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There’s no denying it, some cannabis buds smell like they’ve been freshly sprayed by a scared skunk. In fact, many aficionados want their nugs to smell skunky because a pungent aroma is often a sign of quality. Although each strain has its unique aroma that comes from a blend of chemical compounds like terpenes, we now know that other molecules may affect our olfactory experience as well. 

Scientists wanted to pinpoint exactly where this signature sour scent comes from — and they’ve finally figured it out. Keep reading to uncover why cannabis smells skunky and where every bud gets its one-of-a-kind aroma. 

What are terpenes?

If you’ve ever used a diffuser and filled it with essential oils to relax or get focused for the day, you’re already familiar with terpenes. They have been used for their aromatherapeutic properties for centuries. 

Commonly found in plants and fruit, terpenes are aromatic compounds that were originally designed to ward off pests — little did they know, that they’d eventually be luring us in. These tiny molecules can also be found in lavender flowers, orange rinds, hops, cracked black pepper, and of course, cannabis. That’s why different strains will often smell like berries, citrus, pine trees, diesel, and all that pungent stuff that we can’t get enough of. 

In addition to making flower at JARS smell really, really good, many believe that terpenes may also impact the overall effects of your favorite strain. For instance, the citrus-forward terpene known as limonene (which can also be found in citrus fruits like lemons and oranges), is said to have an energizing effect as it elevates your mood. Hence, many sativa-dominant strains like Lemon Pound Cake and Jet Fuel can offer a mood-boosting high. 

Although there are countless different types of terpenes, it does not appear that they alone are responsible for giving cannabis its skunky aroma. 

Why does cannabis smell like skunk?

After studying over a dozen different strains, a new analysis resulted in the identification of a group of sulfur compounds that are responsible for cannabis’ skunklike scent. They also discovered that there didn’t have to be a great deal of these molecules in the flower to pack a punch — even a small concentration made a big difference in the overall aroma. The most dominant of the compounds discovered was a molecule called prenylthiol, or 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol if you’re feeling fancy. These are the same stinky compounds that give “skunked beer” its notorious flavor

These sulfurous compounds have been found to occur in other natural substances as well, but this is the first time that they have been discovered in cannabis. Hooray, science! We can finally put this sensory mystery to rest. 

Want the skunk?

If you love a skunky cannabis strain, our friendly JARS budtenders can point you in the right direction. Stop by any of our locations to discover your new favorite cultivar. 


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