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How to Know You're Getting Top-Shelf Smokable CBD

Updated: Feb 20

Hemp flower comes from the bud of a female cannabis plant. Bred and cultivated to possess high levels of CBD. There's a notable difference between the run-of-the-mill CBD flower you can find anywhere and the highest quality top-shelf CBD.

The origins of the term "top-shelf" come from British newsagent's shops commonly storing materials with adult content on the top shelf where it is both less visible and harder to reach without being seen. Eventually, the term crossed the pond. In America, it became common in bars to indicate the highest quality alcohol. It has since been adopted by the cannabis industry to denote premium caliber products.

A Google search will demonstrate that most stores claim to have top-shelf smokable hemp products. Hemp flower that earns the top-shelf title all share similar characteristics. Here's how to ensure you're getting the best product.

How to establish top-shelf status?

Back to our Google search. "Top-shelf CBD flower" yields over 1,900,000 results. How can you ensure that you're getting real high-quality smokable CBD? The following criteria can be used to determine if the company is using the term indiscriminately or their claims are genuine.


The benefits of smoking hemp flower are 2 fold. Inhaling CBD allows it to pass through the lung's air-blood barrier and get into the body in about 15 minutes. Monitoring the amount of CBD you're ingesting is also a simple process. We'll touch on this more shortly.

One of the primary reasons people smoke CBD hemp flower is for its quick effect on the body. If the percent of CBD in the flower is low, the effects might not even be noticeable.

It's recommended that you seek out companies that offer easy-to-access to 3rd party lab reports, commonly know as COA's in the industry. If they aren't available online, email them to inquire. All hemp products must be lab-tested for a Delta-9 THC content under .03%. At the very least, a lab test can be used to determine what percentage of CBD is in the hemp flower. You'll also be able to see the percentages of other cannabinoids like CBGA, CBC, CBDV and CBN, which all have a unique impact on the body.

Top-shelf hemp flower will typically have a CBD percentage in the double digits ranging from around 12-26%. This means that if you smoke a 1 gram preroll with a CBD level of 26%, you're ingesting 260mg of CBD. To put this in perspective most human studies use dosages anywhere between 20 and 1,500mg per day. Understanding the percentage of CBD you're getting is only the first step in identifying top-shelf hemp flower.

If the percentage of CBD is low, it should not be considered a top-shelf hemp flower. A high percentage of CBD is the #1 indicator of the highest quality smokeable CBD.


It's not uncommon for consumers to make a return to the hemp flower after a substantial hiatus. Some have never seen or consumed hemp. There's nothing to worry about. If you've ever shopped for produce, you have a basic understanding of what constitutes a fresh plant. Overall color, moisture content, and the right firmness. Those same rules apply to top-shelf smokeable hemp as well.

Fortunately, those skills we've all developed in the produce aisle directly apply to hemp as well. Looking at hemp bud, there are 2 things to keep in mind.

A quick inspection for debris. High-quality hemp flowers will be free of loose trimmings. It should have a short stem, cut so that it almost disappears. It should also be trimmed into a compact shape, with fan leafs removed. A rushed or shaggy trim should be avoided.

The coloration can vary between various hemp strains. The bud of a top-shelf hemp flower should primarily be green. You might notice tan-colored stigma, thick hair-like structures. There are often thick small structures similar to a leaf. These are the bract and calyx. They can vary in color from green to purple in color. In general the more vibrant the colors, the higher quality hemp you are dealing with. The key to a visual inspection is the trichome structure. These are the fine, white, sticky formations that give the bud a furry look. If the trichomes look frosty, it's a relatively fresh bud. A glistening hemp flower will be brimming with CBD.

In regards to purchasing top-shelf hemp online, always look for high-quality images and seek out product reviews from customers who have purchased the particular strain you're looking interested in. Between the images and reviews, it's best to trust your instincts.


Taking your analysis to the next level can be difficult online, however, it's not impossible. You should look into the terpene profile of the strain you're interested in. Terpenes are volatile hydrocarbons found in essential oils. They are found in large quantities in the hemp plant, giving each strain its distinct smell. With the potential to express over 200 different terpenes in varying amounts, an individual strain's terpene profile can play an important role in the effects a given flower will have on your body.

Information on terpenes is often available on a lab report. However, this information isn't always present in a report. Given the opportunity, we recommend you use your nose. The 4 most common terpenes are Mycerene, Limonene, Caryophyllene, and Pinene. Each has a distinct odor and effect.

Mycerene has a strong earthy smell. In high enough quantities it's often described as "skunky". Mycerene is also found in thyme, mango, and lemongrass. It is said to have a calming effect.

Limonene has a citrusy smell, reminiscent of lemon or orange zest. It's also found in junipers. It's thought to help relieve stress.

Caryophyllene has a strong, spicy, sometimes peppery scent. It's also found in pepper, cinnamon, and cloves. It's known to stimulate the body's endocannabinoid system.

Pinene has a fragrant and earthy smell, reminiscent of a pine forest. Pinene is found in rosemary, basil, and pine needles. It's said to help with pain and inflammation.

If the percentage of CBD is low or any or all of these scents aren't present in the hemp strain you're considering, it should not be considered a top-shelf hemp flower. A high percentage of CBD and a pungent smell are indicators of the highest quality smokeable CBD.

In addition to the terpene profile, the curing process can greatly impact the aroma of a hemp flower. If done correctly the smell and flavor of the hemp flowers are preserved for up to two years. If it smells like fresh-cut grass it's a sign that the chlorophyll in the plant is decomposing into ammonia. This is an indication of a rushed or faulty curing process, and should never reach you, the consumer. If a bud smells like mold or mildew, do not consume it. This is a result of mold contamination. This typically happens during the plant's growth phase. If it is dried incorrectly or comes into contact with water mold can grow. Mold can be harmful if inhaled. If a hemp flower smells off, it's best to avoid consuming it.

Flavor Profile

Our sense of smell and taste are closely related. The flavor profile of a top-shelf hemp flower should closely resemble the aroma. For online purchases researching terpene profiles and reviews is highly recommended.

It's not always possible for hemp flower flavors to taste exactly the same as they smell. When lighting a preroll or bowl, you're adding the elements of heat and combustion to the equation.

With this in mind, high-quality CBD flowers taste very similar to their aroma. It's important to keep this in mind when looking for top-shelf hemp strains.

Growing Conditions

The growing conditions a hemp plant finds itself in are often the determining factor in whether it can be considered a top-shelf CBD product or not.

What practices are farmers using to ensure the highest quality plants? Are they growing organically? Does the farm use sustainable growing methods? Do they avoid pesticides and harsh chemicals? Was the hemp grown indoors or outdoors? Your CBD bud's origins hold a lot of bearing on its quality.

The origin of where the hemp grew holds a lot of weight in terms of its quality. The best hemp plants will be free of any impurities including heavy metals, pesticides, yeast, and mold.


"Good work ain't cheap, cheap work ain't good." Norman Collins had the right idea. It takes quite a lot of effort to produce a top-shelf hemp flower and get it into the customer's hands. Having said that the difference in price between high-quality CBD flower and the average bud is relatively modest.

A gram of top-shelf hemp flower runs between $7-$10, where a mid-grade gram will run you around $6. If you see hemp flower below $6 a gram claiming to be 'top-shelf', this is a sign to be on your guard. Remember the traits we discussed. Trust your instincts and do your research.

If you're looking for a discounted price, consider reaching out to stores and asking about a bulk discount.


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