To some, the skunky, earthy aroma of marijuana is a source of joy and excitement — but to many others, weed just doesn’t smell or taste good. Cannabis, like almost every plant, gains its flavors and odors from terpenes, which are a class of special organic compounds. If you want to better understand how weed gets its remarkable scent — or if you want to learn how to mask that scent as much as possible — read on.
All About Terpenes
Most plants (and some insects) get their aroma from a class of organic compounds called terpenes. Terpenes are hydrocarbons, meaning they are molecules made up of different combinations of hydrogen and carbon, and these different combinations and structures allow terpenes to demonstrate differing effects. For example, pinene, one of the most common terpenes, produces the aroma associated with conifers — that birch, pine smell. Meanwhile, limonene is the scent of citrus. Every plant with a detectable aroma has a terpene profile that gives it that aroma.
Accordingly, marijuana is jam-packed with all kinds of terpenes, and not all terpenes are present in every cannabis plant — which is why different varieties of bud smell slightly different to the discerning user. Most often, the name of the strain will give some clue as to its terpene profile; for example, Super Lemon Haze is packed with limonene, which provides that lemony scent and flavor. While there are too many terpenes in marijuana to mention all of them, here’s a quick rundown of the most common:
- Myrcene. The most abundant terpene, providing earthy, musky, skunky notes.
- Linalool. The dominant terpene in lavender, providing intense floral and slightly spicy notes.
- Caryophyllene. Found in spices like black pepper and cloves, providing spicy, peppery notes.
- Humulene. The reason many beers smell like weed, providing woody, earthy, hops-like notes.
- Terpineol. Named for its presence in turpentine, providing floral notes as well as anise and mint.
- Eucalyptol. Like eucalyptus, providing spicy and minty notes.
It is worth noting that terpenes don’t function merely as aroma-makers. Research has demonstrated that terpenes provide remarkable effects on the human mind and body — effects that are potentially as powerful as the cannabinoids themselves. It seems that there is science to back the long-held belief that the aromas of lavender and chamomile help you to relax; the terpenes in these plants demonstrably reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Though not all of marijuana’s terpenes have been studied in full, it is worth noting that most that have been studied provide at least one beneficial effect, like relaxation, invigoration, antioxidation and more.
Furthermore, terpenes seem to interact with cannabinoids in crucial ways. The entourage effect is a theory that suggests cannabinoids function differently in conjunction with other cannabinoids and terpenes than they do on their own. Thus, using marijuana in its natural state, terpenes intact, could provide a more rewarding high, even if you aren’t keen to the smell. It might be worth your effort to find a strain with a terpene profile you can palate.
Eliminating the Terpenes
If you are trying to keep your marijuana use on the down-low or you truly cannot stand the skunky odor of myrcene, you have a few options for continued cannabis use. These include:
The extraction process removes the desired compounds from cannabis while leaving behind the undesired plant material, with the goal of producing a cleaner, more enjoyable experience. The most processed extracts remove not just the plant material but also most or all terpenes, leaving only a few cannabinoids in the mixture. You should talk to dispensary experts to find extracts that filter out terpenes.
Less well-known across the cannabis industry — even to weed experts — are flavorings, or added flavors that work with or completely obscure marijuana’s terpenes. Flavorings can be added to raw bud or to extracts; for example, Fuego Extracts is appreciated for its powerful and delectable flavorings.
If you already have some stinky weed, you can flavor it yourself by placing your nugs in a sealed jar with dried aromatics you prefer, like lemon peels, flower petals, herbs or fruit slices. As long as they are dried, they should impart their aromas without causing problems like mold.
Love or hate marijuana’s funk, there are cannabis products for you to enjoy. You should spend some time researching terpenes and strains or talking to budtenders at your local dispensary to learn more.