Where does the smell of cannabis come from?

What cannabis smells like almost everyone knows. It seems that we already know everything about the source of the smell of cannabis. It is the terpenes that give cannabis its specific aroma. Meanwhile, the smell of cannabis turns out to be richer in compounds than we previously thought. I explain why cannabis smells, what does it have in common with garlic and where have cannabis aromas found their application? Let's take a closer look.

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Cannabis odour and chemical compounds

Hemp smells like skunk. This does not sound very inviting, but it is very illustrative. The smell of hemp is strong and very distinctive. Despite its unattractive association, it is a very pleasantly sweet, fruity-citrusy smell with hints of pine and sometimes pungent spices. It is difficult to confuse it with anything.

The smell of cannabis is so unique and popular that it has found its way into the aromatic compositions of perfumes, essential oils and even shower gels.

You ask where the smell of cannabis comes from?

There are more than 200 secondary compounds in Cannabis Sativa L. (and Indica too) that build their aroma.

It is worth knowing that the aroma composition of cannabis varies according to variety and cultivation methods. It has common traits, of course, but minor differences in chemical composition translate into significant aroma swaps giving connoisseurs room for improvement. The analogy with aromatic bouquets recognised by aficionados in wines seems to be spot on here.

The smell of cannabis is derived from a composition of terpenes and a composition of volatile sulphur compounds.

Interestingly, the recently published tests using two-dimensional gas chromatography showed that it is the sulphur compounds and not the terpenes that are responsible for the pungent skunky a.k.a. sulphurous character of the scent of Cannabis Sativa L.

Even small, trace amounts of sulphur compounds have a significant effect on the power of the skunky aroma of cannabis flowers. We are talking, for example, about a compound called prenylthiolwhich appears to have the most polarising aroma effect in cannabis. Some consider the intensity of the aroma to be a sign of high quality and are prepared to pay more for such a product. Today we already know that this means a higher content of, among other things, prenylthiol.

Very similar compounds in other combinations can be found in garlic, hops and ... glandular secretions of skunks. They have similar chemical formulas and it is thought that they may have similar health effects in the body. Which ones exactly, we still do not know. Science is just beginning to study their properties and effects on the human body. In contrast, we know a little more about the effects of some terpenoid compounds, you can read about it here: Terpenes and terpenoids

comparison of the chemical formulae of terpenes and sulphur compounds in hemp and garlic

What influences the smell of cannabis?

As a matter of interest, I will write that the intensity of the smell of the cannabis herb is also influenced by the age of the plant buds. The subtlety of the pine aroma diminishes over time giving more room to the sulphurous sharpness of the scent.

Other factors that influence odour include, in the case of outdoor crops, the type of soil, weather, sunshine and being surrounded by other crops, forest, etc.

In the experience of cannabis enthusiasts and aficionados, Indica varieties have a sharper skunky aroma. Sativa varieties, on the other hand, are milder, fruitier and only enhanced by sharper aroma compounds. There are people who can recognise cannabis varieties by their smell. Whether this is true I cannot say definitively. There are certainly people whose sense of smell is much better developed than the average, which may predispose such people to the role of cannabis sommeliers.

Incidentally, I believe that the richness of varieties and aroma compositions makes cannabis in its recreational form excellent material for connoisseur products with varying prices.

Is the smell of cannabis harmful?

While the smell itself is not harmful, the smoke that produces the smell is. Of course, an active smoker is aware of this when he breathes smoke into his lungs. He or she does it voluntarily, just like a person who smokes tobacco.

The case is slightly different for passive smokers, i.e. people who remain in a room where someone is smoking cannabis.

Well the phenomenon of passive smoking of cannabis can mean that the same compounds enter the lungs and body of the passive smoker, only in a much smaller amount as in the case of active smoking. Will you feel anything as a result? Very probably yes. In fact, trace amounts of THC, among other things, can appear in tests after just a few minutes of being in a room filled with cannabis smoke.

The situation is similar to second-hand cigarette smoking, which without a shadow of a doubt is harmful to the environment and especially to children.

Does the aroma composition of cannabis have medicinal value?

There are many indications that this is the case. The uniqueness of the aromatic composition may be important in terms of health effects. If you are using cannabis in a health-promoting way, it is worth talking to your retailer or searching for more information on the subject. There are summaries on the internet suggesting which varieties to go for in different applications.

The health-promoting value of terpenes is discussed by Dr Ethan Russo, among others. An important figure on the world stage of scientific research into the use of cannabinoids.

In turn, the Minster of Health of Canada has officially listed terpenes on the list of Medicines and Health Products.

On the issue of the ephemeral sulphur compounds found in cannabis, here we have only circumstantial evidence, conjecture and theories. The similarity of the compounds from hemp to those from garlic is said to almost guarantee their health-promoting value. Whether science will confirm this we will see in the future.

The therapeutic value of cannabis is already being addressed not only by aromatherapy, but also by the psychology of scents. I recommend taking a look, for example, at the work of the start-up Headspace Sensory from the US state of Colorado.

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