Mysterious, influential, and endlessly imitated, the strain of cannabis known as OG Kush swept through California in the mid-1990s, sparking a craze that changed the culture forever. At the height of its popularity, pounds of OG were selling for $8,000 and dispensaries had entire menus devoted solely to OG Kush varieties. Name-dropped in rap songs, the word “kush” became shorthand for any primo weed, and the true strain became harder to find.
Today, finding a true OG Kush is like hunting a chimera, since the famously finicky plant adapts and changes with every different grower. Characteristics for the original Kush include deep dark green leaves and small, tight light green buds on a low-yielding, temperamental plant.
The legend of OG Kush
The true origins of OG Kush are murky, with a few competing versions floating around in stoner lore. One account holds that OG Kush came from shipments of Pakistani Kush flowers that were distributed to Florida, Houston, and Los Angeles in the 1980s and early ’90s. Finding seeds in these compressed bricks, ingenious rose growers in the San Fernando Valley began growing out the cannabis and sharing it.
Another story researched by High Times Cultivation Editor Danny Danko contends that OG Kush is descended from Chem Dog, seeds from which were grown near Lake Tahoe. He writes: “The provenance of the OG will always be in dispute, but its resemblance to the Chem 91, and its proximity to the Chem family, makes this one of the more compelling and believable origin stories.” Seeded Chem Dog buds were sold on a Grateful Dead tour in the early 1990s, including shows in Tampa, so there’s a possible Florida connection there too.
Specializing in growing only OG Kush, Josh D is a central figure in the legend of this famous weed. Speaking with us on the What Are You Smoking? podcast, Josh shares his background in developing and popularizing the strain in the LA area.
It all began in 1996 when Matt Berger, Josh’s roommate and fellow cannabis enthusiast, returned from Florida with the Kush. As the ugly duckling of the group, the Kush was a low-yielder, growing tall and lanky with small buds that nevertheless smelled incredible. “It was dynamic and layered,” Josh says of its fragrance when flowering. “There was piney lemon, rotten skunk, and vanilla.”
A Kush by any other name
“It came as Kush so that’s what we all called it,” Josh says, but by 1998, the variety was so popular that it became impossible to keep track of all the names. “There were 100 different names for the same cut,” Josh says, sharing that many friends and other growers had renamed the plant. “The SFV OG, the 818, even the Diablo was created by a partner of mine named Spencer. We named it in the parking lot before we walked into the club. Diablo was just OG grown at a different location from a different grower.”
Ghost OG was discovered as a phenotype by “Oregon Kid,” who spread the word about this phenomenal weed through sites like Overgrow. Swerve and the Cali Connection crew further developed the variety, selling seeds and making new crosses. Larry OG, Tahoe OG, True OG, and other related varieties won numerous awards, making their growers successful and getting many thousands of people super stoned in the process.
Blind taste test methodology
Leafly sourced six of the best OG Kushes on the market in California over several weeks, and impaneled a jury with years of combined experience in the cannabis business.
We asked each of our cannabis connoisseurs what they consider the trademark characteristics of classic OG Kush. Then we blinded the samples and performed smell and feel tests before smoking in joints, pipes, bongs, and bubbler. Read on to see which won!
How do you judge effects of multiple strains after smoking them in a row? All strains tested, suffice to say, are very strong for a novice. But all judges have a high tolerance to THC, and took water breaks and ate meals over the course of an afternoon. Veteran judges will also tell you that really potent cannabis pokes through a high tolerance. Each judge scored contestants on a scale of 1 to 10 in categories of smell, look, cure, grindability, smoke, taste, and effect, as well as “OGness,” meaning how well it represents a traditional OG Kush.
Here’s what the judges said about OG Kush
Ellen Holland, Senior Editor, Cannabis Now
“I think about how many phenotypes there are of OG and how it’s hard to know if you’re actually getting an OG.”
Debby Goldsberry, CEO, Magnolia Wellness
“I remember back in the day of the OG taking over Southern California, when I’d go to a dispensary, there’d be an Indica menu, a Sativa menu and an OG Kush menu. What a good OG Kush means to me is that you’re gonna get really, really stoned.”
Kysa Butler, Assistant General Manager, Magnolia Wellness
“OG Kush signifies classic Cali, especially when it comes to that good taste. It’s one of my favorites.”
David Downs, California Editor, Leafly
“Lemon, pine, and fuel. Tight, often smaller buds. Resinous. Dark-leafed. I first smoked OG Kush in Santa Barbara in 1998. It was the first time I paid $20 a gram, which I thought was astronomical for such a small amount, until I tried it.”
Gabe Reeves, Terp Whisperer, C.R.A.F.T. Cannabis Delivery
“OG Kush usually means a really unique terpene profile, you should be able to smell it immediately when you crack the jar. It could either be really piney or some version of lemony or even floral, or gassy, but not skunky, which is the delineation between a lot of the Chem lines; OG is gassy, like kerosene or fresh floral fuel, it just isn’t the same as a Diesel or a Chem.”
