In an ever-growing cannabis market, the task of selecting the best pot and concentrates can be daunting. Join us as we delve into the optimal ways to track down and choose the finest cannabis the world has to offer.
True enthusiasts of cannabis have several things in common. First and foremost, we all foster a love and appreciation for nature’s gracious green gift. This gratitude cultivates a passion to seek out the greatest strains, breeders, growers and extract artists. Whether it’s finding the best plug in your neighborhood, selecting the ideal dispensary, going to a Cannabis Cup or traveling the world, true aficionados never stop searching for the ultimate herb. Let’s examine how you can up your ganja game by learning how to find, recognize and select the the finest cannabis available.
Where’s The Weed?
If you’re one of the lucky Americans with friendly medical or recreational laws in your state, then dispensaries are a decent place to start sourcing acceptable pot products. Quality and selection vary quite widely from business to business, and will continue to do so until there are rational regulations and standards set in the production and testing of cannabis products. Finding knowledgeable budtenders who can provide background information on a dispensary’s wares is very helpful. Be sure to ask about a product’s genetics and lineage, who the cultivator is, and what growing technique or extraction method was applied. Many budtenders only offer the product’s expected effects based on it being sativa– or indica-dominant. Asking more detailed questions can lead to more useful information for selecting the best possible product.
Many cannabis lovers go a step further by following known breeders, growers and extract artists who exhibit consistency, knowledge of safe cultivation and extraction practices, and access to dank genetics. Following your favorite grower or concentrate maker on social media can definitely give you a leg up as producers often announce drop locations of their products so you can easily find an already-proven source of quality cannabis. The best of the crafters can sell out in mere minutes, rewarding only the most motivated admirers.
Finding consistently high-quality cannabis in less pot-friendly states can prove more challenging. Often, the flowers and concentrates that come from out of state and enter the black market are inferior, as the choicest of the crop is held back for local use while less heady goods are shipped out. The best products are usually found the closer you are to the grower or extractor. This presents a major obstacle for those living in prohibition states. The closer to the origin, the better the cannabis—with less chance that the product has been mishandled and degraded in any way.
Finding people in the industry that treat cannabis with passion and respect is of paramount importance. There are plenty of people and businesses looking to achieve the greatest return on their investment while disregarding safety and quality. That’s one reason to hone your cannabis IQ—to avoid the pitfalls of weekend weed warriors and be able to distinguish quality cannabis from inferior product.
Judging A Book By Its Cover
Sourcing a reliable connection is just the first step in finding your Holy Grail of cannabis. Visual inspection can unearth some information that a connection may not share. Something as simple as the way the product is packaged or displayed is a good initial indicator as to how much respect and consideration it has received. What is it packaged in? Flowers encased in turkey bags, plastic zip bags or plastic containers can lead to lower-quality results. Even the best cannabis source can result in a deteriorated, inferior end product if the goods are not handled properly. Plastic bags can be harsh to the buds’ exterior, crushing pistils, compressing structure and knocking off precious trichomes. Glass jars are the preferred container for cannabis, as they protect structural integrity, retain terpenes and keep flowers from drying out. The cannabis should also fill the jar in order to reduce the amount of air within. Putting a little bit of flower in a very large jar is almost the same as just leaving it out in the open. This can result in overly dry flowers with less smell and taste.
Containers of concentrates need to be airtight. Having a gasket seal built into the lid helps retain terpenes and keeps aqueous, runny oil from leaking. Using miniature paper key envelopes can prove to be unreliable packaging as your material will degrade quickly over time and “sweat out.” Terpenes can separate from THC and slowly seep through parchment, saturating the envelope. If something as simple as the packaging was neglected, how else could this product have been mistreated?
A Keen Cannabis Eye
Next, take the time to visually inspect the cannabis itself. The color of the buds can provide hints about how old the product is. A bright green color can mean a large amount of chlorophyll is still present, revealing freshly dried material still needing a cure. The main purpose of curing flowers is to allow the chlorophyll to break down, creating a cleaner, smoother smoke. Curing will also darken the buds slightly and slowly provide shades of gold and brown.
What do the bud’s leaves look like? Browned or burnt leaf tips mean that the plant was stressed at some point and not allowed to flourish. Whether it encountered a nutrient problem or was exposed to high temperatures, the plant was not given the proper environment to achieve its maximum potential.
