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Types of Cannabis Available in the UK

Matthew J. Atha - Independent Drug Monitoring Unit

(Originally commissioned for "The Case for Change" - Release Publications) 

1. Characteristics of Hashish (Cannabis Resin) from Different Countries of Origin 

Legally known as Cannabis Resin, hashish accounts for roughly two thirds of UK consumption. Imported from a number of producer countries, although by far the largest proportion comes from North Africa, known as Moroccan hashish. The other common source of hash is the Indian Sub-continent, producing the softer, darker "black" resins from Afghanistan, Pakistan (e.g. "Red Seal"), India, and Nepal. Lebanese hashish was most popular in the UK until the mid 1980s, although it is rarely seen in the nineties. 

There are two basic methods of producing hashish. The first, used to produce hash from Morocco and the Lebanon, involves sifting the mature cannabis tops through a series of fine sieves until a resinous powder remains. This powder is compressed and heated to allow the resins to melt, binding the remaining vegetable matter. The resin is compressed into blocks sealed with cellophane or cloth. The resultant resin may be any colour from a light yellow-brown, to a greenish-brown or even reddish-brown. The consistency is normally hard and brittle, sometimes layered (light Moroccan) and sometimes slightly malleable (Lebanese). 

The second method, used in the Indian sub-continent, involves rubbing the resinous tops of the plant with the hands or a leather apron, or other implements, allowing the resins to stick to the skin. These are then scraped off the skin or leather and rolled into lumps of various sizes, and later compressed into blocks. The colour is usually dark-brown to black on the surface, lighter in the interior. The consistency is normally soft, and a lump can be moulded into various shapes, or rolled into long "strings". 

The range of potencies (measured as THC content by dry weight) found in seized hashish has varied from under 1% to 26%, but would typically be 3% to 8%. Prices vary from £70 to £120 per ounce, typically £85 to £95, or £12-£15 per "eighth". In general, there is very little regional variation in cannabis resin prices throughout the UK. 


Physical Characteristics 

Potency range (THC % of dry weight) 

Market Share (%), Price per ounce (£) 


Kif, Djibli, Ketama, Zero Zero. May originate from elsewhere in North Africa. By far the most commonly available cannabis in the UK. 


42% of market 


Also known as "Slate". Normally found in thin slabs around 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Light brown in colour, smell lightly to strongly aromatic or "biscuity" dependent on age and quality, which is normally poor to medium. Crumbles to powdery or fluffy texture on heating. Very common. Rating - 5.7/10 

typically 3-9% 

20% of market


Avg £85 per ounce 


Also known as "Soap Bar" or "Black Moroccan". Extremely common. Arrives in 250g blocks approximately 3/4 inch thick, wrapped in clear cellophane, like a block of brown soap, often with makers imprint. Dark brown in colour, sometimes greenish, with shiny exterior. Smell mildly to strongly aromatic, depending on age and quality, which is extremely variable. On heating may crumble or soften, but may reform into small nodules on cooling. These pose a threat to clothing when they fall as hot coals from a badly-constructed spliff, leading to those "inevitable pinhole burns" (P.Floyd) Rating - 6.9/10 

Typically 4-7% 

22% of market,


Avg £88 per ounce 


Now rare, but very common in early 1980s. Normally in blocks up to 1 inch thick, and up to a half kilo, wrapped in coarse white cloth bearing makers trademark. Appearance light brown (Lebanese gold/blond) to mid-brown (Red Leb), slightly malleable. Pungent aromatic aroma depending on age and quality. Crumbles on heating. Small lumps when lit will often remain smouldering until exhausted, and may be smoked on a pin. Excessive use, or by those unused to the variety, can lead to uncontrollable fits of coughing (Lebanese cough). Quality variable The eighties prices were only 60-70% of those of "black", this price differential has now been eroded, so users now pay a premium for novelty/nostalgia value. Rating 6.6/10 



