Schwag. Mids. Headies. Boof. Quads. Like any agricultural product, there are different grades of cannabis quality. Unlike other agricultural products, the cannabis culture has adopted some really strange and hilarious names for the different grades of ganja you find at the dispensary. If you are new to the wild world of weed, it might all just look like orange hairs and green leaves attached to some stems. However, a more experienced cannabis consumer can tell exactly how good a bag of pot is just by look and smell alone. So how do they grade cannabis? What factors are they comparing to determine the quality scale? Read on to find out. 

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The Bag Appeal

The first quality to consider when grading cannabis is naturally going to be the bag appeal. Bag appeal means exactly how it sounds – how appealing does the cannabis look at first glance from the bag or container? 

a green cannabis nugget with green hairs A regular cannabis consume can start to pick cannabis based on its bag appeal. Photo credit: Shutterstock
It might sound superficial, but the appearance of the buds alone can tell you so much. As cannabis ages in subpar storage, it loses its color and potency, turning a crusty, brown hue. Seeing any brownish color (other than the “hairs” or stigmas) should be your first indicator that you are looking at a low grade product

Brick Weed and Ditch Weed

Imported compressed bricks are of the lowest grade in the cannabis world, commonly referred to as “schwag”, “brown-frown”, or “reggies”, a nickname for regular old nothing-special weed. Brick weed will have lots of seeds, flattened and squashed looking buds, and noticeably hardcut, straight edges due to the bricking method.  This bricking process is extremely rough, and usually done when the weed is still wet and not properly dried, leading to molds and mildews. The bricks are then stored and transported multiple times, losing potency and flavor until eventually reaching the consumer. It's impossible to know how old brick weed is. By the time it finally reaches your hand it's dull brown, lifeless, moldy and rotten. You can tell just by looking at it.

two hands holding a pressed brick of weed that has white mold in the middle Brick weed can grow mold due to being pressed without fully curing. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Luckily, in the modern era of recreational cannabis, you shouldn’t ever see brick weed. With the development of the recreational market, the importation of black market cannabis from Central and South America has lost all of its appeal. Recreational markets have controls set up that exclude the sale of black market products. In states where cannabis is legal, the quality of even the lowest grade of cannabis flower overshadows any cheaply imported bricks, and at a comparable price. To summarize, if the cannabis you are looking at is completely brown or tan, it is low quality “schwag” or “dirt-weed”. It still has some THC in it, and might get you a light buzz or it might give you a headache. The only thing lower-grade than schwag is poorly dried, brown and seeded hemp, called “rope dope” or “ditch-weed” which contains practically no THC and only a small percentage of CBD.  Speaking of seeds, if you see them you can automatically deduct points off the quality of the cannabis in question. What you want is “sinsemilla” cannabis which, translated from Latin, is “without seeds”. The last thing you want is a stray seed in your bowl or blunt, they add a very harsh quality to the smoke and don’t smell/taste that great when burned.  It's a sign of a vigilant grower when you see no seeds in your weed. It means the grower took time to remove all the males and pick out any hermaphrodite flowers that would accidentally seed the crop. In summary, no A grade cannabis will have any amount of seeds in it. If you see 1-2 seeds every other bud it can still be B grade if the aroma and flavor are there. If the pot is completely seeded, that's C grade at best.

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Purple Weed

Sometimes you will see purple coloring in cannabis buds. Some folks claim that purple weed is more exotic and stronger than green colored cannabis, but this is not always the case. Considering that most of the time the purpling of the flower is a response to environmental conditions, seeing purple on a cannabis plant could mean it was grown in suboptimal conditions. Most cannabis plants will turn purple when the nighttime temperature is below 60 degrees. Purpling can also be a response to nutrient salt build up in the leaf tissue. 

Purple cannabis plant that has white hairs popping off its top and broad purple leaves Purple cannabis has a reputation for always being better, but that is a myth. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Some growers will intentionally use environmental tricks to bring out purple coloration in an attempt to make their product look more desirable. When environmental conditions affect buds, the purple color will be localized to the outside of the nugget, while the inside portion remains green. The purple color can also be purely genetic, in which case the bud will have the purple color throughout. In either case, the purple color is not correlated to higher potency, or flavor. In most cases purple strains actually have lower potency compared to the average commercial varieties. 


Most molds and mildews can also be detected with a quick visual inspection. Botrytis, or “bud-rot” looks gray to black, and looks like the bud is dead and rotting. In small amounts it will look like small pieces of cotton. Powdery mildew can be hard to spot as it can blend in with the plant’s trichomes. But, if you look closely you can see that powdery mildew has a web-like appearance. Any presence of mold or mildew will knock the bud down a C grade at best.   

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After a proper visual inspection, the next step is to stick your nose in the jar or bag and get a big whiff. Everyone’s nose is different, but a few universal truths about cannabis smell have been agreed upon. Fresh, grade A weed strains will have an overwhelming aroma that jumps out of the container and can be smelled across the room. 

