Shopping for Cannabis

When it comes to purchasing cannabis flower it can be a little tricky and even a bit over whelming when you first start out. Walking into dispensaries, you have an immense amount of strains to choose from divided into Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid categories. These plants then come along with a varied array of terpene and cannabinoid profiles that alter their aroma and the effect of each one. How was it grown, how does it smell, how does it look? When you begin sift through all of the information to make the right decision for your cannabis purchase there are a few telltale signs to look for both at the dispensary and at home.


How was this flower grown?

When you first meet with your budtender one of the first questions you should ask is, how is the flower grown? This is one of the most important questions to ask due to the fact that there are many growing methods in the industry that may use chemical nutrients, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and other chemical based products you want to avoid.

Grow Method

The safest route to go down would be the organic living soil method. This technique mimics the natural environment and only uses organic amenities and pest control. The organic living soil method, in my opinion, will give you your cleanest product possible. The next best option if you cannot find organic living soil, is organically feed flower, grown in an organic medium, and treated with organic pest control like predator bugs and abundant microbial life. Avoid heavily produced hydroponic or aeroponic flower grown with synthetic based nutrients and chemical pesticides.


Basic strain categories and their effects

Indica, Sativa and Hybrid are the common categories dispensaries use to breakdown the effects of their flower. However, we know these delineations were originally used to describe the manner in which the plant grows-- for example, indicas tend to have broad leaves and sativas fan leaves tend to be thinner.

However, Every dispensary is different and each can break their flower down in a variety of ways, but for all intents and purposes we will go with the general indica, sativa, and hybrid categories to give you a solid base in the effects you can expect for the many different strains on the market.

Categorizing Strains

INDICA An indica strain is said to have more of a body feel than a head high bringing with it anti-stress, anti-anxiety, pain relief, and other calming benefits.

SATIVA Sativa strains are more cerebral, or mentally activating, giving the user creative inspiration along with a boost of physical motivation.

HYBRID Hybrid strains typically give you combination of effects. Keep in mind that hybrids can also be dominate in either indica or sativa effects, so be sure to ask your budtender which is the case so you do not get stuck with a racy strain giving you a panic attack when trying to relax or a sedative strain leaving you stuck on the couch when you have work to do.


How does the flower look?

Upon first inspection of the flower you can do a quick check for quality by simply observing the pistil coverage and what is called the bud structure.The pistils are the little hairs that grow on the buds and should always be uniform in coverage and vibrant with color.

The bud structure refers to the density of the flower, observing whether it is nice and tightly packed or loose and airy, what is often referred to as larfy. Generally, indica dominant strains have flower that is much denser than sativa strains, and hybrids often somewhere in the middle.

With that in mind always look for flower that has vibrant pistils with a nicely formed bud structure, remember the bud doesn’t have to be solid as a rock but you shouldn’t be able to see a ton of light shine through or have it look light and leafy with random hairs, or pistils, here and there.

Cannabis Close Up Macro

Does it sparkle?

Does the flower you are about to purchase have little crystals that sparkle back at you? Those little crystals that sparkle are the trichomes, which hold the essential oils rich in the terpenes and cannabinoids that we love. When observing at the dispensary be sure to look for flowers that are covered with these beautiful crystals. When the flower is covered with trichomes it is a good indication that it was grown and cured properly with the appropriate amount of time and an abundance of nutrients.


Smelling Cannabis

How does it smell?

This one is super simple and effective for both freshness and personal effects the flower may have on you. The cannabis flower should have an aroma that is fresh and robust.

With each strain you will get a tapestry of scents ranging from sour citrus and sweet fruit to musty earth and mold combined with pine and diesel fuel. It is important to do as Toucan Sam said when inspecting you flower options and “Just follow your nose!”

If you find that you are strongly repelled by the scent of a strain then it may be a good idea to choose another variety. If you find yourself attracted to a particular scent of a strain then it will most likely work for you. Your olfactory system can let you know a great deal if you take the time to listen, or smell.


Some quality control tests to do at home.

Now, because you cannot usually touch, break apart, or burn flower at the dispensary here is a few helpful tips to utilize when at home.

One of the first tests you can do is the “sticky test” for moisture and proper cure technique. This is simply done by firmly pressing the flower between two fingers for a few seconds and then releasing to see if the bud springs back and a bit sticks to one of your fingers. If the flower does not stick to your finger or is not at least a bit tacky then it has not been cured well and lacks in trichome development. If the flower crumbles and turns to dust...well that flower is either extremely old or was cured all together wrong, and that is flower you want to avoid.

Another quick test is simply breaking the flower up and observing the aroma and if the flower sticks together. Look for a wet sand like tackiness with fresh scents and aromas not old and dry like hay bales.

Try it for Yourself

The “white ash” test?

This is a test you for sure must do at home as it involves actually rolling up and burning the cannabis flower. There are many debates about the reasoning and legitimacy of this test, but in the spirit of cannabis education I will present it here for you to try for yourself.

To begin this test, you must first get some rolling papers, use a raw organic option whenever possible to reduce the chance of outside contaminants corrupting your experiment. Next, get your newly purchased flower and break it up, roll it up, and then light it up.

As the joint burns pay attention to the color of the ash. In theory, if it is a dark grey or black color this will indicate that the flower has potentially been poorly flushed during last 2 weeks of flowering, cured improperly, or exposed to chemical nutrients and pesticides. If it is white in color then you have found what it is you are looking for, a flower that has been flushed and cured properly free of chemical growth additives.


There are so many factors that make quality cannabis and this is just a small sample of what to know to make the best decision for your purchase, but a good place to start. After reading I hope that you feel as inspired as me to seek out more information on quality cannabis growers and to experience all the wonderful varieties coming out of the grows.

When going into your local dispensary remember to always ask the question “how was it grown?”, pay attention to look and smell, tip your budtender, then do your final test at home. Does the white ash test really stand true?

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Whole Grow is a proud member of these organizations

  • National Cannabis Industry Association
  • Cannabis Clinicians Colorado