Studies show that consumers buying legal, recreational cannabis typically do so based on two factors: price and THC.

Obviously, not everyone buying cannabis is looking to get blitzed. But, most are looking for a ‘high’ and far too many buyers wrongly assume that – when it comes to THC – bigger is better. In reality, THC content has little to do with how “good” weed is, as research conducted by the University of Colorado and published in JAMA Psychiatry found. In fact, THC content is often a poor indicator of potency.

So, if not THC, what should consumers consider why buying cannabis?

Just as you might buy a bottle of wine for under $12, another person might be willing to pay $200 or $300 or more – for relatively the same alcohol content. Why? Well, it all comes down to personal taste and budget.

Within just about every budget, there are exceptional cannabis options to be had. Experienced cannabis users take numerous factors into consideration when weed shopping:

  • How does it look and feel?
  • How does it smell?
  • How does it taste?
  • How does it burn?
In current shopping environments, between covid, Maine state, and other regulations, it’s not always possible to see, smell, or taste (much less sample), but here are some guidelines to consider:

Bud Appearance & Texture
When it comes to bud appearance, cannabis strains vary in color and consistency. Quality cannabis should be visually appealing. Artisanal, premium strains will often display vibrant colors from deep green with flaming orange or red hairs to deep purples or bright blues.

If a bud is yellow or brown in color, it’s most likely a low-grade product.

Another good indicator of premium weed are the frosty, crystal-like trichomes that coat the plants surface (and contributed to the flower's smell, flavor, and effects).

Premium flower – which can come in a vast array of shapes and sizes - should be sticky and a tad spongy, when squeezed, and light and slightly fluffy in shape (though there are strains that are noted for being dense).

Read any cannabis strain description and you’ll come across a wide range of descriptors: fruity, gassy, piney, earthy, skunky, etc. What smells good to you, might not be appealing to the next person. It is highly subjective, nuanced and layered - and can change with your mood, health, and situation.

Cannabis gets its varied scents from terpenes (also found it lots of other plants) – not THC (which is odorless). Skunky cannabis smells that way due to the terpene myrcene, for example.

Cannabis cultivated and cured to the highest standards typically presents a pungent, pleasant aroma.

What cannabis should NOT smell like is:

  • Chemicals – if you smell chemicals, the cannabis was probably treated with pesticides (or worse).
  • Fresh-cut grass - this could be a clue that the chlorophyll in cannabis is decomposing into ammonia. This occurs when cannabis is not sufficiently cured. Typically, long cures improve the flavor.
  • Hay – if bud smells like hay it has undergone an improper cure.
  • Mold or Mildew – enough said.
  • Nothing – if you don’t smell a distinct aroma, you are probably smelling some old weed.

Just as the smell of cannabis can be varied, so too can the taste. Words like fruity, floral, sweet, bitter, full-bodied, smooth, harsh and so on. To help you identify your cannabis preferences, try sampling strains across fruity, floral, earthy, woody, gassy, and peppery and see which resonate with you the most.

Note that how cannabis is grown – indoor-grown, outdoor-grown, organic vs non-organic, hydroponic etc. - can also affect taste.

Can you taste the strain? Or do you feel like you are tasting the nutrients used to grow the plant? If not flushed properly the herb can taste bitter or, worse, of chemicals.

By comparing and contrasting the notes that you each detect in each strain you sample you can start to build an objective picture of what each strain truly provides – and which ones you gravitate to (or away from).

Have you ever had a headache, irritated lungs, or sore throat after smoking cannabis? If so, there were likely leftover contaminants in your flower. Without the proper treatment in the growing process, there may be leftover chemicals still present in the plant once it’s packaged. And, its these chemicals, rather than the cannabis itself, that contribute to a sore throat when you smoke a joint.

One way to check the cleanliness of flower you smoke is to look at the ash. If the ash is black or dark gray, there may be some unwanted substances and/or mineral content in your smoke. Conversely, if your weed ash is light gray or white, then you are likely smoking some pretty clean cannabis.

Also, consider the texture and consistency of your ash. Take a few puffs of a pre-roll and then observe. Clean cannabis ash is light, delicate, and fluffy. If the ash is grainy or hard, there may be leftover fertilizer, pesticides, or fungicides in your weed. Ideally, you should be able to smoke a joint or bong all the way through without leaving a hard-to-smoke pebble at the end.

Just as you have developed taste buds or preferences for certain scents over the years, by sampling and trying an array of strains – grown by a variety of growers and methods – you will soon identify which growing practices, flavors, and scents you enjoy most. It’s about the journey as much as the destination!