Interview with Danny Danko: Strains Of Truth

As millions of Americans get ready to toke up in celebration of 4-20, esteemed High Times cultivation editor (or whatever title he has this month as the supreme marijuana publication’s masthead is forever changing) Danny Danko has unleashed the most comprehensive examination of cannabis strains yet. Able to reach a large underground audience looking for the perfect weed, the friendly hemp head’s almost-pocket-sized High Times Field Guide To Marijuana Strains does not only a fantastic job scrutinizing varied cannabis specimens but also captures the expectant mood each stylistic blend evokes.

Of course, having access to the greatest breeders in his field of study does wonders to increase Danko’s vast cranial vault. He spews out a few decades worth of steadily unfolding encyclopedic knowledge about Earth’s greatest herb simply for the betterment of mankind. Not just another banal bohemian bromide, his vital text will assist the millions of independent growers and enthusiastic herbalists worldwide. For those who don’t yet know, 4-20 stands for the made-up anniversary date, April 20, or the local time zone, 4:20, when stoners engage in getting high.

The term supposedly started in the ‘70s when some San Rafael teens felt the need to use it as a cool inside joke. The better the ‘weed,’ the better the late afternoon rush (or early morning pick-me-up for insomniacs and touring musicians doing the 4:20 a.m. spot). And that’s where Danko’s 163-page ‘field guide’ comes in extra handy.

For those interested in knowing exactly what the hell they’re toking, or for that matter, growing indoors or outside, Danko’s easy-to-read brochure provides detailed annotation and candid photos. Musing on genial heritages, growing habits, physical characteristics, tastes, scents and ultimate after-affects, Danko’s Field Guide To Marijuana Strains will undoubtedly heighten the trend of serious cannabis analysis. An herbal delectable that’s not for everyone, but gives uplift to those willing to enjoy its most leisurely appetizing benefits, marijuana is arguably the greatest herbal medication, oft-times bettering prescribed medicines and ostensibly outselling many commercial crops. And despite the foolishly antiquated laws classifying this mighty relaxant as a ‘hard narcotic,’ no serious-minded intellect would be so bold to call marijuana harmful.

Face it, ‘everything goes better with a bag of weed,’ to quote Family Guy’s ‘420’ Episode. Unless you’re paranoid, schizophrenic, ultraconservative or a complete asshole (whose exposure to ‘pot’ would make the last group cowering introverts), marijuana inhalation offers many pleasures—none of them guilty. And besides temporarily lowered motor skills for those willingly half-baked, there are NO negatives to non-addictive marijuana.

Sure you could overindulge and become a lazily slouched misanthropic dullard, but contrarily, I know boatloads of low-keyed undercover white-collar pot smokers. Since I pretty much know everyone up at High Times staff (having written for the publication nearly 20 years), I have a keen understanding of the tremendous hard work that needs to be accomplished under the spell of what’s probably the most versatile and underrated goddamn plant on Earth. Good luck catching those dedicated staffers slacking off, putting together one of the most successful monthly magazines in the world, whether high or not. When perusing High Times cozy Park Avenue perimeters, I always find the staff hard at work discussing future marijuana conferences, rallies, pictorials and travels—general business as usual.

At the core, these seasoned stoners work for a good cause—the legalization of ‘weed’ in conjunction with the glorification of cannabis culture. That said, several medical doctors I’ve spoken to claim marijuana’s medical benefits are still relatively limited. Nevertheless, if you suffer from hepatitis, arthritis, depression, glaucoma and nausea, or need to alleviate muscle tension or need general pain reduction, costly over-and-under the counter pharmaceuticals may not beat the magical herb for certain illnesses. Score one for Mr. Danko’s clan!

“It’s about managing pain and someday maybe curing diseases. If marijuana helps people feel better more than prescribed medicine, then it’s a wonder drug. There’s one indisputable fact: the munchies. Doctors know anyone suffering from AIDS or chemotherapy has a problem keeping food down and it’ll keep them hungry while sick. Not to be denied is post-traumatic stress disorder. Soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan are going to need more than pharmaceutical drugs to self-medicate” the far left-leaning Danko maintains.

