Qualities to look for when buying cannabis flower

Published Jul 15, 2020 09:00 a.m. ET
iStock / Olena Bondarenko

If you’re on the search for some primo cannabis flower, there is nothing worse than getting all excited about the wreck fest you’ve got planned, only to find that what you bought ultimately won’t work for you. It’s a disappointing scenario that every cannabis consumer has faced at one point or another because, unlike alcohol, cannabis isn’t going to be perfectly measured to work every single time.

Though it can certainly be frustrating, there are several things that you can do to ensure that what you bring home is the absolute best bang for your buck, but there are some rules that you’ll need to follow, and things that you’ll need to look for if you want the very best chance possible.

1. Weight accuracy

One of the first and most important things with any purchase is making sure that you got exactly what you paid for, and in the case of cannabis, the only real way to measure that is with a scale. Though many of us have grown comfortable with the transactions that took place prior to legalization, where dealers would weigh your purchase right in front of you, these days, most dispensaries put everything into pre-weighed bags, which means that you don’t get to see if the total is true.

The best way to check this is with a scale of your very own, and if you ever find that there is a discrepancy between what you bought and how much it weighs, then make sure to bring the issue up to the owner. Though most of us don’t carry around scales in our back pockets, this is relatively easy to check in the comfort of your own home with a simple kitchen scale, but don’t forget that workers often handle these things, and it’s not uncommon for someone to be scraping a little bit extra on the side, so as long as it’s not a habit, getting shorted might not necessarily mean anything bad about the supplier.

2. Trichomes

One of the easiest things to look for when you’re shopping for cannabis is the trichomes, as they are shiny, glimmer with only a small bit of light, and they look like tiny crystals intricately placed all over the cannabis flower. Though some consumers might be under the impression that these are merely aesthetic, trichomes hold the majority of the potent cannabinoids and other elements that cannabis produces, so if you don’t see them, it could mean one of several things.

It could mean that the particular strain wasn’t of very good quality, or that the grower didn’t care for the plants appropriately when they were developing, or it could mean that they simply didn’t allow the plants to mature enough before harvesting and then curing them. Some cultivators are in a rush to get started on curing weed because it means that they can sell it sooner, but this tends to indicate a lower quality product that most consumers just don’t want.

3. Bright colors

We tend to know that cannabis should be green. After all, the iconic symbol of the marijuana leaf is typically a bright green color, but the reality is that cannabis plants can come in all different colors and shades. Some are more of a purple, others have a tinge of red to them, and some even boast bright blue shining buds that are photogenic and aesthetically pleasing, but for the most part, cannabis flower should be a lighter shade of green.

So, take a look at your cannabis buds. Do they look bright and fresh, or dark and dreary? Are there any black or brown tones where they shouldn’t be present? Unless you’re looking at one of the rare exceptions to the rule, like Black Dogg or Black Diamond which are known for this feature, chances are pretty good that they are either too moist, or that the plant materials were dying long before harvest, and neither of those things is good for a cannabis consumer.

4. Trimming

Trimming cannabis buds is a really easy thing to do, but some growers opt to leave the extra leaf on for one of two reasons. The first is to get more money after all the cannabis leaves can add up in weight quite significantly, which is how flower is sold, and the second is out of pure laziness. Proper trimming is a time-consuming process that needs to take place before you can get started on curing weed, so some will rush through it to save time.

A good way to assess this is by taking a visual inspection of the cannabis flower
in question. Does it look like perfectly shape buds, or does it look like it has crazy green hair pointing outwards in all different directions? If it is smooth and uniform, then the trimming job is sufficient, but if not, then the additional leaf will do nothing but water down your buzz, and cause harsher hits, which are both things that most cannabis enthusiasts would rather not experience.

5. Smell

The smell of cannabis flower is incredibly important for two different reasons. The first is due to the terpenes within which can provide an aromatic effect resulting in either a soothing sensation or something lighter and more invigorating, and the second is that it’s a really good indicator of freshness, when you aren’t quite sure what all the cannabis buds had gone through before they were made available for you to purchase.

