For those not living in weed-friendly states, it can be exciting to get your hands on any kind of cannabis, regardless of the quality. Grateful, you puff and praise the universe for sending such a thoughtful gift your way. Oftentimes, ganja comes crumpled up in cigarette box cellophane or bundled in a sandwich baggie. A delivery service may also bring clear plastic cubes decorated with cartoon stickers and made-up strain names. When you’re lucky, though, a friend gifts you precious flower from an underground grow.
Without access to legal, regulated retail cannabis, you may have very little control over what you consume, no idea about pesticides, cannabinoid percentages, and terpene profiles, and little insight on what defines quality. To assist with this, we assembled this guide to help you decipher the difference between low-, mid-, and high-quality bud.
Low quality cannabis (a.k.a. shwag, dirt weed, brick weed, ditch weed, popcorn, bottom shelf, and shake) is brownish with hints of green. Usually compressed into bricks for transit, you’ll find a mix of of seeds, stems, and shake as well as dry, compacted nugs. Once you tease a single bud out of the bunch, you’ll notice that it’s light and leafy, lacking girth, like picking up old dead sticks and leaves out of the dirt.
On the nose, shwag is generally earthy and pungent, often tasting harsh and spicy. Cannabinoid concentration is usually quite low due to improper environmental controls such as superfluous heat, causing the buds to bloom prematurely. There are no bulbous, glittery trichomes present in low-grade cannabis.
Due to harsh environmental elements and improper handling, curing, and storage, bottom-shelf bud often tests high in cannabinol (CBN), a result of THC deterioration; when THC oxidizes, it transforms into CBN. Cannabis high in CBN causes marked drowsiness and sedation, not much elevation. By keeping your low-quality nugs in an airtight receptacle, you can slow down the degenerative process a bit. While high concentrations of CBN may be a sign your dirt weed was mishandled before it reached you, there are some benefits to this underappreciated, low-psychoactive cannabinoid, like pain relief and appetite stimulation. CBN also reduces inflammation and combats insomnia.
On the downside, the lack of care typically results in contamination from pesticides, mildew, mold, and insects. Brick weed may induce headaches or other unpleasant side effects. Buyer beware. The good news? Low prices...?
Mid-grade cannabis (a.k.a. mids, beasters, regs, regular weed, and Reggie) is where most North American-grown cannabis weighs in on the quality hierarchy. Decent genetics birth an array of green tones with colorful pistils, mainly mixes of orange and yellow hues. Mids may have frosty trichomes, or not, and boast some average terpene profiles, though it’s rare they’re actually lab-certified. You’ll infrequently find seeds and stems in a stash of mids. However, if the buds have been rushed to market, they may be cured quickly, trimmed carelessly, and nutrients may have been flushed incorrectly. Mids may be moldy, too dry or too wet—characteristics not typically detectable by the intermediate connoisseur or novice. Mid-grade buds harvested in bulk may look rounded rather than leafy, denoting an automated machine trim. Still, mids are generally potent and gratifying. It’s more expensive than shwag, but prices depend on location.
Craft cannabis, artisanal, top shelf, piff, fire, chronic, headies, kind, loud are some of the terms you may hear when talking about the diggity dank. Boasting a vibrant spectrum of color (deep hues of red, purple, green, blue, pink and orange), high-quality chronic features prominent cannabinoid and terpene profiles, pronounced translucent trichomes, complex aromas, powerful flavors and attention to detail in every aspect—from cultivation, to curing, to trimming.
Artisanal growers use house-crafted compost teas, living soil, organic nutrients, and zero chemicals and employ techniques like glass-curing and hand-trimming with an emphasis on quality over quantity. Even quality outdoor sungrown can qualify as piff when cultivated by a knowledgeable grower. In fact, certain outdoor sungrown cannabis can be so good, machine-trimmed nugs may still qualify as fire. Hand-trimmed headies will be easy on the eyes, showcasing intact structure and geometry, letting you know that handlers have exercised extreme care and love out of reverence for the plant. Attention to detail and careful trimming ensures you’re receiving product with as many trichomes as possible, since that’s where the goodness lives. Preserve these nugs in a cannabis humidor, or a kief box and grind them using a kief catcher. Accumulated pollen is kief, a precursor to rosin and hash.
The effects of craft cannabis are diverse, spiritual, medicinal, and quite potent. A trained nose can take one sniff and identify whether a sticky, dense bud is high in myrcene, pinene, or limonene. Tests and aromas indicating a robust and well-rounded terpene profile hint to a master cultivator producing bud that’s balanced, complex, and most enjoyable when consumed. Premium cannabis can soar in price, but it doesn’t have to be spendy. Prices vary by dispensary, grower, and city. Finding a seed is rare, so if you do, keep it. Grow it when you’re legally able.
Additional Tips for Furthering Your Cannabis Knowledge
Ditch the limiting and outdated paradigm of indica vs. sativa for a more well-rounded and science-based understanding of cannabis.
Learn about how flavonoids play a highly bioactive role in both cannabis’ consumption and cultivation by combining with each other and other cannabis phytonutrients.
There are over 480 natural components in cannabis—66 cannabinoids and 120 aromatic compounds or terpenes—that work together to create whole-plant medicine.
Study the tremendous health benefits associated with cannabidiol (CBD), the primary non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis.
Schools like the Trichome Institute offer classes where you can study cannabis extensively; or pick up a copy of Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany, by Robert C. Clarke, for a deeper understanding of the plant.