You’ve just returned from the dispensary, made yourself comfortable and opened your little tub of weed. Smells okay, looks okay, but you pull it apart and it’s full of seeds. Sound familiar?
Maybe you’re in the tent enjoying the thick, beautiful smell of your flowering plants. They all seem perfectly healthy, branches and leaves praying high to the sky. But you look closer and there it is, a barely discernible white, fluffy fungus on the buds. Not good.
Sometimes, telling the difference between good weed vs. bad weed requires more than a quick glance. Some buds can look less than appealing but taste amazing.
Some can look fine but score super-low on the potency scale. Learning how to tell if weed is good shouldn’t be difficult, and, once you’ve read this article, it won’t be.
- What do you look for in good weed?
- What does low-quality cannabis look like?
- What does low-quality cannabis feel like?
- And what of the smell?
- Does low quality weed get you high?
- Let’s bullet out the basics of low-grade buds:
- What Is Mid Grade Weed?
- What does med-quality cannabis look like?
- What does med-quality cannabis feel like?
- What does med-quality cannabis taste/smell like?
- And what of the high?
- Let’s bullet out the basics of medium-grade buds:
- What Is premium Grade Weed?
- What does premium-quality cannabis look like?
- What does premium-quality cannabis feel like?
- Is fluffy weed good or bad?
- What does premium-quality cannabis taste/smell like?
- Good weed vs bad weed (at a glance).
- Are expensive buds always better?
- What have we learned?
- If you want good weed, might as well grow it yourself!
Well, before we get into the good stuff, let’s take a look at low-quality weed.
And when we say low-quality, we’re talking here about appearance, smell, feel… what’s commonly referred to as bag appeal.
We need to differentiate this from the quality of the high, which can still be enjoyable even from terrible looking buds.
What does low-quality cannabis look like?
What does low-quality cannabis look like? Low-grade weed often lacks the exciting coat of crystalline trichomes that can signify high levels of potency. Without a good amount of trichomes, you’ll often find the weed lacks flavor, too.
Dull-looking weed will often lack terpenes, THC, and taste. Look at the colors, are they mostly bright, appealing greens? Or dull browns? Keep away from dull, brown weed – you’re not in for a good time.
Next, look at the trim. Is it neat and tidy, or does your bud look butchered and full of leaves?
What does low-quality cannabis feel like?
Over-dry weed will feel like it could crumble into dust in the grinder. Weed that hasn’t dried enough will be too far the other way.
The excess moisture will make it harder to grind, to roll, and to smoke. It will feel tough, cottony, and nowhere near as springy as well-cured cannabis.
And what of the smell?
Poor quality weed can often smell musty, stale, and old. You need to be careful here as musty smells are a good indicator of mold or fungus, the sort of things you don’t want anywhere near your lungs.
Low-quality cannabis can often smell sort of dusty, too. Overdry. Or it may simply have a weak, low pungency to the aroma.
There are some strains that naturally smell slightly weaker than others, but most weed, even Northern Lights, has a rich, powerful, and unmistakable aroma. If it didn’t, sales of carbon filters would plummet.
Weed is supposed to stink to HIGH heaven. When it doesn’t, something is wrong.
Does low quality weed get you high?
As mentioned above, there are occasions a terrible-looking, dry, or even musty-smelling bud will grind into a potent, mind-blowing joint. This is a rarity, but it’s not just dryness you need to look out for.
Seeded buds typically deliver a far less potent buzz, and plants grown in high humidity often suffer degradation of THC. With high humidity often comes sharp flavors of ammonia, too – a taste and high double-whammy.
Even perfectly-grown and cured buds will lose potency with incorrect storage. Dispensary jars are often clear, glass Mason jars – great if stored in complete darkness and left relatively undisturbed.
The problem is that most of these jars will be on open shelves, exposed to light, with staff constantly opening and closing the lids.
High exposure to UV light and oxygen causes rapid degradation, with the juicy THC converting to CBN, leaving weaker, less potent buds.
Let’s bullet out the basics of low-grade buds:
- These are going to be all the mistakes, hiccups, or low potency (lower than mid shelf) strains that didn’t make the cut. Major poor trim jobs on the bud usually puts them here as well.
- Less than 15% THC can generally put a strain here if terpenes or cannabinoids present are lower in content.
- Generally for recreational or lower end medical card holders.
- Not high on medicinal properties other than your normal euphoria and some slight pain relief.
- Generally unpopular strains or strains a place wants to get rid of.
- These are the strains you should always check for mold as many dispensaries try to sell moldy buds on the cheap.
