The Real Difference Between Low, Mid, and Top Shelf Weed
As a general rule, when you enter a marijuana dispensary, flower products fall under one of three categories: low-, mid-, and top-shelf. These classifications are designed to reflect quality, and they’re priced accordingly. But what do these cannabis types really mean?
If you’re new to the world of legal cannabis, a word of advice: don’t always trust labels. Not every dispensary operates in good faith or possesses the information needed to make these qualitative distinctions.
“In most cases, labels like low-, mid-, and high-grade are sales tools to present an easy to understand sales strategy like a car salesman does—such as, how much do you want to spend on a car?,” Sean Black, High Times’ Cannabis Cup competition director, told High Times. “There are more meaningful sales descriptions that can inform a buyer of the cannabis’ quality… Labels such as private reserve, special stock etc are merely sales tools to indicate higher prices.”
“Be wary of gimmicks and theatrics,” Black said. “The plant should speak for the quality—and anything that says they’re the greatest or best in packaging generally tends not to be. Growers that are passionate and great at what they do are too focused and busy for smoke and mirrors.”
There are plenty of guides out there that attempt to help navigate users toward high-quality products based on various physical and chemical characteristics, but insiders will tell you that your most important asset when you visit a dispensary is your nose.
“The biggest thing I’m looking for [in a top-shelf strain] is a distinct sense of smell,” said Jake Browne, co-founder of The Grow-Off and The Denver Post’s first pot critic. “Jars should smell distinctly different from other jars, and there should be a number of terpenes that you can identify from whatever sample is out.”
That said, it’s often the case that “display notes” aren’t frequently changed, Browne said, so he recommends asking your budtender to give the flower a little pinch “to release some of those terpenes and help you get a better idea of what the actual smell of the strain is.”
That sentiment was echoed by Max Montrose, president of the cannabis education and certification company Trichome Institute. “Pungency comes first,” said Montrose. While you should absolutely use your eyes to identify red flags like mold, “you’re determining quality based on the smell first.”
Besides smell, visuals do matter when you’re looking for top-shelf bud.
Bright, robust coloration in a given stain generally signals a high-quality product. Top-shelf flower tends to be some combination of green and purple. Even for marijuana that’s grown outdoors, which makes it prone to tanning, you still want to see some flairs of green and overall brightness. When the weed on the shelf is brown, red, or yellow, that’s not a great sign, Montrose said. “You should really consider not purchasing it.”
If your dispensary provides magnification devices to inspect the product, you might also consider checking out the trichomes—the collection of crystalline hairs that aren’t always immediately visible to the naked eye. It might take some research or guidance if you’re a novice, but one way to determine the quality of a strain is to evaluate whether those small hairs on the plant are intact or “machine-trimmed and hacksawed down,” Browne said.
Once you can tell apart a low-quality strain from a high-quality strain, what do you make of mid-shelf bud?
In the absence of industry-wide standards for classifying low-, mid-, and top-shelf marijuana, I’ll defer to the experts. Montrose questioned dispensaries that sold “low-shelf” marijuana—simply because it carries a negative connotation.
“Usually businesses are good to have a top-tier and a mid-tier, but not to ever suggest to their customers that they’re offering something to them that’s a low-tier,” he said. “My personal opinion on it is, if you do see a low-shelf, that’s called the ‘bullshit, get-rid-off-it shelf because it’s near its expiration date or it has something wrong with it and so get it out of here.’”
But Browne sees some utility in the mid-shelf classification. He said that it comes down to how the cannabis is cured.
“A properly cured mid-shelf will still bounce back almost like you were squeezing a slightly stale marshmallow,” he said. It will still have a distinct smell, as opposed to smelling like either wet grass, hay, a damp basement, or fertilizer. Those are my big four stay-aways.”
When it comes to buying cannabis, there are a dozen different things to look for to get the best bud for your buck.
5 Secrets to Growing Top-Shelf Bud
by Sirius Fourside
Have you ever had cannabis that was just…so so? Mediocre? Just okay? Cannabis that’s ‘just alright’?
Have you ever had cannabis that was so good, you want to save it so you can have it as long as possible? Cannabis so good that you inspect it closely as if you could somehow see why it’s so great?
What makes the difference between the two?
The look of the bud in addition to its potency, taste and smell is what makes cannabis seem top-shelf to the user.
But what happens when you’re growing cannabis that makes gives it these desirable qualities?
In this weeks issue of the GrowWeedEasy newsletter, you’re going to see what growing practices are responsible for making the difference between mid-to-low-grade cannabis flowers and top-shelf bud!
You’ve probably heard it a million times, but good cannabis starts with good genes. Having seeds with good attributes to work with gives you a plant that will flourish under the right conditions as opposed to just surviving.
All cannabis strains have their own attributes, so the best thing to do is to find one that fits what you’re looking for. Some strains are high in THC, some are known for tasting pleasant, some are high in CBD, etc.
In any case, growing cannabis from ‘bagseed’ is an easy way to lower your chances of growing great weed. In a best case scenario with bagseed, you’ll get a female seed as good as one from a seed bank. In a not-even-the-worst-case-scenario, you could get a male seed that grows a runt plant from a weak strain. Or even worse…it’s not even cannabis!
