How to recognise quality cannabis. Practical advice for assessing weed quality.
Knowing how to assess the quality of cannabis you have grown or bought is a valuable skill. Cannabis quality should be assessed on several different levels, from the way the genetics are selected and grown to the way they are cured and the subsequent effects.
Perception of cannabis quality from the user
To different people, cannabis quality can mean slightly different things. This was studied by Bancroft & Reid (2016) who found that there was no clear way to define drug quality. To some people, quality meant simply that the drug was uncontaminated with other chemicals. To others the potency (strength) was of primary importance. For others the reliability and predictability of the effect was the best way to define quality.
Cannabis purity is a crucial aspect. No-one wants to use cannabis with high levels of heavy metals, residual pesticides or deliberately added contaminants to boost smell or appearance. Residual pesticides and fungicides in cannabis is one of the biggest worries for cannabis users. This study indicated that residual pesticides in cannabis could be easily found in a laboratory analysis. This is worrying for cannabis users since the pesticide toxicity will be amplified by combustion processes during smoking.
Some cannabis users feel that the predictability of the effect is the best way to define quality. Cannabis growers will often spend many hours researching the genetics which they want to grow before they buy the best cannabis seeds online. Some growers like to use the cannabis seeds of the same variety for many grows once they find a favourite. Some cannabis growers are less concerned by questions about purity and other issues. For these growers potency is king. They will choose the best feminized cannabis seeds for the highest THC levels. For some commercial cannabis growers, a ‘quality’ variety is one which can be easily grown with XL yields of ‘good enough’ quality buds in a short time frame. Since the user perception of ‘quality’ can vary so much it’s important to look carefully at all factors, starting with the cannabis seeds.
Growing the best quality cannabis seeds
Whether you are growing autoflower cannabis seeds or feminized seeds, you need to do your research carefully and get the most reliable genetics which best suit your needs. Know your own preferences. Do you prefer indica or sativa? Do you respond best to a THC rich variety or one with some additional CBD? If you are not sure, try growing a few different seed types and assess what works best for you. Try doing some online research and look for reliable seed companies with a long track record of innovation and success. One other consideration for the grower is to combine the genetic potential of the cannabis seeds with the best environmental conditions.
Grow room upgrades such as LED grow lights can make a significant improvement to the final terpene and cannabinoid content. Check out LED By Passion, Dutch Passion’s sister company who are European Distributors for some of the world’s best LED grow light brands. Other ways to improve terpene and cannabinoid content is through the correct use of nutrition, optimized temperatures, humidity etc. One factor which definitely determines the quality of your cannabis is the experience of the grower, along with the degree to which the grow environment was optimized. Thats why many cannabis connoisseurs would much prefer to grow their own cannabis than buy it, even in places where cannabis is legally available to buy.
The quality of the cannabis effect
Some cannabis growers rate the quality of their cannabis purely on the enjoyment level experienced when vaping/smoking. Here the assumption is that the cannabis was grown safely, free from contaminants, pesticides, mold etc. For some cannabis users, pleasure is all that matters. After all, most cannabis (but by no means all) is grown safely. The problem is that you can’t absolutely guarantee that all cannabis is produced to the highest standards. This study of cannabis cultivation habits in Scandinavia showed that concerns over possible contaminants and low quality was one of the main factors which encouraged people to grow their own cannabis.
In areas with legal sales, such as the USA, there have been several very high profile recalls of contaminated buds and edibles. These products probably provided excellent effects and enjoyment, but they were not as safe as people had presumed. Again, that is the precise reason why many people prefer to grow their own cannabis, perhaps organically, rather than trust someone else to do it.
Environmental control and the effect on cannabis quality
Most cannabis growers try hard to maintain a safe working environment which will produce the best, cleanest cannabis. However some less knowledgeable or less ethical growers will cut corners to make more money. Some crops are harvested early due to commercial pressures to start the next crop, leaving the buds slightly less potent as a result. Others have sprayed their crop with silica-type chemicals to add extra ‘sparkle’ to the crop and make it look more resinous. Some people have even sprayed dangerous synthetic cannabinoids on their crop to improve potency. Other problems from rogue growers can include buds with mold and bacterial contamination, inaccurate cannabinoid measurement, presence of pesticides and even heavy metal contamination.
