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Skunk Weed in the UK vs the US: What is it and Where did it Come From?

Written by Joseph Mcqueen

Side-walk and Pavement, dust-bin and garbage can, Ricky Gervais and Steve Carrell, The US and the UK are famously close cousins with some big differences in our lexicon. This linguistic variation spreads to all areas of culture including cannabis culture too.

The word Skunk means two very different things on either side of the pond. In the US it is associated with the smell of weed and in particular one strain, whereas in the UK Skunk refers to any strong potency Cannabis, particularly high in THC. Skunk has been sunk by newspapers and media outlets alike in the UK with headlines like ‘Skunk blamed for London Psychosis epidemic’ being brandished by anti-legalisation papers and it has become synonymous with ‘bad weed’ and synthetics. But what actually is Skunk? Where did it originate? Why is the term so different in the US and UK and how does it prove that legalisation of cannabis can only be a good thing for quality control and safety of cannabis? In this article I’ll be examining the origins of this strain of cannabis and getting to the bottom of skunks smelly tale.

Words are funny. It’s interesting how the same word can carry completely different means, depending on the context, location, and other factors. In the US, ‘skunk’ basically just refers to really good weed with a certain type of flavor… whereas in the UK, it has a much more complicated meaning. For more articles like this one, and for exclusive deals on flowers, vapes, edibles, and other products, make sure to subscribe to The Delta 8 Weekly Newsletter. And save big on Delta 8Delta 9 THCDelta-10THCOTHCVTHCP & HHC products by checking out our “Best-of” lists!

The History of Skunk

Skunk has its origins in the sunny valleys of California, first being bred in the 1970’s. Cannabis growers were looking for combinations of different strains of the plant that could create a strong high, be easily reproduced and grow in varying climates, so they tried breeding multiple strains from different countries looking for the best qualities in each. Eventually they settled on combining strains from Pakistan and Afghanistan whilst also mixing South American strains as well. The story goes that there was a group of expert growers called the ‘Sacred Seeds’ who were lead by the beautifully named Sam the Skunkman. They had been working on a strain that had a potent smell, not dissimilar to the smell of the North American Skunk and so the name stuck.

This first batch and any plant grown with the same genetic mix was named Skunk #1. Sam the Skunkman brought a batch of seeds over to Amsterdam to speak the word about skunk and the high yield, potency and intense high made skunk an instant hit. It quickly became one of the most popular strains of Cannabis in both Europe and the US. Skunk #1 became the parent strain of many, many variations most increasing the THC content and becoming more and more potent. A famous example of one of Skunk #1’s children is the high in THC strain, Super Skunk, with THC content at around 28%. Other child strains include, Sensi Skunk, Shiva Skunk and Skunk Khush. 

The strains of skunk present today aren’t the same as the original and have been growing in THC potency slowly across the years. Skunk strains (particularly in the UK) have been found with THC levels ranging from 10-14%  this is rather terrifying when compared to the 4% THC content that Cannabis in the 70’s had. Not only this, but some strains were bred to have reduced levels of CBD, another cannabinoid found in Cannabis that is often said to counteract some of the psychedelic effects of THC and calm people down.

CBD is incredibly important in giving people a balanced high, reducing the levels can be dangerous. Skunk has become popular for the fact that it gives a much more intense high than lower potency strains of Cannabis, creating stronger psychedelic effects, similar to LSD. Skunk #1 is a legendary name in the Cannabis growing world and for many, especially in the US the fact that the name is synonymous with potent strains in the UK is almost a crime in itself.

Skunk in the US vs the UK

In the US it is easy to establish the lineage of the Cannabis bought, especially in States where Cannabis is legalised and so the name Skunk simply applies to a strain of Cannabis that has a part of its genetic line in the Skunk family. It hasn’t got the negative associations with its name like in the UK and is often only associated with being a slightly stronger variation of Cannabis. The recreational use of Cannabis is legal in 18 states and legal for medical use in 36 states. What this means is that the strains of Cannabis grown and sold can be controlled and monitored. Skunk exists as it did when it was first grown in the 70s, just one of many strains of Cannabis. So how is it different across the pond in the UK? 

