Top Shelf: A Beginner’s Guide to Buying Cannabis

The best smoking experiences often come with the best marijuana buds. When flower is really good, you spark up and experience pleasant highs, great flavor, relaxing aromas. The worst smoking experiences often come when flower is, well, just bad. We always want the “loud,” “fire,” “Private Reserve” weed, and want to avoid the “schwag,” “brick,” and “bunk” weed at all costs.

Identifying high-quality, or as people familiar to buying weed say: “top shelf,” flower can throw even the most experienced cannabis connoisseurs for a loop, so here are a few key traits that separate today’s high-end strains from less desirable ones.

Top Shelf Flower

Let’s quickly define flower before we get started. The term flower refers to the dried and cured female cannabis plant’s blooms, often called “nugs” or “buds.” Flower is typically intoxicating in nature – THC content is the primary indicator of euphoric potency – but some flower has high CBD content and will bring about less intoxicating effects.

There are four main indicators when delineating between high-quality flower and subpar flower: smell, look, feel, and flower structure.

Here are a few markers to help you identify the best marijuana for your money.

Indicators of High-Quality Flower

Smell

Cannabis cultivated and cured to the highest standards typically exhibits a pungent and pleasant aroma. Flowers emitting a strong fragrance are commonly referred to as having a “dank” or “loud” odor, indicating the overall quality of the flower. There are a variety of terms for the types of aromas high-quality cannabis emits, including “skunky,” “diesely” and “piney.”

Smelling Cannabis

The common denominator is that a good smelling flower is distinct, pungent, and unmistakable; the stronger smelling, the better.

Look

Varieties of Cannabis

High-end flower, like fresh, healthy produce, provides a few visual hints to help you determine its quality.

While all good cannabis should be visually appealing, a top shelf strain can easily display a brilliant array of vibrant colors. Quality flowers are often a deep or lime green with flaming orange to red hairs. They can also express colors from deep purple to bright blue, but should never display brown color tones.

Top Shelf Flower

Another important visual indicator is the amount of trichomes. Trichomes are the tiny, glimmering crystal-like appendages on the plant’s surface that create and hold the compounds responsible for the flower’s smell, flavor, and effects. The more trichomes you can see with the naked eye, the better the indicator of the flower’s potency.

Feel

Top shelf flower should be sticky and slightly spongy when you touch or gently squeeze it between your fingers. Stems should snap and the bud should be relatively easy to break apart, but shouldn’t be completely dry or crumble apart when you touch it. Alternatively, buds shouldn’t be too wet or soft, as these buds have a higher chance of containing or developing mold or mildew.

Hand Breaking Up Flower

Flower Structure

Skillfully cultivated and cured Sativa flowers tend to be light and fluffy in shape and composition, while Indicas tend to be tighter and denser in flower structure. Rock-hard flowers are a sign that cultivators may have used plant growth regulators, which can lead to an unpleasant taste. Extremely fluffy flowers could be a signal that the plant was not grown under sufficient light density and was not cultivated to its potential.

While “top shelf” flower is the hallmark of a great dispensary, good flower comes in many shapes and sizes – and have more than a few nicknames and by-products.

Trimmed Flower

Indicators of Subpar Quality

Smell:

Low-quality flower can take on a variety of quirky fragrances, which are rarely good. Often referred to as “schwag,” or “bottom shelf,” these low-end buds can reek of a musty/mildew aroma. A musty, straw or grass-like aroma is a clear indication of aged cannabis. Unpleasant aromas are generally a sign of mishandling or poorly cured cannabis.

Smelling Bad Weed

Look

The appearance of low-quality flower is distinct. It can come in the form of discolored flower or an abundance of stems and seeds. There are many reasons for a discolored flower – mold, pesticides, chemicals, age – the bottom line is you don’t want to buy it, let alone smoke it.

An unfortunate sight, low-quality cannabis is seen in many shades of ugly. From dirt brown to an immature lime green flower, nature provides several visual clues when you’re looking at a good plant gone bad.

Bad Weed

Feel

When flower is of a lower quality, it will often be dry or brittle to the touch. Dry bud will feel light and airy with no weight behind it, unlike dense, sticky flower. Additionally, subpar flower will easily crumble when handled, or might even be falling apart. Loose, undone flower is called “shake” and should be avoided.

Crumble Bad Flower

Flower Structure

Airy, weak, and consisting of primarily stems – poor flower structure can be easily detected by the discerning eye. While a properly cultivated flower will be aesthetically pleasing, a carelessly grown plant will produce inferior looking flowers.

The Best Indicator – Your Own Personal Taste

The search for a high-quality flower doesn’t have to be a tricky one. With a discerning eye, even the newest of cannabis smokers will be able to easily separate the great buds from the bad.

But at the end of the day, it’s all about what you like. What you prefer might be different than what the local budtender, delivery driver, or your friend likes. There are hundreds of strains grown by thousands of cultivators – the goal is to find the right one for you. It’s simply about finding the brand you like and trying their products.

So get out there, look for the four main indicators: smell, look, feel, and flower structure to find a brand that best suits your personal taste.