There are all kinds of cannabis strains and their traits vary widely in many respects, not least of which includes their scent. From citrus, to pine and everything in between, each strain offers a unique odor of it's own. One trait many strains share however is a distinctive odor that resembles that of a pungent skunk. One of the most popular strains is in fact named after the animal because of this. Why though, is this so? Why do so many of our cannabis strains smell like the defense mechanism of a nuisance animal?
Why Does Cannabis Smell?
Terpenes. Comprise a group of compounds which create the various odors in our weed, of which there are thousands of types found in nature.
A variety of plants produce terpenes, many that you are already familiar with (lemons, citrus) and have an overpowering smell. On marijuana it's the terpenes that give the herb it's pungent, unique and rich fragrance.
Studies have shown there to be at least 120 different terpenes found within the cannabis sativa plant.
Each one smelling different than the next. Due to this, cannabis strains vary widely in their aromas from one strain to the next, depending on which terpenes are present and in what amount(s).
So the more lemony terpenes found in the strain, for example the more lemony the batch will wind up smelling. This is why you can get anything from pine and earthy herb to bud that smells like oranges and blueberries.
Why do skunks smell?
Terpenes! No, I'm only kidding. Skunks are well known for two things: their black and white fur and the terrible odor they emit from their backsides.
These two features work in concert and act as a defense mechanism to fend off predators. Their unique coat serves as a warning that if you cross this creature, you're in for a foul smelling surprise.
The skunk has scent glands that produce their noxious spray. The concoction these glands produce is a mixture of chemicals that contain sulfur, and the most prominent of these chemicals are compounds called thiols.
Thiols are characteristically pungent, often smelling like rotten eggs or garlic. It's these that make the skunks spray so vile. Like terpenes, there are many different types of thiols. The particular combination of thiols present in skunk spray is what makes it so easily identifiable.
So why does marijuana smell like skunk?
What or where exactly is the link between terpenes and thiols that cause some marijuana strains to smell like skunk? The answer is that it's rather coincidental. Some of the terpenes present in cannabis happen to smell like the thiols in skunk spray. If these skunky terpenes are low in a particular strain, the resulting bud wont smell like skunk at all. But other strains will have terpenes that make it extremely skunky.