Why Does Cannabis Smell Like Skunk?

It is well-known across the land that cannabis has a certain powerful…pungent…aroma. But why?


The most dominant smell of cannabis is usually described as “skunky” and with good reason. Whether you find it repulsive or delicious, it is perhaps the most dominant of over 200 compounds that produce aroma in the cannabis flower. Cannabis connoisseurs will, much like wine snobs, find the complexities in different strains, describing certain varieties as ~ fruity ~ floral ~ citrusy ~ piney ~ sweet ~ earthy ~ and a million other ways.

For a long time now, scientists have identified the family of compounds responsible for these unique smells: terpenoids. Terpenoids are the chemical families of different terpenes, which you may be familiar with from dabbing. These aromatic compounds are found in different variations across countless strains. But it wasn’t until 2021 that they identified the compound that causes the most distinct of smells - the skunky, funky, goodness

Common intuition was right on this one! It turns out, scientists had been looking in all the wrong places, it wasn’t a terpenoid at all. They were looking for smells in all the wrong places. Rather, further research found that a new family of prenylated volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) are responsible for that funky goodness. In particular, one compound: 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol. As it goes, this family is the same one found in defensive skunk spray! 

So this holiday season when you go for a walk with the cool cousins and your aunt asks if you got skunked out there, you can tell her yes. And it won’t be a lie - at least on a molecular level. ;)


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