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What is a pre-roll?

pre-roll, cannabis joint
Pre-rolls.

A pre-roll is a joint for purchase that has been rolled beforehand, typically with a crutch (also called a filter).

Joints are one of the most common ways to consume cannabis; they’re cheap (to buy and produce), discreet, disposable when finished, and easily shared among friends. They strike a perfect balance for low-commitment smokers and require neither the financial investment of a bong nor the time commitment of an edible.

The caveat? Unless you’ve got nimble fingers or hours to spend practicing, it can be tough to learn how to twist one up.

Enter the pre-roll.

Before legal, regulated markets and medical marijuana programs, consumers were the ones rolling joints for themselves. As weed shops emerged, demand grew for ready-made smokeables in a variety of sizes, strains, and potencies.

By now, adults can find all kinds of pre-rolls everywhere, whether they want a quick smoke or need go-to gifts and common suggestions for cannabis newcomers.

Unfortunately, pre-roll stigma remains: A lot of people think they’re junk, made with cheap weed and rolled improperly.

The benefits of pre-rolls

Pre-rolls are great because they’re cheap, portable, and easy to consume. If you don’t want to buy a lot of flower or deal with grinding it up and rolling it, you can pop into a store, buy a pre-roll, and light it up whenever. Pre-rolls work like other flower consumption methods—the high is immediate upon inhalation and lasts between 30 and 60 minutes.

pre-roll-joints-from-juniper-cannabis
Pre-rolls from Juniper Cannabis.

They aren’t really cost-efficient in the long term, but work wonders in a pinch. They also make great gifts to help introduce others to cannabis. 

Pre-rolls now come in a variety of strains, multi-packs, and formulas with different cannabinoids, added herbs, and concentrates to suit a wide spectrum of tastes and preferences. Since the amount of cannabis in them is finite, you can easily control your intake.

How are pre-rolls made?

A common complaint for pre-rolls is that they burn unevenly and can clog before they smoke completely. Many brands don’t even roll them, per se, but use cone papers and stuff them with ground cannabis and/or trim. The rolling paper can hide what’s inside, making it easier for producers to get away with using sub-par cannabis or trim.

(Adobe Stock)

Even if a pre-roll does include high-quality cannabis, consumers still can’t judge what’s inside due to packaging, so stores may see little advantage in stocking high-quality pre-rolls.

Always ask your budtender for the material used in pre-rolls when shopping, and how they are rolled. Here are some common pre-roll materials.

Trim

Many cannabis consumers steer clear of pre-rolled joints because they often contain low-quality cannabis, which leads to a harsh smoke, a cloudy high, and a bad flavor. They’re most often made with trim—the leaves that are cut away from buds after harvesting. 

This trim contains some trichomes and terpenes, but not nearly as many as buds. Trim has much more plant matter than trichomes compared to buds, and when smoked, this plant matter makes trim harsh and grass-tasting.

Producers often make pre-rolls out of trim to save on costs or sell trim to extractors for making concentrates, to get as much money out of their product as possible.

Shake

Another source for pre-rolls is shake. As nugs get shifted around in jars at dispensaries, at the packaging facilities, or during the curing process, small bits of flower fall off, which brands and dispensaries can use to make pre-rolls. These will also often taste worse and not hit as smoothly or as hard as full flower pre-rolls.

Nugs

Fresh testers at Clearwater Genetics. (via Clearwater Genetics Discord)
Fresh test buds at Clearwater Genetics. (via Clearwater Genetics Discord)

Full nugs make the best joints. They can also be ground down and used in pre-rolls, while fetching a much higher price. Nug-sourced pre-rolls are harder to find and will almost definitely cost more than shake or trim pre-rolls, as most pre-rolls are created to use up all extra weed product from producers and dispensaries.

Filling pre-rolls

Using shake, trim, or ground-down nugs, producers load the filling material into pre-rolled paper cones by the tens or even hundreds. A machine shakes the joints to help settle the mixture and remove air pockets as they fill with weed. 

Once joints are filled, an employee gently tamps down the contents of each one to make sure it’s not too tight or too loose, which can cause it to burn poorly. With a twist of the tip, the pre-roll’s ready to go.

Will a pre-roll get you high?

Yes, smoking a pre-roll will get you high. They contain cannabis flower and will have cannabinoid test results printed on the packaging. Oftentimes brands infuse their prerolls with kief, THCA crystals, and concentrates for added potency. Keep in mind pre-rolls may not be as fresh as rolling your own joint, and may burn unevenly and clog depending on how it was made.

How much do pre-rolls cost?

Pre-rolls are usually only a few dollars each, and they often come in packs. You can buy singles, doubles, or packs of five or more—some brands sell 10 packs too.

They typically come in half-gram and full-gram amounts, and can sometimes be infused with concentrates for an added kick. A standard 1 gram pre-roll usually goes for $10, with higher-quality flower pre-rolls costing as much as $25 each. Packs of pre-rolls range in price in many states from $20 to $55.

Some artisanal brands make pre-rolls using rose petals, fake blunt wraps, and added concentrates, which can vary in price. 

How long do pre-rolls last?

Pre-rolls from licensed dispensaries come with packaging dates and a suggested expiration date, but any pre-roll over six months old should be thrown away. Old pre-rolls taste bad and won’t provide the high a fresh one should.

How to extend the shelf life of pre-rolls

The easiest way to extend your pre-roll shelf life is by storing it in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight and changing temperatures. Take them out of their doob tubes and store them in a mason jar, if you have one. Add a humidity pack for extended freshness.

Ben Adlin, Amelia Williams, and Pat Goggins contributed to this article.