As cannabis writers like Jake Browne, William Breathes, Sohum Shah, and Ry Prichard can attest, people who can talk intelligently about strains are in high demand. There's an increasingly sophisticated terminology to describe appearance, effects, and terroir - but you don't need to be a rocket scientist to try your hand at a basic strain review, or hold your own in a conversation with pro-stoner friends.
Here are four things you should be able to discuss if you want to critique cannabis like a pro.
A little scene-setting is in order, starting with where the bud came from. Consult sites like Leafly to look into the provenance and genetics of the strain. You might be surprised to learn that Redwood Kush, for example, is named for both the earthy Northern environment and the bud's piney scent. "Consuming this strain is like taking a long walk through the forests of its namesake," says the description on Leafly. "Relaxing and blissful, Redwood Kush provides consumers with a feeling of peace and ease." Oregon Diesel is "a blend bred by Homegrown Natural Wonders specifically for the Pacific Northwest climate." Do your homework - a little context helps you determine what sets a strain apart.
Think all buds are basically created equal? Take a closer look at those hairy, sticky, crystal-covered flowers that you're smoking/vaping: are they covered in white crystals? What do the pistils, or hairs, look like? (White? Red? Darker orange-brown? Pistils change, and can be indicators of ripeness.) Is it well-trimmed and properly cured? According to the folks over at the North West Cannabis Classic, "the best way to look at these buds is through a 30x, hand-held microscope. What you are looking for are the trichomes, which are the sparkling crystals you should see with the naked eye. They should be milky white, with a minimum of 30% amber coloring. The trichomes should look like a stalk with a ball on top. If their form is slumping to the side, then they were left on the plant too long." All this factor into your critical thinking/first impression.
Comedian and journalist Jake Browne writes about strains for The Cannabist.
Just as "leathery" and "foxy" sound gross to people who don't know how to talk about fine wine, the words cannabis critics use to describe the smell of their favourite strains might baffle less discerning cannabis consumers: "the amount of cheddar you'd get in a seven-layer dip, with more pronounced grape and spicy notes of clove and black pepper dominating the bag," reads an actual line from a review of UK Cheese by Denver-based comedian and pro weed journalist Jake Browne. Other strains are described (favourably!) as having notes of "beneath-the-sink chemicals," and "an orange juice bottle repurposed to carry water, leaving the citrus behind." Yum. As when trying to describe music or food, similes and metaphors are your friend. Bust out the thesaurus.
Now the fun part: partaking. We already know that the labelling of cannabis is often faulty - in some cases, dispensaries are misinformed. Hence, don't be unduly influenced by what you read on the container: your individual experience of a strain is your best guide. Take note of your mental state and any other factors, and take that into account when describing what it does (or doesn't do) for you. Is the buzz cerebral, or does it hit you, mallet-style, right between the eyes? Are you glued to the couch, or bouncing around like you're on Green Crack? And hey, word to the wise: make sure to get those detailed tasting notes down on paper before you get too deep into this last one. You've been warned.