Top-shelf is slang for a high-quality cannabis product that is often the most expensive on a menu. In terms of cannabis flower, top-shelf weed will exhibit an aesthetically pleasing appearance, demonstrate desirable terpene aromas and flavors, and have a high cannabinoid content. Top-shelf weed is sometimes referred to as loud weed for its potent fragrance and high quality. It also has other synonyms, including high-grade and fire.

weed joint container

Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

Creating top-shelf cannabis

Several factors go into creating premium cannabis, as any professional grower will tell you. 

Top-shelf cannabis components:

  • Genes: selective breeding over decades has made some strains better than others when it comes to terpene and cannabinoid content
  • Healthy soil: good soil with plenty of microbes supports top-shelf results  
  • Proper nutrition: like any plant, cannabis needs the right nutrients, mainly nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, at the right time to produce stellar results
  • Drying and curing: proper handling after harvest preserves the trichomes so genetically superior cannabis tastes, smells, and smokes better 
bad weed vs good weed Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

Bad weed vs. good weed

An experienced budtender may be able to guide you, but when it comes to separating good weed from bad, trust your senses. 


  • Smell: Though there might be some variation in specific scents between strains, top-shelf buds should have a strong, pungent aroma. Moldy, musty, or straw-like aromas all point to low-grade cannabis that should be avoided. 
  • Appearance: Deep green buds with orange or red hairs and a heavy coat of glistening trichomes indicate top-shelf weed. While some high-grade buds are a little fluffy and others denser, anything that's either rock-hard or very light and fluffy should be avoided. 
  • Feel: All those trichomes should make quality weed a bit sticky. The nug should also feel a bit spongy but never wet or damp.

Some point to potency or the flower's THC level as an indicator of quality but that's not necessarily true. Like everything else about enjoying cannabis, the level of THC in your weed is a matter of preference. Some people prefer the experience of strains with less THC or more balanced THC-to-CBD ratios.

In the end, top-shelf weed means high-quality, cannabinoid- and terpene-rich cannabis produced without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers.  


How hard is it to grow top-shelf weed?

The fact that top-shelf commands top prices points to its rarity. If it was easy, all weed would be top-shelf. Growers choose quality genetics, carefully monitor nutrients, light, water, and other inputs throughout the growing cycle, harvest at exactly the right time, then take the utmost care in curing, drying, packaging, and transporting to deliver the very best cannabis.

Is exotic weed the same as top-shelf weed?

Exotic weed may just be rare or from an exotic location and not necessarily top-shelf. Beautiful cannabis may not deliver the taste and aroma that makes it rise to a premium level. 

Is Runtz or any single strain considered top shelf?

Some strains are bred to be premium cannabis but genetics are just the beginning. Even high-quality genetics can be wrecked by poor soil, the wrong nutrients, or careless curing and drying. Smell, appearance, and feel determine quality, not the name of the strain. 

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The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical or legal advice. This page was last updated on June 10, 2022.