8 Tips for the Discerning Cannabis Consumer

Most recreational marijuana stores now offer a Wonka-like wonderland of gourmet edibles, medicated topicals, ultra-potent concentrates and every imaginable cannabis-infused novelty – from hot-sauces to breath mints, toothpicks to suppositories.

But if you’re looking to purchase some good ol’ fashioned smoke-able flower and are relatively new to cannabis – or you are a connoisseur looking to raise your game – why not get a little expert advice to ensure a safe and pleasurable experience?

Solstice co-founder Alex Cooley, who has overseen both small and commercial-scale grows, opened and run medical marijuana access points, served as a consultant to patient-farmers – and bought and consumed cannabis the world over – recommends the following approach to buying quality bud.

Similar to a foodie’s ‘seed to table’ perspective, Cooley recommends bringing a working knowledge of the plant’s optimal growing conditions (provided below), and a few strategic questions about who grew it for your local Bud Tender, or shall we say, your ‘Cannabis Concierge.’

1)   Know Thyself.

“Come with some idea of what you are looking for and what has worked for you in the past. Take the time to communicate clearly about what you want. It is possible to slap twenty dollars on the counter and say, ‘Just give me whatever you like to smoke,’ and you might get lucky. But cannabis has a unique effect on every person – so ultimately you have to trust yourself.”

2) Take In Your Surroundings.

“Be aware of what kind of establishment you’re walking in to. Is it clean and organized? Are there 35 varieties or 10? This doesn’t mean you will find the best cannabis in the best looking stores; It is entirely possible to buy something great in a ‘seedier’ location. What really matters is a certain level of engagement from whoever is selling the flower. So much is dependent upon how present and knowledgeable they are.

“Ideally, they should have some knowledge about who grew the cannabis. Premium cannabis will often come with a great story. You can ask them, ‘What is organic? What was grown by a quality group of people?’”

3) Get Close.

“You’ll want to narrow your choices down to 2-3 different types of flower and then look closely at each. What you want is a solid flower structure and a very rounded smell.

How much space is between the buds? How much stem is present as opposed to actual flower? You’re paying by weight, after all, so you don’t want a lot of stem. The flowers should be fairly dense, depending on the variety. Are there abundant pistils or ‘hairs’ on the flower?  What you want is fully mature cannabis.”

4) Touch It If You Can.

"The cannabis you're holding is the culmination of a long, complex process that requires a lot of attention and care. If the grower didn't finish the curing, which is the last step of a four-month cycle, then what else have they not done? Was it grown in a clean, mold-free space? Was it grown with pesticides? All of these minute decisions are reflected in the final flower.

“If you’re able to touch the cannabis, then feel how brittle the stem is – does it crack or bend? Or is it spongy? Sponginess is an indication that it hasn’t been cured for the right amount of time, is typically a little wetter, and will therefore be a harsher smoke because it hasn’t had the right amount of chlorophyll sweated out of it. So if the grower didn’t cure it properly – what other corners might they have they cut?”

5) With Trichomes, Go For Quality Over Quantity.

 “Some retail stores and access points will have a microscope or a jeweler’s loupe, so ask for one and take a close look at the trichomes on the flower you have selected. [Trichomes are the tiny, mushroom-shaped glands that bristle on cannabis flowers, and more importantly, are what produce the psychoactive component THC] You want to pay attention to the maturity of the trichomes present, which fall into 4 categories:

1) The immature or young: Straight and clear, almost transparent.

2) Slightly mature: Cloudy, with a bendy stalk.

3Fully mature: Amber colored, the stalk slightly crumpled and bendy.

4) Overly mature: Darker in color, often damaged, with broken stalks and missing heads.

“My ideal trichome snapshot would be 75% slightly mature with a cloudier color and no broken stalks, 10 – 15 % mature amber, and a maximum of 10% clear, or immature.

“It’s important to watch for broken trichomes; they indicate that the cannabis was handled roughly or aggressively. There was little care taken in the harvesting and processing process, which can affect your experience.

“Once you’re up to 25-30% amber trichomes, there are higher levels of CBN [a cannabinoid - or chemical compound found in abundance in the cannabis plant - that is an oxidative degradation product of THC] and lower levels of THC. CBN has sedative effect and heightens many of the negative experiences associated with cannabis consumption such as dizziness, a reduction in heart-rate, and general fogginess.”

6) Ask If the Cannabis is Hand-Trimmed.

“Once the cannabis has been cured, most of the extra matter – leaf, and stems, should be manicured away, ideally by a well-trained processing team.

"You're paying for the flower--not leaf, which when present, actually burns faster and ignites more easily, which makes for a harsher smoke. It's not only harder on your throat, but also contains higher amounts of chlorophyll. 

“There are three different kinds of trim:

1. The Lazy Trim: This is the bare minimum. They pull off the large fan leaves, but basically keep anything with trichomes on it, so there are often more leaves and fewer flowers.

2. The Machine Trim: This is a pretty aggressive trim, and can be expected from lower-cost cannabis. It basically cuts through everything, sometimes exposing the bud and breaking trichomes in the process. It’s a rougher process that releases higher levels of chlorophyll, and will sometimes damage the terpenes [volatile oils in the plant that produce its unique sensory profile] which results in a blander cannabis.

3. The Hand Trim: When done right, this is the gold standard. All you’re getting is flower, delicately trimmed, and handled with care to preserve the trichomes and the integrity of the terpene profile.”

7) Ask About the Grower.

"The same disconnect that we have collectively from our food and other consumables is present between those who buy cannabis and those who farm it. I believe it's important to know where these things come from. And today, more people who grow cannabis are totally out in the open and transparent, and are identifying themselves as 'brands.'

“So you can ask the bud tender, or do a little research online and find out about the company. If they’re a commercial grower you can ask if they use synthetic fertilizers, if they donate to other organizations or support their community, etc. Ultimately you vote with your dollar.”

8) So What Does It Cost?

 “The short answer is $8 – $15 a gram. On the high end that means it was trimmed by hand, there’s no stem or leaf, it’s perfectly manicured, there’s no question about the cure time, no sponginess, and a very strong, present smell. It could also be something that is very unique or hard to come by – perhaps is a new variety or recently created, and was grown with a lot of care.

“On the low end, if you don’t want to pay too much you can still expect quality. Just make sure it was cured properly – don’t buy wet cannabis – and that it has been broken down to mostly flower, as few stems and leaves as possible.

“On the whole it’s easier to find indica dominant hybrids because pure sativas are harder to grow and have a higher price point.

“That said, I’ve had some really great cannabis for $8 a gram. WA State has some of the highest quality cannabis for that price. I do some mystery shopping at access points around the state and buy three different grades of flower – low, middle and high. And I am often very pleasantly surprised at what I can get on the lower end. These are rarely organic, or have unique genetics, they don’t have the highest quality trim – but they’re quite good for the price.”

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