How to Judge Cannabis Quality Like a Pro

For decades, weed tokers around the globe have shared a similar concern: being able to access top-quality cannabis. Whether you use it for medicinal purposes or recreationally as a way to unwind, there’s no doubt that you’re going to want to have the best experience possible, which means that you’re going to want to get your hands on the best stuff. Not only does the quality have a direct impact on your safety, but it also influences the effects and your overall high.

Sure, if your dispensary is prudent with their hiring and training then you should be able to rely on your friendly local budtender to help guide you to the dankest of dank. Unfortunately not all budtenders are the same and outside of dispensaries it is important to be able to grade cannabis quality yourself to avoid getting ripped off.

All of that said, there are so many different kinds of marijuana circulating that trying to determine which variety meets high-quality standards can be a challenge. Knowing how to judge cannabis can empower your decision-making so that you can select a great strain that will not only ensure your safety, but that will ensure that you experience the effects that you desire. So, how do you go about assessing the quality of cannabis? Read on for some handy tips. 


Why Using Quality Cannabis is Important 

From treating health-related issues (anxiety, pain, cancer, etc.) to sheer pleasure, people use marijuana for a variety of reasons. No matter the purposes, everyone deserves to have access to properly and safely grown strains. There are three primary reasons why being able to judge the quality of cannabis is important. These reasons include: 

  1. Health advantages. The same with everything that you ingest and digest, the higher-quality and fresher your marijuana is, the more benefits your body can extract and absorb from it. Just like fresh, organically grown produce that you’d purchase directly from a farmer is richer in essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, the same is true of cannabis. Premium-quality, responsibly grown weed is jam-packed with goodies, many of which are beneficial for the human body; more than 60 of the chemical compounds (known as “cannabinoids”) that have been identified in cannabis have, in fact, be determined to offer an array of exceptional medical benefits. 
  2. Greater potency. The “high” you experience when you smoke weed is directly related to the potency of the strain. Lower-quality plants have lower concentrations of cannabinoids, and the lower the level of cannabinoids, the less likely it is that the plant will interact with your body’s own endocannabinoid system. As such, poorer quality strains tend to have lower levels of cannabidiol (CBD), the chemical compound that is touted for providing a wide-range of health benefits. Furthermore, lower quality strains also have lower levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical compound that is responsible for the psychoactive effects (the “high-like” feeling) that marijuana is famed for. Therefore, if you want to maximize the health-related benefits and your “high”, you’re going to want to select a high-quality strain of weed, and knowing how to judge cannabis quality will allow you to do just that. 
  3. Reduced contaminants. Lastly, it’s known that the lower the quality of the strain, the higher the risk that the cannabis will be tainted with contaminants. These impurities are caused by known or accidental unethical growing methods, poor harvesting, storage, and packaging, or both. Whatever the cause, impurities can speed up the rate of bud deterioration, causing dry buds that are less robust in regard to taste and smell, and that are less vibrant in color. And of course, contaminants can negatively impact the beneficial chemical compounds that cannabis contains, not to mention the fact that it can improve the risk of being exposed to harmful substances. Examples of some of the contaminants that are known to taint cannabis plants can be infected by include dirt, dust, debris, insect, fertilizers, pesticides, GMOs; just to name a few of the contaminants. TL;DR: Go organic whenever you can!
  4. Way Funner. Yes, funner isn’t a word, thanks for noticing, nerd. But we had to include this bullet point because there are still a lot of people out there, particularly older folks, who are still smoking barnyard grass thinking that’s the pinnacle of cannabis when in reality the industry is moving at light-speed in new strains with every more captivating trichome/terpene profiles. The flavor of top-shelf weed alone is worth the extra money, not to mention the blast-off-to-space mega highs you can get with today’s primo.

To summarize, when you know how to assess the quality of cannabis, you’ll be able to select healthier, more potent, and purer strains. 

high quality cannabis flower

Features That Indicate Cannabis Quality 

Given the benefits that are associated with selecting and using higher quality strains of weed, there’s no doubt that you’re going to want to be able to effectively assess your cannabis before you buy it. But how do you do that? Here are some important features to evaluate, as the state of each feature will help you differentiate between high-quality and subpar strains. 

