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How To Differentiate Good From Bad Quality Marijuana Buds

Many think they can tell the difference between good and bad-quality bud just by giving it a once-over, but there are certain nuances people don’t consider. In this guide, we’ll walk you through each distinction, and offer some key tips on how to grow premium-quality cannabis buds.

How to tell the difference between good and bad cannabis buds.

Contents:

It probably didn’t take long after you started smoking weed to realise the differences between cannabis buds. Despite how everyone claims their weed is top-notch, you’ve probably noticed when the flower just isn’t up to par. In contrast, when you’re holding quality cannabis, you know it right then and there.

To ensure you only buy the best buds, learning the differences between top-shelf fire from rugged brick weed is vital. You don’t need to be a connoisseur either, as the differentiating traits can be seen and smelled with no assistance. Learning the differences will help you browse the shelves, sure, but it’ll especially help you judge the plants in your own garden. That, in turn, will help you make any necessary adjustments.

Types of Cannabis Buds

Cannabis flowers can be categorised into various quality spectrums. You could be talking about stickiness, terpene profile, taste, texture, or an assortment of other factors. To keep things simple, we’ve narrowed things down to three basic categories: low, medium, and premium-quality bud.

Low-Quality

Low-quality cannabis has a sorry look to it, mostly because it travels long distances after being stuffed into small packages. Known rightly as “brick weed”, these buds often arrive at their destination as dense cubes.

Rarely grown for quality or with much care at all, the producers associated with this level of cannabis are purely profit-driven. Often a black market product, low-quality cannabis typically stems from south of both the US border and the European continent.

Of course, some home growers with the intention to sell may also accidentally produce cannabis of similar quality. Novice growers will often mess up during the process and leave themselves with dry, unremarkable buds.

The key signs of low-quality cannabis include:

Medium-Quality

Domestic growers all over the world mostly produce buds that fall into this category. These flowers are set apart from poor-quality cannabis thanks to their improved colouration, heightened scents, and overt flavours.

Most growers manage to dial in their nutrients, watering schedule, and environmental variables enough to produce cannabis of this quality. The most important factor, though, is putting pride and effort into their work.

If you’re looking for medium-quality bud, or simply trying to dodge the bad stuff, look for these traits:

Premium-Quality

High-grade. Top-shelf. Fire.

Premium-quality bud goes by many names, yet they all describe its immense flavour and mind-shattering effects. These buds are hard to come by outside of big cities and weed-growing areas. Generally, they’re the products of skilled farmers and master breeders in hotspots like Northern California, Spain, and the Netherlands.

You’ll find these nugget-like buds encased in jars on the shelves of reputable dispensaries and highly-rated coffeeshops. If you’re looking for the best buds money can buy, keep an eye out for the following:

How to Differentiate Good Buds From the Bad: A Guide

We hope the above generalisations make it easier to distinguish the quality of a given bud, but it can get a bit more complicated. Below, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty and inspect cannabis flowers a little closer.

Aroma

As we discussed before, aromatic molecules known as terpenes are responsible for said signature scent. Despite the similar undertone, though, most strains feature unique smells thanks to different concentrations of terpenes.

You’re probably familiar with the small, shiny structures on the surface of cannabis buds and sugar leaves. These mushroom-shaped glands—trichomes—pump out terpenes during the flowering stage.

You’ll know you’re dealing with good-quality weed when the olfactory wave of terpenes hits straight after opening your stash. While a pleasing scent and cannabis quality aren’t unconditionally connected, the former is a likely indication of the latter. Hints of flowers, fuel, earth, spices, sugar, fruit, citrus, and berries are among the most common aromas.

The quality of a strain’s terpene profile depends on several variables:

  • Genetics: Some strains are genetically equipped to pump out more aromatic terpenes than others, mostly due to selective breeding practices.
  • Drying and curing: Genetics only achieve so much. Correctly drying, curing, and storing cannabis will preserve the terpene profile and make for better-tasting buds.
  • The right nutrients: During the flowering stage, cannabis plants have a higher demand for potassium and phosphorus and less of a need for nitrogen. Get this balance right, and you’ll produce some fantastic-smelling flowers.
  • Living soil: A strong microbial population will help plants access all of the nutrients they need to develop an optimal terpene profile.
  • Companion planting: Many growers claim planting basil in close proximity to cannabis helps improve its smell.

Quick Growing Tip: Boosting terpenes will improve the overall smell and flavour of your plants. Select strains such as Lemon Shining Silver Haze and Haze Berry to start with a genetic advantage.

Colour

Although you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can definitely judge cannabis buds by their appearance. There are many factors that indicate quality to a trained eye, and colour is one of the most important.

Of course, cannabis flowers come in an array of different hues of purple, orange, green, and red. It isn’t so much the colour that gives away quality, but more so the vibrancy. See, healthy and well-grown cannabis flowers have a bright and shiny look to them.