Take notice of the bud structure. Are the flowers dense and of decent size, or are they wispy and small? Structure can depend on how well the plant was fed, how much light was introduced, the amount of oxygen that was available and whether the proper temperatures were maintained. Indicas tend to produce larger, denser buds, while sativas can yield smaller, lighter nugs. Failure to provide optimum environments can produce inferior flowers with less bag appeal.
Is the bud compressed unnaturally like a brick? Imported weed coming from Mexico for the black market can sometimes retain the circular shape of a tire after having been packed tightly to smuggle across the boarder. This exposes the herb to harmful conditions like heat and pressure, which degrade the material significantly.
Focus a bit closer on the flowers. Are there seeds or little yellow/white objects resembling bananas in the foliage? This can be a sign that the plant was stressed and forced to produce hermaphrodite sites, allowing the plant to fertilize itself. Seeds can also indicate that a male plant was present in the growroom, impregnating the females and forcing seed growth. An ounce of seeded flowers can contain a third of its weight in seeds. This diverts valuable energy that could otherwise be used for cannabinoid and terpene production.
Signs of stress like burnt leaf tips or browning tips of colas and buds can mean nutrient burn or deficiency, exposure to high temperatures or placement too close to lights. These can result in low terpenoid counts and lack of flavor, which is so important to the full effect of cannabis.
Inspect for insects, mold, mildew, cat hair and other foreign contaminants. Dead bugs—or their feces—are signs of an infestation, and are unacceptable for consumption.
Do you see white spiderweb-like strands of fungus and mildew? Don’t confuse a blanket of white powder on the surface of your flowers for shiny trichomes, as powdery mildew is a common sight on lower-grade cannabis. Mold, mildew or fungus can mean the plants were exposed to too much humidity or that the buds weren’t allowed to dry properly before being stored. This can not only ruin the flavor of even the best genetics, but also be hazardous to consumers.
A Closer Look At Concentrates
Visual inspection of concentrates starts with looking for contaminants like animal hairs, plant material that escaped filtration when extracted, and even microfibers from low-quality filters and equipment used in the process. Maintaining clean, controlled extraction conditions allows for consistent and exceptional results. Far too often, pet hair finds it way into dabs, indicating extractions performed in home labs or unsanitary conditions.
Are there lots of bubbles present in uniformity? Bubbles in shatter, oil, or snap and pull can be the result of repeated flipping during purging, but a sea of bubbles throughout could be a sign of an incomplete purge that left residual solvents.
The consistency of concentrates has less to do with quality and more to do with someone’s preference. Shatters and dry waxes tend to contain smaller ratios of terpenes, resulting in less flavor than sauces, wet sugars and wet budders. Dry crumble can also prove to be harder to load onto a dabber.
Concentrate shapes, much like flowers smuggled in tires, can also tell the story of its transport. Slabs of imported hashish can sometimes be found in the shape of a shoe from being packed inside a sole and smuggled. Amsterdam’s hash queen Milla used to smuggle hash through airport security rolled into balls and laced onto a chain hung on her neck, disguised as jewelry! (Do not try this; Milla is a genuine badass.)
Lighter-color extracts can reveal several things. Material that has been kept cool and sealed will retain lighter colors and darken as it ages and is exposed to heat above 60 to 70 degrees. Less-mature trichomes will also yield lighter colors and result in stronger scents, but they’ll provide a more mellow high that can last a significantly shorter period than fully-mature starting material. Some strains will yield darker shades than others. Be wary of very dark brown or black extracts as they can signify poor processing practices or older, less heady starting material. While extreme colors can prove to be helpful indicators for quality, the truth is that concentrate colors are less important than smell, taste and effect, which remain the strongest measures of high-grade extracts.
The Nose Knows
When you have the opportunity to inspect product, open up a jar of cannabis and immediately smell the flowers or concentrates. Terpenes have been slowly building up within the jar. Note how “loud” the scent is. A light scent can mean overly dried, badly grown or improperly purged material. Older cannabis can smell like ammonia, which can mean there’s mold present. A wet-rain smell can mean too much moisture remains in the buds. Any hint of hay means the material is old and has been sitting around, losing valuable terpenes.