A short, black-haired Russian Jew from St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad, a beautiful city ironically modeled after marijuana haven Amsterdam) whose family fled tyrannical Soviet persecution, Danko spent the largest part of his youth in Boston. The son of two geologists, he lived in New York, then Houston before his father died. Along with his mother and brother, they headed to New England, living outside Beantown in boroughs such as Brookline, Brighton and Roxbury, attending Boston University for a Sociology degree. He learned to enjoy marijuana at the tender age of 12, though he doesn’t advocate marijuana for minors. Early on, Danko realized massive cultivation improvements in the ‘80s enabled differently blended marijuana strains to suit disparate personalities much like different beer styles (lagers-ales-porters-stouts) please distinct tastes.

“The first time I smelt marijuana I was eight. My parents took me to an outdoors Joni Mitchell concert in Austin. My father smoked aromatic pipe tobacco, but this joint had an exotic skunky pungency. I remember wanting to try one of those some day,” he adds. The motivated Danko began growing marijuana plants out on a balcony off the side of his room.

At age 18, a good friend showed the curious tyke his first grow room, heightening interest intensely. He saw how a small amount of space could produce a decent amount of bud. Beforehand, the gourmandizing greenhorn was under the impression you needed acreage, like hop fields, to yield a nice personal stash. These days, he recommends growing marijuana outside crowded urban areas to avoid prying eyes.

“I was curious early on in a substance not as numbing as alcohol and not as scary as all other drugs. It was an herb you smoked that was safer than a cigarette. The first time I smoked I had this wonderful experience. I think I threw up later in the evening, but I do remember the enjoyment. There was a lot of misinformation around at that time. My entrance into the whole pot scene was through a junior high hippie friend who’d traveled to Grateful Dead shows and been around. It was good to be taught about pot through him. He had an older brother who’d been on tour and experienced all those things. We were early adapters of kind bud and growing aficionado-like strains,” Danko shares.

When the Soviet Union finally crumbled under the weight of its own misguided military machine, Danko and his mom went back to Russia to visit the homeland, but he didn’t bring bud. Those would be the only two weeks in his post-teen life that he wouldn’t indulge in the ‘mean weed.’ Besides, the Kremlin’s not yet ready to embrace marijuana’s medicating assets. He concedes, “I make no claims of it curing major diseases yet. Although, there have been recent cases where cancer patients have responded well to marijuana treatment due to endocannabinoids, the compounds attacking cancer cells. There’s an incredible amount of good that could come from this relatively harmless plant and that’s why prohibition needs to end.”

Though Danko smoked cigarettes years back, he made the smart decision to quit. But he can’t understand how harmful tobacco remains on the open market while marijuana stays absurdly classified as a Schedule 1 drug, alongside destructive heroin and cocaine. “America’s government pretends to believe cannabis has no medicinal value,” he says. “You have to rely on (ridiculously unreliable) government tests or different Amsterdam, United Kingdom or Israel testing. Obviously, if they could prove cannabis cures any problem, in spite of the different scare tactics, like male sterility, men growing boobs or craziness, they’d supposedly let us know in a heartbeat.

But it’s not in the best interests of the governments, doctors and scientists. They oppose the plant because their expensive vacations are paid for by pharmaceutical companies. That’s their bread and butter. It’s difficult to make people believe something when their job relies on it not being true.” But even if some people believe cannabis has not helped in curing cancer, there are recent studies showing serious scientific evidence that endocannabinoids in the human brains’ reasoning receptors are conducive to marijuana enlightenment, helping to enhance interest in particular tasks.

However, Danko insists, it’s not for everyone. “There are people where it doesn’t work that way and they should not smoke marijuana, especially those with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.” He adds, “It’s sometimes difficult to test marijuana due to all these different scenarios. Some people get creative or horny, others paranoid or lazy. I’m not encouraging people to use cannabis if it’s harmful for them. To quote my mentor, Doctor Lester Grinspoon, ‘A lot of people shouldn’t smoke cannabis, but there’s a larger group that probably should.’”

