Why Does Pot Smell Like Skunk?
by Jenn Keeler – June 15, 2018
It’s hard to ignore the similarities in the aroma of cannabis and skunk – they can be hard for some people to distinguish (though many people do so easily). Depending on where you are, it’s not too difficult to infer what you’re smelling. At a rave, you’re smelling weed. On a desolate country road, you’re smelling skunk. In the middle of a neighborhood or city – where skunks and pot intermix – it’s a bit more of crapshoot.
Most people don’t care what they’re smelling – skunk, cannabis, a skunk smoking cannabis – it makes no difference. But it does elicit curiosity – out of all the animals on earth, why does marijuana smell like the most odorous one?
Let’s start by looking at skunks.
Cannabis – Why it Smells
Cannabis, especially to the trained nose, doesn’t come with one odor – different strains elicit different aromas. But many of them – while they may have hints of other things like citrus or pine – do have a foundation that smells skunky.
Marijuana is filled with terpenes , organic compounds that are found in a variety of plants (fun fact: some insects (such as termites) also emit terpenes). There are numerous terpenes in the cannabis plant , hundreds of them. But certain terpenes are much more prevalent in the plant than others.
Different terpenes give off different odors, which is why cannabis strains can smell differently. But two different strains with a similar terpene profile will smell alike.
Many terpenes can smell like thiols, thus creating a skunky aroma. While it’s not exactly a desirable trait – no one is spritzing themselves with the Eau De Anal Glands before a hot date – a strain that smells rather skunky may be attractive, especially if you want to get high: the stronger the skunk smell, the more potent the strain. In pot lingo, “skunk” typically means “very potent ganja.”
Skunk #1 is one of these such strains. It is an indica-leaning hybrid that has been popular since the late 1970s. The smell it gives off – not surprisingly – is very skunky, but it may also possess hints of jasmine, fruit, and a woody essence. It’s a potent strain that medicinally is used for nausea, glaucoma, asthma, auto immune disorders, pain, and anorexia. It may be helpful for psychiatric conditions too.
Recreationally, Skunk #1 is used to produce a relaxed, meditative, and energetic high. Many people feel euphoric while smoking it.
Skunky and Non-Skunky Smelling Strains
Marijuana will always smell a bit like skunk, but some strains are certainly more pungent than others. Some people care about this because they don’t like the smell of skunk (or the taste) and others care about it because of discretion – with skunk odor so synonymous with weed, it’s not difficult for your neighbors to figure out what you’re doing behind closed doors.
Some of the particular skunky strains include Golden Ticket (smells like lemon-fresh skunk) and Death Star (offers a pungent, earthy aroma – the strain is probably a Star Wars fan).
If you want more discretion, consider something subtler. You may also want to consider less pungent strains if you’re a grower and prefer to keep that under wraps.
Some of the better smelling smokes include Lemon Haze (it a citrus scent and a slow creeping high), Alpha Blue (a descendent of Blue Dream – offers hints of blueberry), Orange Bud (smells more of clove and spice than citrus fruit), Kali Mist (a strain people tend to love or hate – can elicit paranoia in those who are prone), and Northern Lights (highly sedative and one of the better tasting strains).
Other Things That Smell Like Weed
Yes, marijuana smells like skunk and people who smell “skunk” will usually assume someone nearby is lighting a joint. But cannabis doesn’t have the monopoly on odors. Even the word “skunkweed” applies to things other than cannabis.
According to Merriam Webster , it may apply to a variety of offensive smelling herbs including skunk cabbage (a low growing plant that grows in the wetter areas of the eastern United States – the leaves smell of skunk when they sustain damage); Gilia Squarrosa (a Californian annual that is also called “stinkweed”); Rocky Mountain Sticky-Leaved Herb (probably not the reason Denver smells like skunk); and Joe-Pye Weed (a perennial that grows in the eastern and northern regions of North America – it is large, growing up to seven feet tall and four feet wide).
Some people also claim that body odor smells like cannabis in the people who smoke it. If so, they need Secret – strong enough for a man, but PH-balanced for a weeder.
