What’s the first word that comes to mind when someone asks what weed smells like?
Skunky? Fragrant? Woody? Earthy? Pungent? Enticing? Disgusting?
That last one probably didn’t occur to most readers. People who hate the smell of pot aren’t likely to be regular users. They probably aren’t regular visitors to this site, either.
The rest of those adjectives, though, can all be valid ways to describe the aroma of weed.
Cannabis has a different smell when it’s growing than when it’s fired up. Its scent may seem different to different people — because their senses of smell aren’t the same.
And weed’s smell depends, most of all, on its strain.
Let’s unravel the mystery of weed’s aroma.
What Does The Weed Plant Smell Like?
In the early stages of their development, cannabis plants smell more like “plants” than “weed.”
Their scent during the seedling and early weeks of the vegetative stage has been variously described as woodsy, floral, or earthy. Some weed plants may not even have a distinctive smell at all at that point.
As they develop further, they usually start to take on a slight odor of skunk or pine, depending on the cannabis strain. That’s partly because their buds are emerging, and partly because the weather is getting hotter; heat tends to bring out more of a plant’s distinctive odor.
Throughout the flowering stage, the odor becomes more noticeable — but it’s not until the plant has been dried and cured that the trademark aroma of a strain reaches its height.
What Does Marijuana Smell like After Purchasing It?
When you buy your herb, it won’t be quite as “smelly” as it will be when it’s smoked or vaped. Even so, its predominant aroma should be obvious.
The intensity of the scent can vary, though. If the flower is properly dried, cured, and stored, much of the plant’s moisture will have been removed — and the weed’s smell is much stronger when it’s dry. If the flower you’re buying from a dealer doesn’t have much of an aroma, it probably hasn’t been processed properly.
What Does Weed Smell Like When You Smoke It?
You know the answer to this one, at least in general terms. The dominant aromas of the strain will be prevalent, whether they’re a skunk, diesel, fruit, pine, or other scents. The actual smell of burning flowers adds notes of fire or smoke to the mix.
Weed is smelliest while it’s being smoked, vaped, or dabbed. And as we don’t have to tell you, its aroma can linger in the air for a long time, perhaps becoming slightly sweeter in the aftermath of a smoke sesh.
The same smell remains on a smoker’s clothes and body, although it can become muskier when it mixes with natural scents (like sweat) produced by the body.
All of that information won’t be surprising to long-time users, but it gives rise to a question that may be more interesting: why do different types of weed have different smells?
Terpenes’ Effects on Why Weed Has Its Distinctive Aromas
Aromatic compounds called terpenes are primarily responsible for the unique smell of weed. However, scientists are learning that there’s more to the picture. We’ll discuss that part of the story shortly.
Terpenes occur naturally in plants (and even in some animals). They’re found in the essential oils of most plants; in cannabis, they develop in the trichomes that are also home to weed’s cannabinoids and flavonoids.
These compounds perform other functions as well. Most importantly, they interact with cannabinoids like THC and CBD to boost their effectiveness by what’s known as the “entourage effect.” Terpenes also provide some health and wellness benefits, and they affect the plant’s color and flavor. But they’re best-known for making weed smell like weed.
There are well over 100 terpenes that can occur in marijuana plants, but not all of them are found in all cannabis strains. That’s why each weed strain smells at least slightly different from the next; a plant’s mix of terpenes determines its predominant aroma.
At least one of three terpenes can be found in most strains. They’re the ones that contribute most heavily to weed’s common smells.
This terpene’s earthy, spicy, musky scent is common to an enormous number of cannabis strains. Myrcene is prevalent in well-known strains like OG Kush, Harlequin, Cheese, and many purple strains.
Myrcene also provides some calming effects and a slightly sweet flavor and is found in plants like mangoes and basil.
This is another terpene that provides a spicy and musky scent to weed. But more familiar to many smokers is the diesel fuel aroma caryophyllene can create when combined with other terpenes.
Caryophyllene is often referred to as beta-caryophyllene, and it’s found in strains like Sour Diesel, Bubba Kush, GSC, and Gorilla Glue. It’s known to have stress-relieving properties and is also present in several spices including rosemary, cinnamon, and cloves, as well as the hops used to make beer.
The citrus notes of the terpene limonene are responsible for the fresh, fruity, floral aroma of strains like Durban Poison, Jack Herer, Strawberry Banana, and Wedding Cake. It’s also present (in lesser amounts) in notable strains like O.G. Kush and Sour Diesel.
Limonene is found in the rinds of citrus fruits, and it is believed to contribute to the body’s immune function.
However, it’s important to realize that the simple presence of limonene or myrcene in plants doesn’t simply make it smell like that specific terpene. It’s the combination of these dominant terpenes with many others including linalool, beta-pinene, and eucalyptol that give each strain its distinctive scent.
Why Do Some Cannabis smell like Skunk?
You’ve probably noticed that we haven’t mentioned weed’s famed skunky odor.
It’s been thought that myrcene — in combination with other terpenes — is responsible for the skunky aroma. New research, though, points in a different direction.
A 2021 study published in the journal ACS Omega claims that a group of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are present in weed are responsible.
Researchers found that the compounds, known as prenylated volatile sulfur compounds, are related to the VOCs in the spray that skunks release — and the hops that create “skunky beer.”
So don’t give terpenes all of the credit (or blame) for the well-known skunk aroma in Skunk #1 and Super Skunk — and so many other strains. A different compound causes them to smell the way they do.
What Does Weed Smell Like? FAQ
Q: Does a strain’s scent, or the strength of its scent, tell you anything about how potent it is?
A: Not according to science; there’s been research showing that THC has no odor at all. However, some growers do add aromatic chemicals like thiols to strains bred for high THC content, to give buyers the impression that their strong scent indicates high potency.
Q: Do indicas and sativas smell different?
A: Weed connoisseurs say they do. Sativas are said to be citrusy and floral, while indicas are supposedly more earthy, spicy, and woodsy. Some also say you can “feel” sativas’ aromas higher in the nose than indicas’ scents. And an experiment by High Times found that indicas generally contain more terpenes than sativas, making them “smellier.”
- Sommano, S. R., Chittasupho, C., Ruksiriwanich, W., & Jantrawut, P. (2020). The cannabis terpenes. Molecules, 25(24), 5792. 
- Oswald, I. W., Ojeda, M. A., Pobanz, R. J., Koby, K. A., Buchanan, A. J., Del Rosso, J., … & Martin, T. J. (2021). Identification of a New Family of Prenylated Volatile Sulfur Compounds in Cannabis Revealed by Comprehensive Two-Dimensional Gas Chromatography. ACS Omega, 6(47), 31667-31676.