Such vibrancy signals good genetics, solid growing techniques, and adequate curing and storage. In contrast, poor-quality cannabis appears matte, dull, and pallid. These buds are often dark green to brown, pale, and ultimately unappealing.

Quick Growing Tip: Flushing plants at the right moment will prevent excess nutrients from accumulating in flowers and eliminate nutrient burn.

Additional Tip: Play around with genetics and temperature to grow purple weed! Start with genetics like Purple Queen to increase your chances of success.

Orange/Brown Pistils

Upon looking closely at the surface of cannabis flowers, you’ll come across a miniature landscape—valleys, peaks, and all—made up of different glands, organs, and structures. Among the scenery, the pistils protrude the most.

These hair-like tendrils are the sex organ of the female cannabis flower, serving as the receiver of male pollen. Once this genetic dust makes contact, the flower becomes fertile and swiftly goes to seed.

Away from their biological role, pistils serve as useful progress markers. During the early flowering stage, these reproductive parts boast a brilliant whiteness. As the weeks go by, their appearance turns to a solid dark orange.

You should always look for deep orange pistils when eyeing up buds. Harvest should ideally take place when at least 70% of the hairs turn this colour. This indicates the buds are ripe, mature, and ready for snipping. Flowers with mostly white pistils signal immature cannabis. Left a while longer, these flowers will mature and unleash a complete cannabinoid and terpene profile.

Quick Growing Tip: Harvest at the right moment, ensuring pistils are the right colour at the right time. You’ll need to be patient when cultivating strains like Amnesia Haze, as they have a slightly longer flowering time.

Crystals/Resin

Trichomes are the most abundant feature on the surface of good-quality flowers. To the naked eye, they appear as a fine layer of crystals that shimmer under torchlight or the flame of a lighter.

These mushroom-shaped structures feature a bulbous head atop a narrow stalk. In this head, specialised cells tasked with resin production work tirelessly during the flowering phase. The resin exudes downward and gradually covers the majority of the surface of the flower. This resin—and its active phytochemicals—help guard buds against insect attacks and temperature extremes.

The substance contains a complex array of molecules. Those of interest to us include cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, along with terpenes like myrcene, pinene, and limonene. The more trichomes a flower possesses, the more resin it will produce. The more resin coating the surface of a bud, the more cannabinoids and terpenes sit ready to be combusted, vaporized, or chewed and swallowed.

You’ll be able to tell the trichome and resin content of a bud just by looking at it and holding it. Note how it glitters, the stickiness, and consider the resistance generated as you peel your fingertips from the flower.

Quick Growing Tip: Utilise environmental factors to boost trichome production. Strains such as ICE are genetically wired to develop high quantities of trichomes.

Dense/Fluffy

How buds feel in the hand says a lot about their quality. Every grower hopes for dense and heavy buds at the end of the growing season. These flowers simply hold more mass, look much healthier, and smoke smoother.

Grinding up dense cannabis flowers seems to almost double their size. Even a small chunk of a compact flower can grind down to fill a good-sized joint. In contrast, fluffy buds yield disappointment and less plant matter. These airy flowers are often the result of suboptimal growing conditions, a lack of light, or nutrient deficiency.

Fluffy buds don’t only look less appetising, but you’ll need to use more of your harvest every time you roll a blunt or hit a bowl. Dense buds will offer some resistance and spring back to their original shape. Airy buds will almost collapse in on themselves, and feel much more feeble to the touch.

Quick Tip: Sativa and indica flowers tend to look different; know what to look for when browsing.

Growing Tip: Utilise powerful lights to grow dense and compact flowers.

Seeds

The presence of seeds is never a sign of quality flowers. The very word sinsemilla—a name given to weed of exceptional quality—refers to flowers devoid of seeds.

Remember those protruding pistils we covered earlier? When pollen from a male plant lands on the tendrils, it starts a process of changing the biochemical activity of the cannabis flower. The plant diverts its energy and efforts away from producing sticky resin and towards making seeds instead.

Flowers with seeds don’t reach peak potency and maturity because the resources are swallowed up by reproductive efforts instead. Cannabis seeds also make flowers heavier, meaning you end up paying more for less flower. If you buy one gram of weed and find 200mg of seeds nested within, you’ve wasted money. That might not seem like much, but consider that across 50–100 purchases, and that’s a lot of lost bud.

Unnoticed seeds can also ruin a smoke session. Seeds pop when the flame of the joint hits them, disturbing your zen and sending harsh smoke into your lungs.

Quick Growing Tip: Learn how to avoid pollination to keep seeds out of your weed.

Stems

Smoking stems either boils down to an accident or an act of desperation. Stems contain minuscule levels of cannabinoids and produce a harsh smoke. However, the presence of stems in your bag doesn’t necessarily indicate bad weed.

