Marijuana is one of the most popular recreational drugs in the world, and it has been used as a medicinal substance for thousands of years. While there are many different types of marijuana, some with various potency and effects, it is essential to be able to distinguish good weed from bad weed.
Knowing how to grade marijuana can ensure you get the best quality product possible and avoid wasting money or having a bad experience. This beginner’s guide will provide an overview of how to assess the quality of cannabis and help you choose the right products for your needs.
When evaluating a batch of marijuana, one of the most common components to consider is its THC content. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive compound that is responsible for the “high” felt by users. The higher the THC content, the more potent and psychoactive the strain will be. Not all strains are created equal, and some may have a much higher or lower THC content than others.
THC is not the end-all-be-all grading factor of cannabis. Just because you find flower that has 30+% THC doesn’t mean it is automatically top shelf. THC is biphasic, meaning that when you consume it up to a certain amount, it will give you one effect, and over that amount, it will start to give you a different effect. THC is found to be both anxiolytic (reduces anxiety) and anxiogenic (causes anxiety).
People often make the mistake of assuming more is better. This assumption can cause you to overconsume and go from stoned and happy to freaking out quickly. THC is not the only compound in weed that gives you the effects you want; other cannabinoids and terpenes also play a significant role in the high that you feel.
Terpenes & Cannabinoids
Another factor to consider when grading cannabis is its overall terpene and cannabinoid profile. This can be determined by looking at both its CBD (cannabidiol) and other cannabinoid levels, as well as other compounds present in the buds, such as terpenes and flavonoids, which contribute to the overall strength and effects of that specific chemovar/chemotype (a fancy word for the specific chemical composition of that strain and particular batch of flower).
If you are purchasing “legal” flower, you can request to see the COA (certificate of analysis) from your dispensary. Every single product for sale in a dispensary must undergo testing, and they have to hold on to those results so you, the consumer, can see them upon request. Taking note of the specific cannabinoid & terpene makeup of products you like can help you find other good products.
Aroma & Taste
The aroma and flavor of marijuana are vital factors in determining its quality. High-quality buds should have a pleasant smell that ranges from earthy and woody to sweet and fruity or even gassy, depending on the strain. As you grind or break apart the flower buds, they should release strong and enjoyable aromas to smell (what you’re smelling are the terpenes mentioned above).
A common saying is “The nose knows” if you smell some flower and it stands out to you in a pleasant way, you will likely enjoy the effects of the flower. When you consume the flower, this smell only sometimes translates to the taste or flavor of the smoke. When smoked or vaporized, good weed should provide a smooth taste with no harshness or bitterness.
In both the “legal” and “legacy” markets, you will run into weed that smells grassy or like hay. Unfortunately, this is common and means the flower was rushed through drying and curing. What you’re smelling is the chlorophyll still left in the bud, making it taste bitter or gross when you smoke it, and it will likely be harsh or hot on your throat.
When cannabis is dried and cured correctly, chlorophyll will degrade/break down, allowing the terpenes and flavonoids to become the dominant smell and provide a cleaner, better-tasting smoke when consumed.
Appearance & Feel
The last factor to consider when grading cannabis is its visual appearance and feel. Good weed should have a vibrant color and shouldn’t be too dry or too moist. The buds should also have a fluffy yet dense texture, with visible trichomes and tiny orange-red colored hairs (collectively known as pistils).
This Cheetah Piss I picked up has mixed colored buds of green and purple with bright orange pistils. You can see the buds are covered with trichomes giving it a frosty/fuzzy look.
Bud density is another important structural characteristic to look at; healthy & happy plants typically stack buds close together. As the buds grow during the flowering phase, they usually push together, creating one larger nug. A sign of a plant that wasn’t very happy during bud production will be soft, airy nugs that are spread apart.
It is common to see buds that form lower on the plant, farther away from a light source; these are typically called popcorn nugs or smalls. Even though they are smaller, they are still high quality and often at a better price than the big top colas/buds.
A critical factor when grading weed is the moisture content. You don’t want flower that is too wet or too dry. If the weed is too wet, you run the risk of it growing mold, as well as the fact that wet weed is heavier (you pay more for less weed) and likely hasn’t had the necessary time to dry and cure like mentioned above.
On the flip side, if the weed is too dry, it will likely crumble into dust, which isn’t ideal for rolling or any other kind of consumption. If the weed you’re touching feels brittle or crunchy, it is too dry and could benefit from rehydration.
One of the most common ways to tell if weed has been properly dried and cured is by snapping the stem of a bud. It is correctly dried if it has a clean, crisp snap noise. If it bends or folds over, the bud is too wet, and if the buds break off and turn to powder or crinkle when testing the stem, you know it is too dry.
Considering all these factors, you can easily differentiate between good and bad weed. Quality cannabis will provide more potent effects, pleasant aromas/flavors, and better visuals than lower-grade varieties. Once you get the hang of assessing marijuana’s quality, you will be able to find exactly what you’re looking for when shopping for cannabis products!