What’s in a Strain? 9 Simple Ways to Tell Good vs Bad Cannabis

good vs bad cannabis
By Andrew Ward Updated May 22nd

The standardization of the legal cannabis market may one day steer us towards one largely unified view on what constitutes high quality marijuana. That said, today isn't that day. 

Just about everyone has their own rubric when it comes to the battle of good vs bad cannabis. Connoisseurs often analyze the entire plant profile. Casual consumers may opt for a more straightforward approach, like the highest THC potency, or go by looks, picking the "good looking weed." 

As the philosopher Olmec from Legends of the Hidden Temple taught us, "The choice is yours, and yours alone." But if you want some help on how to tell if your cannabis is good or not, we look at nine simple ways you can use every time you shop. 

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Does price always indicate good vs bad cannabis?

how to tell good vs bad cannabis

Price is often an indicator for high quality strains, but it shouldn't be used as a reliable metric until you're sure of the source. 

A slew of factors determines the cost of cannabis, ranging from flower quality and cultivator name to branding and a company's need to turn a profit. That's just the tip of the iceberg in cost determination. 

If you know the dispensary and grower, and you're familiar with their flower and standard pricing structure, it is often safe to use price when comparing good vs. bad weed. 

But keep in mind that batch size, supply chain issues, and availability can also affect prices (lowering the cost of high quality marijuana or raising the price on strains that normally cost less). And keep an eye out for sales or discounts that drop the price of top-shelf products. 

So, consider cost when making your purchase, but don't let it be the determining factor in quality. 

The fastest ways to tell if you're buying high quality marijuana

There are a number of ways you can quickly tell if a strain is good or not - whether you’re at home or the dispensary. 

The plant profile is always a great place to start: check the THC content and the other cannabinoids, terpenes and compounds that all help create that strain's effects. You can often find this information at the dispensary or online. 

Get a look at the nugs as well, looking for their trichomes ("crystals"), color and aroma. Ideally, you'll pick up some flower that's rich in frosty crystals with a lovely green - or purple, blue, or even black - color that smells like it's billed (for example, a “Diesel” strain should have a chem-fuel aroma).

When all else fails, you may be able to turn to the sales shelves for help. Just as the name suggests, high quality or top-shelf cannabis can be found on the highest sales shelf, with middle- and lower-tier products below. 

Keep the following points in mind when scouting high quality marijuana products.

1. Price / Tier

As mentioned above, price and shelf placement are often an indicator of quality cannabis. It isn't always correct, but these factors are often a reliable method to follow. 

2. Smell / Flavor

When putting your potential purchase to the literal sniff test, make sure the flower in the bag matches the aroma as described. 

Look for fuel, earthy, citrus, sweet and other common aromas, making sure they match up with the label. If possible, give the strain a taste test before buying. Chances are this won’t be possible at a dispensary, but you can try some friend's pot (if they and the law allow it). 

3. Look / Color

Building off the point above, plant aesthetics are important indicators of high quality marijuana. Be sure to assess the following when picking up your purchase:

  • Abundant Trichomes (giving the strain a frosty look)
  • Pistil Color (often orange or red)
  • Bud Structure/Trim Quality
  • Mold (Don't buy moldy weed!)

4. Feel / Flower Structure

If you can handle the flower before buying, assess the following areas:

  • Plant Density/Fluffiness (dense is often associated with higher quality, but this isn’t always the case) 
  • Stick and Seed Presence
  • Moisture:Dryness Ratio (you don’t want wet weed, but it shouldn’t be dry enough to crumble between your fingers, either)

You found good looking marijuana… but will it work for you?

good vs bad cannabis effects

It would make life easier, but telling good vs bad cannabis doesn't just boil down to the points above. That's because every person has a different need when consuming. Customer demand ranges from strictly medical use to primarily recreational. And while the look, smell, and flavor are important indicators of quality, one of the most important factors when purchasing cannabis is whether it delivers the effects you want.

Those looking for a precise outcome should consider the following points:

5. Check the cannabinoid / terpene profile

Some consumers believe that THC dictates the span of the plant's effects while its cannabinoid and terpene content dictates the type of effects. They point towards cultivars high in cannabinoids like CBG or CBD for providing relaxing effects, indicating the potential of each compound. Meanwhile, the numerous other compounds found in cannabis - like CBN, THCa, myrcene, limonene, and others - have been associated with uplifting, energizing, euphoric, pain-relieving, and other effects.

6. Consider each strain's genetics

Today, strains are named and re-named by various brands and growers. At the same time, new crosses keep hitting sales shelves. In short, it's challenging to keep up. 

If you find yourself unable to get the plant profile info for a newly dropped product, check its lineage for an idea of what you can expect. You can get a gist of a hot new strain’s profile by analyzing the parents crossed to make it. It's not an exact analysis but it may help in a pinch. 

7. Trust your experience

Author Malcom Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert, so I guess you better start consuming.

All kidding aside, your consumption journey will craft your expertise. Sample the strains you think are best for you. Take note of the effects, flavors, aromas, etc., that you like best. Over time, those preferences will help craft your intuition – as well as what you might recommend to your new cannabis-consuming friends when they eventually ask for your recommendations on high quality marijuana strains.

Good flower starts with great growers

good vs bad weed starts with growers

In a world of increasingly mass-produced marijuana for pure profit, passionate growers and cultivars are more crucial than ever. Keep legacy growers and operations in mind when looking for top cannabis products. Not only do you get better quality flower, but you support industry OGs in the process. 

8. Know how your weed is grown

One of the glaring elephants in the room is that, depending on its methods, cannabis cultivation can be detrimental to our environment. Look for brands that choose carbon-conscious, pesticide-free processes. Check if a brand touts these points on their website, providing a detailed look at how their plants are grown. 

9. Check that your cannabis is thoroughly tested

Legal cannabis helps provide consumers with clarity regarding their products. Lab analysis allows consumers to ensure that products pass contaminants tests and that their plant profile matches what's listed on the label. However, states make their own testing rules due to federal regulations, leaving some states with looser rules than others. 

Don't just smoke cannabis. Smoke better cannabis. 

Better strains often mean a more pleasing overall experience. Even if you're a neutral party in the battle of good vs bad weed, we hope this gives you a bit more insight into how you can spot high quality cannabis for fair prices.

Happy consuming!

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