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Why Does Your Sweat Smell Like Weed?

Sophia Delphi May 14, 2022 - 7 min read
Fact Checked
Image of a Man Sweating

No, you’re not imagining it.

You’ve just taken a long walk, or finished a workout, or carried the groceries in from the car. You pull off your shirt, getting ready to take a shower. And then you notice it. You smell pot.

You haven’t just smoked. No one in the house is smoking. You’re not wearing clothes that have been around smoke.

But the distinctive scent is hard to miss – and you figure it out: it’s your sweat. Your sweat smells like weed.

How is that possible? Is it possible?

Experts say it’s not just possible, it’s science.

Why Our Sweat Smells The Way It Does

Perspiration that smells like weed might seem unlikely at first. It probably seems even crazier now that we’re breaking this news to you: the fluid that’s secreted by sweat glands doesn’t have any odor. In other words, sweat doesn’t smell.

Then what causes body odor? That question requires a little bit of explanation because the body has two different types of sweat glands, the eccrine glands, and the apocrine glands. And the difference is important.

The eccrine glands, located all over the body, are responsible for producing the perspiration that cools us off when we get hot.

The apocrine glands are clustered around the armpits, genitals, and breasts, and inside ear canals, hair follicles, nostrils, and eyelids – basically anywhere there’s hair on the body. They don’t release water; they secrete an oily substance that contains protein, fat, ammonia, and sugars. Apocrine glands are usually activated when the body is stressed or experiencing sexual arousal.

Here’s the big difference between the two. Sweat from the eccrine glands is just water, so it simply evaporates shortly after it’s released. The oily sweat from apocrine glands, however, interacts with bacteria living on the skin. And when bacteria break down the sweat, an odor is released.

That odor is what we politely call “body odor.” Not everyone’s sweat smells the same, but generally speaking, the byproducts of the chemical reaction between sweat and bacteria often have odors similar to familiar scents. For example, sulfanyls and thialcohols smell somewhat like garlic or onions, and acetic acid produces the “vinegary” odor we normally associate with sweat.

All interesting. But what about sweat that smells like weed?

How Does The Smell Of Weed Get Into Sweat?

There’s no definitive answer to that question, but there are definitely theories.

THC Metabolites

Here’s one of those theories. Sweating primarily cools the body to regulate its temperature, but there are lesser benefits as well. To a relatively-small extent, the release of sweat through the apocrine glands helps the body to purge heavy metals, toxins, and chemicals.

That’s the detail we needed. When THC is broken down by the liver it produces a metabolite called THC-COOH, which is stored in body fat. So when sweat released by the apocrine glands contains traces of the weed metabolite, it’s broken down by the bacteria on the skin, and – eureka! – sweat that smells like pot. That may also be why people may smell like booze after a night of drinking; alcohol metabolites like acetic acid are in their sweat, and the odors emerge when the sweat is broken down.

Terpenes And Sweat

There are other, somewhat similar theories. Vice spoke to several medical experts who had their own ideas of what might be in apocrine sweat.

Dr. Justin Feischdick of Washington State University thinks the smell might be coming from the terpenes and terpenoids in cannabis. Those are the substances primarily responsible for giving weed strains their trademark aromas, and they’re also fat-soluble – so when bacteria interact with the sweat, it could be that the “terps” are released along with their odor.

Another expert, this one from the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines, tells Vice that the story might be a bit different. Dr. Franjo Grotenhermen believes the aroma may be coming from the consumption of other plants that have the same terpenes as marijuana. That possibility makes some sense since more and more hybrid strains have the same terps as plants more commonly consumed as food. That might also explain why some people insist their sweat smells like weed, even though they haven’t smoked recently.

A German researcher went in a completely new direction. Vice asked Dr. Matan Shelomi of the Max Planck Institute to compare studies that detailed the chemicals contained in sweat and cannabis, and he found something very interesting. There are 100 compounds and elements in human sweat, 233 in marijuana – and 11 of them are the same. So it’s quite possible that the weed smell doesn’t come from weed at all. It may just be the way some people’s sweat smells when it’s broken down on the skin.

One More Odd Possibility

This one is from Leaf Nation, and it’s something very few people have realized. Axe Body Spray is known for its hard-to-ignore “masculine” scents, and one product line from the company, deodorants called “Touch,” really do smell an awful lot like pot. We’re not sure if there are people who pay so little attention to what they smell like after using a deodorant that they wouldn’t notice the connection, but it’s a possible explanation.

Long answer short: no one knows exactly why sweat may smell like weed. It’s not your imagination, though. It does happen.

What Can You Do If Your Sweat Smells Like Weed?

Well, you could give up smoking, of course, or switch to edibles. Those should solve the problem (unless you use Touch deodorant, of course), but probably aren’t the answers you’re looking for.

One solution might be to try smoking different strains than usual. If the odor is indeed being caused by terpenes that are in your weed, a different combination of terps might be all the change that’s required. A strain with less THC might also mean there’d be less THC-COOH stored in your body fat, and therefore less of it to be broken down by skin bacteria.

Otherwise, there’s always deodorant. Just try to avoid that Axe Body Spray stuff.

Why Does My Sweat Smell Like Weed? FAQ

Q: I always thought that smell was from my hair, not my sweat since I know that THC can stay in the hair for a month or more. Is there any way to be sure?
A: If you’ve shampooed your hair well and still notice the odor, it’s probably not coming from your hair. Whatever causes the weed smell to emerge from sweat, it only emerges once the sweat interacts with skin bacteria. It’s unlikely that cannabis metabolite THC-COOH would be broken down just while sitting unthreateningly in your hair. (Although if you’re talking about underarm hair or public hair, that’s a different story. There are apocrine glands in both areas, and the smell could be coming from the sweat released by those glands.)

Q: Is there a way to completely clean the skin of bacteria, so there’s nothing left to interact with the sweat?
A: Sorry. The bacteria are permanent guests; you can’t get rid of them all.

Q: I’ve heard that botox can stop sweating. Is that an option?
A: In most cases, botox is only used to stop armpit perspiration for a few months. That might help, but you have plenty of apocrine glands elsewhere on your body, so it’s not a solution that would solve most people’s “weed sweat” issues.