5% of market,


Avg £89 per ounce 


Most "Black Hash" is either from Pakistan or Afghanistan, and is rarely identified by country of origin. It is distinguishable from "Black Moroccan" by the soft, oily texture, and its malleability - it may be squeezed and kneaded into different shapes, and may even be rolled into long "strings" which can be inserted into a spliff without being heated. Some "black"-type resins are now imported from Central Africa. Average rating 7.0/10 

9% of market,


Avg £90 per ounce 


Very common. Soft, malleable dark brown resin, smell often putrid, internal consistency may be uneven with small lumps. normally crumbles on heating 



Very common, normally appears in blocks wrapped in red cellophane ("Red seal"), larger (250g-1kg) blocks bear imprint or trademark. Also appears as "Gold Seal" although appearance of gold colouring on exterior is no guarantee of quality, and may be mimicked by tranferring lettering from "Rizla" packet. 



Less common - appearance as per other "Black" types, often with a greenish tinge and more aromatic smell. May be mouldy, in sticks twisted into bundles, irregular shapes or wafers with shiny surface. Some may be of hard consistency. Also in kilogram blocks 

"Manali" - soft Indian-black hashish, appears in 3-4 inch cylinders or flattened pieces. 

"Goan" - From South-West India, fine consistency aromatic black hashish 






Rare in UK, no organised market, normally imported by independent travellers. Appearance dark black to greenish-black, pressed flat into cakes or rolled into "Temple Balls" about the size of a golf ball, texture soft to brittle, Exterior often mouldy, with streaks in interior. May be loose and crumbly like soil. 


Other Hashish 

Other forms of hashish are occasionally seized by customs, or encountered by tourists in the Coffee-Shops. Average rating 6.4/10 


Very. rare,

£45-£160 (avg £88) per ounce 

Turkey: Greenish-brown powder or thin wafers 







"Nederhash". Green and powdery Dutch hashish made from high quality hybrids, using sieve to separate heads of glandular trichomes (THC glands) from vegetable material. Normally fresh hence very strong smell of flowering tops, and very high potency. Potency refers to UK-produced material. 

Up to 59% 


Occasionally very poor quality cannabis resin is encountered, normally resembling bars of Moroccan "soap", but with a very hard, brittle "bakelite" texture with fragments not crumbling when heated, and forming thin slivers when broken. This appears to be resin mixed with henna or other bulking agent 

Impurities - Resin is often smuggled into the UK within fuel tanks, and contamination with diesel fuel is not uncommon, THC content is not usually affected. The most common impurity revealed by forensic analysis is "caryophyline" a constituent of oil of cloves, commonly found in Asian resin, but also occasionally in "soap bar". This appears to be a used as a perfume, but may also have a mild numbing effect on the nose and mouth. This substance would appear to be introduced during manufacture. 


Rare, may be sent back as unsaleable





2. Characteristics of Herbal Cannabis Varieties 

Referred to in UK law as "Cannabis", herbal cannabis accounts for roughly one third of UK consumption. Also "Bush, Grass, Weed, Ganja, Herb, Draw, Marijuana, Sensi" etc. Normally the flowering tops, with or without seeds. Presence of seeds indicates a lower quality product. Material which contains only leaves is generally of poor quality. Most herbal cannabis comes in compressed, dried flowering and fruiting tops (with seeds), premium prices are only paid for intact manicured flowering buds. 

Herbal cannabis most commonly originates from Africa or the far east (e.g. Thailand), with smaller amounts from the Caribbean. The proportion of cannabis grown in the UK would appear to have doubled over the past ten years, most of this growth being attributed to indoor cultivation of high-quality cannabis strains under high-intensity lighting. 

Potencies of herbal cannabis vary considerably (range 0.3%-22%) according to age, presence of seeds, method of storage and variety of parent plant. These would typically be 1%-8% of dry weight for compressed imported cannabis with seeds, 5%-15% for prime manicured buds or indoor hybrids. Prices of imported bush are typically in the range £85 to £110 per ounce. Little regional variation in cannabis prices, although slightly higher in the South West, and lower in Scotland. Tends to be slightly more expensive than cannabis resin, and consumed more rapidly. 