Assessing quality from the cost of the cannabis?
If you visit a coffeeshop in The Netherlands, a dispensary in North America or a cannabis social club in Spain you will see a range of prices. Usually the person selling the cannabis already has a good idea of the best quality buds. They may have had a professional laboratory analysis done on the buds and backed that up with smoke tests. Often, but not always, the higher priced buds are the better ones. But that doesn’t mean that every expensive variety you buy will be great. Nor does it mean that particular variety is worth the price premium being charged. You may find that a mid-range or even a low-priced bag of buds may be better value and still offer an extremely enjoyable experience.
Assessing aroma and visual quality of cannabis
Some cannabis lovers claim that they can work out which variety is most potent simply through visual examination combined with aroma. This study closely examined the link between aroma and perceived cannabis quality. In reality this link is very difficult to prove or quantify and involves a certain degree of guess work. Visually, people often look for a resin rich coating on the buds and a rich aroma which can suggest the buds were well grown and cured. However this is an unreliable way to determine potency, since many CBD rich varieties with little (if any) THC can also pass a visual/aroma inspection.
In areas where cannabis is sold legally, such as the USA and Canada, an official laboratory analysis is often a welcome way to reassure the buyer about the genuine composition and cannabinoid content of a variety. Unfortunately, even the analytical labs themselves can’t always be trusted to provide accurate information. Even in areas of the USA with legal cannabis, some people find it difficult to trust the safety and quality of their cannabis and prefer to grow their own. The term ‘dirty cannabis’ is sometimes used to describe cannabis of unknown origin and suspicious purity.
How harvesting affects final cannabis quality
Some growers have specific guidelines about harvesting in order to provide them with the best quality cannabis. After many years of growing people often develop a preference for the harvest point of their crop. Typically this is based on the relative ratio of amber, clear and cloudy trichomes. If you love cannabis with a heavy couch lock effect you may prefer to harvest when the trichomes are changing from cloudy to mainly amber. This can be difficult to buy from commercial growers who are often under pressure and deadlines to harvest early (with clear trichomes) in order to start the next crop. That’s another reason why many cannabis lovers prefer to grown their own cannabis at home using either feminized seeds or autoflowering cannabis seeds. You can choose the harvest time that suits you, rather than the harvest point that suits someone else's business plan.
One other aspect of cultivation which can affect the final enjoyability of the harvest is flushing. Many cannabis lovers strongly believe in the idea of ‘flushing’ excess minerals and nutrients from the grow medium and plant tissues by feeding only with pure water for the last 10 days or so. When done correctly, some growers feel that the vape/smoke is smoother and less irritating on the throat. This in turn improves the ‘quality’ and enjoyability of the cannabis. One of the more common complaints about cannabis in legal countries is whether it has been flushed well. Again, many serious cannabis users prefer to grow their own rather than buying from a legal (or illegal) outlet so they can control each step of their cannabis cultivation.
Curing conditions and the effect on final quality
There is no point in selecting the best cannabis seeds, the best grow room and harvest point if the buds are not properly dried and cured. Here there are no set rules, much depends on your local temperature and humidity, you will need to find some of these answers yourself. Many people chop their plants down, trim and remove leaves and leave to dry in the grow tent. Most people leave the plants a few days to dry. The buds are then sometimes removed and dried slowly for a few more days in paper bags. The paper bags can slow down the rate of drying, allowing you more control. The buds are placed in jars once they are dry enough and often left several weeks for the taste and aroma to full develop. For the cannabis connoisseur it is usually a fine balance between over-drying and under-drying the buds. On a daily basis the jars can be opened to release any moisture build up. If the buds are too dry much of the flavor is lost, along with many of the terpenes and some of the effect. If the buds are not dry enough you will see the dreaded mold and bud rot in your bud jars.
Cannabis bought on the street or even from an authorised dispenser may never have the same guaranteed growing, harvest and curing conditions that you can deliver. It’s the main reason why so many people prefer to grow their own cannabis at home or outdoors using feminized seeds or autoflower seeds.