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White or Gray: Does Ash Color Determine Quality Cannabis?

Wednesday January 2, 2019

S herlock Holmes is said to have penned Upon the Distinction Between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos as a guide to understanding cigar ash. Now, over a century later, armchair sleuths claim to have their own ways of reading cannabis ash. All across the Internet, cannabis boards rage with fierce debate and almost no scientific input over one of the most inane topics in cannabis: what does ash color mean for bud quality?

The Cannabis Ash Debate

The argument goes that properly flushed and/or cured (more on this in a moment) cannabis will burn to white, or near-white ash when combusted, and darker, blacker ash is an indication of inferior product. Most everyone agrees that cannabis should not pop or crackle when burned. There is some degree of disagreement over what constitutes “white” ash and just how deep into the spectrum of gray is still acceptable.

And just what inferiority does ash color betray? Supposedly, darker ash means that chemicals used in the growing process are still present in the plant, which are ideally harmful to humans when smoked and inhaled. To help get to the bottom of the cannabis ash argument, let’s take a closer look into some key elements surrounding the subject.

Is Flushing a Fraudulent Factor?

The majority of proponents of the cannabis ash idea feel that white ash is indicative of cannabis that has been properly “flushed.” For those unfamiliar, flushing is the practice of feeding the cannabis plant only water in the last seven to fourteen days of growing in order to “flush out” any residual chemicals or nutrients used to bolster the growing process – synthetic salt-based fertilizers in particular. Flushing is such a common practice that the majority of growers consider it a standard step in the cultivation process, never to be skipped. Renowned grower Jorge Cervantes even penned an article on the importance of flushing. The majority of growers we spoke to agree, flush has a very noticeable effect.

However, the very practice of flushing is a topic of fierce debate. A few growers feel it is an unnecessary – and even potentially harmful – step to the finished product. They claim that the logic behind flushing is flawed, and that the science behind it makes little sense. In an op-ed published in Cannabis Business Times, licensed agriculturalist and cannabis entrepreneur Katie Badertscher explained the inconsistency to the widely-held belief: “To us, the concept that flushing somehow changes the chemistry in plant tissue that has been laid down for weeks requires a scientific explanation because that concept seems akin to claiming that the car engine is cleaner after washing the car’s hood. Nutrients are locked in the plant, and an external flush cannot undo the complex biology that locked them in.”

Many growers say their bud burns to white ash regardless of flush, and that any properly grown cannabis will do the same.

So, if ash isn’t a good indicator of flush, is it an indicator of anything else? Some proponents of the “ash test” claim that what it’s really showing is the quality of the cure.

Correlation between Cannabis Curing and Ash Color

Curing is a process of preserving food against degradation and bacteria for later consumption. For cannabis, a cure is done to seal in desirable cannabinoids and terpenes, and thought to purge excess starch and sugar. While both deal with reducing the moisture content in flower, curing is distinguished from drying, as it involves carefully controlling the release of moisture from sealed containers over an extended period.

While we were able to find lots of anecdotal references and explanations of this process, we weren’t able to come across any hard scientific clarifications that back up the validity of the “ash test.” Curing undoubtedly results in a smoother, more flavorful smoke, but similar to flushing, understanding exactly why remains a mystery. The Cannabis Business Times covered similar Badertscher frustrations at understanding the underlying processes of cannabis curing, and offers some questioning to the commonly held beliefs here.

The best understanding we could muster is that similar to fruit on a plant, harvested buds do not begin to immediately decompose, but continue to undergo metabolic changes for a period. By controlling the amount of moisture in the buds during this crucial period, growers are able to coax those metabolic processes into reducing undesirable elements out of the plant to increase smoothness. Moisture content is at the heart of the matter, which also unquestionably affects a bud’s smoke quality.

Where Does the Ash Myth Come From?

For how persistent the white ash test is in the cannabis world, its origins appear to have come from connoisseurs of a completely different crop. The insistence that white ash equates to higher quality product comes from cigar aficionados. The Cigar Association of America even notes the fact on their website.

The story goes that when the US ceased trade with Cuba, imitation Cuban cigars flooded the market, and could be distinguished by their darker ash color. Tobacco grown in authentic Cuban soil was higher in minerals and nutrients, cigar historians argue, resulting in lighter ash. In modern cannabis grow markets, where nutrient content can be carefully monitored, and a variety of methods are used, ash color is unlikely to definitely differentiate or distinguish the quality of the source.

Trust Your Omens

Regardless of the exact processes that the ash test is meant to illuminate, one thing about the result is certain: if bud harshly fails the ash test, it’s usually a sign of something you don’t want to smoke.

Bud that crackles when ignited, or burns to black and/or sticky ash tends to be harsher, and unpleasant to smoke. It is likely a sign of something undesirable on the flower.

It is unlikely that well-grown and prepared cannabis would do much other than burn to gray or white ash. Conversely, you probably don’t need to be a snob about having ash as white as driven snow. So long as the smoke is smooth and flavorful, it’s probably good bud.

Ash color itself requires further scientific inquiry to support the notion that it is a good determinate of quality, but there is a bit of worthwhile information one can learn from observing what happens when flower burns.

What are your thoughts on the “ash test?” Do you feel that white ash is an indication of quality cannabis? Share your input in the comments below!

Matt Mongelia holds an MFA in writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He has worked in the cannabis industry in various roles for 4 years, from dispensaries, production and retail to events, content and marketing. He is a writer for the comic Dark Beach, and has previously covered music and cultural content for SOL REPUBLIC.

