Have you ever wondered why weed smells like, well, skunk? Researchers recently uncovered the science behind cannabis and its skunky smell.
Even though cannabis is increasingly becoming legal in more countries, we didn’t know the reason behind its smell — until now. Before, many speculated that the skunky smell came from terpenoids, a compound found in many cannabis species. Terpenoids are also responsible for much of the odours that we associate with cannabis, but it turns out it’s not the reason for its skunkiness.
Instead, volatile sulphur compounds (VSC) cause this skunky smell. A group of scientists led by Ian Oswald found this when they took 13 flowers from different cultivars. They discovered the flower of Bacio Gelato had a smell most closely resembling cannabis’ skunky pungency. Chemically, this cultivar possessed more VSCs than any of the others.
To confirm that VSCs were the primary component in skunk smells, the researchers mixed it with other common compounds in cannabis. The resulting smell greatly resembled what we sniff when lighting up natural cannabis plants.
The Science Behind Skunk’s Skunky Smell
In hindsight, it’s no big surprise that VSCs are the primary cause of cannabis’ skunky smell. Previous findings had already established that the main odour component of skunks and their spray comes from VSC. These compounds also tend to be responsible for some of our most hated smells, including rotten eggs, stink bombs, and let us not forget — our farts. It’s this scientific foundation that led Oswald’s team to look at VSC in the first place, and they were right in their assumptions.
But as much we might hate the smell of skunks or the flatulence of unruly housemates, it’s really not all bad. Sulphur compounds also give us some pleasant scents, such as freshly roasted coffee. Also, the smell of sulphur compounds is closely associated with medicinal properties. The molecular structure of VSC resembles garlic, which is known for its anti-cancer properties. Because of this, Oswald and his team speculate that VSC odour molecules might possess some potent medicinal properties, too.