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The Difference Between Good And Bad Cannabis Buds

Created by
JoshuaHolt JoshuaHolt
Added 30 December 2020

Good Vs Bad Cannabis Buds

There is a big difference between high and low quality buds and unfortunately people can end up spending their money on sub-par cannabis only to find out it has no effect, contains seeds or has mold growing on it. Buying bad weed is no one's cup of tea so we're here to show you the signs of a perfectly grown, trimmed and cured cannabis nugget. Read on to find out the differences between good and bad buds so you can be sure you get the best bang for your buck.

Good Vs Bad Cannabis Buds

Good Vs Bad Cannabis Buds

It's common for first time users not to fully grasp what they're doing and will often purchase their first bag of weed without much thought. This is understandable but sometimes we end up with something we would simply rather not consume. Thai stick, anyone?

Defining a cannabis bud as good or bad comes with experience, but a little knowledge can go a long way so it's time to get right up close to your buds to see what's really going on on a macro level. Once you have smoked your fair share of buds it becomes much easier to say whether they are 'good or bad' without getting out the microscope (although we highly recommend one).

There are many aspects of cannabis that make it unique and you may already be very familiar with them, but how do we tell if we're smoking the best of the best? In order for a cannabis bud to get the green light it must have the right appearance, touch, taste and smell, and is not only about potency. 

How To Define Good And Bad Weed

Sourcing Your Cannabis

If you have the luxury of living in a place where you can purchase weed from dispensaries, Dutch coffeeshops or associations (like those in Spain), then you will often have a broad selection of high quality weeds to choose from. These tend to be (but not always) quality tested so you know you're getting 'exactly what it says on the tin'.

Bad weed is often the stuff that comes from the dodgy street dealer looking to rip you off. However, sometimes we can simply end up with a batch of weed that is just not as satisfying as we would like it.

There are 3 main levels of quality when it comes to buying cannabis:

High Quality (top-shelf)

Sourcing Your Cannabis

Top-shelf weed is exactly that. It is usually found in a prized position and it's magnificence is in full view. This tends to be the best bud the dispensary can get and poses all those desirable qualities cannabis connoisseurs seek.

High quality weed generally has an above average THC content over 22-23%. In addition, a top shelf bud should be dense, colourful, super tasty and exploding with terpenes. Top shelf nugs may also include very rare or difficult to grow strains but they should also be of equal quality.

Medium Quality

Mid Quality Cannabis

Medium quality weed is neither here nor there and is the bog standard. Most recreational smokers opt for weed in this range to avoid breaking the bank and because the cheapest stuff available may not satisfy enough. 

Low Quality (shake)

Low Quality (Less than 15% THC) Cannabis Bud

Popcorn structures, leaves, and low levels of THC are some of the things that classify a bud to be of a low quality. Normally, if the flower looks fluffy, small, isn't sticky, smells like nothing or grass, and has a dull green or brown colour, it could fall into this category. You may also find a few seeds and too many stems in what is known as 'shake'.

Shake exists for a few reasons but it is mainly left overs from the plant that did not make it to the final selection. Even though shake is of a lower quality, it's great to have it available for those looking to try weed out for the first time (low tolerance). A stoner who spent all their money on weed before the end of the month and needs something to keep them going may resort to shake, but most cannabis consumers would prefer to opt for medium-high quality cannabis. 

Many people eventually start growing their own when they are not able to obtain the quality of cannabis they want, which is very often the case in countries where cannabis is illegal. 

Low Quality (shake)10-15%No smell/lacking aromaWeak



Mid Quality (mids)15-20%Standard weed smell/inviting. Noticeable terpenesAverage



Colourful pistils and green colour
High Quality (top-shelf)20-30%Rich, aromatic and potent smell with strong hints that make it stand out. Potent



Vibrant/Deep hues with a range of colour

Determining Quality of Cannabis Buds

Determining The Quality Of Cannabis Buds

Putting two buds side by side, it is quite easy to tell the difference between them. Through sight and smell alone you can distinguish which you prefer. Saying that, a lot people have their preferences so whether it is good or bad also depends on you and your standards.

Check the following things when finding out the quality of your cannabis:

  • Appearance and colour
  • Trim
  • Density
  • Smell/Aroma
  • Trichomes
  • Stems and Seeds
  • Pests or Mold
  • Taste and High

Appearance and Colour

Appearance and Colour Of Cannabis

The quality of cannabis can be determined from the moment you see it. If it looks appealing then it's already past the first stage and you'll likely want to explore it further. However, it is important to bear in mind that weed can also look fantastic but have no smell or very little effect.

Cannabis can display a wonderful, vibrant palette of greens, oranges, reds, pinks and purples. What's worth noting here is how vividly these individual colours shine through. When buds do not twinkle in the light (due to low amount of small trichomes) the bud is often an unappealing earthy brown or green. Proper feeding, drying and curing, as well as the strain, make all the difference to the appearance.


Wet Trimming Cannabis Buds

Trimming plays a big role in the final outcome of a bud. If too much leaf is left on, the overall quality will be reduced. Ideally we want to consume only the flowers where cannabinoids and terpenes are fullest, but this a far reality in most cases as it is extremely time consuming to snip out every single leaf, including sugar leaves.

Fortunately, when the weed is grown properly, a lot of the leaves surrounding the bud get covered in frosty trichomes, meaning not all leaves need to be removed to achieve a high quality product.

Tip: Dry trimming tends to hold better flavour but less potency than buds that are wet trimmed. Machines for trimming aren't ideal for preserving bud and trichome quality.


Feel The Density Of Your Cannabis Buds

Give the bud a light squeeze to feel its density and dryness (don't forget to pick up on the stickiness of the resin). A properly grown, dried and cured bud should be dense and slightly moist, instead of completely airy and dry.