The Scent

No matter the quality, the aroma that’s associated with all types of cannabis is pretty hard to mistake; that said, however, there is a distinct difference between the smell that top-shelf, premium-quality weed produces and the scent that lower quality strains release. It’s true! Once you catch a whiff of quality marijuana compared to subpar strains, you’ll instantly notice the difference and regressing back to lower grade cannabis will undoubtedly be harder. 

dank weed smell

Your olfactory senses are exceptionally powerful, so use it to help you detect quality strains of kush. Why do higher quality strains have a more potent, almost mouth-watering smell? Well, it’s because of the small, crystalline trichomes that cover the buds. Those are resin glands, and they are responsible for producing terpenoids. There are about 200 different types of terpenoid secretions, and the blends of these resins are what generates the aroma profile, as well as the flavor, of different types of strains. The combination of terpenoid secretions is to cannabis what a fingerprint is to a human: each is unique. 

An overall of the different types of scents that are associated with marijuana include: 

  • Sweet. Sweet-smelling weed has fruit-, nut, and/or floral-like notes. The best strains of marijuana produce these scents. 
  • Earthy. Scents that are reminiscent of pine trees, grass, burnt wood, or that seem to be spicy in nature are usually indicative of medium-grade or average strains of weed; however, these aromas can also indicate that the weed is stale. 
  • Skunk. The “skunk” smell that is so commonly associated with weed indicates poor-quality strains. The scents tends to be woody or ashy, like the smell that a skunk sprays when aggravated or afraid. This scent usually occurs when weed is grown in poor conditions, it’s cultivated improperly, and/or it’s stored inadequately. 
  • Fuely/Gassy. This is a strong but NATURAL petroleum smell that is often associated with the above skunk smell, but has a distinct fuel (like gasoline) odor that is usually indicative of some heavy hitting terps, many strong sativas exhibit a fuel/gas smell on the nose.

To summarize, high-quality strains are sweet smelling, mid-grade buds have an earthen aroma, and poor-grade weed usually has a balmy skunk smell. 

The Crystals and Structure 

Marijuana’s appearance directly reflects the quality of the strain. Generally speaking, the shape and structure of a top-shelf plant is quite visually appealing; dazzling, even. Buds that are properly trimmed are famed for being geometrically intact, and are usually round and symmetrical in appearance. These features are indicative of a plant that has been grown properly and evenly. 

You can get a good idea just by eyeballing weed but if you’re investing in top shelf expensive bud we highly recommend getting a Smokus Focus jar with built in lightning and magnification to TRULY appreciate the beauty that is the holy dank.


The trichomes

Trichomes refers to the hair-like substances that grow along the exterior of the plant. They’re often referred to as “sugar”, as they really do make the buds look as if they’ve been dusted with sugar. The quality of the plant will directly impact the amount and the composition of the trichomes. High-grade buds that are properly grown are usually intertwined with pearl white, highly visible trichomes that can be found across the whole bud. The more “sugar” on the buds, the higher the quality of the strain. 

Geometric equilibrium 

Professional cannabis growers compare high-grade weed to a pinecone that has reached its peak. That makes total sense, as top-quality buds are geometrically balanced. When you’re selecting weed, look for buds that are pretty evenly sized and spaced if you want to make sure that you’re getting a good strain. 

Usually intact

How well a plant has been trimmed – if at all – directly reflects the quality of the strain. Higher grades are usually more meticulously cared for, and that often includes hand-trimming. Professional growers who are dedicated to providing top-shelf strains will use tools, such as specialized scissors, to cut along particular points on the nodes of the plant. This maintains the integrity of a collection of buds (known as a “cola”).

Additionally, you should be able to easily identify the bracts and stigmas, and the amount of stems and seeds should be minimal. A high presence of stems and seeds directly indicates that the buds are poor-quality. 

If there are no hairs, and the buds look like they are all smooth edges like they’ve been run over a high-grit sander then chances are they were machine trimmed. Machine trimmers are great for time saving when processing high volumes of plant material but due to their bulk nature generally don’t produce as beautiful and intact a bud as manual trimmed plants.

hairy flower

The Hair

While it might sound like a silly feature to be looking for when you’re assessing cannabis quality, it’s important. Weed plants features a variety of structures that resemble hairs, and they play an important part in determining a bud’s quality. As cannabis plants grow and mature, the hair-like structures that run along the flower get progressively darker. These hair-like curls are scientifically known as “pistils”, and the darker and more vibrant they are, the better the quality and the fresher the bud.  