Skunk in the UK is very different to the US. The term skunk now refers to any strain of high THC cannabis. To an American this would be a misnomer as the strains branded skunk in the UK are so far removed from Skunkman Sam’s Skunk #1. Skunk is a street term that can be applied to any strain that can be bought that supposedly has high levels of THC and  which are non pollinated, seedless, potent and used solely for smoking. The scary thing about skunk in the UK is that it has almost taken over the entire market. A report from the UK found that nearly 94% of police seizures were this high potency skunk, compared with only 51% in 2005. In the US this isn’t the case, there is a much larger selection of Cannabis strains to purchase. Skunk has also come to be associated with synthetic strains 

The Skunk Effect in the News

In the UK, the term Skunk has been picked up by the media and has become synonymous with tabloid take-downs of cannabis culture. In British media, skunk has incorrectly been linked to increased Psychosis, increased risk of Schizophrenia and increased risk to mental health in general, but the skunk these studies mention has very little to do with the original Skunk strain of Cannabis and have indeed made some wildly false claims about the risks of THC. THC is as useful and beneficial as CBD when used properly and safely.

In a large review of the benefits of all Cannabinoids on a range of medical issues, THC in both smoked and consumed in capsule form was linked to a reduction in chronic pain, alleviating Tourette’s syndrome and helping with Multiple Sclerosis symptoms. THC is an important compound that has benefits to the user and Skunk in the UK tarnishes its name. Of course, an understanding of the potency of the Cannabis strain a user is smoking is very important and this is where a form of quality control is needed to allow for consumers to better understand how strong their Cannabis actually is.

How Legislation Would Affect Skunk in the UK 

Skunk in the UK is endemic to a country where Cannabis is illegal. The UK has no ability to control the quality of its Cannabis and so these dangerous strains, with very high levels of THC as well as other impurities such as pesticides could be everywhere. In the US, in particular the states where Cannabis is legalised or at least decriminalised, there is an awareness of the strain of Cannabis you are smoking. Each strain has its own name, and is marketed as such with the THC and CBD contents known. In the UK, where Cannabis (if not medicinal or home grown) can only be bought through street dealers, the strain is never known.

A fantastic review of this argument in The Guardian makes the following point: “Narcotics will never be eliminated – nor have they ever been. But driving them undercover makes it impossible to license or monitor quality.” In the UK, the current Conservative government is strongly against the legalisation of Cannabis and this is part of the issue when it comes to the growing strength of UK Skunk strains. Doctors, Criminal lawyers, Police Chiefs have all made pleas to the government stating that legalisation would make British Cannabis safer, but it falls on deaf ears.

The United States are years ahead of the UK when it comes to legalisation and that shows in the strains available and the information on THC content available to consumers. The United States quality control also means that impurities can be controlled for, including pesticides. If the UK wants safer Cannabis, it must find a way to control and regulate the THC content and the purity, just like Alcohol. Skunk proves that legislation does make Cannabis safer and allows the consumer to have more control over the quality of product they can purchase.


Skunk #1 was the father of many modern Cannabis strains used for recreation today and it is sad to see the name that was once synonymous with quality in the US become a name linked to high strength, uncontrolled and potentially harmful strains in the UK. It is a sign that the UK is falling behind most of the world when it comes to quality control and also highlights how legalisation can lead to a safer Cannabis Culture for a country. The UK is beginning to make steps in the right direction, Medical marijuana is now legal with a prescription and one can hope that this is a step towards at least decriminalisation of Cannabis in the country and with it the end of these high potency uncontrolled strains of so called skunk. Sam the Skunkman would be appalled. 

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About the author

Joseph Mcqueen

Joseph is a cannabis journalist in the UK. His search and love for the truth in the cannabis industry is what drives him to write.