From leaf to bud.
October 6, 2009 11:47 AM   Subscribe

Was marijuana, in recent history, ever consumed predominately in leaf form?

Looking through movies, TV shows, and other cultural artifacts from the 60s, it seems that very little--if any--attention was given to smoking cannabis in the form of buds, rather than leaves. The word "bud" rarely appears in hipster vocabulary from this period, an era when "lids" (or ounces) were rolled into joints and smoked in large amounts. Potheads would select hash or hash oil as their drug of choice for an especially intense high--one often described as "hallucinogenic" or "psychedelic." And the counter-cultural logo that became the globally recognized symbol for cannabis was the marijuana leaf, rather than a depiction of buds or flowers. (Granted, the symmetry of the leaf lends itself to symbol-making).

Today, most marijuana users smoke bud exclusively, and have never even seen a marijuana leaf, apart from depictions in photos.

Is it true, as the evidence (and my hazy memory) suggests, that the majority of marijuana smokers in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s smoked primarily leaf, rather than bud? If so, when did the turning point occur? Is leaf ever consumed in lieu of bud today?
posted by Gordion Knott to Health & Fitness (11 answers total)
I've heard that smoking the leaves doesn't produce nearly as much of a high. I just assumed that the leaf was used as a symbol because it was more recognizable to most than a bud.

Some related non-Askme questions here, here, and here.

I'll see what else I can dig up.
posted by futureisunwritten at 12:03 PM on October 6, 2009

The only buds I smoked in the 70's & 80's were from some homegrown a buddy of mine grew in his basement. Commercial pot never had buds in it back then (if it did, they were all crumbled up with the leaf). Dunno when the "turning point" was, probably around the time BC hydro became popular. I wouldn't hesitate to put leaf in my vaporizer if it was good stuff.
posted by torquemaniac at 12:05 PM on October 6, 2009

The leaves closest to the buds have more THC, but further down on the plant they would have very low THC content. For these leaves, you would probably not smoke them, but rather extract the fat soluable THC with butter or something like that.
posted by Crotalus at 12:10 PM on October 6, 2009

Leaf's alright; better than stems and seeds anyway.
posted by timeistight at 12:15 PM on October 6, 2009

I was a huge comicbook geek in the 80's, and through a number of circumstances ended up with a huge stash of 60's-70's underground comix: The Freak Brothers, Zap, Harold Hedd and a ton of others. Awesome stuff. But as I grew older and began indulging in a bit of chemical experimentation myself, I noticed that, in the comix at least, the characters where only ever shown smoking the leaves. By that point in the U.S., bud was smoked exclusively, and anybody who smoked leaves didn't know any better or was desperate. Smoking leaves was seen as one step above smoking stems. Yuk.

So, with that background, I asked my dad what the situation was "back in the day." He said that, when he was smoking weed, it was primarily leaves. I've heard the same from a number of other boomers as well. Some, living in San Francisco during the Summer of Love, had smoked bud, but it wasn't as common as today, even though they were living in the epicenter of the drug culture.

One thing to bear in mind is that there has been major advances in the way marijuana is grown and cultivated over the past 40 years. It's a major cash crop in a way that it has never been before, and the growers have spent considerable time and energy in wringing every last ounce of productivity and potency. According to everyone I've talked to, weed and stoner culture in the 60's resembled today's weed and stoner culture in approximately the same way that a Roman chariot resembles a Ferrari.
posted by lekvar at 12:36 PM on October 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

When I was younger, late 1970's, I smoked grass and when I scored a lid usually what I got was a lot of leaf and a few "flower tops" as a bonus. That was considered the norm back then.

I stopped smoking 25 years ago, so when I read your question I was a bit surprised to learn that these days all they get is flowertops. Lucky for them!
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:08 PM on October 6, 2009

Smokable pot has always been primarily buds, but until the advent of high-grade marijuana, they were usually heavily compressed together or "bricked," so they weren't really recognizable as such. Modern day "schwag" consists of buds and leaves pressed together (sometimes with all kinds of other nasty shit that just happened to be on the plants [you haven't really lived until you've found a dead lizard in your bag]). Even with contemporary high quality weed, some of the smaller, heavily crystallized leaves are left around the bud, but the bigger ones should be trimmed off. Anyone buying straight leaf now or in years past was getting solidly ripped off.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 1:09 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

By way of anecdotes, by the mid-80s, it seemed that most/all pot being sold in any volume was bud.

I think increased law-enforcement has helped push "innovation" in the quality and strength of pot.
posted by Good Brain at 1:22 PM on October 6, 2009

It is only in the last 25-30 years that buds have been purposely, carefully and wildly successfully engineered to be so huge and juicy. Previously the bulk of the plant was leaves, so my impression is that's what you smoked because that's mostly what you had. In 1983 Ed Rosenthal, who I worked for* briefly in the mid-'80s, began writing a marijuana growing advice column for High Times magazine, and has written several books on growing methods. His column, called "Ask Ed", was all about increasing the size of the buds and the level of THC in the plants, and really encouraged home growers to share their methods and get competitive with their the fruits of their secret labor. People would proudly send in photos and he'd print the best ones, minus the names and home addresses often included. Also, High Times had (has?) a centerfold featuring the best plant of the month. Ed's column was like 4-H for potheads.

*Marijuana never interested me, so it was a pearlybuds-before-swine situation.
posted by tula at 2:00 PM on October 6, 2009

Regardless of how you consume marijuana, the bulk of the psychoactive substances come from the flower or "bud" of the plant, not because the flower is the only part of the plant that contains these substances, but because the flowers contain higher densities than the rest of the plant.

Up until recent times plants were rarely trimmed of their leaf matter. They were simply harvested and dried in bulk. In areas where hash is the predominant method of consumption, plants were sieved of their trichomes and compressed into hash or hand rubbed into charas.

These days buds are almost always trimmed of leaf matter, mostly for cosmetic reasons. Growers will often dry the leaves and use them to make hash or other concentrates.

So I guess to answer your question, buds have always been the focal point of cannabis consumption, I can't think of a time when smoking leaf was ever preferable or common.
posted by OccamsRazor at 11:29 PM on October 6, 2009

I'm not really qualified to comment ... and I am not a smoker ... but I live in Amsterdam so ...

You may well find that in the last 20 years the intensive selective breeding has resulted in plants with significantly higher ratio of "bud" ... and that the available THC was more concentrated in the bud ... hence why leaf may have been acceptable in the 70's ... but is not really popular now.

From what I understand, the current strains and their yield profiles are markedly different from what was available in the 70's

posted by jannw at 3:34 AM on October 7, 2009

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