How to distinguish bad weed from good weed
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- What is top-shelf weed?
- What to look for in good weed
- How do I know if it’s bad weed?
- Is expensive weed always good?
- Bottom line
What is top-shelf weed?
First, let’s cover our bases and go over the common terms used when shopping for good weed. “Flower” refers to the dried and cured female cannabis plant’s blooms, often called “nugs” or “buds.” Flower is typically intoxicating — THC content is the primary indicator of euphoric potency — but some flower has high CBD content and will produce less intoxicating effects.
“Flower” refers to the dried and cured female cannabis plant’s blooms, often called “nugs” or “buds.” Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
The best smoking experiences, edibles, tinctures — even CBD oil — often come from the best source material, or “top-shelf bud.” In terms of slang, premium weed is also commonly referred to as the “loud,” “fire,” “dank,” and “Private Reserve.” Low-grade weed is often referred to as “schwag,” “brick,” “ditch,” and “bunk” weed.
Identifying high-quality flower can throw even the most experienced cannabis connoisseurs for a loop, but the key traits that separate good weed from bad weed are smell, appearance, feel, and flower structure. In this article, we’ll break down all four and offer tips for spotting the good stuff and avoiding the bad.
What to look for in good weed
1. Smell: Cannabis cultivated and cured to the highest standards typically exhibits a pungent and pleasant aroma. Flowers emitting a strong fragrance are commonly referred to as having a “dank” or “loud” odor, indicating the overall quality of the flower. There are a variety of terms for the types of aromas high-quality cannabis emits, including skunk, diesel, and pine. The common denominator is that a good-smelling flower is distinct, pungent, and unmistakable. The stronger the fragrance is, the more nuanced the experience is likely to be.
2. Look: High-end flower, like fresh, healthy produce, provides a few visual hints to help you determine its quality. While all good cannabis should be visually appealing, a top-shelf strain can easily display a vibrant array of colors. Good-quality flowers are often a deep green with flaming orange or red hairs. They can also express colors from deep purple to bright blue.
While all good cannabis should be visually appealing, a top-shelf strain can easily display a vibrant array of colors. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Another important visual indicator of good weed is the amount and viability of trichomes. Trichomes are the tiny, glimmering crystal-like appendages on the plant’s surface that create and hold the compounds responsible for the flower’s smell, flavor, and effects. The more frosty trichomes you can see with the naked eye, the better indicator of the flower’s intoxicating and therapeutic potency. If your eyesight has seen better days or you want to get up close, use a magnifying glass to get an even better sense of a nug’s trichomes.
3. Feel: Top-shelf flower should be sticky and slightly spongy when you touch or gently squeeze it between your fingers. Stems should snap and the bud should be relatively easy to break apart, but shouldn’t be completely dry or crumble when you touch it. Alternatively, buds shouldn’t be too wet or soft, since these have a higher chance of developing or containing mold or mildew.
4. Flower structure: Skillfully cultivated and cured sativa-leaning flowers tend to be light and fluffy in shape and composition, while indicas tend to be tighter and denser in flower structure. Though the structure and the experience you end up having usually have little to do with each other. Rock-hard flowers are a sign that cultivators may have used plant growth regulators, which can lead to an unpleasant taste. Extremely fluffy flowers could be a signal that the plant was not grown under sufficient light intensity and was not cultivated to its potential.
While top-shelf flower is the hallmark of a great dispensary, good flower comes in many shapes and sizes and has more than a few nicknames.
Other qualities to look for in good weed
There are a few other quality benchmarks to consider when tracking down the best weed. Dr. Adie Rae, a neuroscientist at the Legacy Research Institute in Portland, Oregon, and scientific adviser to Weedmaps, pinpointed three more key indicators of weed quality: ethical cultivation, ethical companies, and diverse chemistry.
1. Ethical cultivation: Rae emphasized that ethical cultivation avoids synthetic fertilizers, uses living soil, and practices sustainable agriculture. “Look for Clean Green Certified, Sun+Earth, or other organic products and producers who use regenerative agricultural practices. Sungrown cannabis often ticks all of these boxes,” Rae advised.