There are quite a few places you can go to get seeds with good genes, I’ve had the most luck and the least trouble with ordering from a trustworthy seed bank. Personally, I use Nirvana Seeds for their high-quality strains and I’ve got 100% of my shipments from them, but I’m also a big fan of seeds from Barneys Farm and DNA Genetics.
High Light Intensity
The amount of light your plant receives in it’s life can be used as a good indicator of how close it will get to its maximum potency when all other conditions are met. In fact, outside of genetics, light-intensity plays the biggest role in determining how big/hefty/potent your buds will be.
This means that even if you get seeds from a strain that is known to have 22% THC, the plant will need enough light to allow it to grow to this level of potency. This doesn’t mean that you need a 1000 watt HPS to grow great bud, but it does mean that you’re probably not going to grow top-shelf buds with a single 26 watt cfl bulb.
So much is enough?
Unfortunately, this is a question that is very difficult to answer as it depends on the specific strain you’re growing, the area you’re growing in, and the size of the plant being grown (smaller plants need less light). The general rule to go with is “more is better”, and watch your plants to see how they react. In most cases, it’s hard to give your plants too much light unless you have a high powered LED or a 1000 watt HPS.
Harvesting At The Right Time
For many growers, this is the toughest part to get right. Why?
Because you can buy seeds with awesome genes, and you can buy a MH/HPS combo that will flood your cannabis with light, but you can’t buy patience! And boy will a flowering cannabis plant try your patience!
Aside from becoming ever more picky about which nutrients they get, flowering plants will begin to smell ever-more enticing and look more and more ready to harvest. The problem is that there is a small 2-3 week window in which cannabis should be harvested, and most growers (myself included) get the urge to take them down prematurely.
Whenever your plants are flowering and you get the feeling you should harvest them because they look ready, reference this page and double check to make sure they are: https://www.growweedeasy.com/how-do-i-know-when-to-harvest-marijuana. Harvesting early is an easy way to ruin the buds you’ve taken so long to grow, so double, triple and quadruple check they’re they’re ready before you cut down a single bud!
Many growers consider drying and curing to be two parts of the same process, but I like to separate them to really underline the important steps involved.
It’s important to not only dry your newly harvested buds before they can be used, but you want to dry them as slowly as possible. Drying buds too quickly can make them crispy and harsh, and will make them smell – ironically – like cut grass.
A good way to keep moisture in the plant and keep it from drying too quickly is to trim the harvested branches after they’ve been dried. Having the extra leaves left on will cause the plant to dry slower since there is more actual plant to dry out.
Personally, I trim my buds before I dry them since it seems to be easier for me while trimming and when I’m cutting buds off of the stem. From there the buds can be hung up to dry, or placed on a drying rack.
In either case, I would recommend leaving on as much stem as you can as it slows the drying process, and is easy to remove later. I would also recommend hanging your buds upside down to dry before testing any other methods. Anecdotally, I’ve found that buds that retain their stems and are hung upside down to dry tend to dry much slower than on a rack…which is exactly what you want!
In short, dry your buds for as long as you can. Aim for more than 5 days, with a goal of 8-10!
Once your buds have been properly dried, the only thing left to do is cure your buds. This last step won’t add to their potency per se, but it’s largely responsible for the taste and smell we all love.
Essentially, curing your buds involves sealing them in an airtight container for at least 2-3 weeks. During this time, the jars are periodically jostled, opened, emptied and refilled with the same buds. This will give the buds to ‘get rid of’ certain not-so-tasty chemicals, and the jostling, emptying, etc. will help prevent mold from forming.
To get a step-by-step tutorial on the drying and curing processes, see our article on GrowWeedEasy.com: https://www.growweedeasy.com/how-to-cure-buds.
The Short Version
Here’s the meat & potatoes of this article in case you forgot any part of it(as some of us are prone to do):
Potent, top-shelf bud requires these 5 things:
- Good genes (Get good seeds)
- High Light Intensity (More light is better for your plants)
- Harvesting at the right time (You only get one chance; patience is key!)
- Slow Drying (The slower you dry your bud, the better)
- Proper Curing (Put them in a jar and let them out every so often until they’re done)
Great Bud Starts with Great Seeds!
What’s the first step in creating fat, potent, mind-blowing buds?
Make sure you start on the right path by beginning your next grow with a with a hearty, potent, higih yielding strain!
“Nirvana Aurora Indica is an F1 hybrid of Afghan and Northern Light. Its plants stay short, producing heavy colas and dense buds. This marijuana strain produces exceptional amounts of resin, resulting in a deep, near-black hash with a tasty aroma and a heavy buzz.”
“BlackJack produces hard buds with huge, grape-like calyxes that are completely encrusted with THC! The smoke is heavy and flavorsome, and produces an exceptionally long-lasting high.”
“Nirvana Wonder Woman is another one of those fabulous new high-volume marijuana plants. Wonder Woman bears rock hard buds which are easy to trim. The smoke of this cannabis variety has a classic, rich, skunky flavour accompanied by a long-lasting buzz.”
5 Secrets to Growing Top-Shelf Bud by Sirius Fourside Have you ever had cannabis that was just…so so? Mediocre? Just okay? Cannabis that’s ‘just alright’? Have you ever had cannabis that