why does marijuana smell like skunk

The Fragrance of Marijuana Before and After Consumption

Marijuana is the dried leaves and flowers of the cannabis plant. Cannabis has psychoactive and medicinal properties because of its chemical makeup.

Marijuana can be rolled up in a handmade cigarette (a joint), in a cigar, or in a pipe (a bong). It can be used for pain relief, to treat anxiety, or for recreation.

In many states, the sale and use of marijuana without a prescription is still illegal.

You can usually tell if someone has been smoking marijuana by detecting the scent of piney, slightly skunky grass that smoked cannabis leaves behind.

But figuring out for sure if what you’re smelling is weed can be a little difficult if you aren’t attuned to the scent. Various strains of marijuana can smell different from each other, making it even more complicated.

This article will cover what marijuana smells like in different stages of its use and consumption, as well as some differences between strains.

The strongest factor in the way marijuana smells is the age of the cannabis plant when it’s harvested. Cannabis that’s harvested earlier in its life cycles has a milder, less skunky scent.

It’s also less powerful when you smoke it. Cannabis that grows older before it’s picked and dried will have a stronger odor.

Organic compounds called terpenes are found in all plants, including cannabis. Myrcene (mango), pinene (pine), and limonene (lemon) are terpenes found in some strains of cannabis.

Terpenes change the scent of marijuana. For example, cannabis strains with pinene will smell more like pine.

Marijuana plants smell similar during the growing process and when they’re harvested and dried. They give off a slightly weedy, piney “skunk” scent that gets stronger as the plant grows older.

When cannabis flowers and blooms, the scent becomes powerful.

Indica vs. sativa

For decades, botanists and marijuana connoisseurs claimed that indica and sativa are different species with distinctly different effects on the body. Indica strain smells more acrid, while sativa smells more spicy or sweet.

But it would appear, at least to some experts, that there’s no way to smell the difference between indica and sativa definitively. Part of the reason is that there’s a lot of crossbreeding between these two particular strains.

However, one small study did find that participants who had purchased weed within the prior several months were able to smell the difference between several different strains of marijuana.

Marijuana consumers describe the scent of the plant as earthy, herbal, and woody. Sometimes the plant scent carries notes of lemon, apple, diesel, or plum.

Dried marijuana smells a lot stronger than some other dried plants.

When you’re smoking marijuana, the natural scent of the cannabis scent is amplified by the smoke it creates. Fire, smoke itself, ash, and the smell of rolling paper add additional layers to the scent.

When a person is smoking cannabis, notes of lemongrass, pine, fire, and wood may stand out. The distinct “skunk” smell of marijuana is often reported.

Learn about what gives marijuana its distinctly "skunky," strong odor, and how marijuana smells in plant form, when it's smoked, and more.

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.