Tips and tricks on how to assess cannabis quality

Published Nov 11, 2019 10:00 a.m. ET
iStock / Olena Bondarenko

A lot of marijuana plant product enthusiasts think that they have a pretty good grasp on how to tell if weed is any good simply by looking at it, but is a quick visual assessment truly enough to determine quality? The truth is that some of the biggest and more breathtaking buds are of fairly low quality, and what that means to the individual will depend on what is important to you.

Every connoisseur has their own way of determining high-quality weed strains and products, but each one differs slightly from the last, as there is hardly a standard set to go by. Luckily, we are here to help with a compilation of tips and tricks for things to check when assessing the quality of the dry herb, which can help you to decide whether it’s worth the price, or if it’s preferable to look for something a little bit better next time.

1. Smell

The delightful smell of a growing or cured marijuana plant is undeniable, as the pungent aromas can travel for miles unfazed. For many, a scent is a form of aromatherapy that helps to enhance the experience of smoking weed by either relaxing or stimulating the mind. Terrible smelling weed can mean a less enjoyable taste or that something went wrong during the curing process leading to mold or other contaminants.

2. Taste

The natural flavors of weed strains vary greatly, with some providing a harsher and more pungent hit, and others coming equipped with a sweet and light dessert-like undertone. Some taste just like freshly peeled oranges, and there are even a few weed strains that have such a strong mint flavor that they have risen in popularity purely due to flavor.

The taste has nothing to do with the potency of the plant, but it can indicate a proper curing procedure and maturity. No matter which kind of weed strains’ aroma you enjoy, it is important to love this particular feature, as you will be smelling it as long as you’re smoking it, which in cases of bulk purchases could mean for a very long time.

3. Effects

If you find that your marijuana plant products are making you sleepy, then chances are that it was left for far too long before harvest. That is not a good sign, as plants that are left out longer are more susceptible to mold and cannabinoids degradation, which results in a much less potent product that makes you want to go to sleep rather than relax.

Many cannabis consumers believe that THC, the psychoactive component in a marijuana plant, is responsible for this effect, but it is actually a cannabinoid called CBG, which is what THC eventually converts to when a plant is left past its peak maturity. If you come across this irritating and often intense side effect, then you may have low quality cannabis.

4. Trichomes

Trichomes are an excellent indicator of both quality and potency, as these incredibly tiny particles are the most significant producers of THC. If your cannabis buds are completely covered in crystals that gently fall as you handle them, then you probably have some pretty good weed in your possession. Marijuana plant buds without this easy to see detail are likely immature or simply the product of low-quality weed strains.

5. Leaf color

This is one for the more experienced eye, as anyone who has grown a marijuana plant knows that it goes through different growth cycles, and as it advances, the shades shift ever so slightly, but enough to notice. Any shade of brown within a cannabis bud is a pretty good sign of a low-quality product that has been burnt by fertilizer, the sun, or the weather by being left far past its prime.

None of which lead to a very potent or good-tasting bud. Luckily, this is one that you can generally spot by eye long before you commit to a purchase, so it’s an excellent feature to look for first, during a visit to your local marijuana dispensary. If you do see it, then you should question the practices of their growers and or suppliers, as it is a massive indicator of an unskilled workforce.

6. Pistils


Pistils are the tiny hair-like structures that stick out of cannabis buds, and when they first form, they are a bright white or see-through. However, over time they shift through a yellow, then orange, and finally, a reddish hue that signifies the plant is mature and ready for harvest.

If the pistils on your buds are still a fine bright white, then it probably isn’t mature yet, which means it’s a lower quality product that might not give you the results that you need. Buds that are coated in a colorful array of massive orangish-red pistils indicate the perfect amount of time for growing, which means a much more potent, fully flavored, and marijuana plant product.

7. Moisture level

The amount of moisture left in a cannabis bud is essential to the consumer, as excess amounts of water can lead to a difficult to burn product that doesn’t store well. Over time, the small water droplets will encourage the growth of mold and other bacteria’s which can be hazardous to your health.

Squish a bud between your fingers and apply a small amount of pressure to the stem. If the bud compresses and doesn’t bounce back, that is an indicator of way too much moisture. The same holds true for stems that don’t break cleanly under pressure. If the stems are bendable and buds are like playdough in how they form, then you should steer clear of those marijuana buds for sure.

8. Bud density

Look at the cannabis in question and ask yourself, are the buds filled with noticeable gaps? Are the buds too springy, and do they seem excessively dry? Too much moisture is, of course, a bad thing, but marijuana buds that are super dry or noticeably thin and tiny, tend to indicate an inferior product.

As a marijuana plant matures, the colas slowly fill in, so thin, scraggly buds are definitely a signal that something has gone wrong during the growing process. Buds don’t have to be big to be of good quality, but they should offer a fair amount of density that feels like a good solid chunk rather than a light bunch of leaves that are fastened together.

9. Presence of marijuana leaf pieces

You can smoke every part of the marijuana plant and some growers will lightly trim their bud flowers before curing to get the most possible, but high-quality cannabis has much more stringent qualifications. Since the cannabis leaves do not contain significant levels of THC, the addition of extra leaf really waters down the end product.

For small-time growers, this difference may not be important, and some even have this preference, but where quality is concerned a good rim job is absolutely necessary for the most potent product and best taste. Fan leaves can impact the flavor with a bitter addition that is quite noticeable to the experienced smoker, which is why buds covered in too much leaf are considered to be of low quality.

10. Aesthetics

The way that buds look is one of the aspects that gets recreational consumers excited, as most buds feel and look the same until you come across something spectacular. Some weed strains are grown and bred specifically to provide a high-end curb appeal without a single care about the potency, smell, or any other aspect of the experience.

Luckily, not all consumers need a super potent product to be happy, but the opportunity to smoke something that includes some of the beautiful colors of the rainbow outside of the more traditional green is rare and considered to be high-quality weed strains.

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