2. Ethical companies: Small, craft producers and family-owned businesses are often the most ethical, according to Rae. “Look for women-, Black-, and minority-owned producers… large corporations are paying more attention to yield and profits than plants,” she stated.
3. Diverse cannabinoids: A diverse cannabinoid and terpene profile is desirable in CBD products. Rae recommended that consumers ask to see the Certificate of Analysis before making a purchase. The certificate provides a comprehensive list of cannabinoids contained in the product in addition to therapeutic terpenes and any potential contaminants such as pesticides or heavy metals.
How do I know if it’s bad weed?
1. Smell: Low-quality flower can take on a variety of quirky fragrances, which typically means a batch of bad weed. Often referred to as “schwag” or “bottom shelf,” these low-end buds can reek of a musty or mildewy aroma. A musty or straw-like aroma is a clear indication of aged or compromised cannabis. Typically, when stored away from light and heat, cannabis has around a one-year shelf life before starting to really degrade. Unpleasant aromas are generally a sign of mishandling, poorly cured cannabis, or advanced age.
Unpleasant aromas are generally a sign of mishandling, poorly cured cannabis, or advanced age. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
2. Look: The appearance of low-quality flower is distinct. It can come in the form of discolored flower or an abundance of stems and seeds. There are many reasons flower can become discolored ranging from mold and age to pesticides and chemicals. The bottom line is that you don’t want to buy it, let alone smoke it. One very important indicator of bad weed is the appearance of amber-colored trichomes. With time, light, and heat, trichomes turn from clear to an amber hue. This is a dead giveaway that you’ve been swindled into last year’s harvest.
A sad sight, low-quality cannabis is seen in many shades of degradation. From dirt brown to an immature lime green flower, nature provides several visual clues when you’re looking at a good plant gone bad.
3. Feel: When flower is of a lower quality, it will often be dry or brittle to the touch. Dry bud will feel light and airy with no weight behind it, unlike dense, sticky flower. Additionally, bad weed will easily crumble when handled, or might even be falling apart. Loose, undone flower is called “shake” and should be avoided.
Overly “wet” buds have stems that don’t snap and tend to stay put when squeezed. The extra moisture content makes for the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew. Wet nugs that tear apart rather than break apart are a sign that a cultivator didn’t properly dry and cure their cannabis.
4. Flower structure: Poor flower structure can be easily detected with a discerning eye. While a properly cultivated flower will often be aesthetically pleasing, a carelessly grown plant can produce inferior-looking flowers. Though a plant’s structure really says nothing about its chemical composition, it can still tell a story. Improper lighting or growing conditions can lead to “fluffy” or “airy” nugs, and while they may contain high levels of cannabinoids and terpenes, their density is still widely and harshly dismissed by the cannabis community.
Other indicators of bad weed
You may think you’re getting better quality bud with a sky-high THC concentration, but Dr. Rae dispels this myth. She cited THC levels above 20% as a red flag and told Weedmaps, “Lab tests are not as accurate as they may seem, and there are financial incentives for labs to produce increasingly higher THC values. Especially with flowers labeled around 30%, be very wary of fraudulent lab results.”
Rae also pointed out that there is not necessarily a relationship between enjoyment and THC potency. Distinguishing between enjoyment and intoxication, Rae asserted, “You can still have a very nice experience with 5-10% THC.”
Is expensive weed always good?
And is cheap weed always bad? Rae suggested that a low price point could indicate an older product past its shelf life but said that sometimes, “You can often get a nice-smelling, fresh flower for a good value. Beware if a pricey flower has a high THC level, but often a high price reflects the extra care and attention required to make a truly craft product.”
Check the harvest date and test the aroma before buying weed that appears unreasonably cheap. Marijuana that doesn’t pass the smell test just might be dirt weed. The bottom line, however, is that finding good weed depends on your personal taste.
The search for high-quality flower doesn’t have to be complicated. With a discerning eye (and nose), even novice cannabis smokers will be able to easily separate the high-quality buds from the bad.
But at the end of the day, it’s all about what you like when you smoke weed. What you prefer might be different from what the local budtender, delivery driver, or your friend likes. There are hundreds of strains grown by thousands of cultivators. The goal is to find the right strain for you. It’s simply about finding the right product that works with your personal chemistry by a brand or cultivator that you like and can thus enjoy over and over again.
