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Types of Cannabis and Health Risks

Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

With states legalizing across the country, many people are starting to learn that there are multiple varieties of the cannabis plant, sometimes called “marijuana”, and they can be prepared in a variety of ways. The potency of cannabis can vary greatly from one plant to another and from one preparation to another. The route of administration can strongly affect the intensity of marijuana’s effects.

One person’s experience of taking marijuana can be completely different from that of someone else.

Smoking Weed

Often simply called weed or pot, this is the unprocessed form of cannabis.   Weed consists of the dried leaves and buds of the female Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica plants.  

It has a very pungent and recognizable odor, both in its unburnt state and while being smoked.   This odor is quite unlike kitchen herbs, although weed is sometimes “cut” (mixed) with benign kitchen herbs such as oregano and parsley when sold in the underground market.

Weed is commonly smoked in hand-rolled cigarettes, known as joints. The lumpy texture of weed can be felt through the tobacco rolling paper. This is one of the characteristics that can differentiate a joint from a hand-rolled tobacco cigarette.

Hashish and weed can be mixed with rolling tobacco, which is a soft, moist, sticky tobacco preparation designed for hand-rolling. It may also be mixed with the dry tobacco from deconstructed cigarettes. This mixture is referred to as a “spliff”.  

Weed, hashish, and hashish oil can be smoked in pipes, water pipes, and bongs, or mixed with tobacco and smoked in a chillum. Some young adults have also used e-cigarettes to inhale marijuana through “vaping.”  

Hashish

Hashish, or hash for short, is a preparation of marijuana made from the resin of the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant. The resin is dried into blocks of hashish, producing an oily, solid substance.  

Cannabis resin can be referred to by the names for the specific type of hash, rather than the generic names of hashish or pot. These different names for hashish include black, goldseal black, redseal black, and Morrocan (Rocky for short).

Hashish is often warmed, crumbled, and rolled together with tobacco. It may also be smoked in a pipe, bong, or chillum.

There are several different types of hashish. The colors range from dark brown or almost black, through various shades of brown, to a dirty yellowish color.

The appearance of different types of hashish can vary as well. Some may look dark and shiny (a bit like licorice) and some may be lighter and dull or matte (a bit like a soup stock cube). The texture of hashish also varies from quite dry and hard, like a piece of fudge, to moist and pliable, like modeling clay.

As with weed, hashish has a very distinctive, pungent odor. It is one of the easiest ways of identifying it as a form of marijuana. The appearance of hashish is so varied that novice users are often duped into buying licorice or other cheap, benign substances that look similar.

Hashish oil, or hash oil, is the strongest form of marijuana and is the least common form of the drug.   It is sold in tiny bottles or sealed plastic bags.

Only a small amount is needed to produce the effects of marijuana. Typically, hash oil is smoked in a pipe or painted onto cigarettes or joints.

Learn how to identify the several types of marijuana, a variety of cannabis preparations, risks, and benefits.

How to Choose High Quality Marijuana

By Adam Schmidt

Whether you’re new to cannabis or an aficionado in the making, you may wonder: How do I make sure I’m buying high quality marijuana?

Fortunately, most reputable dispensaries staff professionals — budtenders — who are marijuana experts and can guide you. But, it’s helpful to understand on your own how to identify high-quality weed.

Essential Tips to Finding High Quality Marijuana

First, picking out cannabis can be a lot like picking out fruits or vegetables: you want to ensure that there are no visibly obvious flaws in your weed, such as mold or insects. Ingesting moldy cannabis can be harmful, and it won’t be very effective either.

It’s ideal to look for marijuana that already has an established reputation, as brand name cannabis is far more likely to be of superior quality than the untried and unknown. Strains named after places — like Afghani Kush or Thai OG — are also good choices, as you can often trace their pedigree to those same lands of their origin (see landrace strains), which have a reputation for producing high-quality kush.

Finally, even good-looking weed can sometimes be bunk, so you’ll want to make sure the strain you’re smoking is actually as potent as your provider claims. This is another reason why name-brand cannabis is often superior, as branded strains have likely been lab-tested, thereby ensuring their quality.

Aroma, Texture, and Appearance

In most cases, the physical attributes of the cannabis are your best indicator of its quality. Good cannabis stands out — it usually possesses an appealing coloration that looks ripe and full, not browned out or discolored. You’re going to want buds that are smothered in resin, the crystalline hairs that coat marijuana and possess most of the cannabinoids which produce its mind-altering effects.

High quality marijuana is also typically thick with flower, not covered in leaves or mostly stem. Look for packed, dense kush that takes a while to break apart; a crumbly and fragile plant is probably not going to be of great quality.

Your cannabis should also have a heavy aroma, which is a frequent indicator of potency. Marijuana that does not give off much of smell might not be as effective as you would like, and the most famous, beloved strains out there often carry with them a pungent scent that is immediately recognizable to the senses. Likewise, make sure the bud is sticky to the touch, a sign that it’s loaded with the terpenes and cannabinoids you need.

Marijuana in dispensaries can often be locked away before purchase or hidden inside its container. You can always ask the people working there for help in examining your kush before purchase, an essential step before taking the plunge on a strain that does not have an established reputation behind it.

You should also inquire about the best strains the dispensary has available, as there will be few people more knowledgeable about the cannabis that particular store has in stock than its employees.

Lastly, when in doubt, look online (at sites like Leafly and Wikileaf), as there are a variety of resources available on almost every strain in existence. Chances are if you can’t find any information about it online, it’s not a purchase worth making.

Whether you're new to cannabis or an aficionado in the making, you may wonder: 'How do I make sure I'm buying high quality marijuana?'