How to identify high-quality weed: a beginner’s guide

The difference between excellent and subpar weed often comes down to four indicators: aroma, appearance, feel, and flower structure

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When you’re differentiating between high-quality and subpar weed, there are four indicators to look for: aroma, appearance, feel, and flower structure.

For example, the number of trichomes (small glittering appendages) visible on the surface of the plant is often a good indicator of the product’s potency, in terms of both the high you’ll receive and the therapeutic benefits you may experience.

As for colour, a dirty-brown plant or a lime-green flower can tell you a lot about the quality and maturity levels of the plant.

In general, high-end cannabis buds will be the ones that provide a fantastic high, nice aroma, and great flavour. By contrast, lower-quality products that are void of these qualities—such as brick, bunk, or schwag—will often produce an underwhelming experience.

Sometimes, finding these high-quality products can be difficult, even if you’re no beginner in the world of cannabis. So it can be helpful to review a few ways to distinguish top-shelf weed from lower-end, ultimately less desirable options.

Top-shelf products

To start, it’s useful to define the term flower. Flower is the dried and cured female cannabis plant’s blooms, often referred to as buds or nugs. Flower is usually intoxicating, due to the presence of elevated THC content. (However, flower with higher CBD content will produce fewer psychoactive effects.)

As mentioned, the difference between low- and high-quality weed can often be determined by aroma, appearance, feel, and flower structure. Thus, it’s useful to analyze these four indicators.


Cannabis grown and cured with a high degree of care generally produces a more powerful and enjoyable smell. A pungent aroma from a plant is known as a dank or loud odour, and there are many adjectives for the different aromas, such as “piney” and “skunky”. In general, a flower that has a pleasant, powerful, distinct aroma will hint at a higher-end product.


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As with food, the look of a weed product can say a lot about its quality. Weed that is considered to be top-shelf will often display various vibrant colours, possibly deep green with an assortment of red or orange hairs mixed in. It can also have bright-blue or deep-purple accents, but almost never any brown tones.

It’s useful to look for trichomes on the surface, as more visible trichomes may denote better aroma, flavour, potency, and therapeutic effects.


High-quality cannabis should feel a bit spongy when it’s squeezed, and be a bit sticky in your hand. The stems of the flowers should be fairly easy to snap, with buds that can be broken apart without too much effort. The buds should not be too soft or damp, because these indicate a high likelihood of mildew or mould growth.

Flower structure

Flower that has been well cured and cultivated will often be fluffier and lighter in Sativa-dominant strains, and denser and more tightly packed in Indica-dominant ones. If the plant is rock hard, it may mean that plant-growth regulators were used, which can come with an unpleasant flavour. Plants that are excessively fluffy may indicate that the growing environment didn’t contain enough light intensity. Given that structures vary, high-end products come in many sizes and shapes.

Subpar products


Low-end flowers often look discoloured or have too many seeds and stems. Flowers can become discoloured because of many factors, such as chemicals, pesticides, age, and mould. No matter the reason, you should avoid purchasing this product, and you’d certainly be unwise to smoke it. Pay particular attention to trichomes that have turned from clear to amber with light, heat, and time. If these appear, the product is likely older than it may have looked at first.

If the plant is dirt-brown or lime-green, it should be avoided at all costs.


The smell of low-quality products is often unpleasant and can be likened to must or mildew. If this is the case, the flower is likely old or compromised in some way. It can take about a year for properly stored cannabis to degrade, so poor aroma is a clear indication that it either was cured inadequately or is quite old.


A lower-end product will generally feel relatively dry or brittle when handled. Dry nugs will seem lighter and more airy, with practically no density or weight. They will also be more prone to crumble in your hands, or even completely break apart. When the product is loose in this manner, it’s called shake and is best left alone.

Buds that are too damp will have stems that are more difficult to snap. These buds are more likely to run into issues of mould and mildew, due to the excess moisture. If the bud is damp and breaks apart very easily, it’s a sign that the grower did not adequately cure and dry the cannabis.

Flower structure

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Subpar flower structure is fairly easy to identify right away, as it can look plainly inferior. Plants grown in improper lighting and environments are fluffier and more airy, making them less dense even when the cannabinoid and terpene profiles are similar to products that have been cultivated and cured with more care. As a result, the cannabis community largely dismisses these products.

The No. 1 indicator

While these four main indicators can go a long way in helping you to distinguish high-quality from low-quality cannabis, the ultimate indicator of the best product for you is your own individual preference. No two people are sure to like the same strains, and there is a plethora of options to try out.

Even if a particular strain is not a top-shelf product, it may be the right fit for you and your personal chemistry.

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