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Let’s face it – it’s hard to tell if online cannabis reviews are real; it’s hard to tell if any online reviews are real. Of course, many people don’t mind testing out all kinds of cannabis and cannabis products to find out which are the best on the market – or at least the best in their opinions. But no one likes to be taken by fake online reviews. There is an entire side of the industry devoted to cannabis reviews, dispensary reviews, and product testing, and Weedmaps has been at the helm of it for a few years, now. In fact, Weedmaps has been so successful that it is the go-to website for many people looking for particular strains, a certain kind of dispensary experience, and hard-to-find cannabis products across the United States. Unfortunately, just as other websites have been known to do, Weedmaps reviewers have been posting fake cannabis and dispensary reviews, as an L.A. Times reporter recently found out.

What Happened With Weedmaps’ Reviews?

According to the L.A. Times article, “user reviews of pot businesses may be tainted by thousands of potentially fraudulent comments” due to a Weedmaps software error. The Weedmaps reviews are anonymous, but many of them may be coming from people leaving more than one positive review for the same business, indicating that many of the reviews are fabricated. The L.A. Times looked at nearly 600 different businesses and found that 70% had numerous reviews that came from identical IP addresses, indicating that they were all posted by the same person.

Chris Beals, Weedmaps’ CEO, noted that the reviews aren’t really the best way to judge the quality of a cannabis product – lab-verified chemistry details are. Beals noted that the 62% fake review rate (determined by New York City’s Fakespot) an analysis found is inaccurate and that the true numbers of fake reviews are “much lower.” Beals also noted that in the future, automated tools will help Weedmaps’ 15 moderators to catch more of the fake reviews than it can at present. The publicly-available IP addresses of Weedmaps’ users was the flaw that allowed the L.A. Times to investigate the reviews in the first place, and has since been made unavailable. As the chief intelligence officer of InfoArmor, Inc. noted, “Personal information…should be stored in a secure way.” After it’s investigation, L.A. Times asked a software developer (Norman Scoullar) to use Weed Blacklist to scrub 600 dispensary and delivery services’ listings which it concluded were fake. Shockingly, most of the fake reviews found by Fakespot originated from University of Southern California, University of California Irvine and California State Long Beach. While college students smoke a lot of pot, I’m not sure they smoke that much.

How Do I Know if Cannabis Reviews Are Real?

Even if a reviewer is being paid to review a product, that doesn’t mean the review is inaccurate, fake, or even malicious; many products are reviewed every day that reviewers receive compensation for – on Amazon.com, for example. Website content, including reviews and articles, that are paid for or requested from customers or clients following purchases of certain items usually include a note about the text. Some of these notes say “Paid post” or “sponsored content,” meaning that someone has been paid to write the review. This is the first indication that a review or article might be biased, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Another way to find biased reviews is to look up the reviewer’s name on the Internet – employees of businesses are allowed to leave reviews on their own websites, which is a potential conflict of interest.

Other than this, there is really no way to know if reviews are fake. I tend to look at reviews that are overwhelmingly positive for anything online as potentially fake – I mean, no one gets that excited about the performance of a pooper-scooper, or do they? If a reviewer has a vendetta, sometimes that’s obvious, too. For instance, the review may have way too much personal information in it, possibly indicating that the reviewer was already having a crappy day when they opened the package ordered online.

Of course, in most states, we still can’t order delivery of cannabis, so the reviews are clustered around dispensaries and dispensary customer service (which often leaves something to be desired). The fierce competition in the cannabis industry among the 436 dispensaries in a city like Denver can also lead to fake reviews, although I can’t imagine that any of them are truly hurting for business. As in all things online business, make sure do your research, test the product yourself, and don’t rely on anyone else’s opinion about your personal consumption preferences. If you visit a dispensary and have exemplary, indifferent, or downright callous service, let the rest of us know.

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