Terryn Buxton, Former Wholesale Buyer
“Definitely gas, but a unique gas, it doesn’t have the gas of a Diesel, Headband, or Chem Dog. It represents a generational shift in cannabis, and the OG Kush era was a very distinct era. In a lot of ways, OG Kush is the most important strain in the last 20 years so it’s a legacy at this point.”
Neil Dellacava, Founder, Gold Seal SF
“I think of fuel and earth, you get intense fuel with an earth tone to it. A lot of my experiences with OG come from Los Angeles, when it was just ten OG Kushes on the board, and it’s not really like that anymore. It was this rare smoke that started everything.”
The top six OG Kushes in California
Here are the results of the strains we tested. Judges graded traits on a scale of 1-10; trait numbers show the totals of all seven judges.
#6 | Josh D OG, $35 at The Pottery, Los Angeles
Since 1996, pioneering grower Josh Del Rosso has exclusively cultivated OG Kush and is a major player in creating its legendary status. After successfully transitioning from growing underground to a legally licensed, state-of-the-art grow in Santa Barbara, Josh has continued to propagate his favorite cannabis variety and introduce it to a new generation.
Judges loved: With a promising flavor from a dry toke on a joint, this weed looked good but it smoked a bit harsh.
Judges disliked: This batch was packaged in January and grown last season, so it’s been sitting around for too long, leading to loss of terpenes.
Look out for tons of new flavors from Josh D this fall in California stores like LAXCC near LAX Airport, and Bud & Bloom, Santa Ana.
#5 | Redwood Remedies, Triple OG, $40 at Sol de Mendocino
This is sun grown flower from the southern Mendocino appellation, tended carefully by a farmer who hand-waters and checks on plants daily. These conscientious cultivation practices pay off, resulting in fragrant, potent buds. The Triple OG is a combination of Triangle Kush x Constantine x Master Yoda.
Judges loved: Well cured, smooth smoking.
Judges disliked: Missing the characteristic gassy flavor and pungent aroma of an OG Kush.
Discover more heirloom cannabis with a road trip to craft cannabis stores.
#4 | Viola Truth OG, $43 at Chai, Santa Cruz
A new addition to the weed scene, Viola was founded by retired NBA player Al Harrington, who named the brand after his grandmother, a medical marijuana patient who suffers from glaucoma and diabetes. While beautifully branded and packaged in a frosted purple jar, the buds were mediocre.
Judges loved: The Truth OG smelled earthy, but it was a bit dry and harsh to smoke.
Judges disliked: Lack of the characteristic loud, intense aroma of real OG Kush, and was an average smoke.
Find Viola at The Green Cross, San Francisco; Los Angeles Cannabis Co; and Golden State Greens in San Diego.
#3 | IC Collective, Diablo OG, C.R.A.F.T. delivery service
This cross of OG Kush x Diablo is devilishly delicious, with flavors of pine and citrus. The crew at IC Collective have an excellent reputation for high-quality flowers, specializing in crosses of OG Kush, Sour Diesel, and Chem Dog varieties, so they’re a reliable source for a solid smoke.
Judges loved: Everyone praised the flavor and aroma of these small, tight, resinous buds. Several remarked that “it had the look and feel of a real OG.” The Diablo OG makes for a pleasurable smoking experience, with a soaring high that’s uniquely enjoyable.
Judges disliked: It wasn’t quite as gassy as it could have been, and a few judges missed that aspect to the flavor.
Find IC Collective Diablo OG at C.R.A.F.T. delivery in Oakland, and Buds & Roses in Los Angeles, and Padre Mu in Alameda.
#2 | The Cure Co, Marathon OG, $50 at The Pottery, Los Angeles
A collaboration between The Cure Co. and late rapper and MC Nipsey Hustle, Marathon OG is a fitting tribute to the beloved entrepreneur and activist. Our judges enjoyed the sticky texture of the ground buds, indicative of plentiful resin, while the aroma is a mix of gas, lemon and earthy spice.
Judges loved: Marathon OG has a smooth smoke; there’s no harshness to it at all. The terpenes and flavors are truly stellar, and several praised the high potency and creeper stone.
Judges disliked: A few judges felt that the buds were a little bit too spongy and moist. The bud structure was atypical for an OG, but the flavor was on point.
#1 | Fire Cut, Fire OG, $43 at Chai, Santa Cruz
Hailed as the best cut of OG by Santa Cruz locals, this small outfit specializes in Fire OG and Lion OG, with frosty flowers that absolutely reek of true OG Kush terps. The distinctive OG aroma hits your nose immediately after opening the jar.
Judges loved: The favorite to win by a long shot, this variety was the first to disappear at our tasting session, as judges rolled up and smoked every last delicious, heady bud. Universally scored high in terms of flavor, appearance, effect, and burnability, this fire cut is a proud representation of the legacy of traditional OG Kush.
Judges disliked: One judge found a few seeds when he rolled up the buds. Hopefully he kept them!
California has too many OG Kushes for one taste test. Nominate your favorite branded OG in California in the comments below.