How To Differentiate Good From Bad Quality Marijuana Buds
Many think they can tell the difference between good and bad-quality bud just by giving it a once-over, but there are certain nuances people don’t consider. In this guide, we’ll walk you through each distinction, and offer some key tips on how to grow premium-quality cannabis buds.
How to tell the difference between good and bad cannabis buds.
It probably didn’t take long after you started smoking weed to realise the differences between cannabis buds. Despite how everyone claims their weed is top-notch, you’ve probably noticed when the flower just isn’t up to par. In contrast, when you’re holding quality cannabis, you know it right then and there.
To ensure you only buy the best buds, learning the differences between top-shelf fire from rugged brick weed is vital. You don’t need to be a connoisseur either, as the differentiating traits can be seen and smelled with no assistance. Learning the differences will help you browse the shelves, sure, but it’ll especially help you judge the plants in your own garden. That, in turn, will help you make any necessary adjustments.
Types of Cannabis Buds
Cannabis flowers can be categorised into various quality spectrums. You could be talking about stickiness, terpene profile, taste, texture, or an assortment of other factors. To keep things simple, we’ve narrowed things down to three basic categories: low, medium, and premium-quality bud.
Low-quality cannabis has a sorry look to it, mostly because it travels long distances after being stuffed into small packages. Known rightly as “brick weed”, these buds often arrive at their destination as dense cubes.
Rarely grown for quality or with much care at all, the producers associated with this level of cannabis are purely profit-driven. Often a black market product, low-quality cannabis typically stems from south of both the US border and the European continent.
Of course, some home growers with the intention to sell may also accidentally produce cannabis of similar quality. Novice growers will often mess up during the process and leave themselves with dry, unremarkable buds.
The key signs of low-quality cannabis include:
Domestic growers all over the world mostly produce buds that fall into this category. These flowers are set apart from poor-quality cannabis thanks to their improved colouration, heightened scents, and overt flavours.
Most growers manage to dial in their nutrients, watering schedule, and environmental variables enough to produce cannabis of this quality. The most important factor, though, is putting pride and effort into their work.
If you’re looking for medium-quality bud, or simply trying to dodge the bad stuff, look for these traits:
High-grade. Top-shelf. Fire.
Premium-quality bud goes by many names, yet they all describe its immense flavour and mind-shattering effects. These buds are hard to come by outside of big cities and weed-growing areas. Generally, they’re the products of skilled farmers and master breeders in hotspots like Northern California, Spain, and the Netherlands.
You’ll find these nugget-like buds encased in jars on the shelves of reputable dispensaries and highly-rated coffeeshops. If you’re looking for the best buds money can buy, keep an eye out for the following:
How to Differentiate Good Buds From the Bad: A Guide
We hope the above generalisations make it easier to distinguish the quality of a given bud, but it can get a bit more complicated. Below, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty and inspect cannabis flowers a little closer.
As we discussed before, aromatic molecules known as terpenes are responsible for said signature scent. Despite the similar undertone, though, most strains feature unique smells thanks to different concentrations of terpenes.
You’re probably familiar with the small, shiny structures on the surface of cannabis buds and sugar leaves. These mushroom-shaped glands—trichomes—pump out terpenes during the flowering stage.
You’ll know you’re dealing with good-quality weed when the olfactory wave of terpenes hits straight after opening your stash. While a pleasing scent and cannabis quality aren’t unconditionally connected, the former is a likely indication of the latter. Hints of flowers, fuel, earth, spices, sugar, fruit, citrus, and berries are among the most common aromas.
The quality of a strain’s terpene profile depends on several variables:
- Genetics: Some strains are genetically equipped to pump out more aromatic terpenes than others, mostly due to selective breeding practices.
- Drying and curing: Genetics only achieve so much. Correctly drying, curing, and storing cannabis will preserve the terpene profile and make for better-tasting buds.
- The right nutrients: During the flowering stage, cannabis plants have a higher demand for potassium and phosphorus and less of a need for nitrogen. Get this balance right, and you’ll produce some fantastic-smelling flowers.
- Living soil: A strong microbial population will help plants access all of the nutrients they need to develop an optimal terpene profile.
- Companion planting: Many growers claim planting basil in close proximity to cannabis helps improve its smell.
Quick Growing Tip: Boosting terpenes will improve the overall smell and flavour of your plants. Select strains such as Lemon Shining Silver Haze and Haze Berry to start with a genetic advantage.
Although you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can definitely judge cannabis buds by their appearance. There are many factors that indicate quality to a trained eye, and colour is one of the most important.
