A quarter-century after its debut, HT’s senior cultivation editor investigates the origins of the strain that changed the game.
That the work of his day measures more than the planting and growing / Let it grow, let it grow, greatly yield.—John Perry Barlow
It’s June 1991 in Deer Creek, Indiana, and the Grateful Dead and their entourage are pulling into town for a two-night run. Little does anyone suspect that marijuana history is about to be made. The Dead’s tours had long been known as a nexus for cannabis trades and pot-seed dissemination, but these summertime shows at the Deer Creek Amphitheater are now legendary for more than just their three-hour set lists. Something happened on Shakedown Street that changed the course of cannabis connoisseurship forever.
Because these are the shows at which Chemdog, the man, discovered Chem Dog, the strain. Want to know more? You just gotta poke around ….
I Need a Miracle
As the story goes, Chem met P-Bud and Joe Brand on the lot in Deer Creek and purchased an ounce of a strain called Dogbud for $500. Later, he asked Joe to mail a few more ounces to him in Western Massachusetts, one of which contained 13 magic seeds.
Joe Brand says he got a few pounds of Dogbud from some friends of a friend in Crested Butte, Colorado. Allegedly, the strain originated somewhere on the California/Oregon border. They called it the Dog, but Joe thought it tasted “chemmy” and nicknamed it Chem. Some called it Chemweed and others Dogbud. Chem combined the two names and came up with Chem Dog.
As P-Bud himself recently recounted to me, “It’s amazing that the Chem Dog strains have been preserved all these years. When I first saw the Dogbud in 1991, I could not believe what I was seeing—I’m so glad Chem found those seeds and did what he did with them. And it was never ‘Chem Dawg’—it’s always been ‘Chem Dog.’ It’s a combination of ‘Chemweed’ and ‘Dogbud.’ Joe Brand and I started calling the Dogbud ‘Chemweed’ because it tasted so strong. Chem took the words ‘Chem’ and ‘Dog,’ and there you have it …. ”
When Chem got home from the tour, he popped the first four of the 13 seeds. One plant was a male and unfortunately discarded. The three females were dubbed “Chem Dog” (now known as the Chem 91), “Chem Dog A” (now Chem’s Sister) and “Chem Dog B.” The 91 immediately became the most desirable and went on to serve as a parent for many of the most popular strains of the last 25 years, including Sour Diesel, OG Kush and their many offspring. But these continue to be matters of much dispute, so let’s hear from the folks who were there.
Did Chem Dog Birth Sour Diesel?
Interestingly, another jamband concert played a pivotal role in spreading the gospel of Chem Dog. Phish’s 1992 show at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City is where Chem and Weasel first met. Once they realized they both had the fire, a friendship was forged and cuttings exchanged: Chem 91 went with Weasel to Staten Island, while RFK made its way to Western Mass. Just as the Dead passed their torch to Phish, so did Chem pass the flame to future generations of enthusiasts.
In late 1994, Chem’s New York City acquaintance AJ (short for “Asshole Joe,” though he’s actually quite a nice guy) named an accidental cross of Chem 91 and an unknown hermie from Weasel’s growroom “Diesel”; it was later dubbed “The Sour” by some friends in Albany, and eventually became famous as the NYC Diesel, AJ Sour Diesel or East Coast Sour Diesel. It quickly became the strain of choice for New York City’s cannabis connoisseurs and hip-hop elites. Following a crackdown on urban weed spots by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the city’s delivery services began to thrive and make a name for themselves largely on their ability to provide the real Sour Diesel.
Retailing at $50 for about two grams, the Sour commanded prices heretofore unknown in the marijuana market. It wasn’t unusual to hear of Wall Street types paying $800 to $1,000 an ounce during the late ’90s, and the demand for super-potent strains continued to increase in the 2000s. The inadvertent impregnation of the Chem 91 with stray pollen from the DNL, produced one of the most iconic marijuana strains in history—often copied but never duplicated.
AJ tells me: “In 1993, I was a young, bright-eyed 20-year-old who was lucky enough to be standing in the right place at the right time. I’m eternally grateful to the spirit of this plant for all that it’s done to enhance my life. The fact that there’s a large, ever-growing constituency of people who have embraced the Dog and want to know everything about its history makes me happy and proud to have had a very small part in that story.”
Did Chem Dog Birth OG Kush?
Less easily substantiated, the legend of OG Kush starts in Lake Tahoe, California, where a member of the crew—since deceased—traveled circa 1994 with an S-1 (selfed first-generation) bag seed of the Chem 91. Chem himself mentions some Dead shows in Tampa as the possible origin, since there were certainly some seeded Chem Dog buds sold on the lot during that leg of the tour. The provenance of the OG will always be in dispute, but its resemblance to the 91, and its proximity to the Chem family, makes this one of the more compelling and believable origin stories.
