Would a rose smell as sweet if it had another name? Weed often has a scent reminiscent of its namesake — earthy, pungent, and herbal. The odors of marijuana act as its calling card, signaling its presence to nearby noses. In many jurisdictions, police have grounds to search a vehicle by simply claiming they smell marijuana.
Why does cannabis have a distinct smell? One vital question to consider is what the odor of your weed can reveal about its quality and potency.
Why weed smells the way it does
Cannabis is often said to have a distinct smell, but there’s no clear-cut evidence that indica and Sativa produce different types of odors. According to experts, the terpenes in cannabis form the basis for the aroma. Terpenes are botanical compounds that give plants and flowers their distinctive smells. As many as 140 terpenes have been identified in marijuana – 17 of which are common.
The specific combination of terpenes creates diverse profiles that can influence the preference and taste of marijuana users. Some cannabis cultivars contain as many as 66 different terpenes.
The most important factor that influences how a person’s burnt marijuana smells is its age when harvested. Cannabis that has been harvested at a younger age has a milder, less skunky scent than mature weed.
The most common cannabis scents
Cannabis plants are often described as having a spicy, woody, musky scent with hints of citrus and tropical tones. These scents tend to correlate with the terpene profiles of particular weed strains. Some of the most common terpenes found in cannabis can make weed smell like the following aromas:
- Myrcene: earthy, musky, herbal aromas comparable to mangos or thyme
- Β-caryophyllene: a woodsy, peppery, clove-like scent
- Α-humulene: earthy tones with spicy notes, similar to beer
- Α-pinene: pine needles, rosemary, and basil
- Limonene: lemon notes, like citrus peel
- Linalool: a floral fragrance also found in lavender and rosewood
Good weed is often identifiable by strong aromas, such as those of thiols and sulfur derivatives. These pungent compounds are found in garlic, natural gas (to which it’s added), onions, rotten eggs, and skunk spray, giving skunk weed its namesake. You may notice that cannabis has a skunky smell. This does not mean anything is wrong with it, and in fact, the chemicals are really good for you as antioxidants.
What does scent reveal about a strain?
Different strains have different terpene profiles. The odor can provide important insight into the effects of the strain. While cannabinoids have a strong effect on the mind and body, terpenes are also responsible for some of the effects of cannabis. For instance, marijuana that smells like citrus is likely to contain higher concentrations of limonene. Clinical evidence shows that this compound can enhance mood and serotonin production while reducing anxiety.
A recent study published in the Plos One journal asked people to characterize 11 different strains of marijuana by smelling samples. None of the participants had been trained in the sensory description; however, most were cannabis users. The researchers found that participants could consistently distinguish between eleven different strains and the strains mapped into clusters depending on their degree of odor similarity. Clusters A and B were dominated by different smells from their respective samples of cannabis.
Participants were more likely to rank citrus/lemon/sweet drinks as having greater potency and quality. This perception has no relationship to THC content because THC is odorless. Few previous studies have objectively proved the correlation between a marijuana’s scent and its chemical composition.
Raw, cured, and smoked weed: Why do they all smell different?
It’s no surprise that weed smells different depending on what it is. Cannabis plants go through changes when they are harvested, cured, and smoked.
Cannabis producers should look for the earthy, complex smell during cultivation. Some home gardeners observe that some of the less noticeable bouquet notes fade in the days following harvest, while others note it takes on more of a “weed-like” scent as time passes. Myrcene, the most prevalent terpene in cannabis, rapidly changes in aroma after exposure to oxygen.
Curing cannabis helps preserve the terpenes and the unique scent and flavor profile of a particular strain. A slow and thorough cure can help protect terpenes, preserve the integrity of the plant’s potency.
When smoking marijuana, the smell emitted becomes stronger. Combustion adds different layers to the plant’s scent: ash, smoke, and even the aroma of rolling paper can alter the smell. As many have likely experienced, marijuana smoke can often be difficult to wash off of skin and hair.
Scents that signal something’s off
The smell of weed can indicate freshness or maturity, but it can also point to mold or bacteria. Improperly cured or stored marijuana might harbor traces of moisture, which provides the perfect breeding ground for mold.
If the weed smells like an unaired closet, urine (gasp), or a sweaty locker room, it may have mold spores. When the weed you’re smoking smells like it has gone bad, there’s a good chance that it has and you should not use it. Moldy weed is unsafe to smoke because the fungus spores can be inhaled directly into your lungs, which can lead to infections. If you’re not sure if your cannabis is safe to use, there are a few other ways you can test it.
How it smells while smoking
When you’re smoking marijuana, the natural scent of the cannabis scent is amplified by the smoke it creates. The other important scents to a cigarette smoker are fire, smoke, and the smell of regular paper.
When someone smokes marijuana, notes of lemongrass, pine and fire might be prominent. Marijuana that has a skunk-like smell is often reported.
Why does weed smell like skunk?
The smell of cannabis is often described as skunky, but it’s actually due to the terpene component myrcene.
Myrcene is found in many highly fragrant plants, including bay leaf, mangoes, hops, and thyme. Different strains of marijuana contain varying levels of myrcene.
Some cannabis strains will have more sedative effects than others, which can be attributed to the myrcene content of those plants. Indica-dominant strains, with a reputation for producing couch-lock effects and sleepy vibes, may contain more myrcene than Sativa varieties which produce energizing and more focused highs.