Of course, cannabis flowers come in an array of different hues of purple, orange, green, and red. It isn’t so much the colour that gives away quality, but more so the vibrancy. See, healthy and well-grown cannabis flowers have a bright and shiny look to them.
Such vibrancy signals good genetics, solid growing techniques, and adequate curing and storage. In contrast, poor-quality cannabis appears matte, dull, and pallid. These buds are often dark green to brown, pale, and ultimately unappealing.
Quick Growing Tip: Flushing plants at the right moment will prevent excess nutrients from accumulating in flowers and eliminate nutrient burn.
Additional Tip: Play around with genetics and temperature to grow purple weed! Start with genetics like Purple Queen to increase your chances of success.
Upon looking closely at the surface of cannabis flowers, you’ll come across a miniature landscape—valleys, peaks, and all—made up of different glands, organs, and structures. Among the scenery, the pistils protrude the most.
These hair-like tendrils are the sex organ of the female cannabis flower, serving as the receiver of male pollen. Once this genetic dust makes contact, the flower becomes fertile and swiftly goes to seed.
Away from their biological role, pistils serve as useful progress markers. During the early flowering stage, these reproductive parts boast a brilliant whiteness. As the weeks go by, their appearance turns to a solid dark orange.
You should always look for deep orange pistils when eyeing up buds. Harvest should ideally take place when at least 70% of the hairs turn this colour. This indicates the buds are ripe, mature, and ready for snipping. Flowers with mostly white pistils signal immature cannabis. Left a while longer, these flowers will mature and unleash a complete cannabinoid and terpene profile.
Quick Growing Tip: Harvest at the right moment, ensuring pistils are the right colour at the right time. You’ll need to be patient when cultivating strains like Amnesia Haze, as they have a slightly longer flowering time.
Trichomes are the most abundant feature on the surface of good-quality flowers. To the naked eye, they appear as a fine layer of crystals that shimmer under torchlight or the flame of a lighter.
These mushroom-shaped structures feature a bulbous head atop a narrow stalk. In this head, specialised cells tasked with resin production work tirelessly during the flowering phase. The resin exudes downward and gradually covers the majority of the surface of the flower. This resin—and its active phytochemicals—help guard buds against insect attacks and temperature extremes.
The substance contains a complex array of molecules. Those of interest to us include cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, along with terpenes like myrcene, pinene, and limonene. The more trichomes a flower possesses, the more resin it will produce. The more resin coating the surface of a bud, the more cannabinoids and terpenes sit ready to be combusted, vaporized, or chewed and swallowed.
You’ll be able to tell the trichome and resin content of a bud just by looking at it and holding it. Note how it glitters, the stickiness, and consider the resistance generated as you peel your fingertips from the flower.
Quick Growing Tip: Utilise environmental factors to boost trichome production. Strains such as ICE are genetically wired to develop high quantities of trichomes.
How buds feel in the hand says a lot about their quality. Every grower hopes for dense and heavy buds at the end of the growing season. These flowers simply hold more mass, look much healthier, and smoke smoother.
Grinding up dense cannabis flowers seems to almost double their size. Even a small chunk of a compact flower can grind down to fill a good-sized joint. In contrast, fluffy buds yield disappointment and less plant matter. These airy flowers are often the result of suboptimal growing conditions, a lack of light, or nutrient deficiency.
Fluffy buds don’t only look less appetising, but you’ll need to use more of your harvest every time you roll a blunt or hit a bowl. Dense buds will offer some resistance and spring back to their original shape. Airy buds will almost collapse in on themselves, and feel much more feeble to the touch.
Quick Tip: Sativa and indica flowers tend to look different; know what to look for when browsing.
Growing Tip: Utilise powerful lights to grow dense and compact flowers.
The presence of seeds is never a sign of quality flowers. The very word sinsemilla—a name given to weed of exceptional quality—refers to flowers devoid of seeds.
Remember those protruding pistils we covered earlier? When pollen from a male plant lands on the tendrils, it starts a process of changing the biochemical activity of the cannabis flower. The plant diverts its energy and efforts away from producing sticky resin and towards making seeds instead.
Flowers with seeds don’t reach peak potency and maturity because the resources are swallowed up by reproductive efforts instead. Cannabis seeds also make flowers heavier, meaning you end up paying more for less flower. If you buy one gram of weed and find 200mg of seeds nested within, you’ve wasted money. That might not seem like much, but consider that across 50–100 purchases, and that’s a lot of lost bud.
Unnoticed seeds can also ruin a smoke session. Seeds pop when the flame of the joint hits them, disturbing your zen and sending harsh smoke into your lungs.
