We reviewed a year's worth of data. Here's what we found.
Here at Proper, our committee of cannabis experts has spent more than 40,000 hours rating and reviewing cannabis products. Our mission: take on the painful task of trial and error so you don’t have to. In the process, we’ve learned a lot about legal cannabis products. For instance, you can’t judge a vape by its girly exterior, low-dose doesn’t always mean low-impact, and sometimes the foulest-smelling weed can lead to the greatest high. But it’s not just about fun facts. We’ve uncovered some themes that could help new consumers, reasons to be skeptical of the most innovative products, and promising indications cannabis as a whole is only going to get better—stuff you can’t find in quarterly sales reports.
We don’t want to hoard all this information for ourselves, so we compiled our biggest learnings into one report. After all, putting in thousands of hours of effort to help you get smart in minutes is kind of our thing. Here are five things we learned in 2019 and what we'll cover in this report:
1. There's a cannabis product for that.
2. New consumers, start with hybrid strains.
3. Don’t buy sublinguals, pills, or beverages—unless you’ve done your research.
4. When it comes to concentrates, live resins and rosins are the best.
5. Pen-and-pod systems are better than 510-thread cartridges.
There’s a cannabis product for that.
Just ten years ago, the best consumers could hope for was a cannabis product that would leave them more giggly and stoned than debilitated and paranoid. Since then, cannabis brands in legal states have raised the bar considerably. Increased competition has resulted in cannabis products that are not only consistent, high-quality, and pesticide-free, but geared toward delivering specific effects like energy and sleep. If you’ve visited a legal dispensary in the past couple of years, you may already know this intuitively. But just how good is the product landscape looking for consumers who want to achieve a specific feeling?
According to Proper’s ratings data, there really are good (and often great) cannabis products for any given effect. So, whether you’re looking to feel sleepy, relieved of pain, relaxed, aroused, euphoric, focused, or energized, there’s a cannabis product to help with that. Which isn’t to say each effect is represented equally. 73 percent of the cannabis products we’ve rated are good for relaxation, while 40 percent illicit euphoria. Surprisingly, 25 percent of the cannabis products we’ve rated were energizing while only 12 percent were sedating, flying in the face of outdated stereotypes.
Those stereotypes, which often evoke images of sagging couches and coffee tables covered in chip detritus, seem more irrelevant the closer we look at the data. When we looked at what raters said products were good for, we were surprised to find they selected “getting shit done” just as often as “couch crashing,” 21 and 19 percent of the time, respectively. Half of the products we reviewed proved to be good for a mood boost while 13 percent could substitute for a cup of coffee. And while only 3 percent of products were intoxicating yet social enough to be good for replacing alcohol, that still represents a total of 86 products—not bad for those looking to drink less booze in the New Year.
All in all, we’re encouraged by both the quality and variety of felt effects found in modern cannabis products.
New consumers, start with hybrid strains.
Sativa and indica may have been useful labels when strains of cannabis flower were more distinct, but these days it’s all about hybrids—AKA blends of the two. Just about every strain you see on dispensary shelves today is more likely to be a hybrid than a true indica or sativa, and that’s probably for the best.
Our reporting shows hybrid strains are more likely to deliver a great experience. Of the nearly 200 hybrid flower products Proper rated, 21 percent scored a 90 or above out of 100. Another 47 percent of hybrids scored in the 80-89 range. In other words, we found one in five hybrid flower products were truly exceptional while one in two were above average. Meanwhile, one in ten sativa flower products scored in the 0-69 range, meaning their side effects outweighed any potential benefit.
This could be due to a few reasons. Hybrid strains tend to have more balanced highs in terms of head and body effects, which means they’re less likely to make you feel anxious or sedated. Unmet expectations could also be at play. For example, someone shopping for a pure indica is likely looking for a sleepy, body-heavy high, setting themselves up for disappointment if that high turns out to be more creative than relaxing. (The same goes for our raters who have all the product information stripped except for general labels like indica, sativa, and hybrid.) Someone shopping for a hybrid, on the other hand, expects the high could go either way and views an unexpected burst of creative energy or a wave of relaxation more positively.
In any case, we recommend cannabis newcomers start with hybrid strains since they’re easier to find, more likely to please, and tend to have fewer side effects.
Don’t buy sublinguals, pills, or beverages—unless you’ve done your research.
For all of the buzz surrounding CBD tinctures, cannabinoid-packed pills, and weedy beverages, the vast majority of the products themselves were lackluster at best in 2019. With the exception of a few standouts, most brands in these categories have a long way to go if they hope to win consumers after the initial buzz wears off.
The sublingual product category as a whole scored an average of 75, with oral sprays proving to be particularly mediocre, scoring 68 on average. The beverage category scored an average of 76, with cannabis-infused sodas scoring a surprisingly dismal average of 72. Of the cannabis-infused waters we rated, 50 percent were almost undrinkable. With an average score of 75, most cannabis pills and capsules were similarly underwhelming. Considering most product categories on Proper score an average of 80, these stats do not bode well.
That said, a few products are defying this bleak reality. Two of Cann’s beverages. Lemon Lavender and Grapefruit Rosemary, scored a perfect 100. LEVEL’s Calm Tablingual (a sublingual tablet containing the rare cannabinoid CBG) scored a near-perfect 96. And dosist’s new bliss tablets scored an impressive 94. Bottom line: If you want to find the best products in a sea of mediocre ones, do your research.
When it comes to concentrates, live resins and rosins are the best.
The sheer quantity and variety of concentrates available these days can be daunting, but our data shows there are clear winners: live resins and rosins. While somewhat similar, live resin concentrates are made from flower that has been flash frozen right after harvest and rosin concentrates are pressed after the bud has been dried and cured. Both are solventless concentrates made using nothing but pressure and heat. These products are made by squeezing the essential oils from dried flowers, typically via a hydraulic press.
Of the concentrates rated by the committee, live resins scored an average of 82 while rosins scored an average of 87. To put that into perspective, nearly half of the rosins Proper rated scored in the 90-100 range and achieved or came close to true perfection. Oils and hash fared poorly in comparison, only scoring an average of 77. Waxes came in a close second to live resins and rosins, scoring an 82 on average.
Put into context, these findings support the notion that full-spectrum concentrates (products that maintain as much of the plant’s original integrity as possible) provide more nuanced, high-quality experiences.
Pen-and-pod systems are better than 510-thread cartridges.
510-thread cartridges may be the long-standing vaporizer staple, but when it comes to quality, battery-specific pods (like PAX, G Pen Gio, and Airgraft) consistently come out on top. Of all the vaporizers Proper rated, one in four pods scored a 90 or above. Only one in 10 vape cartridges scored as highly. And despite all-in-one vapes being the most convenient of the bunch, they only scored a 79 on average.
Intuitively, these results make sense because pod-specific vape manufacturers operate in a closed system and only work with established, high-quality brands. Add to that the fact that pod-and-pen systems deliver convenience, device consistency, and variety in choice, and you’ve got a winning sub-category of vaporizers.