Welcome to the world of grading cannabis. How do you tell if cannabis is of decent quality? What separates high-grade cannabis from the rest? A Step By Step Guide: Grading Cannabis will provide you with the knowledge of how to grade cannabis; more specifically, the system of grading dried and cured cannabis flower.

The Grading System

When grading cannabis on overall quality, we divide it into four basic categories. This particular system uses A’s to describe quality:

AAAA – Quad A, aka “Quads”

  • The flower is of high quality.
  • The flower structure and terpene profile accurately represents the strain.
  • The cure is excellent and the trim is well-done.
  • The trichomes are visible all over the flowers. Often described as “sticky”.
  • The effects are accurate and potent relevant to the strain.
  • AAAA flower usually sells for twelve dollars per gram, but sometimes retails up to exorbitant prices like 17 dollars a gram!

AAA – Triple A, aka “Trips”

  • Trips usually have only one or two issues that prevent it from reaching AAAA status.
  • Perhaps it looks like AAAA, but the nose isn’t accurate.
  • Maybe it smells great but the bud structure is a little loose.
  • There’s still a lot of good things with Triple A flower.
  • Trips usually range from eight to ten dollars a gram.

AA – Double A, aka “Dubs”

  • There’s usually a lot of AA strains available on the market.
  • Dubs are lower quality flower, but with the cheaper prices comes better bang for your buck.
  • Usually there are a few things wrong with these crops.
  • If there is a nose, it’s faint.
  • There’s usually no trichome production on the stems and leaves, probably just on the flower.
  • Dubs are often too dry or too wet.
  • If you aren’t a quality stickler, dubs offer the best value, ranging from 6 to 8 bucks a gram.

A – Single A, aka “OD” or “GH”

  • A Grade cannabis is usually an outdoor or greenhouse-grown crop.
  • Strain examples are Seaweed, SeaWarp or TimeWarp.
  • Outdoor grows are often affected by weather or insects, so there may be several issues.
  • If grown cleanly and ethically, outdoor crops can be excellent cannabis for beginners because of their lower cannabinoid content.
  • Outdoor crops usually retail for five or six dollars per gram.
  • Many of these crops are only available at the end of October or early November, at the end of the outdoor growing season.

Now, the question becomes, how do you determine the grade on your own, without the jars being previously marked by A quality? Let’s explore eight things to look out for when grading your cannabis. The first four are visual and smell tests, determined prior to grinding up the flower, and the second four are determined from when the flower passes through the grinder through to the effects.

Visual and Smell Tests

Flower Structure

  1. When you hold a cannabis flower, you can visually grade the flower structure.
    • Ideally, flowers are dense enough that you can’t see through them.
    • Some landrace strains, like Congolese and Malawi Gold, sometimes produce long, sparse and leafy buds, but the use of C02 in the finishing stages of most modern high-level indoor grow operations encourages the flowers to become more dense.
  2. When we talk about dense flowers, that does not necessarily require the flowers to be big.
    • Large nugs, contrary to what you may think, is not always a good thing.
    • Some strains naturally grow large, like Big Bud, God Bud and some Cheeses, but beware of unethical growers who use plant food to increase flower size. These plant foods have not been tested for human consumption.
  3. Ideally, we’re looking for flowers that sit between the half gram to 2.5 gram range, with a dense flower structure that makes it look like a little coniferous tree.
    • Anything larger than this carries a higher potential of mould or bud rot in the flowers, especially near the stems.
    • When you encounter enormous, sticky, dense nugs, they definitely look great, there’s no argument. But beware, there is a much higher chance of moisture stuck inside.
    • With no airflow in bags, mould easily propagates in these situations. If you’re buying in person, ask the bud-tender to break open one of the biggest nugs. If mould is there, it will normally start in the largest flowers first.
  4. Remember, The most important thing to look at is not the size, but the integrity of the flower structure.

Trim

  1. Trimming is done post-harvest, and is the practice of cutting off the long leaves that protrude from the cannabis flower
    • When the trim is finished you should be left mostly with flower, and minimal leaf.
    • High grade (AAA and AAAA) cannabis usually comes with a good trim (sometimes called a “haircut”).
    • A and AA grades usually have less time and care put into them, which comes with the territory of a lower price tag.
  2. Sometimes, smaller leaves are left on the plant, particularly if it is quite resinous and the trichomes are extending to the leaves themselves.
    • Particular cannabis connoisseurs often trim off even the small leaves before they grind their flowers, claiming that the leaves take away from the taste of the terpene-rich flower itself, but this is not proven.
  3. At the end of the day, unless it looks like it wasn’t trimmed at all, a trim job is a purely aesthetic aspect of cannabis.
    • If you care about the trim job, get yourself some small scissors. You can trim the flower yourself before you smoke them to make sure they are perfect for you.
    • Sometimes a bad trim means you’ll get higher quality cannabis for a cheaper price!

