly think it’s all apart of what’s trendy and hip. Which is the same reason these kid’s want to work in a dispensary. Not because they are apart of the culture, or fought for the cause. They literally go to classes to learn about pot, and how to roll joint’s… THIS isn’t what the culture is about, THIS isn’t what I fought for, and was beaten and imprisoned for. When I walk into a dispensary, and have to go through a 23 year old kid with a face full of metal, blue hair, nautical flash tattoos, and skinny jeans, who works there just because it’s trendy. Like working at hot topic. And act’s like a pompous know it all about the small variety of new strains that have stupid name’s inspired by rap song’s and anime, and don’t describe the actual bud’s taste or look at all. It all pisses me off… THIS isn’t how I imagined it when I was 16, or even 30… It’s been commercialized by people who really aren’t apart of the culture, and don’t care about the OG’s who have been POW’s in this drug war. I’ve been smoking weed, reading High Times , researching, and growing weed since 1993. But dispensaries are actually ageist, because they want to maintain a certain image that appeals to young people. So, regardless of my vast knowledge and experience within what has been my life, my culture, my sacrifice, my war, my cause. I’m not young and trendy enough to work at one. I haven’t taken the classes, and haven’t been certified as a joint roller. Even though I can roll ANYONE under the table, any day of the week! THEY don’t value us. We are the forgotten forerunners, and martyrs of the drug war, and a now forgotten cause. It’s almost comparable to what the Vietnam vet’s were treated like. Now I’m not saying it’s the same thing, not at all. But if you think having to always lurk in the black market underworld of illegal drug’s while dealing with dangerous frightening people, driving with illegal pot, and having it in your home or on your person, while constantly being eyed, harassed, stopped, beaten, cuffed, arrested/kidnapped, then tossed into a cage or modern dungeon. Kept for MONTHS at a time, while sleeping on metal, being starved, while being too cold or too hot, and having to engage in violence to survive in there when you aren’t a violent person. Also having to watch actual violent criminals, and thieves serve a few days or weeks, then walk free. Doesn’t cause PTSD, you’re wrong… So, experiencing what it is now, while being treated like my life long fight for the end of prohibition has no value, when what those kid’s are doing is all I’ve ever wanted to do… Yeah, it pisses me off. Makes me feel bad. I hope someone from high times reads this, because it’s a real issue, and I’d like to write about this in greater detail for people to read.

  8. Skunk, I mea.n that stinky gassy funk exists in Chem and OG Phenos. Also some Sour D strains. This is because they come from a loud Superskunk in reality. Dog bud and Krippy both have a Superskunk backbone. NL5xHaze is probably the best Hybrid of all time. Great article. With all the poly hybrids these days it’s not good as the ones grown for 1 reason. To get you a good buzz. They grew and chased the buzz first second and third. They chased how fast can they grow good smoke. The gross Skunk Funky Funk is probably also from fermentation in bags during those old days. That’s part of it.

  9. True skunk odor went extincted about 23 years ago, earlu 2000s….Back in the 90s, we had skunky buds that smelled meters around, even when the buds were in a ziploc and in your jeans pocket….The pungent skunky smell was linked to great highs…Those buds made you high as fck!

  10. Lots of loud skunks at med-man-branddotcom

    There’s no skunk in any of the Dutch companies skunk branded weed

  11. u r correct sir. the skunk weed I am and maybe u was in texas in 1984-85 everywhere it was 35$ a quarter and had the fattest seeds and widest blades and skunkest smell i have ever seen. Even the small plants i had smelled strong. . I thought it was from returning GIs from afghanistan. I am in contact with afghan and pakistani landrace strains on FB. they have several strains that look similar. However there was so much of this weed. I saw it in Houston and athens and also lewisville. it had flooded the state. the fact that it had seeds makes me think it was field grown. also the amount was too much to be coming on military airplanes? unless there was alot of people in on it like the whole crew. u couldnt hide the smell. I have searched for this plant everywhere. it is just as good as anything today. is this the weed strain u are familiar with?

    1. The best skunk was around from 83-86. If you had the same stuff, then you would also remember a completely different, yet awesome strain called Chocolate Thai. They both were around during that time frame. In my neck of the woods, they called this skunk Mendo, so I just assume it was coming from California. Mendo was bright green and Absolutely reeked of skunk. Extremely pungent. Those two strains were gamechangers. Absolutely superior to anything else, like the brick weed or run of the mill sensi bud. After that time frame, it just seemed to disappear. Never saw either in thier full glory again. Truly a loss. I miss those days.

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