Is exotic weed really a thing?

exotic weed: close up shot of jelly donutz from humboldt seed co

When it comes to cannabis, it’s all about finding products catered to a desired experience. Exotic weed is highly sought after, with seemingly everyone looking for “zaza.” But what precisely does the term exotic actually mean in the cannabis realm?

In the cannabis scene, “subjective” is more often the rule versus the exception. From the plant’s effects to determining quality, nearly everything is a matter of opinion. 

Depending on who you ask, exotic marijuana can mean many things. It may refer to the THC content of a specific variety (aka strain). The exotic label could also relate to a unique flavor profile and combination of terpenes.

Others consider exotic weed strains to be the original landrace strains indigenous to certain regions. To some people, exotics are simply their personal favs.

For Benjamin Lind, a California cannabis breeder and co-founder of Humboldt Seed Company, the interpretation is twofold.

“The new school definition of exotic is that new kind of flavor profile that hasn’t been around for a long time,” Lind said in an interview with GreenState. “But in the broader culture, it’s your personal definition of what is good weed.”

So how exactly do we characterize exotic in the cannabis culture? Once again, it’s all about perspective.

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Exotic weed: a Jelly Dontuz plant from Humboldt Seed Co
Jelly Donutz from Humboldt Seed Co. could be classified as an exotic weed strain. Photo: Eric@NugShots / Humboldt Seed Co

“It’s all about that hype engine…”

In cannabis culture, much of the vernacular stems from slang. Since there is no real standard for all things weed, it makes sense. Someone starts calling their cannabis “dank,” “fire,” or “gas,” and suddenly, it sticks.

“It’s a story as old as time. There have always been hype words—there are a million different ways to describe really good weed,” Lind laughed.

By definition, exotic means something of foreign origin or unusual. While certain people in the cannabis community take this meaning literally, the phrase has also become associated with the latest hot new thing.

Lind began hearing the term “exotics” in 2014 and 2015. He believes the trend started with brokers looking for a new way to entice their customers.

“If it’s called exotic, that becomes kind of a third-party certification,” he explained. “It’s all just about communicating quality at the end of the day.”

In a space where many consumers are obsessed with the latest drops, the marketing tactic works.

“It’s all about that hype engine,” Lind surmised. “Whether it’s shoes or putting weed in a die-cut mylar for the first time.”

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The exact meaning of exotic

Some in the cannabis space are quite literal with their definition of exotics, believing it’s a strain of exotic origin. This describes so-called landrace strains of cannabis such as Malawi Gold, Durban, or Hindu Kush, which have been around far longer than the vast majority of strains on the market today. 

Most modern weed varieties are instead descendants of these old-school cultivars. For some consumers, the lineage is an important market of quality, especially if the genetics of the cannabis plant can be verified.

Lind shared that in European marijuana markets, consumers are more interested in the pedigree of cannabis on the menus versus the latest and greatest.

“Where (the cannabis) came from means a lot more to people where the markets opening up like Thailand, folks are more interested anything that’s new.”

The extraordinary side of exotic weed

As Lind previously pointed out, those on the production side of cannabis view exotics as unprecedented rather than honing in on the area of origin.

The team at Humboldt Seed Company is identifying exotic varieties in the brand’s catalog mostly based on their terpene profile. Since terpenes guide a strain’s potential aroma, flavor, and effects, it makes sense to classify exotics this way.

Lind believes that while the word exotic may have started on the sales side, it has become something to consider for breeders as well since they’re on the cutting edge of the marketplace.

“In a lot of ways, it was like ‘exotics’ is following the evolution of cannabis that we’re seeing,” Lind said. “From a breeding perspective, what other terpenes can we pack in there? Just how many boxes can we check?”

Humboldt Seed Co. carries a wide range of genetics, from classic strains of marijuana to innovative offerings. Lind considers their current exotics to be Cali Octane, Jelly Donutz, and Gazzurple. He bases this on his belief that the category should focus more on robust and inventive flavors.

“For me, exotics are going to be a lime green, super frosty bud with confetti purple flaking throughout. It’s going to have a fruity front note, a creamy middle note, and then a super gassy rich back note. That’s exotic in 2023—it’s not your dad’s weed.” 

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Exotic weed: a photo of a Gazzurple cannabis plant from Humboldt Seed Co
Benjamin Lind, co-founder and chief science officer at Humboldt Seed Co., lists Gazzurple among the seed company’s exotic weed varieties. Photo: Humboldt Seed Co

Exotic weed: in the eyes of the beholder

For most, exotic cannabis strains are what they consider to be the best. One person’s White Widow is another’s Rainbow Runtz. If a medical patient with chronic pain seeks a body high and finds a specific high THC variety that works for them, that may meet their criteria for exotic.

It doesn’t necessarily mean the THC levels are through the roof. It may not even be about THC and CBD at all. Many people believe exotic is synonymous with landrace. Others, like Lind, argue exotics are the avant-garde varieties breaking the mold.

But at the end of the day, it’s just another example of the extremely subjective nature of cannabis. Whether it’s an old favorite grown outdoors in Humboldt or brand-new genetics popped inside a basement tent, exotic is what you make it.


Rachelle Gordon

Rachelle Gordon is a cannabis journalist and Editor of She began her weed writing journey in 2015 and has been featured in High Times, CannabisNow, Beard Bros, MG, Skunk, Cannabis and Tech Today, and many others. Rachelle currently splits her time between Minneapolis and Oakland; her favorite cannabis cultivars include Silver Haze and Tangie. Follow Rachelle on Instagram @rachellethewriter