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Sunday January 10, 2016

By Abby Hutmacher


No two marijuana harvests will be alike. Bud quality varies depending on the condition of the grow, the quality of strain and the overall care given to the plant during and after harvest. The resulting buds can range in quality from weak and unattractive to potent, beautiful and pungent and will often be labeled and sold at prices that coincide with their level of superiority.

So how can you tell the difference between high-quality bud and bud that simply boasts a higher price tag? The breakdown below will help you learn the difference between various types of bud quality so you can rest assured that you’re getting your money’s worth every time.


Also known as “Ditch Weed”, “Dirt Weed”, “Mexican Brick-Packed”, or “Regs,” Schwag is the term used to refer to cannabis that has been mass-produced in less-than-favorable conditions. The final product may be contaminated with pesticides or other heavy metals, and the speedy harvest and packaging process often results in a bag filled with seeds, stems and (potentially) the unpleasant scent of mildew.

Schwag is typically brown in color (though hints of dark green are possible too) and resembles the dirt and leaves from which it came. Trichomes are scarce on schwag and fan leaves are plentiful which means that more is required to feel a buzz. This is especially unfortunate considering that the flavor of schwag is unappealing and the smoke is harsh on the airways.


Low-grade bud is more attractive than schwag because it has maintained its bud shape and contains a few more trichomes, as well. It is often produced outdoors on a small plot of land which means that it’s likely to contain seeds and potentially remnants of pests and pesticides. Low-grade bud also tends to be fluffier, stringier and brighter in color than schwag, and may or may not contain fan leaves.

Low-grade is rarely distinguished by strain type -- only quality and price -- so it’s a bit of a gamble to purchase low-grade weed if you need a customized cannabinoid profile. If you’d like a specific cannabis experience, you’re better off choosing a mid-shelf strain or better.

Middle Shelf

Though some dispensaries will sell “Bottom Shelf” or “Discount” marijuana, most will start their product line on the middle shelf to set themselves apart from growers who sell poor-quality bud (for the sake of discussion, “Bottom Shelf” or “Discount” marijuana from a dispensary is usually either shake or overflow from a larger-than-average harvest).

Middle Shelf bud gets it rank due to somewhat bland flavors and fewer trichomes than higher-quality strains which is ideal for novice smokers or anyone wanting to cook with cannabis. Middle shelf bud may be dryer (and will burn faster), but rarely contains seeds like lower-quality strains.

Top Shelf

Top shelf strains are very potent and flavorful, and resemble the nugs you might find in a cannabis connoisseur magazine or online strain reviews. The buds are very photogenic, boasting a wide variety of colors and a higher-than-average trichome content.

Top shelf strains are grown with the utmost care resulting in dense buds that have been carefully trimmed and cured (though some sativa strains may be a bit fluffy). The final product can have a potency of as much as 30 percent resulting in a powerful high and an amazing flavor. Top shelf strains also tend to be very pungent so odor-proof storage is recommended.

Premium, Specialty or Connoisseur

Dispensaries have different names for their premium strains, and often hold different criteria for labeling them as such, but in general, a premium or specialty strain will be a very high quality (comparable to top shelf strains) that is either award-winning or rare and popular. Specialty strains are often grown in smaller quantities so that the grower can offer them special care, which further supports the need to price them higher. Dispensaries often enforce additional sales restrictions on premium strains to help keep them in stock.

The quality of a batch of cannabis is largely subjective depending on the user and the seller. Most dispensaries market their product according to potency, popularity and overall quality, but it is up to the consumer to decide what is worth the extra cost and what is not!

What do you look for in bud quality? We’d love to hear about it.

Photo Credit: Frmrboi and Guppy Fish


Abby Hutmacher Abby Hutmacher

Abby is a writer and founder of Cannabis Content, a marketplace designed to connect cannabis writers and creatives with businesses in the industry. She has been a professional cannabis writer since 2014 and regularly contributes to publications such as PotGuide and M&F Talent. She is also the Content Director at Fortuna Hemp, America’s leading feminized hemp seed bank. Follow Abby on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.

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