This guide was created to help sift through the endless varieties of cannabis we now have available to us at dispensaries. Now, this doesn't apply to all strains, because every strain has different characteristics and grows different with every farmer's care. However, these tools can be used to help analyze the often subtle differences between cannabis cultivated outdoor or indoor. At the end of the day, cannabis is a diverse and incommensurable plant — not all distinguishing factors will apply to every situation because every strain is unique.
It's important to note that buds can be grown properly or improperly regardless of whether they were grown inside or outside, so improperly grown indoor can visually look like outdoor, while properly grown outdoor can easily look like indoor. But there are some standard tell-tale signs that cannabis has been grown inside or outside, so sit back and enjoy our visual guide to indoor vs. outdoor marijuana.
First let's get a base calibration to see where you are starting.
Can you differentiate which one was cultivated indoors and which was cultivated outdoors?
If you guessed A was outdoor and B was indoor you are correct! Now let's find out how you can easily differentiate how cannabis was grown through some strategic visual clues.
The sizes of the buds are, in many ways, the first visual cues to tell whether buds were grown indoor or outdoor. But it is a general rule of thumb that everything is bigger with outdoor-cultivated buds. The buds themselves are bigger and chunkier, but one of the most foolproof ways to differentiate the two is by looking at the stem. Outdoor grown buds will have a significantly thicker stem than indoor cultivated nugs. Indoor buds will typically be smaller and more dense than outdoor's big, clunky nugs.
Trichome density is a key visual cue when attempting to differentiate between indoor cultivation and outdoor cultivation. Because indoor buds are smaller, closer to their light source, and in a perfectly controlled environment, they typically rank very high on the trichome density scale. So when examining an impeccably grown indoor nug all that can be seen is glimmering crystals with very little plant material visible. Outdoor nugs on the other hand are generally larger, so those trichomes would have to work much harder to cover the entire surface of an outdoor bud. Additionally, outdoor plants are subjected to the elements which can damage trichome development. So the trichome density is typically more sparse on outdoor-cultivated nugs than ones grown indoors.
One of the most significant visual characteristics that can be used to differentiate sun-grown cannabis versus indoor-grown cannabis is the color. Outdoor cannabis tends to have a darker hue in general. If the cultivar produces green flowers, outdoor nugs will appear a darker green, possibly leaning towards brown if not cured correctly, while indoor buds will be a brighter, more vivid green. If the cultivar produces purple flowers, outdoor buds will turn a deep, striking purple while indoor nugs will stay lighter shades of purple (unless the strain's genetics produce dark purple buds in any condition).
Another visual cue is the color on the bottom of the flowers. Buds cultivated outdoors almost always have a light brown color surrounding the stalk at the base of the bud (don't worry it's not mold). Usually, the tiny bracts at the bottom of the stalk will be a light brown as well. Indoor buds, on the other hand, are bright green (or purple) throughout.
There is a widespread myth that outdoor cultivated cannabis is less potent than indoor-cultivated cannabis. Simply put, that's just not true. The dedicated farmers at Sunna Ra Acres have busted this myth once and for all. For the last few years, they have been conducting side-by-side tests of two clones taken from the same mother plant, one grown outdoors and one grown indoors. They've executed this experiment with a variety of strains and each time, the plant that is cultivated outside under the sun results in a higher overall cannabinoid profile. That means higher in THC, higher in CBD, higher in THCv, etc. Their experiment has shown that the sun unleashes the plant's true potential and heightens its medicinal power.
In this case, terpenes are very similar to cannabinoids in that their profiles are intensified by the sun. In Sunna Ra Acre's many years of experimentation they have found that if two identical plants are grown “side-by-side” — one grown outside, one grown inside — the plant that is grown outside will have a higher percentage of terpenes. And in some cases, the plants even reveal terpenes no one knew were there. When these two plants are smoked, the difference is very distinguishable with the outdoor being much more flavorful and aromatic. With that said, terpenes are volatile, meaning they will evaporate without proper drying and curing processes. Many indoor growers take greater care in their final stages of drying and curing because they yield far less and their product moves from one indoor room to another, providing more control through the process. New outdoor growers versus seasoned outdoor growers may overlook the step of proper drying and lose their high-terpene profile as a result.
While this category is very subjective and does not always apply, historically, outdoor growers spend less time trimming their final product than indoor growers. This typically has to do with the amount of bud harvested, outdoor growers are pulling down 5, 10, or 20 lbs per plant while indoor growers are pulling down 0.5, 1, or 2 lbs per plant. Trimming mass amounts of weed per plant would not only take weeks, but a big full-time crew would be needed. So the end result is usually a looser, leafier trim job — especially because outdoor plants are leafier in general. So while not always applicable, you can typically spot the difference between outdoor and indoor pretty immediately by scoping out the trim job.
Running through all these characteristics, with some give and take, while analyzing the hundreds of buds available for purchase at your local dispensary will help you to differentiate the outdoor grown from the indoor grown. If you are lucky enough to have access to the same flower cultivated both indoors and outdoors, it is amazing to smoke them side-by-side and compare the flavor profiles versus bag appeal. Indoor typically has better bag appeal while outdoor has the better flavor profile — it's all about what you're looking for in your daily smoke.
Before we go, there is a huge elephant in the room that we have not discussed today and that is greenhouse cultivated cannabis. Greenhouses are can be categorized as indoor cultivation using the power of the sun. It is the perfect marriage of indoor and outdoor because you have the environmental control of indoor but the incredible power of the sun. The result is typically buds that have the bag appeal of indoor with the elevated terpene and cannabinoid profiles of outdoor.