You can also tell the age of a plant by the pistils. Younger plants will have white curls, which will be spotted with yellow or orange coloring as they grow older, and the large and more pronounced the tangle of curls, the greater the likelihood that the plant is a high-quality strain. The pistils on older plants are usually darker brown or gray in color, and they won’t be as visible. 

The Color

Another key characteristic to consider when you’re trying to judge the quality of a cannabis plant is the color. The hue of each individual bud to the shade of the oils, there’s  a lot that can be discerned about a strain from the color of the cannabis, including the quality, and even how and where it was cultivated. 

Green is the color that is most commonly associated with marijuana, and that’s because the majority of popular cannabis strains are shades of green; however, green isn’t the only color of value. Top-shelf cannabis can be speckled with a rainbow of hues, including orange, yellow, red, and even purple (one of our favorites!), as well as, of course, vibrant, almost fluorescent green. The more colors present on the buds, the greater the complexity and the fresher the strain. 

When you’re examining the greenness of the buds, the lighter, brighter, and lusher the shade, the better. You’re also going to want to check out the color of the trichomes (the “sugar” on the bud) should be pearl-like and have a crystalline sheen. The pistils (the hair-like curls) will add even more color to the buds; examples can include different shades of green, orange, yellow, red, and purple. 

fresh vs vaped cannabis
dry heated cannabis vs fresh green cannabis

The Moisture Content 

Though sensory-related features are the most obvious and the first that you’ll likely notice when you’re examining cannabis quality, there’s another less apparent, yet equally important element that you want to consider, and that’s the moisture content.

The moisture content can clue you into the cultivation, age, curing process, storage, and other factors that impact the quality of the buds. Too much moisture can result in mold and mildew development. There are two main moisture variables that you should be on the lookout for. These include: 

  • The stickiness. Weed buds should have a somewhat sticky feeling when you touch it; however, it shouldn’t be completely saturated. If the buds are obviously damp, that means that the plant wasn’t properly cured, and that dampness will not only impact the taste, but it will also be difficult to smoke or ingest. That said, when handling the buds, you should notice a minimal amount of reside on your hands, as this indicates that the plant was properly grown and cured. 
  • Springiness. Even the densest buds should give somewhat when you put pressure on them. Once that pressure is released, however, the buds should bounce back to their original shape and plumpness. If depressions are left in the buds, they aren’t springy, and that means that they are too moist and aren’t the greatest quality. 
cannabis texture

The Texture

Lastly, when you’re assessing the quality of cannabis, you’re going to want to consider the texture of the buds. The texture of high-quality buds will feature the following elements: 

  • Softness and plumpness; they should have a “ripe”-like appearance and should remain full and the shape to stay even when they’re handled. 
  • They should feel sticky, not dry and brittle.
  • They should be supple and not prickly or throne-like in any way. If any of the buds you assess feel sharp at all, put them down, as that indicates they have either been poorly cut, or that they haven’t been properly harvested and/or stored. It could also indicate that the buds are laden with seeds and stems. 
HerbCEO Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

With the above-mentioned information, you should be able to identify top-quality cannabis strains that will elicit a healthier, more enjoyable experience with this wonderful, all-natural, personality-rich plant.

Now, nobody should get too big of a head and go around being a snob about things. We love to toke on good old fashioned dad grass too once and a while, because hey, you don’t need to fly to the moon EVERY TIME you smoke. In fact, there are plenty of situations like social events, or uh, work (if legal) wherein it is good to NOT get TOO high so that you can still socialize, function, and actually focus better to get your work done on time.

That said, if you’ve ever been in a dispensary and asked yourself “is the top shelf cannabis worth the price?” then we hope this article, with all the detail, highlighting all the subtleties and nuances of cannabis has made it abundantly clear that yes, the top shelf product is usually worth it.

That said, if you’re new to the game we recommend you start on the lower priced side of things and work your way up, that way you will have a better developed palette and will be able to more fully appreciate the miracle that is platinum-tier cannabis flower.

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