Due to associated stigma and misinformation, people trying to buy cannabis for the first time are likely to have an unpleasant experience. Knowing what you are looking for is key to buying good cannabis, therefore learning about how to identify the good stuff is your first step to success. Unfortunately, it is, at its heart, a money-making industry just like any other, so if you are not keeping your eye tuned for quality, nobody else will do it for you and you may end up paying a lot of money for some really inadequate produce or even “schwag”.
The first thing you need to know is that it is all about the flower. It is as simple as this: a good flower produces good cannabis; a bad flower produces bad cannabis. To understand this more thoroughly, you should also know what is meant by the term “flower”. It is that bud-like shape that anyone who has seen imagery of cannabis before will be familiar with to some extent – the small nugget of substance and the source of THC, which causes the high. Now that you know this, you need to know the next logical step: how to identify a good plant and therefore a good strain of cannabis.
Luckily, the things you need to do this identification process are things you have naturally. No need for fancy machines or a magnifying glass: all you need are your core senses, and some common sense.
A good batch of cannabis smells very distinct – the stronger, the better the quality. Adjectives that people use to describe the smell are “musky” or “piney”, so if you try and imagine the smell of a dry, hot forest, you might start getting the idea. If you smell it and think, “Huh. That is not as bad as people say”, it is highly possible that you are being sold a weak batch.
However, if it smells damp, or moldy, then it is passed its most effective. Not only do these smells indicate that the cannabis is low quality, but it also suggests that the cannabis was improperly cured, and this could have dangerous health risks.
What the batch looks like is important, so you need to be observant when making a selection before you purchase. There is no exact picture that will be the standard for every batch to simply compare over a photograph. However, there are plenty of visual clues as to whether the conditions in which it was grown were optimum.
In terms of colour, the batch should be as varied as possible. For instance, if it appears all one shade of dull green, it is unlikely high quality. However, if it offers different shades of green, or specks of orange, you are likely to have found high quality stuff. If it is all brown – do not buy it. If it looks burnt, treat it like you would treat burnt food and chuck it! Monotonous colours are not only an indicator of quality, but they also imply that there may be undesirable chemicals in it or that it has been cured incorrectly or with poor judgement.
Trichomes are small sparkly hairs that sprout and are visual on different plants. They almost look like frozen arm hairs, if you can conjure up that image. On cannabis plants, they contain the compounds that give you flavour and effect. They are not particularly difficult to see, you simply need to know what you are looking for. Therefore, if you cannot find them or they appear unreasonable small and tricky to find, then they are probably telling you the truth: it is a bad batch. Trust your gut and acknowledge that if you are struggling to identify them, it is probably the batch’s fault rather than yours. They almost look like crystallized eyelashes… And the more of them, the merrier!
Before purchasing or even just consuming, if you get the chance, you should try get a feel of the product. Hold it between your fingers and give it a gentle squeeze – the consistency should almost be soft, as if squeezing a sponge. You should not be able to flatten it between your fingers, though. Once you have put it down, observe your fingers and see whether they have been left with a faint sticky residue. These are signs of good product.
The product should be dry enough that you could easily pull it apart of need be or snap it in two. However, it should not be so dry that it begins to crumble into what appears to be a dusty consistency. You need the balance to be just right, because if it is wet, this could cause further undesirable issues such as it starting to grow mold.
Try and gage the weight of it compared to other bulbs you are feeling – if it is too light, it is probably old and flaky, likely to crumble and have the aforementioned undesirable effects. Give it a little shake in your cupped hands like you are gently rolling some dice – if it falls into lots of little pieces, you do not want it!
You want a tight flower, but not too tight. You want a fluffy consistency, but not too loose. These may seem like impossibly vague and difficult qualities to identify, but the main point here is to just make sure there is balance. There is no perfect bulb per say, you simply need to be able to make educated comparisons.
Balance can be achieved by looking at the extremes. For instance, if the shape is excessively tight, as if it has been squashed together into a little ball, this may indicate that the flower was forced to grow in that shape through external, unnatural, enhancing technology. If this is the case, it is not necessarily dangerous but it may result in the taste mirroring the taste of the external things used and be unpleasant. At the end of the day, while you obviously want to be safe, it is just as important to ensure it is a pleasant, enjoyable experience.
On the other hand, it being excessively loose implies that the plant ended up taking a natural growth course – like a wild herb in the park, for instance – because it was not given sufficient artificial or consistent light. Light is a vital element; therefore, signs of its absence should be taken seriously. The light harnesses the THC and therefore the potency.
The thing to remember as a beginner is that the more you see, smell and feel, and the more you taste, the more likely you are to be able to recognize the qualities in the future. At the beginning, try not take yourself too seriously or feel too stressed about the situation and trust that your natural senses will see you through. In the same way as you may sniff a wine before drinking to smell for an acidic or unpleasant smell, you are doing this with the cannabis.
To start off this process, though, always evaluate a few variations before buying. If you have a choice, you should smell them all, feel them all, observe them all – honestly, as many as the seller will allow you, because it will open you up to all the variations. Just from this minor stage of comparison, which will only expand the more you consume, you will start understanding the differences that occur. Eventually, like an expert wine taster, you may be able to pick up flavour just from the smell or expect potency just from the colour.
Another thing you will start learning is that different tastes are a result of different feel, smell and consistency, and you can start making selections based on your personal preference. Slowly but surely, you will understand the flower more and more. You will be able to select different batches for different moods, experience or highs. The possibilities will become endless with time, patience and experience.