- Sometimes can be good strains that just got cut or cured poorly.
What Is Mid Grade Weed?
Okay, so what determines medium-quality weed? Well, med quality weed is the most abundant on the market. It’s not too far from top-shelf weed but the major differences concern potency, terpenes, flavor, and aroma.
This grade of cannabis will usually look the part, but the proof of the pudding is in the toking. You’ll often discover a poor practice or accident during drying or curing has lowered the quality a little.
It may well turn out the grow facility has used a chemical or two, or an aggressive trim machine, or cut corners at any stage of the grow. It’s not difficult to turn great potential into a disappointing harvest!
Now, this isn’t to say mid-grade weed isn’t enjoyable. It typically boasts a good terpene profile (depending on the strain), with potency approaching 20% THC. You’ll find good flavors like lemon, citrus, and chemmy diesels, from a smooth, balanced smoke.
What does med-quality cannabis look like?
Flowers in this category have a more aesthetically pleasing look. They feature a shiny coat of trichomes and pleasing shades of green. You won’t find any seeds or evidence of mold, and the trim jobs are usually neat and professional.
What does med-quality cannabis feel like?
The buds should be sticky and compact. Unlike low-quality weed (that falls apart easily), moderate-quality buds spring back after you squeeze them.
They’ll have retained just enough moisture to deliver a mild, gentle smoking experience. You shouldn’t expect any of the harshness of poor quality cannabis.
What does med-quality cannabis taste/smell like?
Medium-grade buds have a pleasant smell. You should also notice freshness and terpene content, complex flavors experienced through the nose and tongue. Med-grade cannabis is perfect for edibles, just don’t forget to decarboxylate!
Look out for lingering chemical flavors (not to be confused with the fuelly flavors of strains). At best, this will point to a poorly flushed crop, at worst, a sign of PGR-grown cannabis – more on that later.
And what of the high?
This is strain-dependent, obviously, but well-grown medium-grade cannabis should deliver exactly as promised. If you’re buying a high potency strain, it should hit you like a high potency strain.
It will lack the perfection of premium-quality cannabis, and may fall a few percentage points short on THC, but for most of us there’ll be little complaint.
Let’s bullet out the basics of medium-grade buds:
- Essentially all of the same standards as the top shelf but the major difference here is the percentage of potency tested. There may also be evidence of mishap during curing or drying processes that have degraded the bud enough to bounce it one shelf lower.
- Potency ranges from 14% to 18% in mid range tiers.
- Poorer trim jobs than top tier but still higher end.
- Terpenes should all be very clear and present.
- Lemons, citrus, and more diesel flavors are popular in this category.
- For your top end Rec smokers or higher med limits.
What Is premium Grade Weed?
You might feel we’ve been a little harsh on dispensaries so far. While it’s true that many of them will stock mostly medium-quality (and some low-quality) cannabis, there are many reputable dispensaries that stock the good stuff.
You know, the real sticky-icky we all love to toke. But what should we be looking for in a premium quality nug?
Before we get into this, we have a caveat. Plant Growth Regulators (PGRs) are increasingly being used to ‘fatten up buds to increase both weight and density’ of commercially-grown plants. Want to know how to spot PGR weed?
Here are a few tell-tale signs…
- Suspiciously hard buds.
- Odd-feeling, chemical buzz with rapid onset and potential headache.
- Excessive concentration of brown/red pistils.
- Low odor, even when broken.
- Damp buds.
- Harsh flavors.
- Low potency.
PGR makes buds look over frosted. Yes, it might produce dense nugs, but when you break them up they aren’t sticky, they have generally no smell or flavor and don’t smoke very well either.
With premium weed, you’re looking at intact, mature trichome heads, a natural, hand-manicured finish, and healthy, bulbous shapes.
The trichomes will often resemble a coating of sugar, and will be abundant on both leaves and buds. They’ll often display an array of colorful pistils, ranging from deep green with orange hairs to bright blue and deep purple.
Sticky, solid, and sticky. Yes, we said sticky twice. Why is stickiness so important? It’s a great indicator of quality.
‘Sticky bud is a clear indicator that your flower has many trichomes. The more trichomes, the more resin. The more resin, the more terpenes, THC, and cannabinoids present.
Premium-quality cannabis will have a good spring to it. The plants have been dried to a perfect degree, allowing the cure (6 months at least) to bring out the flavors without turning the buds to dust.
Premium-quality nugs are often dense, but they can be fluffier in certain circumstances.
Is fluffy weed good or bad?
