TDC Cannabis Microscopy 101 Course Zooms in on What Makes Quality Cannabis

This article originally featured on CannaWrite

I wasn’t too sure what to expect when I was told that I would be in a classroom at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo for 8 hours when I decided to participate in The Different Collective’s Cannabis Microscopy Course 101. Having been long-removed from the four walls of the classroom and oftentimes finding myself struggling with focus (pun intended), I wasn’t quite sure I was up to this learning task.

Within ten minutes of starting the course, I was locked in, engaged, and eager to soak up all the knowledge that Tom Rothmeier and Francis Hall had prepared to unleash on us, and my anxiety over learning was quickly dissipated.

Who is The Different Collective?

The Different Collective is a group of diverse, like-minded cannabis educators, connoisseurs, freelancers, and industry workers who want to bring a larger sense of community back into the cannabis industry. Their collective was created to educate and support others as we continue to navigate the legal cannabis spaces in Canada and beyond.

Tom, the founder of The Different Collective, was the lead educator of the Cannabis Microscopy 101 course, with the curriculum development and support of Francis during the experiential components. The course was sponsored by Vancouver Island-based grower, consultant, and educator Keri McBrien of She Whispers to Plants, who gifted The Different Collective samples of her cultivars to test under the microscope, and which turned out to represent to me the “gold standard” of what cannabis should look like.

What Was the Course About?

The learning outcome of the Cannabis Microscopy 101 course was to teach budtenders, retail owners and management, and content creators how to explore and evaluate different components of cannabis using a microscope. “Shouldn’t the ultimate determination of that be how it feels?” I thought to myself. Turns out, everything I knew about the quality of cannabis was to be tested as we learned the importance of objective evaluation.

The course was composed of a lecture and an experiential element using the microscope that taught us in depth about trichomes, which are the hair-like resin glands that primarily evolve on the bracht of the flower and produce all phytochemicals within the cannabis plant. Trichomes are the “frosty” coating you will see on cannabis buds that hold cannabinoids and terpenes, as well as the thiols, esters, flavonoids, and aldehydes that contribute to the flavor, aroma, and in many cases, effect in cannabis.

Photo Credit: Francis Hall

We were led through the different types of microscopes, the anatomy of the cannabis flower and trichomes, the different types of trichomes, and how to evaluate the quality of cannabis through examining the trichomes through the microscope for their stage of development, colour, maturity, and their degree of visibility to the naked eye. This evaluation process forms a grading system that allows The Different Collective to provide objective feedback on the quality of cannabis, without the subjective aspects of effect, taste, aroma, or the different biological aspects that affect the overall cannabis experience.

After providing some photographic examples that had been taken by members of The Different Collective, we were given the opportunity to look at various samples of cannabis through the microscope.

What Did I Learn?

What struck me as I examined various buds of different cultivars is how damaged the trichomes can get when packaged in mylar bags or plastic containers. These materials essentially act as a magnet and attract trichomes to the sides of the container. I encourage consumers look at the sides of their plastic cannabis container – that’s trichomes aka. “the good shit” that should be on your cannabis!

Photo Credit: Francis Hall

Putting Canada’s Licensed Producers & Cannabis Brands To The Test

Then came the fun part. We were handed samples that had been acquired through cannabis retailers and pre-graded by The Different Collective based on the aforementioned evaluation system. They had us review the samples and provide our feedback and “grade” on the bud to see if we had caught on to the various aspects of quality flower and trichomes.

Let me say one thing here: Canada’s Licensed Producers shouldn’t be too overly confident about what they’re putting out based on what we saw in the microscope. In my samples I found jar rot (when cannabis has been sitting without circulation for too long), and I even found a seed in one of the samples. I won’t say the brand, but let’s just say I got a little bit of satisfaction to see that the cannabis certainly wasn’t one that would knock me out with being impressed.

Photo Credit: Francis Hall

The course ended with an exam, to really put us to the test and see if we were paying attention. I apologize in advance to The Different Collective for bombing the exam, which was more to do with my memory issues, and nothing to do with the course instruction! Make sure you’re paying attention during the course, because the exam will challenge you!

A Valuable Stop on a Long Learning Journey

All in all, I was so glad I attended The Different Collective’s Cannabis Microscopy Course 101. It confirmed to me that cannabis still has so much to teach me, and I have still so much to learn, despite being on a learning journey for six solid years. Tom and Francis are natural teachers, who know how to keep a bunch of stoners engaged, interested, and curious to learn more.

I recommend that all retailers in BC and beyond sign their staff and budtenders up for this course. It’s also extremely helpful for those who create online content that reviews cannabis products. I also think those who grow, process, package, and sell cannabis can learn a thing or two from this dynamic duo as well to only increase their success and sales in an ever-increasing competitive market where only the good ones are surviving.

Thank you Tom, Francis, and The Different Collective for sharing your talents, passion, and vast knowledge with me!


Anne-Marie E. Fischer, M.Ed. started as a cannabis writer in 2016, and opened CannaWrite (@CannaWrite), the industry’s leading cannabis content and cannabis copywriting company in 2017, serving over 300 global clients since then with reliable, educational, and engaging cannabis content and specialized cannabis industry marketing services.

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