Man in a tye dye hoodie holding a glass jar of weed Your nose can guide you and help you find the better weed in the dispensary. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Cannabis can create a range of smells and odors, but they should all mostly smell good to the average person. Some can be funky, smelling like skunk, musk or cheese, but it should never smell like hay, lawn clippings, or rotting vegetation. Moldy cannabis will have a damp, wet grass smell to it. An experienced nose can pull out moldy cannabis with a quick sniff alone.  How pungent the cannabis is will directly affect its grade. The louder and crazier the smell, the higher the grade. Since the terpene molecules responsible for the pungent scent are created in the trichome right next to THC. It is often said that “pungency equals potency”.

The Smoke Test

After looking the bud over and getting a good smell test, it's time for everyone’s favorite assessment – the smoke test. Upon the first draw and puff, the flavor qualities will immediately become apparent, and you can begin to ask yourself:

  • “Does the flavor match the aroma?” 
  • “Does the flavor overpower the taste of burning plant matter?”
  • “Does the flavor taste fresh and enticing? 
  • “Does the flavor stick around, even a half hour after smoking?”

If you get a yes to all these you are dealing with some grade A ganja for sure. Also be sure to ask yourself:

  • “Is the smoke harsh and hurting the back of my throat?”
  • “Does the flavor go away after the first puff”
  • “Is there any flavor at all other than just burning plant matter?”
  • “Does this taste salty? Does the bud crackle and spark while smoking?”

If you can say yes to any of these, you are dealing with nothing better than B grade cannabis. 

The Effects

Legalized cannabis has brought us a world where we can send cannabis to a lab and have it analyzed for potency and terpene content. With some cultivars of cannabis pushing upwards of 35% THC, potency has reached new heights. But potency doesn’t account for the effects of the strain alone. The terpene profile, aka aroma and flavor, has a huge role in driving just how “potent” a strain feels. This means a strain that tests out at 20% THC that has a terpene content of 4% can be more potent than a strain testing 28% THC that has 1% total terpenes. 

Vials full of yellow liquid next to a cannabis nug Today cannabis can be tested for THC potency and terpenes. Photo credit: Shutterstock
This can make grading cannabis based on THC percentage alone a little problematic.  Again though, there are some universal agreed-upon truths about cannabis potency that can help us grade cannabis.  Grade A cannabis will:

  • Have immediately noticeable effects. 
  • Have long lasting effects. 
  • Have overall pleasant effects for the average person. (Won’t give you a headache)

Anything lower than B grade will:

  • Have no immediate effects.
  • Have quick or fleeting effects.
  • Give you a headache or adverse reaction.  

The Grading Spectrum

Here is a quick guide to helping you grade cannabis.

AAAA Grade (Presidential, Quads)

Buds so beautiful you feel bad about smoking them. So pungent you can smell this bud in the next town over. Extremely potent, high terpene content. No mold/mildew, no seeds, smoke not harsh at all. Effects and flavor are strong and long lasting. Grown by the experienced.

AAA Grade (Top Shelf)

Gorgeous, photo worthy appearance. The smell should “leap” out of the container. Very potent, maybe too potent. High terpene content. No molds/mildew/seeds. Smoke is smooth and the flavor is delicious. Not quite as strong or pungent as AAAA, but definitely more than grade A.

A Grade (Headies, Primo, Dank)

Perfectly grown and cured. Pungent and enticing flavor. Cannabis you wouldn’t mind smoking all the time. No mold/mildew or seeds. Smoke is great and the bud burns with no crackling sound. Fresh, no more than 3-4 months old. 

B Grade (Mid-grade, mids, boof)

Decent looking with an alright smell, good enough for some, but not strong enough for experienced cannabis consumers. Might have been good weed but wasn’t cured properly. Maybe a few seeds, maybe a few spots of mold here and there. Should still be green. 

C Grade (Dirt Weed, reggies, schwag, brick weed)

Discolored and brown, smells like hay, lawn clippings or nothing at all. Not very potent. Potentially could give you a headache. Bad Taste. Brick weed. Completely seeded. Visible mold.  

D Grade (Rope Dope, Ditch Weed)

Why are you trying to smoke hemp with no THC and little CBD? Not really bud, this will look like leaves, sticks and dirt. Seeds, mold. Doesn’t give you a buzz, but could get you a respiratory infection. 

Frequently Asked Questions:

How is cannabis flower graded?

Cannabis flower is graded by looks, how pungent it is, THC content and/or terpene content. Also considered is how it was grown and the type of cure. 

Are There Different Grades of Cannabis?

  • AAAA- The very best, nothing is more high quality
  • AAA - Amazing and unique cultivars grown to perfection
  • A - Expertly grown good ol’ dank
  • B - Mid grade, might have a few slight imperfections 
  • C - Brick weed, schwag 
  • D - Rope Dope, low cannabinoid hemp, ditch weed

What is AAA and AAAA?

AAAA hits all the notes just right, grown to perfection, extremely potent and pungent. High THC and terpene content. AAA will have all the qualities of AAAA but with slightly lower THC and terpene content. This grading system is more common in Canada than in The States. 

What are AAA strains?

AAA strains will be expertly grown unique and rare cultivars. They are more desirable than A grade because they are more pungent, potent and rare.