How to Choose: Buying Quality Cannabis in Canada
How to choose when buying legal cannabis in Canada is based on a number of factors related to conscious consumption and understanding how to identify quality. It doesn’t take long to become an informed consumer.
Even as a seasoned consumer (I consider myself canna-confident), it took me a few orders (through bccannabisstores.com) before I determined what criteria best suited me when guiding my decisions. I would associate this to the lack of regulation and consistency around labeling information, prior to legalization.
Quality is not the same as safety.
The current framework for recreational / adult use cannabis in Canada is based predominantly around ensuring the safety of Canadian’s (makes sense, right?). On the flip side, this has very little to do with providing a framework for grading the quality of cannabis available. How are we to choose?
While fact based information about product is allowed (such as terpene and cannabinoid content, or how a product was grown or harvested), there are no allowable claims about effect or outcome.
In order to determine the best product for your needs, I recommend starting with 3 high-level factors:
Method of Consumption (product format)
Mood and Moment (your headspace, and where do you intend to consume)
Using compliant information available to us online and on-pack, I’ll show you how to further identify quality, and expand on these factors. My goal is to empower you to make an educated choice when buying cannabis in Canada.
Disclaimer: The information below is intended for responsible adult consumption where legal, and is not intended to serve as medical advice.
Top 5 Factors for Identifying Quality and Buying Cannabis in Canada:
Do your homework. Research on web and social about their corporate social responsibility efforts, company culture, values, and growing practices (i.e. sustainability initiatives).
Support craft producers, micro-cultivators, regional or local brands when possible if this aligns with your values.
Ask trusted peers for recommendations.
Method of Consumption:
Inhalation is typically the quickest acting and fastest onset time (by activating CB1 receptors in the brain).
Ingested cannabis provides a longer lasting, whole body effect (by activating CB2 receptors in the tissues and gut, as well as CB1 receptors as cannabinoids can pass the blood-brain barrier). Water soluble cannabinoids can be readily absorbed through tissues (like the stomach lining) and may be noticed faster than edible cannabis in a fat-based medium such as MCT Oil, or butter. Fat is metabolized primarily by the liver (much later in the digestive process).
Applying cannabis topically does not provide a psychoactive response (though pain relief may feel euphoric!). This method provides localized support for the musculoskeletal system.
While most of us may be familiar with common categorizations like “indica” and “sativa”, this is actually more a classification based on how and where the plant grows (naturally), then it’s an accurate determinant of the experience you can expect.
Pay attention to is the proportion of THC : CBD (expressed as a ratio), and the potency (expressed as a % concentration, or mg dose).
Because our endocannabinoid systems are all unique, what’s best for you is an individualized approach. If you are new to cannabis, be curious and open minded. Use a consumption journal to record a few notes about your experience, and fine tune over time.
Your mood and the moment - mindset and setting - are a very meaningful variable.
Particularly when consuming THC, you may find that you can consume a product or cultivar that you enjoyed once before, in a new scenario, and have a different experience.
Start ‘low and slow’, with low potency cultivars and products, and go slow with your intake, there’s no need to make yourself uncomfortable - that’s not the goal. Life is uncomfortable enough sometimes!
For the Canna Curious, I recommend starting out with CBD dominant cultivars.
Based on your tolerance, next integrate balanced cultivars with equal parts THC : CBD.
And for the Canna Confident, THC dominant cultivars.
Without making this overly complex (because botanical science is vastly intricate and beautiful), terpenes are the aromatic compounds found in cannabis (there are 100 found in cannabis, 5 found in the largest abundance, and over 20,000 in nature).
Terpenes are most abundant in the fresh or cured flower. Often during extraction of cannabinoids from the resinous trichomes on the plant, terpenes get removed. This means when consuming cannabis concentrates you are less likely to experience terpenes, unless they are intentionally added back during formulation. This applies to products like vapes, edibles, and beverages.
Use Terpenes in Either of Two Ways:
A) Your Nose Knows Best: What cultivars have a more appealing smell to you? What memories, or words do they evoke? Can you notice hints of citrus, mango, pine, or floral? For example, I enjoy how the terpene pinene reminds me of being in nature.
B) Potential Health Application: Medical cannabis clinics and researchers in the US and globally, are working to substantiate potential therapeutic applications for terpenes. Use your own discretion here, but if you’d like to explore deeper, the properties of terpenes in medical cannabis can be found online via the Kalapa Clinic.
Emerging health science is exploring how these compounds interact with our bodies. It is thought that terpenes also help improve the efficacy of cannabinoids, through something called the entourage effect. This is why is feels much different to consume fresh flower (i.e. through a joint, or water pipe), then a vape pen filled with a cannabis concentrate derived from the same cultivar, typically just a blend of the extracted THC, potentially CBD or other cannabinoids, and a dilutant.
Cultivation & Harvesting Methods:
As a sustainability advocate, I recommend emphasizing cannabis cultivated outdoors, or sungrown in a greenhouse. Indoor grown cannabis is the most energy intensive (due to artificial lights).
Reach out to a few brands and ask what their water source is. I was so happy to learn a local producer here in BC, Tantalus Labs, collects rainwater for their plants.
Once you really get to know a brand, ask about pest management practices, if they use organic fertilizer, and if they have considered bio-dynamic cultivation. Asking these questions are what indicates to industry where our preferences lie.
When consuming flower, hand harvested cannabis is perceived to mean less handling time compared to an automated machine trimmer, and therefore preserve more cannabinoids in the final product. However, through my consulting work with Twister Trimmer (the industry leader in Canada), I learned it’s more a factor of the temperature in the trimming room, and duration of handling time.
A cold room keeps trichomes intact and hardier through the trimming process - whether using a machine to trim, or by hand. While trimming method is compliant information a brand can provide, in my opinion it’s not as meaningful at face value.
I recommend looking at the structure of your flower up close. Does it have a nice density of trichomes, observed through a white crystalline coating? Does each bud have unique structure (like a snowflake!), or does it look too polished and uniform? Does it crumble when you touch it, or have a bit of spring and bounce back? Adequate hydration and moisture content is a sign of well cured cannabis and an expert growing team.
It’s a hard task for brands to navigate product marketing opportunities in an era of such strict compliance and regulation. As consumers, we have a responsibility to be curious, ask questions, explore a variety of options, and be conscious participants of our own experience. You know your body, what appeals to you, your tolerance, and enjoyment signals best.
What factors do you consider most important when identifying quality and buying cannabis in Canada?