Terpene Profile

  1. Terpene profile is the term used to describe the smell (called “the nose”) that emits from cannabis flowers.
    • There is a wide spectrum of different terpene profiles, ranging from lemon, orange, lavender or strawberry to earthy, musky and piney noses.
    • AAA and AAAA grade flower can be expected to have a terpene profile that reflects the strain.
    • In the modern cannabis market, a good terpene profile is the most sought-after aspect second only to potency.
  2. Terpenes carry effects too! Sometimes you’ll smoke a 20% THC crop and feel less stoned than smoking a 15% THC crop.
    • Most cannabis users choose strains based on THC levels, but the method is flawed. Perhaps the 15% crop has an absolutely bonkers terpene profile, and paired with the effects of cannabinoids (like THC and CBD), the effects are bolstered or altered.
    • For example, cannabis with high levels of limonene (lemon / citrus) like Super Lemon Haze and Lemon Skunk tend to make users euphoric and giggly.
    • Cannabis strains high in myrene (earthy, kush flavours) interact with cannabinoids by quickening the uptake of cannabinoids in the body, making you feel the effects quicker.
      • Strains like Pink Kush and Bubba Kush are high in myrcene, which is why users always seem to report these strains as hard-hitting and fast-acting.
  3. A good nose is very important to cannabis customers, but with the new pre-packed government systems and mail-order websites, it’s almost impossible to check out how your strain smells before you buy it.
    • Your best chance at digging up some details on the terpene profile these days is to read the strain descriptions on the product page. Whoever wrote it smoked it, as quality control is a high priority for cannabis retailers.

Trichome Density

  1. Trichome density describes the coating of clear, slightly amber-coloured glandular heads that sits atop cannabis flowers.
    • All cannabinoids are hosted within these glandular heads.
    • As a result, we can comfortably say that a higher trichome density equates more potent effects.
      • Any AAAA or AAA is absolutely required to exhibit a high trichome density
      • AA or A grade cannabis does not often have high trichome density.

Sprays + Pests

You absolutely must check your cannabis flowers for mildew and mould, chemical residue and evidence of insects before you ingest it, especially if you are purchasing from the black or grey market. Here are some ailments to keep an eye out for:

  1. Powdery mildew
    • Often called PM, powdery mildew is white and resembles spider-webs, and is often woven in between the flowers.
      PM is a common ailment of cannabis crops and is result of leftover moisture.
    • Before you grind up your flower, break it apart first.
    • Check along the stem and under any larger leaves. If there is any mould or mildew, that is where it will usually be found.
  2. Chemical Residue
    • If you see light orange, small burnt looking bumps on the leaves of you cannabis flowers, you may have found residue of a chemical spray.
    • Too often, producers (especially on the black market) will sacrifice ethics for capital.
    • Chemical sprays are used to kill pests that are threatening the crop.
  3. Pests
    • Small white or colourless bumps on the leaves can be an indication of spider mites or other damaging pests.
  4. Usually, on AAA and AAAA quality crops, you don’t have to worry about mildew, mould, chemical sprays or insects. These problems usually persist in the A and AA range.
    • The cheaper price tag often comes with an array of problems, but that doesn’t mean you should stay away completely.
    • The informed cannabis consumer can spot these problems before ingesting anything harmful.
    • If there is one take-away from this blog article, do yourself and your body a favour and make sure to inspect your cannabis before you put it through the grinder and roll it up!

Grind and Smoke Test

Grind Test

  1. Break up your flowers into small pieces and run it through your titanium grinder.
  2. When you first open up that grinder, you’ll encounter an enhanced experience of the terpene profile.
    • Give it a deep nose, familiarizing yourself with the flavours. You’ll want to see if that comes through in the smoke later.
  3. When you nudge the ground cannabis out of your grinder, see whether it falls out all over the place, or if it sticks together in a big clump.
    • The latter is what we’re looking for in a high quality cannabis cure.
      • If the ground flower is sticking together, that’s a good indication of high trichome density.

Burn Colour and Ash Integrity

  1. Light it up! We are investigating the burn now.
    • For this test we have to assume you know how to roll a joint that burns properly.
  2. If the joint keeps going out, that could mean there is too much moisture in the flower to keep it burning.
    • One explanation could be the crop wasn’t dried and cured long enough.
    • Ideally, we want a joint that burns slow and evenly, and we don’t have to keep lighting it.
  3. Check out the colour of the ash.
    • Low quality cannabis has dark grey to black ash.
    • Good quality cannabis burns light grey.
    • The highest quality burns a pure white.
    • Although there are certain things unethical producers can add to their food to make sure ash burns white, the fact still remains all of the best AAAA crops burn bone-white.
  4. Ash integrity
    • This is another marker of top shelf AAAA quality cannabis.
    • When you ash the joint, does the ash fly everywhere, or does it stay clumped together, the same way it fell out of the grinder?
    • If it falls off in big pieces, this is another marker of high quality cannabis.

Flavour

  1. Remember how it smelled when you first opened up the grinder?
    • See if that same smell comes through on the taste.
  2. A and AA quality cannabis usually doesn’t have great quality terpene profiles
    • This means that less taste will be transferred to flavour.
  3. When you’re smoking AAA or AAAA cannabis, the flavours are so different from one another, it’s fascinating!

Effect Potency

  1. The last thing to analyze are the effects, and their potency.
    • Do you feel uplifted, euphoric, creative and motivated?
    • Do you feel lazy, tired, and content just hanging out?
    • Is your anxiety is heightened, or lessened?
    • Does the strain make you hungry, or does it suppress you hunger?
  2. Analyzing your feelings and behaviours after smoking definitely takes some practice, but once you gain proficiency you can begin to selectively choose strains based on your activities and plans for the day.
  3. Every cannabis strain comes with effects, but as you progress up in higher quality, these crop usually carry effects that last longer.
    • This is a result of their higher trichome density and mature terpene profiles.

Grade Your Cannabis!

Now it’s time to grade your cannabis! Let us know if you liked this article in the comments section below, and if you have any questions you want clarified, drop us a note in the comments section too!

Tom Danks
Canmedi’s Resident Chronisseur