A Guide To Evaluating Cannabis

Back when I was acquiring cannabis to help ease my wife’s suffering from the effects of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), I, like most people, didn’t know the difference between indica and sativa, let alone how to evaluate the quality of cannabis buds.  In the last year, however, I have learned an enormous amount about the medicinal qualities of marijuana, and from our grower, how to evaluate the quality of buds.

Here is part one of the standards we use to evaluate the quality of growing operations for medical marijuana (regardless of whether it is hydroponics or soil) and the quality of the consumption experience regardless of the medicinal or “high” effect.  You may want to incorporate many of these considerations into your own selection criteria.


Bud Development

Bud should have tight internodes with tight bud formation.  Producing up to the genetic potential of the plant leads to higher resin production.

  • A: Tight bud formation. The bud compresses 10% or less when pinched lightly.
  • B: Medium bud formation. Gaps or spacing is noticeable within the bud. Often a leafy appearance from “shaping” flowers to form bud shape by leaving leaves that should have been trimmed
  • C and below: Clearly visible gaps in bud, often medium to low resin production. Not suitable for medical use.

Resin Production

High resin production is a sign of healthy, normal plant development.

  • A: Buds glisten and are totally covered with crystals
  • B: Bud has selective, spotty or medium resin production
  • C and below: Low resin production or “keifed”- removing a majority of resin. Not suitable for medical use

Nutrient/Light burn

Over-fertilization, overheating, or intense light can degrade THC and prevent optimum plant growth, limiting resin production and compromising the plant’s ability to metabolize and grow efficiently.

  • A: No visible burning anywhere
  • B: Barely noticeable signs of browning around leaf or bud edges.
  • C and below: Burned cola tips, burned secondary leaves, stagnant growth resulting in brown bud with slowed resin production and metabolism, often not flushed because plant cannot take nutrients up properly due to lockout or damage.

Chemical residuals

A full flush results in low chemical content. 1-3 weeks before harvesting the grower should flush the soil with plenty of water to eliminate chemicals in the soil. The plant is only fed water for the remainder of its life. This way the plant uses the chemicals stored in the leaves and bud to continue to grow and sustain itself, cleaning the residuals out of the plant.  Chemicals in dry bud are evident through popping or crackling while smoking, or black residue that remains somewhat solid. Some growers neglect to flush to get a higher yield. Clean product leaves white ash with no solid residue.

  • A: Burns with no popping, leaving a white fluffy ash with no residue. Sometimes the dry bud will be purplish from a phosphorus deficiency resulting from a good cure with continued metabolism.
  • B: Burns with no popping, leaving grayish ash.
  • C and below: Pops while burning, harsh to throat, leaves black ash that is hard and does not completely burn.

Cure Time

Longer cure (drying) times smooth the smoke. Extremely long cures over three months start to lose color as chlorophyll degrades. A six month cure is optimum for a premium smoke or vaporizing, but is rare in this industry.

  • A: Light green/grey/white bud that is extremely smooth. Appears faded.
  • B: Normal coloring, smooth
  • C and below: Soft stems, moist bud, potential mildew smell, and rough smoke.


Molds and mildew significantly lower the quality of bud and can be dangerous to smoke. Look for dead patches that have turned brown or grey inside the bud.

  • A: no visible signs of discoloration
  • Low Grade: dead brown sections of bud with greying near stem and gaps in bud. Do not consume.

Written by Nicholas King for Alpine Herbal Wellness

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