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Ask a Budtender: How Do You Determine Cannabis Quality?

March 9, 2017
As a budtender, I am your in-store tour guide, here to help you choose the best product for your personal needs or desired mood. Consider me the cannabis industry’s version of a sommelier (but much more casually dressed), and imagine your shopping experience as something akin to a wine tasting as you look at as many products as you want in order to get a good assessment of which is right for you.

I try a lot of products each month in order to be as familiar as possible with all of my store’s brands and strains, but cannabis has to be pretty special these days in order for me to make a repeat purchase. I have honed in on a first impressions technique, my own cannabis-specific version of wine tasting, and these are some of the routines I follow as well as qualities I look for when trying new strains.


Leafly’s Visual Quality Guide to Selecting Cannabis

1. Start Out Sober

This may seem obvious, but it bears pointing out that in order to get a true impression of what the effect is like on a particular strain, it is important to start fresh. I usually try a new product as my first smoke after getting home from work, or when I am waking up on a day off. Going into it with this clear-headedness allows for me to examine the properties of just the strain I am trying.

2. Use a Clean Pipe 

Taste can be just as important as effect (taste plays into effect as well, thanks to terpenes), so using a clean piece matters when finding out if you like a new product. I always like to make sure that at the very least, my bong or dab rig has fresh water in it before smoking something new. If something doesn’t taste good on that first hit, I know it is the product and not my pipe.


How to Take Care of Glass Bongs or Bubblers

3. Pay Attention to Your Lungs

Cannabis makes people cough as a general rule, but if you are smoking something that is making you hack, that isn’t normal. Sure, some folks say that “you have to cough to get off,” but there’s coughing and there’s choking, and one does not equal the other. I look for strains that are fairly smooth on the exhale even after larger tokes or dabs, and that don’t leave me with a lingering cough.

4. Make It A One Hit Wonder 

Instead of smoking your whole bowl (or joint, or doing a few dabs back-to-back), try taking one hit and then taking a break for a bit to ride out the effect of just that toke. I like to do this to test how potent and long-lasting a strain’s high is; personally, if I feel the effect of one hit for longer than a half-hour, that’s a strain I want more of.


The Best Cannabis Strains and Products for Every Situation

5. With Flower, Ash Color Matters

Bud that has been properly flushed and cured has lost all of its chlorophyll and moisture content, which makes for a much cleaner smoke as well as a cleaner residual ash. Ash should be, well, ash-colored: white or grey, never black. I also suggest paying attention to whether or not your bowl cherries (stays smoking in between hits without having to be consistently torched with a lighter), as this is another good indicator of whether or not your cannabis has been appropriately dried and cured.

6. Go With Your Gut

This tip is probably the most important one I can leave you with. Each person’s relationship with cannabis is unique because each person’s endocannabinoid system is unique. When it comes to trying new products and strains, these tips are here to assist, but they are not by any means hard and fast rules for what is or isn’t a good choice. Follow your instincts; if you are in the store and torn between two products, pick the one you were drawn to first. I practice that method and it has yet to let me down.

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Randi Wooten's Bio Image

Randi Wooten

Randi Wooten is a budtender and writer living in Seattle, Washington. After escaping the negative cannabis stigma in South Carolina, she is currently on a steadfast search for the best biscuits in the Pacific Northwest. You can follow her on Instagram @wootraptor, or find her at Dockside Shoreline.

View Randi Wooten's articles

  • Manny Lucas

    Thank you for this I needed to read that. I totally related to your article. Keep it up. 😀

  • Andrew Spencer

    Preach!! Common sense isn’t always common and these basics are great. Follow these rules and won’t be disappointed.

  • Netwie


  • Chris

    Moving here from carolina and smoking weed for a year does not make you a somalier… Weed that makes you cough isnt good…? You’re an idiot. I wish leafly had some informed and experienced gardeners working for them instead of a bunch of kids who just want to write pleasant sounding articles. You guys lack consistency in real information and yet continue to amass more and more of it on to your site before you proof what is already there. I was born and raised in eugene oregon and have personally been growing weed for 15 years (and smoking for 20) inside the most experienced and informed circles that this legendary cannabis gardening epicenter has to offer, and I routinely dissagree with, and find myself dissapointed with the lack of effort and editorial conduct that your team puts forth… Clean up your game or quit calling yourselves an information edifice… Its pathetic.

    • Alexander T.S. Kuhn

      I just wrote a response absolutely schooling this writer and it seems they’ve denied it form being posted. I hear and feel ya Chris, I didn’t like this site from the get go, they just don’t quite understand what they’re getting in to.

    • lauryashin

      Gosh, I read through your reply to learn what’s right and true about the subject; got nada…well, I now understand that good weed can make me cough. Thanks.Well, on second reading, I figure maybe this is a job application. Good Luck

      • Robert Gerus

        Chris your coughing because you smoke cigarettes right. your just another fk idiot.

      • Alana

        He is critiquing leafly as an overall flawed site that’s full of
        misinformation and pointing how pathetic this
        author and article is, not stating what’s ‘right and true’ about cannabis consumption. If you can’t figure that out your an idiot. You should probably read it for a 3rd time since you don’t get it. Its called reviewing the writer, and there is a lot of poser writers, etc that are published on this site. Good luck smoking herb and not coughing, cigarette smoker or not.
        News flash!!!! Good organic grade A herb makes you cough!!!

