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marijuana skunk smell

The chemicals that make skunks and some marijuana smell the same

Here’s why some people smell like Pepé Le Pew.

Due to countless iterations of cross-breeding, there are now more marijuana flavors than there are colors in the rainbow. Some are piney, some are lemony, and others still can smell like a whole fruit basket. But some strains don’t exactly smell like roses — in fact, the opposite is true in this case. The clearest example is skunk weed, which, as the name implies, smells like an angry skunk.

How can a plant smell like a mammal? It all has to do with terpenes, a class of aromatic chemicals found not just in cannabis, but in many other plants and even some insects.

Secreted in the same glands that produce cannabinoids like THC and CBD, terpenes are aromatic oils that are responsible for the taste and smell of cannabis — but that’s not all that they do.

Research suggests that cannabis terpenes play a considerable role in not only tempering the intoxicating effects of THC, but also creating synergy with phytocannabinoids and even increasing their therapeutic value. For instance, Professor Dedi Meiri and the Israel Institute of Technology are investigating marijuana terpenes as an anti-inflammatory agent to prevent the most severe, life-threatening cases of COVID-19.

There are at least 200 different terpenes in cannabis, although only a handful gives off a dominant aroma. Pinene is responsible for some strains’ pine-like fragrance, while caryophyllene is peppery. The skunky funk of some strains is due to myrcene, an earthy or musky terpene.

While a skunk’s defensive spray doesn’t contain terpenes, it has similar compounds called thiols. When these organic sulfurs mix together, they produce the potent, musky scent that people stay away from — unless it’s marijuana. That’s because skunky strains are also highly potent. In fact, in many parts of the world, the term “skunk weed” has taken on a more generic meaning, describing highly potent pot rather than the aroma of particular strains.

Because myrcene is the most abundant terpene in the cannabis plant, all strains will smell a bit like a skunk, although some strains are certainly more pungent than others. Some of the famous skunky strains include Golden Ticket and Death Star. If you really don’t like the smell of skunk, less smelly strains include Lemon Haze, Alpha Blue, Kali Mist, Orange Bud, and Northern Lights, according to WikiLeaf.

In the future, high-tech growers could infuse marijuana with a variety of different terpenes of their choosing. In 2017, researchers at the University of British Columbia, Canada, sequenced the genomes of various cannabis plants to see what particular genes give certain strains their characteristic flavors. They found 30 terpene synthase genes that contribute to the diverse flavors of cannabis, which could be manipulated to generate more consistent desirable smells. This is already underway in the wine industry for grape genes that encode enzymes for various flavors.

Here's why some people smell like Pepé Le Pew.

Marijuana skunk smell

The parlance of pot is chock-full of terms that are used to describe the various aromas created by cannabis. Marijuana can be piney, earthy, gassy, spicey, or exude a veritable fruit basket of odors including: banana, melon, orange, lemon, tangerine, and more.

And while most of these fragrances are considered pleasing by most, one scent in particular, skunk, has a decidedly unpleasant connotation. But what exactly is skunk weed? And why does it smell that way?

Terpenes Are the Key

The variety of smells found in cannabis are largely produced by terpenes, a class of aromatic chemicals found in many plants and even some insects. More than 20,000 different terpenes have been identified, making them the largest category of plant compounds discovered. At least 200 different terps have been found in cannabis, although only a handful are the most dominant.

Pinene can give pot a pine-like fragrance, while caryophyllene is peppery. Limonene has a citrusy scent and terpinolene is fruity. Myrcene, the most prevalent cannabis terpene, is earthy or musky, a trait that is partly responsible for the skunky funk of some strains.

Some less common terpenes, however, give off the odor of a different class of chemicals known as thiols. These compounds have a sulfurous smell that can be reminiscent of rotten eggs, fuel, or even farts. Thiols are also responsible for the unique and very recognizable stench of skunk spray, a defense mechanism that can help keep the animal safe from predators. Strains of cannabis with terpenes that have an aroma similar to these thiols are often referred to as skunky or skunk weed.

Strains of Skunk Weed

There are many strains of cannabis that express the skunky smell of these terpenes. Skunk weed varietals got their start in the 1970s with the introduction of Skunk #1 by Sacred Seeds, a group of breeders in Northern California led by David Watson, also known as Sam the Skunkman. Skunk #1 is a cross of short, bushy Pakistani and Afghani varietals cultivated for hash, and tropical strains from Asia and South and Central America.

Watson was one of the first breeders who recognized that, while THC was the component of cannabis mainly responsible for the high it imparts, terpenes were also important and could intensify and modify the plant’s psychoactive effects through the entourage effect. As a result, when evaluating breeding stock for his next cross, Sam the Skunkman often let the aroma of these potential parents be his guide.

Gallery — Cannabis Up-Close and Personal:

Besides their inherent skunkiness, the flowers of Skunk #1 also impart musky and earthy aromas with subtle floral and fruity notes, while the flavor of the strain is generally woodsy, sweet, and fruity. The clear-headed high of this original skunk weed can be somewhat euphoric, heighten creativity, and relieve stress. Medical marijuana patients have reported success using the strain to treat pain, asthma, glaucoma, stress, nausea, vomiting, and as an appetite stimulant.

The success of Skunk #1 made it an ideal strain to breed with other plants in order to create different varieties of skunk weed. After serving a stint in prison and being released in 1982, Watson moved to the Netherlands, taking several kilos of seeds with him. He then resumed his breeding career, and started the seed company Cultivator’s Choice in Amsterdam.

Soon, other Dutch breeders were also offering their own strains of skunk weed, with varieties such as Super Skunk, Jack Herer, Northern Lights, and Early Girl making their debut on the cannabis scene. Today, these varieties have become popular genetics for breeders who have produced literally hundreds of strains with skunk in their name or terpene profile, including Skunk Dawg, Lemon Skunk, Skunky Diesel, Skunk Haze, and (my personal favorite) Thelonious Skunk.

Other Meanings of Skunk Weed

The word “skunk” can refer to more than just genetic terms for cannabis, too. For people who don’t use cannabis (and even some who do partake), all varieties of cannabis smell skunky. To a certain extent this is true, although more experienced cannaphiles will appreciate the other aromas and notes present in a particular strain’s bouquet.

In the United Kingdom, the term “skunk weed” has taken on a more generic meaning. There, skunk doesn’t refer to the aroma of particular strains of marijuana. Rather, it is a moniker that designates highly potent pot. Just about any kind of super-stony sensimilla flower that is cultivated for smoking will qualify as skunk weed across the pond.

Despite the nuances of meaning that the term skunk weed can have from one person to the next, one thing is a given: When you smell that sweet stank, you’re sure to be in for a good time.

Cannabis flower has more unique scents than the rainbow has colors. But why does weed sometimes smell like a skunk?