This Is Why Weed Smells So Skunky

To put it bluntly, cannabis smells. In addition, hey, we are not passing judgment; we are simply pointing out that there is a reason it is called skunk. However, why does it have to stink so badly? The public is looking for answers, and recent research published in the journal ACS Omega offers them. There are several factors that contribute to cannabis’ distinct odor and scientists have identified more than 200 of them. Most of the substances that have been examined so far are terpenoids, which are stinky molecules found throughout nature that generate odors ranging from fuel-like to woody or flowery.

According to the study, these terpenoids “may individually contribute upwards of 50% of the scent concentration.” “For example, large quantities of -myrcene and -caryophyllene give OG Kush, a cannabis indica strain, a powerful, pungent, fuel-like fragrance. Jack Herer, on the other hand, is a cannabis sativa cultivar with high levels of terpinolene and d-limonene, which gives it a woody and citrus scent.”

Nevertheless, it is not the end of the narrative. Terpenoids “contribute considerably to the aroma of cannabis and give each cultivar its own perfume,” according to the research, but “the chemical origins of the’skunk-like’ odour” are not explained. Even those who enjoy the scent of cannabis would struggle to characterize it as just lemony or woody — so what else is going on?

It’s a difficult topic to answer, partly due to the complexity of the fragrance molecules involved, but it appears to boil down to a group of chemical compounds known as volatile sulfur compounds, or VSCs. These are the same chemicals that make Brussels sprouts taste horrible and morning breathe stink and they are the same ones that make skunks smell so bad. 

“The odour of cannabis is commonly described as’skunk-like,'” according to the report, “and as skunks are widely known to carry multiple powerful VSCs in their protective aerosol spray, we believed there may be comparable chemicals in cannabis.”

Their concerns were correct: the sample strains had “many” VSCs, some of which were unknown to them. Using a custom-built 2D gas chromatography system with three distinct types of detectors, the researchers discovered that cannabis cultivars rated as particularly fragrant by a panel of scientific sniffers also had greater VSC concentrations.

One of them, 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol, was found to be notably linked to the stinkiest of the samples – it “has a powerful, sulfuric, skunky odour even in extremely low quantities,” according to the research, and is recognized for giving “skunked beer” its unique wet cardboard smell. When researchers combined this VSC into a combination of cannabis-related aromatic chemicals, they were able to recreate the pungent odor of Satan’s lettuce.

While the question of “why does cannabis smell unpleasant” may appear to be a minor one, it may turn out to be crucial. The VSCs that give cannabis its scent have a structure that is very similar to molecules found in garlic, compounds that may have anti-cancer and cardioprotective properties. 

As a result, the researchers recommend looking into the possible health advantages of cannabis. If nothing else, the discovery might be the first step toward lowering – or, if your fancy takes you, amplifying – the weed’s strong aroma. “Kush, purp, powerful dro; what do I need cologne for?” poet Radric Delantic Davis reportedly asked. Marijuana is my signature scent, and you may undoubtedly detect it on my clothing.”