Quick Growing Tip: Learn how to avoid pollination to keep seeds out of your weed.
Smoking stems either boils down to an accident or an act of desperation. Stems contain minuscule levels of cannabinoids and produce a harsh smoke. However, the presence of stems in your bag doesn’t necessarily indicate bad weed.
Rather, it shows a rushed preparation process. Plus, you paid for that extra weight! When browsing your local dispensary or coffeeshop, avoid buds with excess stems. Alternatively, simply ask the budtender to trim them off before you buy them.
Quick Tip: They’re not as valuable as buds, but you can use stems to make a variety of homemade products, from hash to topicals.
Well-Trimmed vs Leafy
Trimming weed refers to removing the sugar leaves—small leaves that grow out of and around cannabis flowers. The presence of sugar leaves doesn’t automatically render cannabis poor-quality, but it can make a big difference.
Firstly, well-manicured buds simply look great. Trimming gives the bud a nice nugget-like appearance, and the aesthetic is a near-universal trait of premium-quality flowers.
Secondly, excess sugar leaves will impact the weight of the flower. You want to be paying for buds, not leaves. Finally, the presence of sugar leaves can cause issues during the curing process. Small pockets of moisture can build up, creating a breeding ground for pathogens and impacting the taste of the weed.
Quick Growing Tip: You can trim your weed either before or after drying it.
Even between cannabis buds of the same strain, quality varies. Click to learn how to tell the difference between low, medium, and premium-quality buds.
How to Tell the Good Weed from the Bad [5 Techniques]
How to choose high-quality bud and avoid getting ripped off
At the time of writing, 33 states plus D.C. allow either recreational or medicinal marijuana. That number is subject to change as states continue to hold ballots to decide whether to change the legal status of weed.
In places like California or Colorado, where cannabis is entirely legal, it is relatively easy to find good Mary Jane; all you have to do is find a licensed dispensary. The level of competition in these states is so fierce that the folks who sell bad marijuana go out of business pretty quickly. It’s that simple.
However, not everyone is so fortunate. In states where weed is illegal, or where you need an MMJ card to buy it, users have to take what they can get. This could mean purchasing cannabis from a black-market dealer. As well as risking arrest, you’re potentially exposing yourself to rip-offs and low-grade schwag.
The bottom line is that unless you’re an experienced user, dealers will typically see you coming from a mile away and jump at the chance to offload their brick weed. If you’re in this situation, or if you want to boost your knowledge of cannabis, you must learn to differentiate between high-grade ‘dank,’ mid-grade marijuana, and low standard garbage. Here are five easy tips for how to tell good weed from bad weed.
1) The ‘Shelf’ System
This tip is for readers able to purchase their weed from a dispensary. Although employees (probably) aren’t going to rip you off, it is still useful to understand the different grades of marijuana. In a standard dispensary, you should see three distinct shelves.
For fear of insulting your intelligence, marijuana on the top shelf is generally the cream of the crop. The “good sh*t,” so to speak. This bud contains a significant amount of THC (you’ll find some strains with 22%+), and it is grown with great care and cured and dried to perfection.
Not only will top-shelf weed provide you with an exceptional high, but it should produce a splendid taste and aroma as well.
Also known as ‘mids,’ the marijuana on the center shelf is usually your average, middle-of-the-road weed. It isn’t exceptional, but it will do the job if you don’t already have a high tolerance. Top shelf cannabis is too expensive for most people, so mids is probably your best bet.
Marijuana on the bottom shelf of a dispensary is usually the cheapest, least potent bud. Sometimes it’s even a mixture of leftover clippings from various other strains (trim), or broken off pieces of nugs that have fallen to the bottom of other jars (shake).
This “bottom shelf” pot will probably have a psychoactive impact on beginners, but intermediates and experts will likely feel that they wasted their hard-earned cash. The standard might be higher than if you get it on the streets, but we recommend splashing the extra dough on mids or top-shelf.
2) Stem and Seed Content
In an ideal world, you’d get nothing but beautiful, potent buds in all of your weed-related transactions. Of course, we live in a world that’s far from ideal. As such, a lot of pot that you buy on the street will be full of stems and seeds. Imagine paying $50 for an eighth, only to discover that half of the weight is made up of stuff you can’t even smoke!
Stems are more or less useless and will do very little in aiding your quest to get high. Seeds are even worse because they have a nasty tendency to explode when set on fire!
Also, if you have seeds in your bowl, their destruction could ruin the rest of the weed — not to mention your expensive glass piece. Try and avoid buying buds visibly loaded with seeds and stems – unless you’re getting it for a preposterously low price.
