The History of Sour Diesel

How Sour Diesel came to be.

nug of Sour Diesel cannabis

There are some strains of cannabis so famous, even people who don’t consume weed have heard of them. Sour Diesel might top that list as one of the most well-known strains on earth. So how did it get such notoriety? 

The easy answer to why Sour Diesel is so legendary is simply because, well, it’s good. But of course, there’s always a backstory to how people found that out.

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A Murky Origin Story

Most credit Sour Diesel’s emergence to a man known as “Asshole Joe” (or AJ for short). AJ, a marijuana grower and cultivator, was interning at the Wetlands Music Club in New York in the early ‘90s, meeting performers from major names like Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine. Eventually, he met another big influencer — a grower who shared a new sativa-dominant strain called Chemdawg ’91. AJ started planting those seeds too, and at some point combined them with another breed. Scientists seem to think that it was either a cultivar of Skunk #1 or Northern Lights. From there emerged Sour Diesel. 

a frosty purple and dark green cannabis nug of sour diesel

The story isn’t very clear, but it’s thought that Sour Diesel originated in the early 1990s.

AJ had some pretty good connections at the club with people who traveled quite a bit, so word got around quickly after people first tried the strain. After that, supply and demand took over. The hype surrounding the strain led more and more people to want to try it. Since excitement often spreads about rare items, the strain’s fame took off. 

Some have also said that the seeds AJ used weren’t actually Chemdawg ‘91, but in fact were impure with some of the plants turning up hermaphroditic. In that version of the story, AJ simply chose the best plant and cross-bred that one. 

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Still others have a different story altogether, saying the cross-breed with either Super Skunk, Skunk #1, or Northern Lights was purely accidental. In that version of the tale, Chemdawg seeds were traded at a Grateful Dead tour in 1991, with the seeds that would lead to Chemdawg’s creation winding up in Massachusetts. 

How Sour Diesel Got its Name

Sour Diesel’s name has a pretty good story behind it, too. You might think it refers to the citrusy taste and gasoline-like odor, but AJ (allegedly) says the title was more clever than that. 

In the 90s, New Yorker slang for good weed included “bomb,” “chronic,” and “diesel.” AJ had labeled other strains, even those he cross-bred with Chemdawg, as diesel. This one, however, was the version he was most proud of. Then, word started getting around about it faster than AJ could raise it. That was exacerbated by the strain being difficult to grow, requiring intense light and close attention to mildew growth, with a tall stature that stretches upward in a unique way and only yields a moderate amount of product each season. 

cannabis plant in the vegetative stage with bright green leaves

Unfortunately, Sour Diesel is a bit difficult to grow.

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It became highly sought-after and quite expensive compared with other strains at the time. With such limited quantities, people started getting upset that they couldn’t always get their hands on it. Their pinched, sour faces upon learning they couldn’t have some for themselves filled in the rest of the name. And there you have it: Sour Diesel!

What It Looks, Smells, and Feels Like

As mentioned, Sour Diesel is known for its unique scent. That’s notable even in the bud itself, but comes to life as it’s smoked, giving off a pungent odor reminiscent of gasoline mixed with a refreshing lemony burst. The taste keeps that citrusy note, mixed with earth and herbs. Celebrities have taken note, with Action Bronson using its sour fruity flavors to make a Sour Diesel infused bucatini pasta with broccolini and red pepper flakes. Run the Jewels members have come out as fans. Redman says it’s the best strain to keep him motivated.  The strain even gets a name drop in Broad City

Sour Diesel is viewed as the perfect wake-and-bake strain. High Times rated it as the #3 Greatest Strain of All Time. “If there’s a tastier bud on the planet, we haven’t smoked it,” the magazine raved. The bronze medalist in the Best Strain of All Time Olympics was outranked by only Original Haze (aka Neville’s Haze) and OG Kush. The publication did concede however, that when limited to solely the East Coast, Sour Diesel would reign supreme on the list of best weed options. 

a cup of hot coffee next to four cannabis joints and cannabis nugs

Many stoners love Sour Diesel as their go-to wake and bake strain.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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It’s nearly 90% pure sativa and can reach a whopping 26% THC in some cases. What’s especially exciting about this flower, though, is the amount of CBD and CBN it retains during extraction: 2% and 4% respectively. The combination of those cannabinoids makes the strain extremely stimulating and invigorating. Although some like it to kick-start their creative centers, its components make it a fantastic medicinal marijuana as well. Its energizing and uplifting qualities make it a good choice to fight depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, mood disorders, and even migraines. 

Sour Diesel Imitators 

While smoking Sour Diesel, some have noticed major inconsistencies in how it smells, tastes, and feels. It turns out, that’s because not everything labeled Sour Diesel is the real stuff. Lab data has proven the cannabinoids and terpenes present in products being marketed as Sour Diesel can vary widely. So how do you know you’re getting the real thing? Well… you don’t. 

Researchers found three main chemical profiles among marijuana being sold as Sour Diesel. Reviewing the terpenes in each, those scientists discovered one is limonene-dominant, one has a vast majority of terpinolene, and one has mostly myrcene

green and orange cannabis buds spilling out of a glass jar

It’s hard to tell if what you’re smoking is the same strain as the original Sour Diesel.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

As there are no regulations around how strains are named or labeled, your best option is to pay attention to the cannabinoids and terpenes in each and find which one you like best. 

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There are also different varieties of Sour Diesel marketed as slightly different but sold under the same core name. Purple Sour Diesel is a cross between Sour Diesel and Purple Kush known as an “all-purpose smoke” with long-lasting potency; Chemdawg Sour Diesel, also called Chem Sour is intended as a balanced hybrid; Platinum Sour Diesel is a melding of Sour Diesel sativa with Platinum OG indica that fans recommend using during the day; and Super Sour Diesel melds Sour Diesel and Super Silver Haze to create a potent sativa kick. 

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