Tricky question. High-standard sativa-dominant flowers tend to be fluffy and light, while indica-dominants are denser and tighter.
Don’t use fluffiness as your only yardstick.
Top-tier buds are replete with tasty terps like linalool, limonene, myrcene, and pinene. You shouldn’t expect anything like the dry, grassy, hay-like aroma of low-end weed.
Instead, your buds can explode an array of flavors… citrus, fruit, skunk… it all depends on the strain, but expect powerful aromas that scream quality.
Master breeders and growers like Kyle Kushman will be adept at coaxing out these delicious flavors. The trick is to stress the plants a little during flowering, focusing on the mid and late flowering stages.
Low stress training is key, bending and manipulating branches (little and often) while avoiding direct contact with the nugs and colas. It’s a skill picked up with time and experience, and it works.
Your weed will taste amazing and the smoke will be smooth, velvety and incredibly satisfying. Like exhaling honey. Most experts agree that with premium cannabis: you’ll know it when you toke it.
Premium weed will have a HUGE bag appeal, but what about the buzz? Most top-end weed will score high on the THC charts, but will score well for other cannabinoids and terpenes, too.
Your high is delivered by an ‘entourage’ of compounds, clearly present and effective in premium buds. You can expect expansive, cerebral highs from your sat-doms, and wonderfully relaxing experiences from your ind-doms.
Here’s your premium-quality recap, bulleted for your pleasure:
- Expect dense, non PGR looking bud. A natural, manicured look, no solid, frosted look and no continuous singular terpene smell through each jar.
- Very smooth smoke or consumption. Clear terpenes to taste and no harshness when smoked.
- Top tier strains are generally popular with great terpene profiles.
- Hand-manicured buds will always be top tier, unless a high end machine is used.
- Trichome heads are intact and mature. Proper maturity range / bulbous shape.
- Non-hay smell. This will make a bud go low tier instantaneously. So improper cures are a no no.
- Organic, sun grown is going to be the top tier with indoor organic following up.
- High CBD or heavier cannabinoids content.
- Generally exceeding 18% THC, nowadays the top shelf is above 20% at most shops.
- Minimum 3-6 month cure (high end boutique is 6 month cure).
- A major one to consider is popularity. Popular strains often determine top shelf wants or needs. So looking up popular strains from across dispensaries can give you an idea of terpenes or profiles customers want or are looking for.
- Taste is a big one. Lemon or fruit flavors always sell higher / more.
So, what do you look for in good weed? In general, stickiness, smokability, and a soaring high. You need to learn the difference between chemmy flavors and chemicals, avoiding PGR cannabis and poorly flushed plants.
|Color||Dull, discolored||Bright, shiny||Bright, shiny, lustrous|
|Trim||Rough, many leaves still present||Few leaves present||Perfect manicure|
|Density / fluffiness||Light, airy||Dense||Dense|
|Trichomes / crystals||Few||Abundant||Abundant|
|Stems||Often present||Not present||Not present|
|Seeds||Often present||Not present||Not present|
|Pests||Evident||Not evident||Not evident|
|Mold||Often present||Not present||Not present|
|High||Poor, nasty side effects||Flying||Cloud 9|
As with everything in life, price is no sure-fire indicator of quality. While paying more doesn’t guarantee better weed, you should expect to pay a premium for premium-quality cannabis. Care, attention, and expertise all cost money, and it takes all three to produce top-end weed.
When learning how to tell if weed is good or bad, you can’t go far wrong with the old saying, follow your nose.
Good cannabis thickens the air, even a couple of popcorn nugs should be enough to really stink out a room.
Next, feel it. Pick it up. Roll it in your fingers. Is it spring, or does it want to crumble?
Next test: make a joint. Blaze it up!
How does it smoke? Harsh or smooth? Does the joint stay lit? What does it taste like? Complex, fruity flavors or dry, acrid hay?
And now the big question, are you high? What’s the buzz like? Any side-effects? Or do you feel awesome?
You should! Premium cannabis hits top marks across the board. It’s usually grown regeneratively, organically, and with great respect for the finished product. You’ll know it when you take it.
Here’s some GREAT news for all you non-growing 420 fans out there. You can set up a home grow for cheap and start growing your own cannabis easily.
It’s a great hobby to have and most home growers enjoy top quality weed at a fraction of the price. You get to choose exactly what goes into the plants, and you’ll get better with every harvest.
You can buy premium-quality feminized seeds (you won’t produce top weed without top seeds) and learn everything there is to know about home growing. More and more Americans are choosing to grow their own weed at home, and you can join them.