The Trichome Institute



Grading and judging cannabis is a big deal that is overburdened with too much smoke and mirrors. Many headies say cannabis cups are total bullshit and they’re right… Bragging about cannabis has been a part of the culture since well before the legal industry. But is it real? Can something so subjective be judged with legitimacy? How could there be science behind something so personal? How can you judge anything while intoxicated? Who are these judges and what are their qualifications?

The Trichome Institute is tackling this cannabis-judging quandary. To understand the solution, you must first understand the problems. Typically, strain reviewers and cannabis cup judges smoke cannabis, and then explain what they think about it. These are usually superstar stoners who are much better at getting high than researching the science behind what quality equates to chemically and biologically. Put simply, most people who judge cups are entirely unqualified.

These unqualified judges are responsible for competitions whose outcomes make or break multimillion-dollar businesses. Even if intelligent industry members and longtime growers who know cannabis are selected to judge, their personal taste preferences and a lack of a grading standard make their judgments subjective, and thus, inconsistent and inaccurate. If your dispensary or grow depended on winning the cup, would you appreciate an inconsistent and inaccurate judging process?

The industry is maturing quickly and getting wise, so judging cannabis is turning to more consistent methods, including lab testing. There are two main types of testing that people are aware of and one that people don’t know much about. The two main tests are genotype and chemotype. Phenotyping has occurred, but is currently very rare in the industry. A genotype test uncovers the plants genetics and essentially maps the cannabis’ DNA, proving the parents and genetics are what they are said to be (maybe). The chemo test analyzes the chemical composition of the sample, such as the terpene and cannabinoid ratios and strengths.

Just because a sample has the most potent THC percentage, does not mean it is of good quality. THC does not mean quality whatsoever. What if the sample with the highest cannabinoid content, and most diverse terpene profile, has the worst flush and is covered in microscopic spider mites, webs, eggs and more?It’s also important to remember, chemotype, genotype and phenotype tests are not indicative of quality! Cannabis cups should, and will, start using some of these lab tests in the judging process and the Trichome Institute can teach testers how to use those tests as effective measurements.

TAGTM, a new type of lab test created for the industry, stands for Trichome Assurance Grade, and the Trichome Institute stands behind the numeric score that assures the quality of cannabis samples tested. The TAG process has rigorous standards, but it all starts with the technicians. You can’t TAG bud unless you are a proven cannabis expert, with a Level 3 Interpening®certification proving that you are.

In the world of wine, through taste, smell and sight, Level 3 Sommeliers can taste the year, zip code and weather pattern of just about any wine ever made. Their knowledge base is mind-boggling and it’s that level of expertise that was in mind when the Institute established its Level3 Interpener criteria. People fly in from around the world to learn Trichome Institutes’ techniques of dissecting cannabis quality and detecting the psychotropic properties of flower with just sight and smell.

Even with this, one might wonder, isn’t the Interpening expert’s opinion still subjective? The Trichome Institute employs an inter-rater reliability standard to extinguish subjectivity. In statistics, inter-rater reliability is the concordance of the degree of agreement among raters. A TAG score must have two Interpeners come up with the same numerical score within 5 points of one another or the test must be redone—the score is out of 100. As an extended precaution, each tested sample is stored in a library in the event someone wants to challenge the score within a 7-day period of the test. If no challenge is made, the mean of the two numerical values is assigned as the TAG score and then it is official. Essentially, the Trichome Institute has created a“wine spectating score”for cannabis!

Imagine if cannabis cups and judges used the TAG method so the judging is uniform across the board? Well it’s already started, at the DOPE Cup, and received only positive feedback from the event. Now imagine if wholesale pounds were priced with a TAG score instead of whatever the grower thinks his product is worth? What if celebrity and mega-product brands insured their brand reputation by only distributing 75.0-TAG or higher? Every grower and business will tell you their product is the best, but does it have a TAG? Instead of apps telling you where every dispensary is, how about a search option for where the best third-party verified quality cannabis is? Soon, you will be able to search for bud with a TAG score at a shop near you via app, social media, websites and more.

Check out to find TAG Cannabis Locations that are already out there. You can also check out TAG and Interpening tours to learn more about these programs.

By Max Montrose