Ever wonder why your weed smells like skunk? We dove right in to find the answer! Here's the smelly history of skunk.
Skunk smell spreading like weed through city
A cautionary tale for the supposedly knowledgeable:
As I was making my way around the city over the last year or so, I began to smell skunk.
I smelled it everywhere. On the streets as I was biking. On sidewalks in the Loop. On the “L.”
A friend of mine had been smelling it too — inside her apartment in a high-rise. She planned to ask the building’s management to locate the skunks and evict them.
Well, I’m an urban wildlife kind of gal. I know we share our city with coyotes, opossums, even foxes. Note to self, I thought: Find out and write story on why Chicago is being invaded by skunks.
One day on the North Avenue bus, I found myself sitting amid particular pungency.
“Can you believe it?” I asked the two young women sitting next to me. “So many skunks in the city lately!”
They glanced at each other, then back at me. They seemed to be trying not to laugh.
“That is the smell of skunk, isn’t it?” I said, somewhat uncertainly.
“No, it isn’t,” one of the women murmured.
Not skunk? With that distinct smell?
“What is it then?” I asked.
They hesitated. Finally, one of them volunteered an answer, of sorts.
“It’s … life,” she said.
I left the bus mystified, but with a growing sense that I was smelling something other than skunk.
My CTA-mates had been youthful, so I sought out a young person I knew and asked:
Is there something around that smells like skunk but isn’t skunk?
Sniggering, chortling, then finally the answer.
Friends, if you think you know what marijuana smells like because you smelled it yourself in your possibly misspent youth, this news is for you:
It doesn’t necessarily smell like that any more.
“The smell has changed,” said Ryan Vandrey, a behavioral pharmacologist and assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who has studied marijuana for 12 years.
“Marijuana entrepreneurs have developed specific strains of marijuana that contain attractive characteristics,” he said. “In some cases they’ll breed them to have unique smells and tastes; in other cases, certain potencies or balances of chemicals.”
“There’s a whole range of smells. There are strains that have fruity aromas and fruity tastes and names like bubble gum and blueberry and grape.”
“It’s similar to how there are different strains of tomatoes,” said Dan Linn, executive director of the Illinois chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “The demand and the marketing have yielded this industry where it’s more profitable to be able to have different varieties and different offerings for these consumers.”
So what’s with the skunk?
“I don’t think they went out and said ‘Let’s develop a marijuana that smells like a skunk,'” Vandrey said.
“Rather, I think that at some point in the genealogy of marijuana growing and development, there was a strain that came along that was extremely potent and gave people a good high and happened to smell like a skunk.”
That smell became associated with a powerful high, making for a powerful marketing tool. A brand was born.
“It’s been around for probably 20 years now, but it’s . getting more and more popular,” Linn said. “With the advancements growers are able to use to produce these products, more people have more options. And these days, he said, “more people are preferring the varieties that smell like skunk.”
These strains, which are called by names like “Skunk Bud” or “Super Skunk,” are not necessarily more potent, Vandrey said. There are too many varieties to support a universal claim.
Still, “skunky-smelling marijuana is among the more popular brands,” he said.
So what happened to the old familiar smell, that eau-de-park-across-from-high-school-at-lunchtime?
It’s still there, in traditional strains and in less sharply scented ones, he said. Most people who have smelled classic pot would recognize most kinds of current pot.
But the skunk variety is a dead ringer for skunk.
My friend’s apartment building was not infested with skunks. Her husband figured that out when he realized that their windows faced their stoner neighbor’s balcony.
And the city is not being overrun with skunks, though apparently it is pretty well-stocked with weed-smokers.
The other day I got into an elevator in an office building with a woman my age and a clean-cut young man carrying a gym bag.
“How did a skunk get into an elevator?” she asked.
The guy busied himself with his cellphone.
I shrugged. “These days it seems like they’re everywhere,” I said.
Skunk smell spreading like weed through city A cautionary tale for the supposedly knowledgeable: As I was making my way around the city over the last year or so, I began to smell skunk. I