What Causes the Distinct Smell of Weed?

by Emjay

Nobody secretly smokes ganja. It leaves behind too much evidence in the form of its unmistakable smell. It’s not something you’d ever confuse for perfume, cologne, or any other kind of plant. Weed smells like weed, and there’s no way around it. 

Many strains of weed will smell slightly different due to varying balances of aromatic compounds, but they’re all working from the same set of compounds. Some weed may smell more lemony and other weed may smell more piney, but you’ll almost always know the smell is coming from cannabis.

Where do weed smells come from?

Weed, by nature, is intended to be smelly. It’s full of compounds called terpenes that the plant likely uses as a natural defense mechanism against predators. The terpenes are telling animals and insects “I’m smelly. I taste gross. You shouldn’t eat me.”

Some people have the same response to weed (or at least certain kinds of weed) while others find the smell alluring. It all depends on the way the weed smells and what terpenes are responsible for creating its aroma. 

OG Kush is naturally forward in limonene, a terpene that smells a lot like lemons. Granddaddy Purps is high in myrcene, a terpene that smells like cloves and red grapes. However, OG kush also contains myrcene, and Granddaddy Purps also contains limonene. They just contain the terpenes in different amounts, with the more abundant terpenes serving as the easily detectable notes in the fragrance.

The easiest way to explain how a weed smell is so distinct despite each strain having its own unique balance is to compare it to Italian food. You know there’s Italian food somewhere because you smell it, even if you can’t separate it into each individual component. 

You’re smelling the combination of tomatoes, garlic, oregano, onions, basil, and a small hint of parmesan cheese. You just don’t know if it’s pizza, pasta, lasagna, or meatballs. Your brain, with the input from your senses, knows what all of those aromas together would mean, even if you can’t individually identify them or pinpoint their specific source. 

The way weed smells when you buy it

When you purchase dried cannabis flower, more than 60% of the terpenes were evaporated in the drying process. You aren’t likely to detect strong notes of anything in particular, besides an herbal, woody scent. 

Dried weed kind of smells like fresh dirt, but some dominant terpenes, like myrcene, may make it smell sour or spicy. Limonene may throw a hint of lemon zest into the mix. It all depends on when the weed was harvested and how fresh it was when you received it. 

The way weed smells when you use it

Using weed changes its smell. 

If you’re smoking weed, you’re changing the smell by burning the terpenes. When you’re using it in another way, you’re vaporizing its terpenes into the air. Smoking weed produces the most noticeable and recognizable smell because smoke is thick and dense. It’s a smell that sticks to things and leaves a trail. 

Vaporizing weed extracts almost turns them into an air freshener. They linger for a moment, and they dissipate quickly.

photo by tim foster on unsplash_what causes the distinct smell of weed

The smell of flower

Burning weed smells peppery, herbal, and skunky. The fire torches most of the aromatic compounds, leaving behind the aroma of burnt plant material with little else to identify it. It smells sooty and smoky. This is the smell that most people associate with cannabis.

The smell of vapes and concentrates

Vapes and concentrates don’t need to be directly ignited or burnt to be used. They’re evaporated with a minimal amount of heat, which eliminates the fiery burnt smell from the equation. You’ll likely be able to detect more floral notes and trace amounts of the terpenes in conjunction with weed’s naturally earthy and herbaceous scents. 

The smell of live cannabis products

Live cannabis products, like live resin or live rosin, smell almost nothing like other cannabis products. Every cannabis product that isn’t live has been dried and cured. Terpenes are light and fleeting. They float away very quickly when the flower is harvested and dried due to the air circulation encouraging the evaporation of moisture. Terpenes take off along with the water.

The process of creating live cannabis is designed to lock the terpenes into the weed before they have a chance to escape. The best way to do that is to avoid allowing the cannabis to dry before it’s turned into an extract. 

Live cannabis products are either made from freshly harvested cannabis or cannabis that was rapidly frozen after its harvest. Temperatures are kept as cool as possible while all of the terpenes and cannabinoids are extracted from the flower, leaving behind the resin or rosin you’ll ultimately use. This preserves all of the terpenes.

When you vape or dab live cannabis extracts, the terpenes are going to dominate its scent. You’ll be able to smell the mango or grape notes in myrcene, the pine needle aroma of pinene, the citrusy scent of limonene, the lavender tinge of linalool, and the peppery smell of caryophyllene. 

If you don’t usually like the smell of weed, live products may work out better for you. You’ll ditch the burning smoke smell in favor of a flavorful and aromatic forest of rich natural terpenes. We’re not overselling it. It’s really that delicious. 

The way weed makes you smell

Live cannabis products might make you smell a little perfumey, earthy, or fruity, but it’s so subtle and quick to dissipate that it may even pass for an unusual perfume or cologne. It’s the act of smoking flower that leaves a smell on your hair, clothes, and skin. 

The harsh smoke will leave behind a burnt odor on your clothing, kind of like a bonfire. The musty and vaguely sweet smell of burnt terpenes is what will give it away to everyone around you that the cause of the odor is weed. 

There are situations where this is less than ideal. It’s never anyone’s business that you’re smoking weed, but people who detect the odor may feel inclined to put you in uncomfortable situations. If you want to go outside and have a joint on Thanksgiving because grandpa is being racist again, you don’t want an earful about it when you come back in. 

If you’re worried about people being able to smell weed on you, get a smoking hoodie and a pair of gloves to put on and take off between smoke sessions. The hoodie protects your clothes and hair while the gloves keep the aroma from sticking to your hands. All you have to do is stow them away where no one will smell them. 

Alternatively, you can vape your weed instead. Most of the smell from the vape will dissipate very quickly, and since nothing is burning, you won’t have to deal with ashes on your hands or clothes. 

What about that skunky smell?

The skunky smell that most people associate with weed comes from a combination of other terpenes, fire, and burnt plant matter with myrcene at the forefront. Myrcene in its true form is sweet, slightly sour, and a little spicy. When you torch myrcene, it “spoils” so to speak. Burning it changes its profile and makes it loud. 

Learning weed preferences by smells

As the saying goes, “the nose knows” what you’ll like and what you won’t. When you smell weed, particularly in the form of live cannabis products, you’ll really be able to appreciate its scent profiles. 

It’s like swirling and sniffing a glass of fine wine. If you like the way a particular strain smells, it will probably agree with you. If it smells off-putting, you may not enjoy using it and or might dislike the way it makes you feel. 

The takeaway

Weed isn’t one smell, but a bouquet of vastly different smells that combine into a single distinct aroma when burnt. If you don’t like the smell of weed or would prefer to avoid it, you can use edibles or vape concentrates to enjoy a high without the lingering skunky, sooty smell. 

Emjay is here to deliver you weed any way you prefer it. If you like the distinct smell of weed, keep using flower. If you’re looking for an alternative, we have plenty of live cannabis products that will introduce you to a world of new weed aromas. Place your order now and we’ll see you in about 30 minutes.

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