The average consumer does not have access to professional laboratory testing, but there are a few tricks that consumers can use to spot poor quality or even dangerous weed.
The purchasing team at Trees Dispensary, Vancouver Island’s largest dispensary chain, sat with us to explain exactly how to identify the quality of cannabis.
A lot can be learned from one’s first impression of a particular bud using smell, touch, and sight.
The flower should be strongly aromatic and with experience, consumers can learn which strains should smell citrusy, piney, diesel-y, or floral, much in the same way that beer nerds can tell you which hop aromas are present in their favourite IPA.
If the flower smells at all like damp cardboard or a musty basement this is a sure sign that the flower is past its prime, or worse, has been colonized by nasty microbes.
For hygiene reasons most dispensaries will not let you touch their cannabis, but it is worth giving the bud a light squeeze in the bag to check for moisture content. If the bud crumbles, it is too dry. If it feels like a marshmallow, it is likely too moist. A properly cured bud should have a small amount of give to the touch but should retain its shape.
Another good test for proper moisture content is to bend a large stem, while listening and feeling for a crisp, audible ‘snap’. If the stem does not snap, it is too moist. If the stem crumbles, the bud is likely contaminated with microbes that have broken down the stem’s structure.
High-quality cannabis will be covered in a thick layer of trichomes (stalks with little bubbleheads), which contain the cannabinoids that consumers are seeking. The quality of the trichomes largely determines the quality of the flower, as they contain the active ingredients that both recreational and medical users are seeking. These trichomes should be mostly milky white, rather than clear (under-developed) or amber (over-developed and in the process of degrading). A ten-dollar jeweler’s loupe can work wonders in spotting good flower!
While various strains display an array of leaf colours from deep purple to pink and neon-green, if your bud looks brown it is usually a sign that it is old and has been exposed to oxygen (think of the browning that happens with other cut flowers). Additionally, buds should be trimmed of most leaf matter, but a perfectly smooth bud is a likely sign that the bud has been machine-trimmed, which lowers the quality by damaging and knocking off trichomes.
It is also important to be on the lookout for microbial contamination. Because laboratory testing only tests a sample of a crop, even flower with a clean lab result may pose risks. Most molds present on cannabis are relatively innocuous to those with robust immune systems, but for medical patients using cannabis who have compromised immune systems certain molds, like Aspergillus, can be fatal.
The most common and easily identified contaminants are powdery mildew and botrytis (also known as bud rot). Powdery mildew is a white, dusty mold that can easily blend in with trichomes to the untrained eye. If a bud looks too white, take a closer look with your jeweler’s loupe. Powdery mildew covers the surface of the leaves in between the stalks of the trichomes. Botrytis, or bud rot, tends to hide inside big, dense buds that hold residual moisture. This mold can vary from white to grey, to black. Anything that looks like a cobweb structure on your cannabis means that you should toss the whole bag and save your lungs.
Finally, the proof is really in the burn. How does the cannabis taste? Is it smooth, or does it hurt your throat? Cannabis that has not been properly flushed (fed only water and no nutrients during the end stages of flowering) will feel harsh and scratchy at the back of your throat. The old stoner trick of looking at the colour of ash is not a reliable test of cannabis quality. There is no sure-fire way to know if flower is contaminated with toxic sprays–independent lab testing is the best technique–but if the smoke tastes chemical or makes your mouth numb (not the same as dry-mouth) you should ask your dispensary what they are doing to ensure that their supply of cannabis is safe and spray free.
For more tips on cannabis quality and product reviews, visit treesdispensary.com. Or, if you’re bored and want someone to talk to, hit up Trees Dispensary’s Canada-wide mail order line (250) 508-4157.