        • Tim

          The thing that annoys me about leafley is there information about strains they say bla bla bla what the parents are ect and 70 indica 30 sat or watever then you go to other sites and they say the oppasite same as thc percentages it just confuses evry one but I always belive the seed producers not leafley

  • MG Deegan

    We what works i it does a good job 24/7 , medical marijuana patient card holder I smoke 24 7 for pain

  • Crepidula

    Always interesting to see how other people judge their weed. I would never imagine sitting down to incinerate or vaporize something I had not spent serious nose time with, before I ever took it home.

    It’s all about the terpenes!

    I’m also a bit surprised that Leafly picked up this article by a well-intentioned but very inexperienced budtender. There are so many truly excellent, highly knowledgeable people who have been in the business since the get-go. Really, a budtender should be able to give us more really truly information than just “use a clean pipe” and “start sober.”

    Things like: appearance, AROMA, texture, consistency (crispy, crumbly, tight, loose, etc), moisture, how to check for mold and other signs of ditch weed, useful stuff like that.

    • Alexander T.S. Kuhn

      I know eh… clearly inexperienced. It’s a joke really.

  • John Smith

    What I want is an opportunity to review GROWERS. You cant review a strain and be accurate. One grower’s strain will suck ass while the same strain grown by a different grower will be great. If your Strawberry Cough looks and smells like strawberries, its grown right. If your Strawberry Cough tastes like hot air and horseshit, it is NOT STRAWBERRY COUGH! I was really into Bondi Farms, but I found a big silvery chunk of fertilizer in my bud. WHAT IF I SMOKED THAT? People act like its uncool to review growers but it is appropriate. Im going to compile a list of every grower who sells shit and I will promote my list EVERYWHERE. Ive had it with this bs. And whats with the insectisides? “NUKE ‘EM”??? Im not smoking anything with somethiong called “Nuke ’em” on my bud. WTF? How about outdoor grown. Ive grown outdoors with limited sun and grew 7 foot plants which eached yielded over 4 oz’s of clean manicured, dried buds. I DIDN’T USE ANY BUG KILLER. Maybe a little slug bait 5-10 feet away from the plants. BUGS DO NOT BOTHER OUTDOOR POT. Yet, is leafly gonna even bother to let me know which growers grow outside in Washington with products on the shelves in Seattle?

    • Alana

      You should probably concentrate on producing a website of that variety before judging something that doesn’t actually exist l John Smith. Good luck with your growers and pushing information…

  • calijack

    White ash is a myth in relation to quality, while you want a low moisture content you still want some moisture in your buds. If it’s unflushed you will certainly taste it.

  • Gbop

    Stick to tending bud just the sale weed middle men and woman i dont need any tips from new talented smokers have skills get experienced. Especially if u haven’t been consuming marijuana a majority of your life and didnt have elders and peers with major experience in the illegal prohibiton era of growing and distribution on cannabis. NorthWestWestcoast Living theres nothing like it.

  • Gbop

    Leafly you definitley need more seasoned folks over there this is not Sesame Street this is not a game or childs play this is always about medical and medicinal reilief how many people do you know who really smoke for recreation this is ridiculous marijuana is marijuana. And Now we in Wa are going through this medical recretional integration and it really a mess DOH WSLCB got there hands full and really have no clue of what to do in swiftly manner there now just unveiling House Bill 2021 . Ive Been on Department Of Health Helmets and Rec retail & producers to link up some way some how and supply medical patients with clones and seeds and fresh plants buds leaves roots stems the whole shabang for juicing that most medical stores provided for the past few Years. I also proposed a penalty system “fines” to doctors and specificly Hospitals like Harborview who do discriminate and dont support the current medical marijuana program in Wa State Cannabis Patient Protection Act . Also a Medical Coupon under there new so called improved system so Recreational company’s who are medically licensed can start giving out free or super discounted medical grade top shelf plant and kolas,trim,leaves,roots away without any bias. No Rec retail involed in this new bill although they’re giving Producers medical retail power. This dose nit meen this new move will be affordable for Medical Patients in Wa hope for the best. I do like that we can get plants and clones from the Wa Producers and hold unlimited seed stock but at what cost is it going to be the way it was .No.Also Another New Licence added Medical distributor.

  • Gbop

    Shes a Noob

  • Gbop

    Ask G Next time Leafly ! Ask the Buyer.

  • David T

    I find more and more the Budtenders are trying to push the stuff the can’t move instead of pushing the quality product. It’s frustrating, you better know what you want before you get into a store or you may get screwed. Their also slowly removing menus which forces you to take a recommendation which I don’t like. Don’t get me wrong, there are good bud tenders, but they seem to be hiring more and more cute chicks with very limited knowledge and getting rid of the very experienced people probably to save money.

    • Paul

      the best way around all that is to grow your own. i’ve been growing for 6 years and don’t have to deal with all that crap any more. i started buying clones from the dispensary, but could not consistantly get the strains I wanted from grow to grow, so I starting using seeds that I find online. the best thing i have ever done. growing is not difficult, there are plenty of info online.

  • Two Bears

    When i go to a dispensary i ask them to set the Indica strains on tge counter then i smell the samples abd choose or discard samples based on the aroma.

    I am an MMJ patient because of Crohns disease, and Sativa strains don’t do anything for me medically, and furthermore i DESPISE the high. I micro dose (just enough to keep the curse under control).