Why Does Cannabis Smell?


We all know the smell of cannabis. Well, those who know… know.

Some would describe it as pungent, others as delicious. Regardless of your stance, the scent is undeniable. The smell of cannabis is easily detectable and immediately noticeable. It is one of its most well-known features, even among non-cannabis users. But why does cannabis smell the way it does? Why is it so strong? Why can it smell like different things?

All thanks goes to one organic compound that is found naturally within the plant. Terpenes. Terpenes are hydrocarbons, a chemical compound consisting of just hydrogen and carbon. They have been discovered in a lot of different plants, like rosemary, mangoes, and cinnamon, just to name a few. Cannabis though, has over 100 different terpenes.

Cannabis Magazine - Emiliano Vittoriosi photo

It’s all about the terpenes

Terpenes are fragrant oils located within the trichomes of cannabis, trichomes are the “frosty” mushroom-like crystals everyone loves to see on their bud. Trichomes serve as a defense mechanism for cannabis in nature. The terpenes will give off their smell, and protect the cannabis plant from animals or insects.

Cannabis connoisseurs though, can smell these terpenes and determine a lot about the kind of bud it is. For example, limonene is one of cannabis’s terpenes. It is also the second most common terpene found in nature. Limonene kind of sounds like the word “lemon”, and that is because this terpene is responsible for giving some strains of cannabis its citrusy notes. Wedding Cake, Black Cherry Soda, and Banana OG are just a few of the strains that are typically high in limonene.

Myrcene, linalool, caryophyllene, and pinene are all other examples of common terpenes found in the cannabis plant. Their famous aromas, respectively, are: earthy, floral, spicy, and piney. Myrcene and its earthy smell is the most common kind of terpene found in the cannabis plant. One Swiss study showed that it is responsible for up to 50% of the terpenes found in cannabis. You can find high levels of myrcene in popular strains like OG Kush, Granddaddy Purple, and Blue Dream. It is a common terpene in indica strains.

Not just the smell

Though the aroma of terpenes is its most notable characteristic, each terpene also comes with a host of its own effects and medicinal properties. Limonene can provide users with an elevated mood and stress-relief. It is believed to have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic properties. Limonene has also been shown to impair the growth of tumors in lab rats. Upon the discovery of this information, human clinical trials were conducted using limonene as a means to inhibit the growth of cancerous tumors in humans. These studies have shown great potential.

But perhaps one of the coolest terpenes of the bunch is caryophyllene. It is the only known terpene to also act as a cannabinoid, binding to CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system. It provides anti-inflammatory effects and is also found in black pepper and cinnamon, hence it’s “spicy” smell.

Well, friends. There you have it. The reason behind the smell. Terpenes. And it’s been terpenes all along. Who knew? They protect the plant from harm and provide us with some pretty awesome benefits, too.


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