Might as Well
In 2001, Chem germinated three more of the magic seeds, labeling them “Chem Dog C,” “D” and “E,” with “D” being the keeper and becoming known as the Chem D. Over the years, Chem popped more beans and engaged in some amateur breeding projects, producing several other notable varieties like the Bubble Chem (Chem’s Sister x Sagarmatha’s Bubbleberry), Super Snowdog (Bubble Chem x [Superskunk x Oregon Sno]), Giesel (Chem D x Mass Superskunk) and Dawg Daze, a.k.a. Chem Haze (Chem D x [1993 Sensi Seeds NL #5 x Haze]).
The Power of the Dog
In a recent High Times cover story, “The Strongest Strains on Earth 2016,” my colleague Nico Escondido detailed the astounding potency of the Chem Dog entered into our 2015 Colorado Cannabis Cup by Next Harvest. Extensive lab tests showed the strain reaching a new milestone, coming in at a whopping 32.13 percent THC—the first time ever that a strain entered in one of our competitions topped the 30 percent mark. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has smoked the pure Chem Dog, but it certainly confirms the strength of this sensi stalwart.
Growing Chem Dog (from HT, May ’06)
Chem’s growing mix is regular Pro-Mix fortified with FoxFarm Marine Cuisine. Alternating between FoxFarm and Earth Juice products, he feeds mildly and only vegetates his plants for a week or so in 1-gallon buckets. Upon flowering, he transplants into 5-gallon buckets into which he also adds earthworm castings.
Even Chemdog’s pest-control techniques are all organic. He chooses to use Safer Soap and yellow sticky traps to take care of stray mites and whiteflies. Knowing that vinegar and wine attract fungus gnats, he places the cups at plant level to drown these annoying insects.
In between feedings, Chemdog uses plain water, 1 gallon per bucket every three days and then every two days during heavy flowering. In addition to the regular nutrient feedings, he provides humic acids in the form of Europonic Fossil Fuel once a week. During the last two weeks of flowering, only plain water is used to leach out any remaining salts.
The leaching process causes the fan leaves to turn fall colors, some yellows but also radiant reds and purples, as excess nitrogen and other nutrients are extracted. This results in clean-burning buds that burn to a light white ash, enhancing the flavor and smokeability of these amazing strains.
The Future of Chem Dog: The Music Never Stopped
In 2006, Chem reunited with Joe Brand and gave him four of the last six beans. Joe preferred the fourth one popped (Chem #4) and calls it the “Reunion Pheno.” Chem-related strains continue to entice pot aficionados and make a name for themselves, culminating in an article by yours truly titled “CSI: Cannabis Strain Investigation—In Search of Chem Dog” (May ’06), as well as my selection of Chem Dog as one of High Times’ Top 10 Strains of the Year for 2006.
Unfortunately, the summer of 2011 brought some unwanted attention from law enforcement to Chem’s door, and he was arrested and charged with cultivation and possession, forcing him to lay low for several years while serving his probation. During this lean time—in which Chem lost his home, his car and more—friends like Ben at the IC Collective, Skunk VA and that guy from Maine kept the strains alive and thriving. Ben even won the High Times Cannabis Cup for Best Indica in 2014 in Sonoma County, California, with Chem Scout!
Another person working closely with Chem genetics is JJ NYC of Top Dawg Seeds. JJ changed his strain names to the “Dawg” spelling to honor the original varieties and differentiate them from his own breeding projects, such as the Tres Dawg (Chem D x Double Dawg), Star Dawg (Chem #4 x Tres Dawg) and Black Dawg (Black Widow x Star Dawg).
JJ NYC tells me: “I’m just happy and lucky enough to be associated with some of the people who were involved with one of the strongest strains available today. I would like to thank Joe B, P-Bud, Chemdog, the Weasel and Skunk VA. Everyone had a little role in the creation and preservation of the Chem Dog and its hybrids. I’m just amazed they’ve gone on to set the strain trends that we have around the world today. At the time, we had no idea that we were dealing with one of the strongest strains on the planet.”
These days, Chem is happy to be finished with his legal issues. He’s blowing glass pipes influenced by his mentor, Bob Snodgrass (follow @chemdog_glass on Instagram), and looking to expand the Chemdog brand. He owns the trademark for the name and will soon be appearing at marijuana gatherings, as well as collaborating with the IC Collective on some new genetics. So, until then: “Don’t be a collector of more than you need / Got a lot of things growing, but keep watching your seeds… ”
Cover Photo: Kent Sea