Rather, it shows a rushed preparation process. Plus, you paid for that extra weight! When browsing your local dispensary or coffeeshop, avoid buds with excess stems. Alternatively, simply ask the budtender to trim them off before you buy them.

Quick Tip: They’re not as valuable as buds, but you can use stems to make a variety of homemade products, from hash to topicals.

Well-Trimmed vs Leafy

Trimming weed refers to removing the sugar leaves—small leaves that grow out of and around cannabis flowers. The presence of sugar leaves doesn’t automatically render cannabis poor-quality, but it can make a big difference.

Firstly, well-manicured buds simply look great. Trimming gives the bud a nice nugget-like appearance, and the aesthetic is a near-universal trait of premium-quality flowers.

Secondly, excess sugar leaves will impact the weight of the flower. You want to be paying for buds, not leaves. Finally, the presence of sugar leaves can cause issues during the curing process. Small pockets of moisture can build up, creating a breeding ground for pathogens and impacting the taste of the weed.

Quick Growing Tip: You can trim your weed either before or after drying it.

Even between cannabis buds of the same strain, quality varies. Click to learn how to tell the difference between low, medium, and premium-quality buds.

Why Darkness is Important for Cannabis Plants

Cannabis growers know darkness is as important as light. You may not think of the principles of yin (darkness) and yang (lightness) when planning your light deprivation schedule, but savvy growers understand the dual needs of cannabis. And whether your greenhouse sits in the Pacific Northwest under long summer days or in the hotter climes of the Central Valley, it’s important to balance darkness and light for a maximum bud harvest.

Why is Darkness So Important?

Cannabis is a photoperiodic plant that responds to seasonal changes in light. That means when the days grow shorter, the plant’s life cycle is nearing its end, and flowering occurs for reproduction. In nature, male cannabis sacs release pollen to pollinate female plants in blossom. The result are seeds, which allow the plant to produce a next generation.

As a cultivated plant, cannabis still responds to light changes. Depending upon the strain you’re working with as well as your environmental demands, your light-to-dark ratio will vary a bit. If you’re new to the strain (or growing), talk to old hands about when to end the vegetative phase and trigger your plants’ flowering phase. That timing is critical to maximize your yield. Here are some more specifics.

How Much Darkness is Needed?

The Vegetative Stage of Cannabis

Cannabis in the vegetative stage (when it is growing at a rapid pace) needs at least 13 hours of light per day. In fact, indoor growers commonly use a 18/6 light to dark ratio to encourage faster growth. (Note that most indoor growers vegetate their plants 4 – 8 weeks.)

The Flowering Stage of Cannabis

When you are ready for your cannabis plants to flower, a 12-hours of light and 12-hours of darkness schedule is standard. Nighttime provides darkness, keeping cannabis on somewhat of a natural clock. This is why indoor growers need to make a deliberate effort to not only create long, bright days, but also emulate dark cycles in order for cannabis to grow large full buds.

Keep to Your Chosen Schedule

If you decide on the classic 12/12 light dep schedule where you cover your plants at 7 p.m. and uncover them at 7 a.m., stick to that schedule. Keep in mind that this schedule requires good ventilation, so some growers choose to uncover their plants at night once the sky is completely dark.

Uninterrupted Darkness

What many growers don’t realize is that cannabis demands an uninterrupted dark cycle. Just as your good REM sleep would be interrupted if a light popped on at 2 a.m., cannabis doesn’t fare well when any light disturbs it during its dark “sleep” cycle. The moon and stars don’t bother cannabis, but any artificial light can stop its bud growth. In fact, light interrupting its dark cycles can make cannabis so stressed and irritable that it can lead to hermaphroditism. That can pollinate females and ruin your plants.

Is there a Way to Simplify Light Deprivation?

Covering and uncovering your greenhouse on a set schedule, day in and day out can be extremely time and labor intensive. Pulling tarps is a lot of work, but using the right tools and products makes all the difference. If there is one product you need to provide ample, reliable darkness for your cannabis, it’s a good deprivation cover. Plus, choosing the right light deprivation materials can help you stay on your light dep schedule, and that will improve your harvest.

Americover’s BOLD® Black Out Light Deprivation Tarp is the top-selling greenhouse cover of its kind nationwide, consisting of two sheets of high strength virgin polyethylene film laminated together with a third layer of molten polyethylene. The cover is scrim reinforced for superior tear resistance. Plus, the cover can be easily set or lifted with the BOLD EZarm Tarp Puller. The BOLD EZarm allows one person to easily cover and uncover a greenhouse without additional help, making the daily chore of light deprivation so much easier.

Learn how Americover’s BOLD products can help you balance the light and darkness your plants require. Simplify light deprivation. Our experts can at 760.221.6013.

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