When buying cannabis, we often rely on the person behind the counter to give us the information we need. However, like wine, there's subtle nuance and personal taste that needs to be factored in. Before determining what cannabis matches with personal taste, it's crucial to be able to spot high and low-quality cannabis, as the latter can negatively affect your experience.
How to tell if cannabis is good or bad? It may be easy to spot low-quality flower, but it can be harder to tell the difference between a mid-level bud and genuinely great cannabis. There are a few crucial things to be aware of that will indicate quality.
Take a look at the flower. It should look sticky, colourful, and densely packed, with minimal stems, and no sign of mould or dryness.
Look for crystals, these are trichomes, the cannabis plant’s resinous glands that produce cannabinoids such as THC and CBD. They have the appearance of a layer of sugar crystals on the surface of the bud.
It should have a pungent floral aroma that packs a punch of terpenes that can be everything from earthy pine to a refreshing citrus smell. Strong scent is a good sign, and the preference between certain types is based on your personal taste. Use your nose as often as possible, as what you smell will likely indicate what you enjoy.
It’s been dried and cured, but that doesn’t mean that it should be dry to the touch. You want it to be springy and sticky as this indicates an abundance of trichomes, the layer of visible crystals we mentioned before.
Good quality cannabis should break down nicely when ground but shouldn’t pulverize or crackle into a powder, which happens with old, dry buds that have aged past their prime and weren’t stored properly.
Terpenes can often be your best guide for personal preference
Signs of poor-quality cannabis
Poor growing techniques, production methods, and even careless transportation are reflected in the quality of the final product. Here are some red flags to look out for when you’re doing a visual inspection of cannabis.
Powdery mildew is a mould that can appear on the bud, fan, or sugar leaves -- while trichomes look like a blanket of sugar crystals, powdery mildew is more like a film of baby powder. ‘Airy’ or loosely packed buds are also a sign of low-quality cannabis. Smaller buds can be a sign that they are taken from lower down the plant and therefore are not as packed with cannabinoids as the apical flower (or main cola) that are found at the top of the plant and receives most of the plant’s energy for trichome production.
Brown, dry buds with an abundance of leaves are also a sign of low-quality flower, as is any form of discolouration, such as the ‘bleached’ effect’ that occurs when the plants grow too close to the light source.
Growing high-quality cannabis
Light is essential in every stage of the life cycle of a cannabis plant so it can affect the final flower in various ways. When cannabis is grown indoors under artificial light, it can suffer from light burn when it’s too close to the light source, and this manifests itself as a yellowish discolouration or bleached look on the buds. On the flipside, if plants don’t receive enough light during the flowering stage, they can end up airy because the plant hasn’t received enough energy to produce dense buds packed with trichomes.
The quality of light is also an essential factor, plants do not effectively use all regions of visible light for photosynthesis. Light in wavelengths measuring from 400 to 740 nm directly affect the photosynthetic processes of plants, and is called photosynthetically active radiation. All artificial light sources have recognizable limitations as the sole light source to grow plants, as compared to natural full spectrum sunlight.
Nutrients are another critical element of high-quality cannabis production. Nutrient burn, or the incorrect flushing out of excess nitrates, can also result in a yellow appearance to the buds, which may look crispy and brown. Cultivators have to take into consideration the growing medium and life cycle of the plant when introducing nutrients. Nitrogen is critical during the vegetation stage as it helps facilitate overall plant growth. Phosphorus and potassium are important throughout the plants' life but increase in importance during the flowering stage. The result of well-managed nutrition and proper flushing is a flower that when smoked has white ash and a smooth, distinct flavour.
A dried out flower can be a sign of harsh growing and handling techniques that can result in buds that contain little THC as it’s degraded to CBN, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that’s linked to feeling sleepy or the couch-lock effect.
set your bar high, demand quality from your licensed producers, and get educated in their growing methodology
Bud rot and mildew can infect the plant, especially if there are problems with humidity control and poor ventilation in a growing facility. Mould can also occur at the curing stage in cannabis that has been rushed through the drying process to save time and money or has been dried quickly in sub-optimal conditions.
As cannabis in Canada progresses towards normalization, set your bar high, demand quality from your licensed producers, and get educated in their growing methodology. Not all are created equal. Next time someone tells you they are selling high-quality cannabis, put all your senses to work. Apply this knowledge and try different licensed producers or dispensaries to find high-quality cannabis that suits your needs.
At Tantalus Labs, we use elite genetics, careful growing techniques, long flowering times, cold drying, and full spectrum sunlight to ensure we produce premium cannabis. Find out for yourself by registering to join Tantalus Prime.