This obviously depends a lot on the strain being grown and it does not necessarily mean a fluffy bud is bad but it could be an indication for lesser quality, especially in the eyes of the many consumers that have come to love tight nugs. Indicas, for instance, have a tendency to grow compact, dense flowers whereas Sativas are more prone to producing spacious, light flowers. 


Smell/Aroma Of Cannabis

If you're already interested in the bud's look (or not), you may be tempted to have a smell. This is where your senses really become activated, but only if the weed is good quality. The aromas a dank bud gives off are instantly noticeable and range between all kinds of gassy, fruity, sweet or floral odors.

As we mentioned previously, a low quality bud will be almost odourless, or simply smell like dead grass. On the other hand you may notice some offputting damp smell, which could be a sign of mold or buds that are still too fresh (not dried or cured properly).

Tip: Buds that smell strange can deliver a completely different flavour and unexpected highs, so be open to experimentation!


Cannabis Trichomes

You may need to get out a small loupe or microscope for this, although a magnifying glass or a high quality phone camera can sometimes do the job. The more trichomes a bud has, the more likely it is to smell, taste and feel amazing. A bud with a large amount of trichomes is a good indication of potency, but what about its colour?

Too many brown/amber, shrivelled trichomes could signal a late harvest, meaning the cannabinoids and terpenes have already begun to degrade. Cannabis plants have a peak harvest point in which the trichomes are at their most ripe. When they are ready, trichomes should have a white, milky appearance. 

Stems and Seeds

Stems and Seeds

Stems or seeds in your weed is not how it should be. Neither of these are pleasant to smoke and do not contribute to getting you high. If you're always getting a lot of stems or seeds in your buds, consider finding another source.

Pests Or Mold

Moldy Cannabis Bud

A cannabis plant that experienced pests or mold rarely makes in to the final selection unless the problem was well controlled and corrected during the grow, with final yields being minimally affected.

It can happen that the weed turns mouldy after harvesting due to improper drying or curing, and storing. It is painful to discover mold but it is best discarded as moldy weed should not be consumed for health reasons.

If a harvested plant had a pest problem, it is possible that insecticide or fungicide sprays we're also used. This doesn't mean the bud is ruined but the overall quality significantly decreases and there could be residue. Whether you consume bud that had pests is up to you, but it would be considered low grade stash from unhealthy plants and knowing that, most people would opt for something else.

Taste and High

Taste and High Of Cannabis

The final verdict comes from sampling the bud. You'll be able to get a thorough idea of the quality before consuming it, but the truth of it comes through trying. The flavour of a high quality bud is potent and sticks to the palette like nothing else. A smooth, creamy inhalation rich in flavour can leave you feeling satisfied with your choice before even noticing its effects. When the weed burns too hot from being too dry, it often leaves a harsh taste with a grassy flavour (similar to hay).

The quality of the high is very personal and each consumer will have different requirements for their preferred experience. Whether you are a recreational or medical user, take the time to find out the cannabinoid and terpene content of the buds. Check the THC and CBD levels. Over 20% THC could be considered a high quality weed, but as we've just seen, there are many variables to this. Others may want purely CBD and no THC.

Northern Lights Automatic (RQS) gets a 10/10 from EXZELENS from GrowDiaries.

If you found this article useful, please feel free to leave a comment for other readers down below. We'd love to hear your thoughts on cannabis quality control.

External References

Consumer perceptions of strain differences in Cannabis aroma. - Gilbert, Avery & Diverdi, Joseph. (2018)

Increasing potency and price of cannabis in Europe, 2006-16. - Freeman, T. P., Groshkova, T., Cunningham, A., Sedefov, R., Griffiths, P., & Lynskey, M. T. (2019)

Pathogens and Molds Affecting Production and Quality of Cannabis sativa L. Frontiers in plant science. - Punja, Z. K., Collyer, D., Scott, C., Lung, S., Holmes, J., & Sutton, D. (2019)

Cannabis sativa: The Plant of the Thousand and One Molecules. - Andre, C. M., Hausman, J. F., & Guerriero, G. (2016). Andre, C. M., Hausman, J. F., & Guerriero, G. (2016). 

The Analytical Chemistry of Cannabis: Quality Assessment Assurance and Regulation of Medicinal Marijuana and Cannabinoid Preparations (Emerging Issues in Analytical Chemistry). - Gabriel Anas Tasya (2020)

Cannabis For Medical And Pharmaceutical Purposes – Part 2: Analytical Quality Control. - Sandle, Tim. (2020).

This article was updated December 2020.



Thank you so much for the mentioning!
Great article with key points to get a good bud/smoke.


Good quality flowers are fresh. They bounce back when squeezed between the fingers. I don't see tightness of bud as quality. Many Sativas grow loose foxtails. Almost all commercial bud is A grade. Sometimes AA . But AAA and quads. Sorry never happening with store bought buds.

So here we are on a grow site. This is where the best buds can happen.

My thoughts: You want taste lower your feeding and stick to natural products. Feed the soil then the microorganisms feed the plant.

In my experience using many different types of nutrients will run the risk of nutrient lock . Nutes are what cause the smoke to be harsh and not burn properly.
Dry your flowers slowly. Humidity about 60 percent and temperature below 25 degrees Celsius.
Just because you got a seed from a reputable breeder and reputable strain does not always give you a great plant.
Try growing three small plants instead of hoping for good results from one plant.
The irony is that legal Canadian smoke is expensive. You can't look or smell the flowers.
Grow your own !


@TastyBudzz, I agree with growing more than one plant, I also grow more than one variety at a time. I grow outside in a prohibition state and there are too many factors that can ruin your grow if you are all in on one plant. Even if I could buy legally, I probably wouldn't want to pay the price and taxes on it.