Cannabis 101

How to buy good weed: Finding quality in cannabis flower

Published on April 7, 2020 · Last updated April 21, 2021
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Buying cannabis can be intimidating. When you enter a cannabis shop, you are met with a massive selection of products. How do you even begin to navigate your options? Why would you spend $60 on an eighth of Purple Punch that is 23% THC when there is a $20 eighth from a different brand with 28% THC? And it can be even more challenging if you’re buying online and can’t see the product. 

When it comes to purchasing cannabis, many people employ a system that reflects my wine purchasing strategy: I find a cool-looking label that fits my price point and move on to the checkout line. Does this help me find a good wine? Nope! But it allows me to get back home in a timely manner and that is half the battle when I’m grocery shopping.

From my experience as a budtender, I found that price, THC percentage, and strain name are the most common reasons customers choose a product. Even though these criteria are helpful for narrowing down your options, none of them speak to the quality of a product.

So, what is the difference between that $20 and $60 eighth of Purple Punch? Why spend the extra cash? To answer those questions, we have to take a look at the characteristics that define quality cannabis.

Quality isn’t just THC

Ever wonder why the top-shelf flower is not always the highest in THC? Quality cannabis is characterized by a complex arrangement of cannabinoids and terpenes, not just THC. This intricate arrangement of compounds—called the entourage effect when consumed—will produce robust, well-rounded effects that result in a more enjoyable high. 

A THC-dominant flower that is lacking diversity in terpenes and cannabinoids will produce an experience that is one-dimensional, short lived, and maybe even anxiety-provoking. 

Another way to look at it is that when you pay more for quality cannabis, you are paying for the compounds that are not THC. Unfortunately, since very few of these compounds can be found on the label, it can be difficult to determine if the product you’re buying is worth the extra cash. 

While not all products will have their full chemistry on their label, there are ways to determine if the cannabis is of high quality.

Explore cannabis strains with a new perspective

Characteristics of quality cannabis

If you don’t have the ability to smell flower before you purchase it, freshness will be your best indicator for determining the quality of a product. Cannabis degrades over time; terpenes are in a constant state of evaporation and are pretty much gone after six months. 

Proper storage can delay this process, but nothing will completely stop it. So be sure to check the harvest date on your flower before purchase, as the chemical complexity is dependent upon it—you’re making sure the compounds responsible for the entourage effect are still there!

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If you’re lucky enough to live in an area that allows you to smell flower before it is packaged, you have an advantage. Smelling flower is the best way to determine its terpene profile. The more pungent the aroma, the more terpenes are present. You want it to smell loud! 

You also want to make sure you check the health and ripeness of the trichomes. A perfect trichome will be milky white, and a plant with strong genetics will be blanketed by them. Clear trichomes are an indication that the plant was harvested before it reached maturity, and, if you see amber or brown trichomes, the plant was not harvested soon enough. 

Ensuring that your weed has ripe trichomes allows you to experience the flower at its peak ripeness, if you will. 

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Ripe, white trichomes. (Gleti/iStock)

Lastly, there is something to be said about shipping and handling. Quality flower is dried and cured properly. This allows your flower to be tasty, smooth, and free of mold. I always buy flower in a jar, as a plastic bag destroys the trichomes on the outside of the flower. 

A jar has a minimal effect on the overall price of the product but a large effect on your experience of the product. Pay for the jar.

How long is my weed good for? Leafly’s guide to storing cannabis

Trust the grower

At the end of the day, quality cannabis is produced by quality growers. Producing great cannabis is not magic—it is a skill that is developed over time through hard work. Good weed should be nothing short of amazing because the proper time was put into it. You will be able to see, taste, and smell the effort that goes into growing quality cannabis. 

Being able to trust a grower also gives you confidence when trying a new strain. You can’t always know how a strain will affect you, but you can know if the strain was grown by someone who values quality. If you like a particular strain from a grower, try another one of their strains, you might like it.

The experience of a particular flower will be unique to you, but the beauty of it will be apparent to everyone. Enjoy! 

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Adam Pallay
Adam Pallay
Adam is Leafly’s Education Editor, specializing in helping people build expertise within the cannabis industry. He has spent the last five years working every job imaginable in retail cannabis and looks forward to continuing to help customers through writing.
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