Physical Characteristics 

Potency range

(THC % of dry weight) 

Market Share (%), Price per ounce (£) 


Far East 

Compressed herbal cannabis, normally contains some seeds and smaller stems. Thai sticks now rare, individual buds wrapped around bamboo twigs. Colour normally greenish-brown, smell distinctive "herby" to musty, depending on age. Rating 7.9/10 



7% of market,


Avg £96 per ounce 


Jamaica: Normally coarse compressed flowering heads, brown, normally containing seeds & stems. Better varieties are sinsemilla (sensi) i.e. buds without seeds. Rating 7.0/10 


2% of market,

£75-£120 per ounce 



St Lucia 







Wide range of African varieties. Normally dark green/brown compressed herbal material, High stem/flower ratio, seeds. Overall rating 7.1/10 


9% of market,


Avg £91 per ounce 

Ghana: Brown, often leafy normally compressed 


Zambia: Green or brown compressed and wrapped in coarse vegetable fibre 


Nigeria: Brown, with small twisted stems; 


S.Africa: Green small rolls in brown paper, or brown and mature with seeds "Durban Poison" of higher quality and price. 


Kenya: Green/brown, often appears rolled in cigar-shaped paper packages known as "fingers". 











Mexico: Often coarse, compressed into kilo bricks. 

Better varieties include Oaxacan, Acapulco Gold. 



Very rare in UK

£100 - £160 per ounce 

Columbia: Commercial grade compressed green/brown. High grade buds brown to golden. 


USA: Very high US prices keep most of the crop at home. Normally found in second generation indoor plants grown from seed. Hawaiian, e.g. "Maui Wowie" particularly prized - large buds with sweet aroma. 


Canada: British Columbian buds are highly prized in the western USA, not seen in UK 



Normally grown outdoors. Common in season (September to November), rare and probably stale out of season. Green to brown, normally leaf, often a fresh "grassy" smell. Few flowering tops normally present, quality varies from very poor to medium. Normally consumed by the grower, often in food or drink, frequently in neat cigarettes, or used as a tobacco substitute. Where distributed, most commonly given away free - no organised market. 


Rating 5.6/10 

7% of consumption


Avg £47 per ounce 


Cultivated legally outdoors in the UK under license from the Home Office, on agricultural scale for fibre, hurds and seeds. Attracts EEC subsidy. There is a growing market for commercial products: clothing, footwear, paper, food (burgers, salad oils etc.), horse bedding, construction materials etc. Seeds bred for very low THC potency, average below 0.3%. Other approved seed strains may produce slightly higher potencies, although one would need to smoke very large amounts in order to achieve a high. Unlicensed cultivation remains an offence, and strict conditions must be met before a licence can be granted. Hemp plant are identical in appearance to other cannabis plants if allowed to branch, and produce flowering tops. Usually grown very close together to encourage single unbranched stems. Hemp seeds are a common ingredient in bird seed and fish bait, and the oil from seeds contains several essential fatty acids claimed to be beneficial for health. Very long internodal lengths & symmetrical nodes (>10-15cm) 

0.01% to 0.3% 

Approx. £30 per tonne 


3. Characteristics of Pedigree Indoor Cannabis Varieties 

Several UK firms supply indoor cultivation equipment: lighting, hydroponic systems etc. "Pedigree" seeds can be obtained from the Netherlands and several UK sources. Such plants are typically bred for short stature, bushiness (branches 3-6cm apart), early flowering and high flower/leaf ratio. The highest reported potencies in the UK of indoor flower material (19% and 22%) were both grown using traditional organic-based compost, rather than a hydroponic medium.  

Mostly grown by individual users with little leakage onto the open market. However, several commercial-scale operations have been seized by police. Occasionally such material is imported directly from European producers.  

