Cannabeginners: The Adventures of Panama Red

Learn the history of this legendary cultivar.
Panama Red

Panama is a country most known for two things, the Panama Canal and Panama Red; while a lot is known about the canal, very little is conclusively known about the cannabis cultivar. High Times reached out to cultivators and did a deep dive into the available information about Panama Red to try and paint the most complete picture of this iconic and legendary cultivar that defined an era.

The History of Panama Red

It has been claimed that much of the Panama Red cultivation took place not on the mainland of Panama, but on the Pearl Islands, a remote archipelago of 200 islands off the Pacific coast. A different account of the origin of Panama Red holds that it “grows in the mountains north of the Panama Canal. The soil is red to black, with rain all the time.” A third telling of the tale claims that Panama Red was grown on the Pacific coast, but not out on the Pearl Islands, specifically in an area that was less rainy. As all three of these accounts have little in common, all we know for sure is that at one time Panama Red did come from somewhere in Panama. 

As Panama Red was already widely known enough to be written about in the 1969 book The Drug Beat, chances are it had been around for some years before, but like Acapulco Gold, the exact year it arrived in the United States is a mystery. A major reason why Panama Red took the counterculture movement by storm was that it seemed to have a naturally higher THC content than other cultivars that were popular at the time, though there would have been no way to verify that in the 1960s. 

High Times reached out to Jason Matthys from Equilibrium Genetics (EQ), to learn more about Panama Red, specifically, the CBD-rich Panama Red seeds he sells. The blurb on EQ’s website says “This landrace cut came from seeds that were popped in the 1970s. A Peace Corp volunteer brought the seeds back from Panama.” Matthys expanded on that story in our interview, saying “The story that I heard was that some missionaries who were in Panama in the 70s brought those seeds back.” Matthys got his seeds from Bob Hemphill of Coastal Seeds, and says this variety “has been in California for decades and has been acclimatized to the California climate; it finishes quicker than you would expect for an equatorial strain.” If someone was looking for a classic Panama Red experience, a CBD-rich variety like this would likely be truer to what hippies experienced during the Summer of Love than one that was bred for just THC. 

Flavor and Effects

Like Durban Poison, Panama Red is known for its energizing, cerebral effects, and some sources describe it as bordering on being psychedelic, others note its ability to boost creativity and appetite. Anesia seeds says their Panama Red, “provides a mellow cerebral high that is on the euphoric and energetic side…a great visual experience…It is one of the most psychedelic sativa highs.” At the more poetic end, Raven Glass describes the effects as, “A step inside a vivid dream. Colors pulse richer, laughter carries like a breeze. Moments shift, easy as sunshine. Between the light and the profound, bringing hints of significance. Messages from the beyond or within yourself.”

Panama Red has as exotic a flavor as you would expect from this tropical cultivar. Descriptions of the taste range from the tame “a delectable flavor of candy and lemon,” to the more extravagant “a delicious concoction of flavors that can be described as herbal and spicy with some intriguing notes of tropical fruits reminiscent to the sweet and citrus taste of grapefruit.”

Panama Red in Pop Culture

Like Acapulco Gold, Panama Red has a rich history in pop culture, and was actually the topic of songs and movies even earlier than the Gold. Throughout the 1970s, Panama Red was frequently mentioned in the underground stoner comix series, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. In 1973, it hit the radio waves with the release of “Panama Red” by the New Riders of the Purple Sage, their most well-known song, from the album, The Adventures of Panama Red. Peter Rowan, who wrote the song, joined Jerry Garcia to form the supergroup Old and In the Way that same year, and they did a cover of “Panama Red” on their self-titled album in 1975. The next year, Panama Red made it to the silver screen two years before Acapulco Gold would be similarly immortalized in Up in Smoke, in the appropriately named film Panama Red, about a hippie musician selling weed to pay back “The Money Man.”

Is Real Panama Red Actually Red?

Unlike Acapulco Gold, where the color was largely a result of environmental factors rather than genetics, it appears that Panama Red becomes red due to its genetics, potentially from an elevated amount of certain anthocyanins. Anesia Seeds notes that “The buds are long, conic and covered in long thin hairs that can turn red. The leaves and stems can also turn reddish and brownish towards the middle of the flowering phase.” Matthys has also observed this in certain phenotypes: “There are some amazing reddish/purple phenotypes where if you did some line breeding you could make it come out a lot more.”

Do you have a Panama Red story to share or a tip about its origins? Let us know with a comment!

  1. My first sampling was 1977 or 78. The appearance was dark, earthy brown, oily buds with a sweet earthy taste. A group of us bought an oz for $60 which was about $15-20 more than comparable Colombians. We consumed a few pinners while pounding beers on our way to see the Mission Mt. Wood band. The roaches were black and gooey and we soon found out how paralyzing the high was, probably exacerbated by the alcohol. A real skull fuck… I could only compare to some Nigerian weed I came across at the University of Minnesota.

  2. I smoked the sweet orange red weed in the late 60s. Still remember the taste. It was my understanding that it was the cure that turned it from green to red. It was slightly composed in a pile to reduce volume and get rid of the green. In those days everyone smoked tobacco and I think a more tobacco like cure was more appealing. Had PR, Acapulco gold and Santa Marta gold. All delicious!

  3. First time in72 while on leave wow vivid hallucinations saw a guy try to walk on air but he fell very powerful love tolocate some

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