If possible, squeeze or break open a bud to further release the flower’s bouquet. Stir the saucy concentrate or rub the shatter sandwiched between parchment to slightly warm it and release its aroma. What smells are present? Strong citrusy and fruity smells, like oranges or strawberries, generally indicate an energizing, sativa-like effect, while scents of gas, pine or musk can mean more of an indica body high.
Concentrate smells should represent the flowers in the best of ways. They should present strong aromas that smell just like the flowers that were extracted—but more intensely as there’s a higher ratio of terpenoids present. Any egg-like or rotten smell can indicate that the extractors used inferior canned gas that contains mercaptans—odor markers added to odorless butane to indicate dangerous gas leaks. Alcohol or other solvent smells in concentrates can mean incomplete purges. Quite often, concentrates that have been winterized in alcohol or ethanol (a process utilizing cold temperatures to separate the fats, waxes and lipids from the rest of the material) can retain the smell and flavor of the solvent, lowering the quality of oil.
The Power Of Touch And Taste
Many dispensaries won’t let you touch the buds with your hands and often have their budtenders use chopsticks to handle products. If possible, ask to touch a bud to examine it further. Is the stem of the bud dry enough to snap and break when bent? This indicates it’s dried enough to smoke properly. Does it bend and fold over easily? This means it’s still too wet to smoke. Tenderly squeeze a small portion of the bud and note its texture. It should be sticky but not wet to the touch, indicating a good amount of resin production. Finally, crumble a tiny bit between your fingers. Flowers in Colorado often become too dried out due to the arid air from the high altitude. This causes buds to break up into dust rather than small bits, indicating deteriorated flowers. Conversely, if the bud is hard to break up into pieces, it could mean it’s too fresh and needs further drying.
All of these indicators aid in selecting the highest-grade cannabis. However, the truest test of a product’s quality is, of course, how it smokes. Rolling a joint or smoking a bowl can confirm what you’ve ascertained from inspection. Does the flavor taste like the smell? Sometimes cannabis can smell very pleasant but doesn’t follow through as strongly with its taste. Harsh smoke, acrid flavor or a burn to the throat and/or nose can mean an improper flush of nutrients or adulterants like foliar sprays or pesticides.
Does the joint or bowl have any problem burning? Joints that continually need to be relit can indicate impurities or material that’s still too wet. Examine the ash left after smoking flowers. Is it the white ash of a properly flushed flower or are there bits of grit and black ash signifying impurities such as nutrients or heavy metals? Concentrates that are rich in nutrients, contaminants or unwanted plant material will leave a black char residue on the nail. Any hissing or popping when a dab is applied to a heated nail can mean trapped water or even residual solvent.
The final judgment lies in the effect that the cannabis provides. There are many delicious strains out there that don’t follow through with a prominent high. The truth is that cannabis affects everyone differently. The only effective way to understand how each strain’s flavor profile stimulates you is to try it. As you discover the different ways strains influence you, you’ll be able to select specific products to achieve desired results. However, a strain’s indica or sativa dominance is a good rule of thumb for general effect. Do you have trouble waking up in the morning or need energy and motivation? Try a strong, citrusy sativa like Tangie, which invigorates and energizes. Want to relax your muscles as you sit back and watch a movie? Chem Dog produces a body high and slows the mind, making it a great tool to concentrate on a single task.
Some dispensaries, growers and extractors like to include lab results with a product. These can prove valuable, particularly tests for pesticides, mold and other contaminants. The nose and taste buds can’t always detect potentially harmful materials in cannabis, leaving labs as the last line of defense in detecting hazardous contaminants. Currently, though, labs are not subject to regulations and oversight, making it difficult to truly trust data like THC, terpene and cannabinoid numbers, as they can deviate significantly from lab to lab. Be wary of extremely high numbers like 40 percent THC content in flowers. Some of the more unscrupulous labs inflate numbers in an effort to attract cultivators and extractors.
Acquiring the skills to find and recognize superior pot products can pay dividends. Knowing the difference between great and mediocre cannabis is the key to elevating your cannabis experience. Sharing your enthusiasm and knowledge of cannabis can only improve your connection to the plant and with your fellow man.