Choosing High-Quality Cannabis | Between Two Herbs

How can you find high-quality cannabis products in an unregulated market? How do you make sure that they are safe, effective, and meet your expectations? 

People ask me about this all the time and, unfortunately, there is not a simple answer. The reality is, in an unregulated market there are a lot of unsophisticated producers who are making all kinds of products simply to make money. These producers probably care very little about whether their product is healthy or not.

It would be the same as if somebody were making bathroom gin, or breakfast cereal in their basement, or something along those lines. It may taste fine, it may even give you some of the qualities of the thing you’re looking for, but you don’t really know what went into making it. These are some general rules of thumb to look for.  

Reputable cannabis producers make their Certificates of Analysis readily available for anyone to read.

Look for a Certificate of Analysis

All products should have a certificate of analysis (COA). Even if you buy cannabis on the black market, you should still want some kind of testing on the product. If you’re using an untested cannabis product, how can you be sure it’s free of pesticides that cause cancer? If somebody says they don’t have to use any intervention at all to produce a perfect product, that’s a lie. 

Reputable producers of high-quality cannabis will always have COAs available for each of their products. You can often find COAs via a web address or QR code on their packaging. If a cannabis producer doesn’t have COAs readily available, you might want to buy a different brand.

Certificates of analysis often have complicated, detailed information about the products they represent. Different states have different regulations for testing cannabis, and some are much more stringent than others. 

So, what are some of the things to look for in a COA? First, look for a section that lists the cannabinoids. We typically find anywhere between 12 and 16 different cannabinoids in a plant. These include THC, CBC, CBDA, CBDV, THCV, CBL, CBT, CBE, etc. Does the COA list all the cannabinoids found in the test, even if they only show up in trace amounts?  

Non-naturally occurring cannabinoids, like Delta-6-THC and Delta-10-THC, indicate the product contains cannabinoids created in a lab, through a synthetic process. Synthetic cannabinoids and the methods used to make them have not been thoroughly tested.  

None of them have any data to suggest that they’re good. They may not have data to suggest they’re bad, but that’s a real significant risk if you’re putting your health on the line. So, I recommend avoiding products with cannabinoids that are not naturally occurring. 

High-Quality Cannabis Has a Traceable History

The second thing to look for is where the flower came from. If you’re using a product that was derived from flower, the manufacturer’s COA should say what was in the flower. The COA should also have information on where the flower came from.

If the cannabinoids in your product do not match the cannabinoids that were found in the flower, that’s a big warning sign. That means they either have an uncontrolled process, the product actually did not come from the stated location, or they created things synthetically in their process. That’s a red flag. 

The labels for reputable cannabis products often list a web address or QR code that will help you find their Certificates of Analysis.
The labels for reputable cannabis products often list a web address or QR code that will help you find their Certificates of Analysis.

Look at the Cannabinoid Content

The third thing to look for is the total concentrations of the product. For CBD products, you typically need at least 25 milligrams to be an efficacious dose for an average person. So, I recommend checking the bottle for the amount of CBD and other cannabinoids per serving. If I buy a bottle and the total amount of CBD in the entire bottle is 300-600 milligrams, chances are there’s not enough cannabinoids to actually have an effect.  

Next, consider the effects that you expect to get from the cannabis product you’re buying. If I’m trying to have a head change and the product contains no THC, then it will not give me that desired effect. Similarly, if I’m really looking to lower inflammation and the product does not contain any CBG, it is unlikely to produce the effect that I’m looking for. 

High-Quality Cannabis Comes from Credible Sources

High-quality cannabis comes from sources that are transparent about their processes, their COAs, and everything about their production. In general, we can expect good products from cannabis producers who are transparent about their production methods.

If they’re willing to show you how their products are made, it’s a good sign that they have nothing to hide. If everything is a trade secret or hidden, that is also probably a warning sign that they do not have full control of their process. 

Learning About Cannabinoids

You might be wondering: how do I know what every cannabinoid does? Which ones are natural, which ones are not, and which ones are right for me? I recommend taking the time to learn about common cannabinoids and the effects they can produce. Once you’ve done that, cannabis COAs will begin to make a lot more sense.

There are a lot of different sources of information on cannabinoids and their different effects. You can learn about them in books about Medical Cannabis, peer-reviewed studies, and other sources backed by scientific research. This website is a good source of information, and so is the Discover Marijuana YouTube channel.

Zion Medicinal CEO Blake Smith is giving you an insider’s perspective about Medical Cannabis in this limited feature series, “Between Two Herbs.” Keep an eye out for Blake’s next piece.

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By Blake Smith
CEO & Chief Science Officer at Zion Medicinal
Published April 3, 2023

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