When it comes to cannabis legalization and decriminalization, the Canadian government has been ahead of the curve compared to many parts of the world, fully legalizing medicinal use in 2001, and finally legalizing recreational adult use with the Cannabis Act of 2018. Cannabis regulations may vary from province to province, but third-party testing for harmful pest-control additives and limits on unh
ealthy solvent extractions are mandated nationwide. A proactive step forward for public safety, one which parts of America and many other countries still have yet to facilitate. However, a decent amount of cannabis companies have been forced to recall product lines over various contaminant concerns.
By and large, Canada has made some great strides to ensure that cannabis quality is up to snuff with safety standards, but even so, it isn’t a 100% fail-safe system at the moment. No matter where cannabis buyers get their product from, locally or elsewhere, there are a few main criteria they should keep in mind when evaluating the quality of the product.
Well-grown, well-produced, and high-quality cannabis products will typically bear a pungent and distinct odor which is far from a superficial, arbitrary bi-product of cannabis. Each cannabis bud contains an array of hydrocarbons known as terpenes, naturally occurring in the oils of many plants, and these terpenes are responsible for producing the various aromas and tastes of cannabis. Researchers have identified over 100 different terpenes in the cannabis plant, and beyond providing cosmetic qualities, there is also overwhelming evidence that these terpenes produce a litany of health benefits to the plant, including relaxation, pain relief, and even aiding opioid detox.
The more distinct the smell of a cannabis bud is, the more terpenes, flavor, and therapeutic potential it could have. Likewise, if you notice the buds have a bland hay-like smell or no discernable scent at all, then that’s a red flag that it’s an inferior, less potent, and lower quality product which you should avoid at all costs.
For a plant which has made many names for itself such as cabbage, oregano, broccoli, Devil’s lettuce, grass, and the Green Goddess, inspecting subtle color differences might seem like a weird way to evaluate its quality. After all, if the plant is mainly known for being green, why would varying shades, light hues, or dark hues of that plant’s green color be such a big deal?
For starters, while the plant is primarily green, it’s not uncommon for buds to bear streaks of purple, pink, blue, or other accented colors; these can even be a sign of quality and terpene-richness. However, if you notice strong red, yellow, or brown discoloration, that could be a sign of an unhealthy spoiled plant, and stark white spots on indoor plants could be a sign of some nasty light burn, which can devastatingly erode the cannabinoids and nutrient content from the plant. Even worse, white and gray blotches could also be indicative of some nasty mold or insect contamination.
Ultimately when evaluating cannabis quality, it’s green content isn’t the only of a matter for concern, but also the hints of color between that green content. It’s not a total 100% flawless method to circumvent the potential safety risks of tainted cannabis, but it’s an excellent first step. Just as you probably wouldn’t want to take a bite into any fruit or produce that looks rotten, you also shouldn’t light up any bad or wilted-looking buds.
Trichomes are the epicenter of where the plant’s cannabinoid and terpene content are produced and stored. They also serve as a defense mechanism for the plant, repelling animals and insects with their unpleasant odor and taste. Assessing a bud’s trichome content is a twofold assessment of quality, as it can be both a visual designation of a plant’s potency and how well it holds its own organically (e.g., with no pesticides). The shinier and more crystallized-looking a bud, the more trichomes it has, but not every facet of trichome quality may be determined from a glance, quite the contrary.
It’s a little too microcosmic to view with the naked eye, but trichomes give off another natural visual cue for quality: ripeness. Optimally, the trichomes should have a distinct white or amber hue when magnified, but clear trichomes could be a sign that the plant was harvested prematurely, with a weaker concentration of terpenes and cannabinoids. If the manufacturer didn’t spend the time waiting for their buds to reach ripeness, then you shouldn’t waste your time doing business with them.
You can’t keep up the rooms of a house without a solid structural foundation, lest you want your bed and all of your other belongings to be weathered down by the elements. This same logic rings equally true in the context of cannabis; you can’t reap the benefits of terpenes and cannabinoids without a solid structural foundation to hold up those terpenes and cannabinoids. But what exactly comprises and makes up a good, quality bud structure?
Indica or sativa labels aren’t meaningful distinctions of cannabinoid quality variation, but if you want to know which differences can be meaningful for each respective strain, look for buds that are tightly packed (indica), light and fluffy (sativa), and just well-trimmed all around. If the buds have open, wide structures and still possess visible remnants of stems, leaves, or other extraneous plant matter, that could be indicative of a poor trim job, one that inadequately isolated the terpene and cannabinoid content you want.
Furthermore, you should always ensure that your cannabis buds were neatly trimmed by hand, as machine trimming can risk damaging the trichomes, the cannabinoid and terpene concentrations in the bud, as well as the bud itself. Do your research and inspections, and if needed, always cross reference reviews and ask vendors about any of the above metrics when evaluating cannabis quality.