3) Aroma & Taste
When you grow a proper strain of marijuana and harvest, dry, and cure it to perfection, it has an unmistakable smell and taste of glorious musk.
Look for weed that has that clear and distinct “marijuana musk,” as this is an indication that the buds are fresh and have an excellent terpene content. Bad weed often has little or no “cannabis scent,” or even worse; it might smell like something that does not even resemble pot.
Also, if you get someone trying to sell you buds that smell like freshly cut grass or hay, this usually means the weed was badly grown and improperly dried and cured.
On a side note, cannabis that has an aromatic tinge of chocolate-like bitterness usually indicates the strain is indica, while citrus notes often suggest a sativa-dominant variety.
Lastly, as an obvious rule of thumb, most good quality marijuana is some shade of green (although the shade can vary from almost neon to a bland grayish). That said, quality buds may also have a hint of blue or purple in them, which indicates a strong presence of anthocyanin. If the bud is yellow, red, brown, or tan, it is probably low grade – don’t buy it.
4) Trichome Count
You’ll probably need a magnifying glass for this tip, but an adequately grown strain of high-quality marijuana should produce buds packed with trichomes. This is important because trichomes store the terpenes and cannabinoids that provide the smell, taste, and, most importantly, the high or medicinal benefit.
Trichomes cover high-quality buds and are akin to sparkling crystals; you can probably spot trichome density with the naked eye, but you’ll need a jeweler’s loupe or something similar to check out the full quantity and get a good look.
Ideally, growers harvest cannabis when the trichomes have a milky white color. Under a magnifying glass, they resemble tiny bright mushrooms. It’s pretty beautiful.
When you check for trichome content, you are looking for prematurely harvested weed. If you can see underdeveloped trichomes, the plant was likely harvested before it was entirely “ripe,” and you should avoid it.
If the trichome color has an amber tinge to it, the plant was probably harvested too late and may contain higher levels of CBN. Although this cannabinoid has some potential medical benefits, it can result in a reduced high that makes you feel queasy or super tired.
5) Bud Structure & Trim
Although this is not always the case, high-quality indica buds are usually fat, dense, and tightly-packed, while sativa buds are airier, wispier, and a little leaner. Hybrid strains will contain traits of both indica and sativa plants, so if you get something that’s in-between the above description, it’s likely a hybrid (and by the way, sativa buds should have more pistils – the little red hairs – than their indica counterparts).
After harvest, growers should trim all marijuana buds to remove the fan leaves around the nugs.
Unfortunately, an increasing number of companies are using trimming machines so they can cut the weed at lightning speed, which is why we recommend purchasing hand-trimmed flower.
There is a price to pay with trimming machines. They lack the care of experienced human trimmers and can even wreck the trichome content of the weed (as a result, you end up with less potent marijuana). If the cannabis looks mangled by a machine – or if it contains a lot of fan leaves – buy something else.
Good or Bad Weed – An Overview
- Marijuana you find on the top or middle shelves.
- Typically has a healthy green color with a wide array of stunning hues and undertones.
- A ‘fresh’ scent with different aromas depending on the strain.
- Comprised mainly of buds and covered with glistening trichomes.
- Sativas have a fluffy structure, while indicas are tight and dense.
- Hand-trimmed to preserve buds and terpenes.
- What you see on the bottom shelf in your dispensary.
- Often brown, tan, red, white, or yellow in color.
- A stale scent or no smell at all. If it smells ‘gone off,’ avoid!
- Contains a noticeable quantity of seeds and stems.
- Loose open structure and visible stems.
- Has a mangled look as if it was damaged by a machine.
Final Thoughts on How to Tell Good Weed Versus Bad Weed
Never underestimate the potential impact that crap weed has on your health. Smoking low-grade marijuana can be brutal on your throat and will not be much better for you than using a few tobacco cigarettes. Also, don’t forget to check your weed for signs of mold or rot. Moldy weed will look similar to what you find on expired cheese, bread, etc.
Whenever possible, try and purchase your marijuana from a reputable source, such as a licensed dispensary. If there are none near you, you’ll have to take your chances with a local dealer – which in many cases is illegal. Never break the law, and always know and understand the legalities of the area that you’re in before you go to buy pot.
We hope that this information on how to tell good weed from bad weed has been helpful and informative – if you’ve got any additional tips or suggestions, be sure to leave a comment below and share your ideas with the community!
Interested in other tips and techniques on how to correctly identify quality weed? Want to know how to tell the difference between a male and female plant? Check out these related articles below!
If you are new to marijuana, this guide is for you! Our quick and easy tips will help you to choose high-quality bud and avoid getting ripped off.