Much of what is sold as "skunk" is simply buds of any indoor variety, and as such the quality is not guaranteed. Other hybrids, particularly "Northern lights" have their followings, and command similar prices (typically £100-£160 per ounce). Premium quality cannabis is found in manicured buds with a minimum of surrounding leaves, and no seeds (or at most one or two seeds per "deal"). Excess moisture can increase the weight significantly, although if too dry the bud can crumble. Any buds which appear crushed or compressed, which contain seeds or which have a stale smell, are probably misrepresented imported bush.  


Physical Characteristics 

Potency range

(THC % of dry weight) 

Market Share (%), Price per ounce (£) 


The trademark of "Sensi Seeds" in Amsterdam. Strictly refers to plants grown from their seeds or cuttings from those seeds. True skunk has a very strong pungent aroma, such that a few buds are enough to cause the distinctive smell to pervade a whole room. The pistils are normally white, and the bud is very resinous and greenish-white. Internodal length 2-7cm. The quality of true skunk is medium to very high, depending on the skill and system used by the grower. Rating 8.9/10 


(Typically 10%-12%) 

9% of market

£70 - £180

Avg £129 per ounce 

Northern Lights 

Short-stature indica/sativa hybrid (internodal length 1-6cm) with clear colourless resin, pistils (twin hair-like protrusions) white or brown with age, medium-dark green leaves. Prized for the light, fresh smell & taste. Among the varieties which can produce the most potent plants when grown in ideal conditions. Rating - 8.9/10 

3.5%-22% (Typically 10%-12%) 

3% of market


Avg £137 per ounce 


Purple resin coating on female flowers and upper stems. Late flowering sativa variety, tall, narrow leaflets, thin but abundant flowers. Internodal length 5-15cm, therefore lower yields per height than "Skunk/NL". Spicy sweet and sour aroma. Rating - 8.3/10 

6% plus 


Avg £138 per ounce 

Big Bud 

True hybrid (indica/sativa) with variable daughter plants, only a small proportion of which will be short, high-yielding, early flowering and potent, producing dense medium to dark green floral clusters with high resin content. 


£70-£180 per ounce 



Variant on Skunk#1, crossed with afghani parent. Broad medium-light green leaves, very strong pungent aroma. Internodal length 2-7cm. 


£70-£180 per ounce (Estimate) 

Shiva Shanti. 

Afghani-type indica with broad dark green leaves originally used for hashish production. Early-flowering, coarse buds with high resin content. Aroma and taste thick, acrid, greasy, medicinal. 




Other Hybrids 

Varieties listed in seed catalogues include the following varieties: Sensi-skunk, Silver haze, Shiva-skunk, Four Way, Early Girl, Jack Herer, White Widow, Durban Poison etc. 





Atha MJ & Blanchard S (1997) Regular Users - self reported drug consumption and attitudes to drugs among 1333 regular cannabis users. Independent Drug Monitoring Unit  

Clark RC (1993) - Indoor Cannabis Breeding - Ch. in Cervantes: Indoor Marijuana Horticulture. Berkeley: Quick Trading Co. - Botanical history of development of hybrid cannabis varieties. 

Cherniak L (1979) The Great Book of Hashish (reprinted 1995: Bussum: Kulu Trading) - Detailed accounts, with many colour photos, of hashmaking processes. 

Baker PB, Bagon KR & Gough TA [1980] Variation in the THC content in illicitly imported Cannabis products. Bulletin on Narcotics 32(4) pp47-54 - Potencies of imported cannabis and resin. 

Elsohly MA & Ross SA (1994) Potency Monitoring Project - University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy. - Potencies of American and Caribbean cannabis varieties. 

Gough TA (Ed.) (1991) - The Analysis of Drugs of Abuse. John Wiley - Potencies and physical characteristics of imported cannabis and resin. 

Sensi Seed Bank BV. Seed catalogue, Amsterdam. - Descriptions of pedigree varieties. 

Starks M (1990) - Marijuana Chemistry. Ronin Publishing - Digest of early potency information 

Drug Enforcement Administration/MAPNEWS internet press clippings service - case reports & press releases re US/Canada 

Potency information on indoor hybrids compiled from analyses by Home Office forensic scientists in criminal cases during the period 1990-97. 

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