The ash test" has been a determining factor for quality cannabis for quite some time

How To Read Your Cannabis Ash

Although edibles are becoming more popular, smoking is still the preferred method of consumption in the cannabis community. With dispensaries galore and hundreds of strains of cannabis, there’s a growing variety of flower to smoke. However, not every cultivation center or lab facility is made the same. So, how can you gauge the quality of the cannabis you bought? You can go by the reputation of the company or a testing label’s results, but there’s a simpler way to judge the quality of your flower: learn how to read your ash.

Everyone wants clean cannabis, and analyzing the quality of your cannabis ash is one way to weed out the good buds from the bad ones. If you’ve ever had a headache, irritated lungs, or sore throat after smoking cannabis, there are likely leftover contaminants in your flower. With this simple guide on how to read your cannabis ash, we’ll give you the adequate knowledge to inspect your smoldering joint.

Cannabis Educational Primer: Flushing & Curing

Without the proper treatment in the growing process of marijuana, there may be leftover chemicals still present in the plant once it’s packaged. And, these chemicals — not the cannabis — may be the reason your throat hurts when you smoke a joint. Before we jump into the simple steps of how to read your cannabis ash, let’s take a look at two factors that may affect the cleanliness of cannabis: flushing and curing.

Flushing : The process of flushing is when you give the cannabis plants plain water and stop feeding them nutrients. Flushing is a critical step that’s typically performed two weeks before harvest, washing away unwanted nutrients or potentially harmful chemicals.

Curing : After all the hard work put into meticulously tending cannabis, cultivation experts start curing the plants, which is the long-term process of moisture removal under controlled conditions.

Flushing is a common step in the cultivation process, which is practiced by a majority of cannabis growers. The procedure helps in cleansing the cannabis or medical marijuana, but curing may play a more significant factor overall.

Harvested cannabis doesn’t decompose instantly, as it continues to go through metabolic changes. Curing helps control moisture content during this critical period to influence the metabolic process, reducing undesirable components to keep the cannabis clean when done efficiently. So, flushing may play a role in the purity of your cannabis, but curing affects the smoke quality without question.

Observe The Color

The only way to test the cleanliness of your flower with the method of reading your cannabis ash is to light up a joint. When the ash exposes itself, take a close look at the color. If you notice that the ash is black or dark gray, that’s indicative of unwanted substances and mineral content in the cannabis you’re smoking. However, if your weed ash is light gray or almost as white as the rolling paper, the cannabis is considerably clean.

If you do find dark grey to burned black ash, there’s a good chance the cannabis flower was not properly flushed and/or cured well. With leftover undesirable sugars and minerals due to inefficient curing, you will experience a throat-burning feeling to match the dark-colored ash. Having said that, the color of your cannabis ash shouldn’t be the only detail you observe if you enjoy smoking weed.

Notice The Texture

Another factor to take into consideration when observing your cannabis ash is the texture. Clean cannabis ash is light, delicate, and fluffy. However, if there happens to be any leftover fertilizer, pesticides, or fungicides, the ash is going to be grainy and hard. Additionally, there’s a simple test you can perform to further analyze the ash.

Tap the lit joint lightly, and if the ash separates easily, the purity of your cannabis hasn’t been compromised by unwanted leftovers. If the ash is crusty and falling apart all by itself, there are residuals present.

The more the ash resembles a fine powder, the better. Take a few puffs of the joint so you can produce enough ash to analyze. You’ll also want to take note of the ash texture at different lengths of the joint for even more accuracy in your observation.

Seek Out Clean Cannabis

Reading your cannabis ash should be a method to double-check the cleanliness of your cannabis. The goal is to purchase quality cannabis with the terpene and cannabinoid content you like from trusted, responsible participants in the cannabis industry — not the black market. Therefore, you should ensure the flower you buy has gone through verified lab testing. And the only way to know if it’s been tested properly is if the cannabis company provides results for their products.

Cannabis consumers shouldn’t be afraid to ask for test results and seek out cannabis shops that screen their vendors. If the company can’t provide their test results or prefer not to disclose them, you’ll want to steer clear of that cannabis producer. Think of the cannabis white ash test as a safety net, with proper research of brands as the first line of defense.

Other Ways To Check Cannabis Quality

Reading your cannabis ash is one way you can check the condition of your cannabis. However, there are a couple of other observations you can make if you’re not satisfied with just observing ash. Although these review methods may not be as easy, it doesn’t hurt to give them a try. Here are other ways to check the quality of your cannabis:

Visual Review: Even though different marijuana strains vary in color and consistency, you can still scan the flower for a particular red flag: mold. It’s best to err on the side of caution and not cut off the mold and continue consuming the flower. Not to mention, if the cannabis is yellow or brown, it’s most likely a low-grade product.

Aroma Check: Cannabis has a distinct, fresh scent — which you can learn to identify through experience — if it’s been harvested, dried, and cured properly. It’s a bad sign if your cannabis smells like hay or grass.

Learning how to read your cannabis ash is an easy way to start upgrading your knowledge about exactly what goes into making quality cannabis. By enrolling in the comprehensive Cannabis Cultivation certificate program, you’ll dive deep into what it takes to grow exceptional commercial cannabis. The 100% online course was developed by cannabis horticulture experts and will help you elevate your home growing skills while preparing you for a career in commercial cannabis cultivation.

Your cannabis ash can tell you a lot about the product you smoked. Learn how to read your ash and to see what's really in your weed.