So get out there, look for the four main indicators to understand what you’re getting — smell, look, feel, and flower structure. Then you’ll find a quality weed strain that best suits your personal taste.
How to distinguish bad weed from good weed Copy article link to clipboard. Link copied to clipboard. Contents What is top-shelf weed? What to look for in good weed How do
Cannabis Quality: A Quick Guide to Choosing Good Weed
Before we delve into the topic of how to evaluate the quality of weed, it is important to note that each individual has different preferences and enjoys different characteristics in their consumption habits. So how can you tell if the cannabis you just bought is worth the price? The easiest and safest method is a simple visual test. The things to look for are:
Seeds, stems and leaves
Seeds, stems and leaves found in bud is the easiest sign of bad quality. It affects the overall weight and ultimately the amount of usable product. This usually occurs due to “improper trimming and bud selection”. For those purchasing their products from the black market, be wary, uneducated consumers can often be duped into buying these buds at regular prices.
Signs of mold
If cannabis is dried or stored improperly, mold can develop on the flower. In the legal market this is rarely an issue due to rigorous testing requirements. However mold can take the form of white powdery mildew or fuzzy grey fungus. Inhaling a considerable quantity of these mold spores can lead to serious infections and should be avoided at all costs.
Trichome density (crystal density)
Often the easiest visual representation of quality is what is referred to as “Frost”. Because trichomes reflects light, they are easily distinguishable and have an appealing visual effect. Trichomes are paramount for synthesizing and storing all the cannabinoids and essential oils that give cannabis is unique psychoactive and physiological effects. In short, a good indicator of quality and potency is how “shiny” the bud is.
Color and Smell
The colors and smells of cannabis vary greatly. Many different strains have unique aromas and vivid colors. However, brown colored and stale smelling weed is usually an indicator of low quality cannabis. A good rule of thumb is, the more pungent the smell the better.
If a magnifying glass is readily available another property that can be used to distinguish quality is the trichome head color. Ideally This should be milky white with possible traces of amber. Too clear or too amberish may indicate that the bud was harvested prematurely or post-ripeness respectively.
A more scientific approach to analyzing cannabis quality is through lab tests. Lab tests can provide detailed insights on cannabinoids percentages, terpenes and contaminants. While these methods are cost ineffective for the normal consumer, many of the statistics are readily available in the legal cannabis market. THC quantity, for example, directly correlates with cannabis potency and is printed on almost every legal cannabis product as required by the state.
More recently, mobile cannabis testing products have infiltrated the market. Although there are considerable margins of errors, these devices are useful due to their mobility, ease of use and cost. Unfortunately, these devices can only tell you if you made the right choice after your purchase because they require you to manipulate the flower in order for it to be analyzed. But for growers, they are great ‘on the spot’ options for testing the quality and potency of their plants.
For those willing to put in the work, another way to make sure you are making a good purchase is by checking reviews online. Weedmaps is a great resource for researching retailers, products and brands with plenty of peer customer reviews. To make sure you are not only buying “good” weed, but also the “right” weed, Leafly and Wikileaf are also some of the best strain specific databases available.
Ultimately, the best test for quality is by trying it. Which is obviously not easy when purchasing products from a dispensary or delivery service. The tips provided in this article will allow you to select quality products before you purchase. It is important to not e however, that while I seem to place a lot of emphasis on THC quantity, cannabis connoisseurs will be quick to tell you that often the strains they prefer are not necessarily the most potent. Instead they have unique and flavorful terpene profiles. The percentage of THC is merely the simplest statistic available to regular consumers.
Finally, one more thing to keep in mind; even though THC is often credited with causing the intoxicating effects of cannabis, more research is emerging showing CBD as a crucial agent in the therapeutic properties of cannabis. Whereas THC content is a good indicator of potency, some may place more weight on CBD percentage.
Curious about terpenes? Check out Ministry of Hemp’s article: “A Complete Introduction to Terpenes” to stay educated.
Before we delve into the topic of how to evaluate the quality of weed, it is important to note that each individual has different preferences and enjoys different characteristics in their consumption…