Cannabis “flower,” also known as bud, nugs, broccoli, weed, or trees, is the more traditional form of marijuana. In California, it’s sold as whole buds in jars, tins, and bags. If you’re new to cannabis, choosing flower can be a daunting task. How do you know what good quality flower is? Where do you even start? 

We recommend coming in and speaking to a budtender who can direct you, but doing some research ahead of time and feeling more empowered is a good thing. Here are some things to consider and look for in quality flower.

Price – the most natural place to start.

High quality usually comes with a higher price tag (but not always). Middle of the road quality, also known as “mids,” is often where most people fall and is priced accordingly. Pay a little more than the bottom shelf and get some great flower that will deliver an excellent high. The bottom shelf is great for those on a budget. You will sacrifice quality in one way or another, but you will get effects at a low cost. 

Color – what are the defining colors of the flower? 

Color is one of the easiest ways to tell good weed from great weed. On a scale from low to high, browns and yellows sit squarely at the bottom (low quality). Mid quality will be shades of green and can have some hints of orange and purple. A high-quality flower will display the most extensive array of colors and have the deepest greens. Each strain produces a different color spectrum, but the intensity and vibrancy of the colors will be a dead giveaway on quality. 

Size – how big are the nugs?

Most of the time, the bigger the buds, the better the quality, but each strain produces a different size and shape. Indicas tend to be more dense and smaller, while sativas are much less dense, fluffier, and generally regarded as less aesthetically pleasing. 

Small buds, about the size of a marble or smaller, are appropriately called “Smalls” and are considered lower quality than larger nugs. Large and smalls can both come from the same harvest and the same plants but will get filtered out in the packaging process. Smalls usually get ground up into pre-rolls while the large nugs go toward the pre-packaged flower. Some brands sell smalls at a discount price, and some will even call out “smalls” on the label. 

Visuals – Other visual cues to look for

  •   Do you see trichomes, the tiny crystal/sugary looking substance on the nugs? That’s a clear sign of high-quality flower. While you should be able to see some crystals with the naked eye, using a magnifying glass will allow you to get a better view. Most dispensaries have magnifying glasses built into their flower displays, so you don’t need to worry about bringing your own. 
  •   Do you see seeds, stems, or any impurities? That’s a dead sign of low-quality flower. 
  •   Do you see trim (small leaves) or shake (the confetti of weed)? These are both signs of a low-quality product. Either the flower is low quality or the handling and packaging is not great, or both. 
  •   Do you see a lot of fan leaves? If the bud hasn’t been trimmed well or has been machine trimmed – you’ll see leaves and uneven trimming – that is considered low quality.

Smell – how intense are the aromas? 

A high-quality flower will have a sharp scent. Depending on the dominant terpenes, you’ll smell things like citrus, earth, pine, lime, lemon, floral, and more. The stronger the smell, the fresher, and higher quality the buds. 

Potency – how much THC and CBD does the flower contain? 

THC and CBD potency is a big thing consumers look for. While you can’t tell potency just by looking at the flower, all cannabis sold at legal dispensaries in California is tested for strength before hitting the shelves and is required to display the test results on the packaging. While the cannabis connoisseur is looking for 28%+ THC and isn’t too concerned about CBD, many others will look for a ratio of THC to CBD to balance the high and enhance the medicinal benefits. Novices are best to start with a strain that has THC in the 18% or lower range with at least a little CBD. 

Moisture – is the flower dry? 

Dry flower is generally not a good thing. If you can easily pull the bud apart and it tends to crumble, that is either a low-quality flower, old flower, or flower that has been stored improperly for too long. Dry herb smokes faster and doesn’t have the terpene profile of fresh cannabis. You’ll be missing out on all the complex aromas and flavors, the entourage effect, and the benefits that terpenes have been reported as having. 

Harvest origin

High quality, high potency flower is synonymous with indoor. When cannabis is grown indoors, growers can control every single input into the growing process – light, nutrients, soil, water, air, and more can all be manipulated to produce the most desired traits in a strain. Indoor produces the most THC potent flower and subsequently demands the highest retail prices on shelves. If you’re a connoisseur, a medical consumer, or someone that wants to get really high, indo should be your go-to. 

Outdoor is at the other end of the spectrum from indoor. Outdoor relies on mother nature for sunlight and soil. Growers still add enhancements and personal touches, but outdoor is the closest to mother nature. Subsequently, outdoor is the most environmentally friendly growing technique. Indoor can be very energy-intensive while outdoor takes advantage of the sun, rain, and soil that naturally occurs. Flower can only really be grown outdoors in select areas, and the Emerald Triangle is to cannabis what Napa is to wine. The terroir and growers produce the best outdoor flower in the world. 

An outdoor flower is considered mid to low, but depending on your preference, it might be a better choice. If you care about the carbon footprint of your cannabis, if you enjoy variability in your cannabis, if you’re looking for something that won’t knock you on your ass, outdoor is a great option. 

Between outdoor and indoor lay an array of hybrid growing techniques. Greenhouses allow growers to reap the free light of the sun and sometimes soil while adding their own enhancements. Greenhouses can range from simple PVC pipe, and plastic covering that is manually removed every day to state-of-the-art smart greenhouses that are entirely automated.  These mixed and hybrid growing techniques produce mids and lows, but the quality, complexity, and experience vary widely by the grower. 

We spoke to John Jezzini, veteran cultivator and founder of The High Note dispensaries. We asked what he looks for in flower. 

“The first things I look for are color, size, and smell. How vibrant are the colors, how big are the buds, and how good is the bouquet? The aroma is my focal point because it is the prelude to what your smoking experience will be. A trained nose can tell overall quality, freshness, origin, strain, and even potency based only on the smell.”

John Jezzini

Founder, The High Note

While these factors will help you tell between high and low-quality flower, it doesn’t necessarily mean one is better for you personally. Every quality level of cannabis has a consumer, a time, and a place. Speak to a budtender and start experimenting to figure out what you like.

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