Unfortunately, if you're opting for weed delivery, this isn’t an option that can work until after you receive your order, but many dispensaries offer perks like sniff jars to make it easy for potential customers who want to perform a sniff test. These jars look like small salt shakers with a clear shell so that you can view what’s inside, and smell the green goodness if you wish, which helps with knowing whether or not you like it and pinpointing potential mold, which is easily detected as a mildew smell.


6. Age

Age is only a number unless, of course, we’re talking about a product with a shelf life, and cannabis flower is one of those things. Few consumers realize that the freshness and potency of cannabis dissipate with age and that most raw plant products should be consumed within a year for the best results. From the very first moment that a cannabis plant is harvested, the plant materials begin to die, and with them go the potent cannabinoids like CBD and THC.

Now, of course, it is important to recognize that the processing time for cannabis flower varies from one facility to the next, but unless the cannabis that you’re buying is stored under the ideal conditions, the strength and tests will begin to fade from the moment that it arrives at a dispensary. This is why it’s a good idea to ask how long the product sits on the shelves before it’s sold, and if they say that they have some buds that are hard to get rid of, then you might want to pass on the deal savings because it’s likely not worth it.

7. The curing process

Curing weed isn’t hard, but when you’re dealing with large amounts of it like the producers of today are, then it requires skill and tact to pull off without compromising the quality of the cannabis flower. Some producers choose to air dry, which is an old school method, using jars, and precisely measured humidity, but more and more, we’re seeing companies opt for freeze-drying and other methods of curing that preserve the elements much better.

Unfortunately, there is no way to find out this information other than asking your local budtender at the dispensary that the product that you’re interested in, and in some cases, you might even have to go so far as to make an inquiry with the producers themselves, but learning about the curing process, and comparing the taste, smell and effects that you receive, can give you a good idea of what you personally enjoy the most.

8. Stickiness

Cannabis flower should be sweet, pungent, and sticky, and the adhesive qualities aren’t due to a high moisture presence, as some cannabis consumers might suspect. The stickiness is instead a secretion that is common among cannabis plants that have been provided with the opportunity to fully mature under the appropriate conditions. Buds that don’t stick to your fingers might still get you high, but they will not produce the same results as a gooey alternative.

The best way to test this is by chopping up a bud with a pair of scissors and your fingers. Though it might not be the most effective way to bust up your flower, it does agitate the contents just enough that you can see what you’re looking for. If it leaves a lot of gum on the scissors and makes your fingers stick together, then that is a pretty good indication of both potency and maturity, which are both things that most users want with every single purchase.

9. Advertised effects

This is something that must be researched to at least some extent to understand, as many companies still cling to the idea that Sativas give you energy, and that Indicas have a more sedative effect, and we now know that it simply isn’t true. They are still used in hopes of moving cannabis products like flower to a particular crowd, but they don’t offer any reliable guidelines that you can depend on as a consumer, which is why you’ll need to head to the internet for answers.

Look at the major, trusted strain databases, seed banks, and review pages that boast a variety of visitor input, and you’ll quickly find a good idea of what you can expect from every strain that exists today. Though your personal experience might differ slightly from theirs, first-hand accounts are the most reliable information that we have to go by as consumers, so it’s an excellent place to start if you want your cannabis flower to provide a precise set of effects.

10. Trustworthy labels

The last thing to look for if you want your toking experience to go as planned is reliable testing labels. Now, it is important to recognize that anyone can slap a label on a cannabis product and make it seem true, but those aren’t the labels that you’re looking for. What you need to find are the stickers or data that is released directly from a third-party tester, whose job it is to determine the strength of every legal cannabis product on the market.

Of course, we now know that a cannabis flower with a higher THC content might not necessarily get you higher, but what it can do is give you a guide to work within. So if you’re a beginner looking for milder cannabis flower, a lower THC content is typically preferred, and more seasoned consumers crave something that is stronger, so with this information, you can have a better chance at guessing which types of weed might work best for you, and your tolerance levels.

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