Terpenes & Weed Smell: A Crash Course On Cannabis Aroma

There’s no denying that weed has a unique aroma. It’s pungent, musky, and, often, a bit, well, skunky. That scent is almost instantly recognizable, too. Even many non-cannabis users know what it is when the smell hits their noses. 

Have you ever wondered what it is that gives cannabis its distinctive aroma? We’ve got you covered with this quick guide to the compounds responsible.

What Makes Weed Smell?

While various strains of weed may smell similar at first, a closer examination (and whiff) of various buds will reveal they all have slightly different aromas. Their scents are due, in large part, to naturally occurring compounds known as terpenes.

Along with playing a role in their unique scents, terpenes contribute to a plant’s pigmentation and flavor. In nature, they’re essential for plant survival, functioning to attract some creatures (pollinators, for instance) or deter would-be predators. 

What Gives Weed a Skunk Smell?

While terpenes give cannabis strains a variety of different scents, scientists have long had a hard time determining what gives weed a skunk smell. Recently, however, researchers have pinpointed the source — volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) similar to those found in garlic and a skunk’s defensive spray. The compounds appear in varying concentrations in different strains of weed. 

A Closer Look at Weed Terpenes

Terpenes may do more than contribute to weed’s potent aroma and flavor. Research suggests terpenes, like cannabinoids, play a role in the effects and benefits of a particular strain.

Let’s take a look at some common terpenes in cannabis plants:


Myrcene has an earthy, herbaceous, spicy aroma. The terpene promotes relaxation and may also reduce inflammation, ease pain, and alleviate anxiety. It also exists in lemongrass, thyme, bay leaves, and mangoes.


Caryophyllene features analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-anxiety properties. The terpene, also found in black peppercorns, basil, oregano, and cloves, has a strong, peppery scent. 

Fun fact: Caryopyhllene may help counteract the psychoactive effects of THC. That’s why chewing on a black peppercorn may help if you get too high


Found in lemons, limes, and other citrus fruits, limonene lends a pleasant citrusy aroma to many strains of weed. The terpene may help enhance your mood and reduce stress. Research also shows that it has antibacterial and antifungal properties.   


Like many other terpenes, pinene may help fight inflammation. It may also improve respiratory functions, which could help those with conditions such as asthma. As the name suggests, this terpene smells distinctly like pine trees. 


Also found in hops, humulene has an earthy, woody, spicy aroma. Research shows that this terpene may help combat cancer cell growth. It also has antibacterial properties and may act as an appetite suppressant. 


Linalool smells like lavender mixed with hints of citrus and spice. While it’s well-known for its relaxing and sedative properties, it may also help with conditions such as anxiety, depression, arthritis, and cancer. Other plants with this terpene include lavender, mint, coriander, and birchwood.

Learn More About the Terpenes in Your Favorite Strains at Campfire Cannabis 

Are you looking to learn more about the terpenes and weed smell of your favorite strains? Or maybe you want to find strains that contain specific terpenes? The knowledgeable camp rangers at Campfire Cannabis can help. Visit our dispensary to explore our selection of high-quality cannabis products!

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