By Max Sargent

Cannabis cups are a chance for the cannabis world to bring attention to the achievements made by individuals and businesses in the cannabis industry, and to celebrate the thing it loves most: cannabis! These days, there are a plethora of awards, cups, competitions, and expos, but not so long ago, this wasn’t the case.

In this article, we take a look at the still-developing history of cannabis cups, explore their significance in the world today, and ponder what they might offer in the future. We’ll then indulge ourselves a little by looking at the various awards we at Royal Queen Seeds have stacked up over the years.

History of Cannabis Cups

Cannabis cups are just under 40 years old, making them a pretty recent phenomenon. So we don’t need to delve too far back in time to explore their entire history and evolution. Of course, it may well be that other cultures have celebrated cannabis in their own, equivalent ways, but here we’re looking at a decidedly capitalist and contemporary sort of celebration.

First Cannabis Cup

Origins and Underground Beginnings

Cannabis cups started as underground events in the late 1980s, and mostly brought together illicit growers and users. These events were primarily designed to celebrate cannabis culture and the best the industry had to offer. The first ever cannabis cup was held in Amsterdam in November of 1988 and initiated by Steven Hager of High Times magazine.

Though it took place in Amsterdam, where cannabis was somewhat legal in the 80s, this sort of public celebration of a mostly illegal drug was still a risky endeavour. Nevertheless, it can be seen as a landmark moment for cannabis culture, as it was one of the first times that people publicly gathered together to share and celebrate their love of this plant in an organized and semi-official capacity.

Evolution and Regulation

Over the years, cannabis cups have evolved from covert gatherings to highly publicised and regulated events. With the gradual legalization of cannabis in various parts of the world, these cups have become more mainstream, attracting a global audience and participants from across the entire cannabis industry.

There are now cannabis cups and expos all over the world. There are still a few big names, such as the original High Times Cannabis Cup, and many lesser-known ones too. But wherever you are and whatever you’re into, there’s probably something happening—even if it’s still quite underground.

Types of Cannabis Cups

Cannabis cups tend to follow a similar outline, with a range of categories and criteria. Usually, the aim of a cup is to showcase the best cannabis flower, cannabis-derived products, and genetics available at the present time.

Categories and Judging Criteria

Each cup has its own categories and judging criteria, and these evolve over time as the cannabis world continuously innovates how we grow and consume weed.

Cannabis cups today can feature a variety of categories including best strain, edible, and concentrate. Judges, often experts in different areas of the cannabis field, assess entries based on potency, aroma, flavor, and the innovation of the products. As the understanding of cannabis has deepened, with a recent focus on terpene profiles and cannabinoid combinations, the judging criteria reflects a more nuanced interpretation of the plant.

However, it isn’t only dispensary-ready flower and concentrates that capture the judges' attention; awards also go out to the best of the best in the world of cannabis breeding and seed distribution, as well as branding and PR, advocacy, apparel/merchandise, and media. As the world of weed grows, so too do the categories at cannabis cups!

Some of the most common categories at a given cannabis cup might be:

  • Best indica flower
  • Best sativa flower
  • Best hybrid flower
  • Best solvent concentrates
  • Best non-solvent concentrates
  • Best vape pens and cartridges
  • Best edibles
  • Best sublinguals, capsules, tinctures, and topicals
  • Best seed bank
  • Best breeder
Best seedbank

Trends and Recent Winners

In recent years, trends in cannabis cup winners have shifted towards high THC levels and sugary flavor profiles, as these tend to be what the consumer is most interested in. Indeed, many of the strains that take home the top prizes at these events feature exceptional potency (THC levels at or exceeding 30%) and/or unique flavors reminiscent of candy or baked goods. A recent cup winner that personifies this is Runtz, a strain that went viral on social media in the early 2020s.

Legendary Strains and Their Legacy

Cannabis cup-winning strains set the benchmark for the weed of the future. Once these strains are given mainstream attention, they are often used as the genetic foundation to create other strains and perpetuate trends in the type of cannabis you can grow and find at dispensaries. Take for example the recent “dessert strain” boom, in which cup-winning cultivars bearing names like “Cookies”, “Gelato”, and “Cake” seem to dominate the offerings.

Legendary cup-winning strains like White Widow, OG Kush, and Amnesia Haze have gained legendary status and have significantly influenced cannabis breeding trends worldwide. If you look at the genetic heritage of most popular cannabis strains today, you’re likely to find White Widow, Kush, or Haze lurking somewhere. Despite the sheer number of strains available today, it’s surprising how many have emerged from the same few strains.

Cannabis Cups Today

As mentioned, there are many cannabis cups around today, but a few stand out as being particularly respected, and can bring a cannabis strain, product, or breeder to new heights of acclaim and fame among the cannabis-using public.

Which Cannabis Cup Is the Most Prestigious?

As the first official cannabis cup sponsor and as a juggernaut in the world of weed media, the High Times Cannabis Cup series (which now takes place in various locations around the globe) is perhaps the most storied, and likely the most prestigious, cannabis cup. However, other events are right on High Times’ heels, including the Emerald Cup, the International Cannabis Awards, and Spannabis. Others include the EMJAYS and the Highlife Cup, to name but two more.

Royal Queen Seeds' Awards

Royal Queen Seeds has been a notable cannabis cup participant and winner of a variety of awards stretching back quite some years now. Recently, we won the title of "Best Seed Bank" at Spannabis 2024, which is surely something to be proud of.

Other victories include:

  • International Cannabis Awards: Best Seed Bank/Breeder (2024)
  • EMJAYS: Best Cannabis Seed Bank (2023)
  • Spannabis: Best Seed Bank (2019)
  • Highlife Cannabis Cup: Common Weed Cultured in Soil (2019)
  • Soft secrets: European Plant of the Year – New Strains (2019)
  • Indicasativa Trade Fair: Best Seed Bank (2019)

And that’s not all—here are our award-winning cannabis strains:

It’s not in good character to boast, so we’ll let the awards speak for themselves.

About Us Trophy Room

Cannabis Cups of the Future

The future of cannabis cups looks promising, with a potentially positive impact from evolving legislation worldwide and an ever-growing interest in the cannabis plant. As more regions legalize cannabis, the scope and scale of these events are likely to increase, and more people are likely to pay attention. What’s more, as cannabis cultivation becomes more accessible, there will be more and more strains and products being showcased, which only bodes well for the world of weed.

In the United States, cannabis cups are adapting to changing consumer behaviours, with a growing preference for medicinal and wellness-oriented products. How these trends will influence future cannabis cups remains a key area of interest, but we can be sure that as consumer behaviours change, so too will the criteria of these awards.

Cannabis Cups: An Upward Trajectory

Cannabis cups not only celebrate the best in cannabis, but also spur innovation and set quality standards across the industry. As we look to the future, events like these will continue to play a crucial role in shaping the landscape of cannabis culture, and also reflecting and recording changes taking place within the wider community. With companies like Royal Queen Seeds at the forefront of these changes, the evolution of cannabis cups is bound to be as dynamic as the plant they celebrate.

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