So where did all that good old ‘70s shit such as Acapulco Gold, Maui Waui, Thai Stick and Mexican Green go? Back then, weed was very regimented. You knew specifically what you had by taste, flavor, aroma, hue and, most importantly, buzz. “I wouldn’t say all today’s strains hearken back to those good old days because many things changed when people brought indica back from Afghanistan,” Danko opines. “Those on the hippie trail came to the States with these seeds back in the late ‘60s or early ‘70s. That’s when sativa and indica were crossed together. The problem had been you couldn’t grow those long flowering sativas in most northern climates. Nowadays, we’ve adapted. Back then, the winter frost would kill them off. But once they introduced the shorter, stockier, fat indica strains that take less time to finish into that genetic pool of old school seeds, the indica-sativa cross was accomplished.”

However, there have been distribution problems along the freedom trail going all the way back to President Nixon. There was only a short period of time in the ‘60s before Tricky Dick’s crackdown on border security by the Coast Guard hurt the illegal import of Columbian and Mexican herb, forcing an aggressive American Revolution to take hold. Before Nixon, there had been no interdiction. Once the proverbial ‘War On Drugs’ began, the Navy and DEA stopped a percentage of marijuana shipments. But there was a growing counterculture readied to purchase affordable indoor hydroponic equipment. Homegrown, a term of derision in the ‘70s, has become the obvious cannabis solution to dangerous importing.

“Once we got those indicas into the genetic pool, it was easier to grow weed in harsher climates of mountains, prairies and the northeast, especially in Canada, where many Vietnam draft dodgers fled. Now you could grow at home and fund a homestead,” Danko proudly declares. There are now various ways to cross flowers. Though the male plants grow a certain type of flower that may look like bananas hanging off it, they are not potent. But when the male pollen drips onto the female flower by a breeder as it’s developing, it produces seeds. Once ripened, those seeds will either be male or female. “It goes back to Mendel’s peapods. You’re selecting for the traits you want for potency, flavor and yield,” Danko explains. “If you’re consciously selecting generation after generation, it’s possible to eliminate any bad traits to get better quality cannabis, improving genetics. This is done in orchids or other annual plant propagation.”

Danko goes on to explain how different strains may be more appropriate for daytime versus evening smoking. Real connoisseurs usually prefer a light, cerebral sativa by day and a strong indica by night. Sativa, sometimes known as amphetiweed, due to its electrifying, hyperactive high, leads to an amazingly uplifting experience. Indica, originally from Tibet and India, suits a more lethargic end of day bedtime buzz. People with muscle spasms may find indica-dominant strains worthy for its calming anesthetization. Those addled by depression should lean towards sativa. Presently, you could dial in which strain works best for a potential patient.

“I tried to hone in on the medical properties in the book,” he adds. Since brewpubs, once illegal, now thrive and marijuana dispensaries seem imminent everywhere in America’s near future, Danko daringly matched a few beers with his favorite strains. “Ipswich Ale in the growler, fresh and unpasteurized, with Strawberry Cough, pair up well, bringing an earthy quality out. Bass Ale’s spiced malts complement sativa’s haze variety, such as Blue Dream. Yuengling Lord Chesterfield Ale has a doughy baguette flavor that’d go well with White Widow or Sour Diesel or Chemdog—one of the more lemony flavored indicas,” he says as we down a few Yuengling’s.

Ironically, the hops used for beer flavoring are herbaceous perennials related to marijuana. Yet there are many psychoactive properties to cannabis and the interaction with its terpenes and essential oils in the glandular trichome creating an interestingly narcotic sedative way beyond the majority of low alcohol beers, or even newly designed 10 percent alcohol ‘big beers’ for that matter.

Since marijuana cultivation continues to branch out and reach newer heights, Danko’s guide already needs minor updating. Some of his newest favorite strains, Guava Chem Dog, Chernobyl and Harlequin, didn’t make the book’s cut-off, but will be included in the revised edition. He concludes, “Anywhere people open dispensaries, wellness centers and cooperatives, the genie is out of the bottle. Once a person chooses between thirty different varieties, they get exactly what it is they’re looking for. There’s no turning back and going back to the black market. Those people will become activists and protest the closing of these places, if that ever happens. People are finally being treated as civilized customers instead of a criminal. They get treated with dignity and may get actual healthcare benefits, medical help and counseling for free.”

Danny Danko’s High Times Field Guide To Marijuana Strains is available now.