Cannabis Terpenes: The Unique Smells, Aromas & Flavours of Marijuana

Cannabis Terpenes: The Unique Smells, Aromas & Flavours of Marijuana

Female cannabis sativa and indica plants are some of the most fragrant on earth. This is particularly so when they’ve gone through their flowering stage after being denied pollination by a male plant.  Some have likened the essential oils of the plant that give it that powerful aroma as being the ‘tears’ of the female plant, flowing forth in distress at being deprived of male companionship for so long. Of course, there’s no truth to that, but it does lead into an interesting discussion of cannabis terpenes.

Most people would be able to give you their own subjective opinion when asked ‘what does marijuana smell like?’ Far fewer of them would be able to explain the role that terpenes play in detailing that smell to the point that it distinguishes each strain from the next with a real vividness, once your olfactory nerves are sufficiently oriented to pick up on them. But to start at the start, let’s take a very introductory look at what are terpenes in cannabis.

Smells with Substance

what does marijuana smell like?

Terpenes, or terpenoids as they are also known, are organic compounds found in the essential oils of all plants. They are responsible for each plant’s flavour, colours, and aroma, and the way they do so for the cannabis plant is perhaps the most emphatic of all the members of the plant kingdom.

Some proponents of the plant have suggested that Mother Nature made it especially sweet and pungently fragrant to indicate its being a sacred herb, and one that should be championed by humans for its far-reaching medicinal and therapeutic values.

There is some basis for such beliefs, and extending to cannabis terpenes as well. Botanists have long known that many terpenes have been proven to have therapeutic effects, and over 200 have been identified in the cannabis plant. Terpenes determine what type of aroma a strain of marijuana will have. They also interact with the cannabinoids to play a role in what type of psychoactive experience a user will have when enjoying that strain. This is a more recent discovery for cultivators, and, as a result, more and more of them are testing their strains for terpene profiles. The way terpenes and cannabinoids play off each other is a part of what gives that strain of marijuana its defining characteristics. This is known as the entourage effect.

Common Terpene Profiles

what does marijuana smell like?

Be forewarned that if you read on here, you will find that being asked ‘what does marijuana smell like’ will be a much less straightforward question for you in the future. Now that you’re now familiar with cannabis terpenes, we’ll introduce some common terpene profiles for the cannabis plant.

  1. Myrcene has a musky, earthy aroma with fruity notes of mango – a fruit that has high levels of myrcene. This particular terpene is one of the most common found in cannabis plants. It is associated with a sedating, relaxing effect. Two well known strains that are high in myrcene are Kush and White Widow. Besides Cannabis, this terpene can also be found in bay leaves, ylang-ylang, and parsley, among other plants.
  2. Linalool features an abundance of a floral, sweet, and slightly citrusy aroma that smells distinctly of lavender. It is renowned for having a calming, sedating effect. Common strains high in linalool include Skywalker OG, Lavender, and Headband. Besides cannabis, this terpene can also be found in plants like lavender (obviously), mint, sweet basil, and cinnamon, among many others.
  3. Pinene is the most frequently encountered terpene in nature, and like the name suggests it very much smells like pine. Pinene can work as a THC counteracting agent, and it’s renowned for being conducive to enjoying active and social situations. Well-known strains high in pinene are Lemon Skunk, OG Kush, and Sour Diesel. Other than cannabis, pinene also occurs in plants like coniferous trees, and in essential oils like rosemary, eucalyptus, and orange peel oil.
  4. Caryophyllene is quite unique. The spicy, peppery aroma that characterizes this terpene is concentrated in spices like black pepper and cloves, but can also be found in rosemary and hops. When it comes to cannabis, you’ll find this terpene in Bubba Kush, GSC, and Chemdawg among other strains.
  5. Humulene, like myrcene and pinene, is a fairly common cannabis terpene that appears in many strains. In addition to cannabis, humulene can also be found in wood and hops. Scientists are investigating its anti-inflammatory benefits, and its antifungal and antibacterial properties. Humulene also plays an important role for the cannabis plant, helping to defend it against pests and fungus.
  6. Terpinolene has a rich, complex taste and smell that hints of pine, flowers, herbs and citrus fruit. It’s a scent associated with freshness. In addition to cannabis, it can be found in tea tree, apples and hygge-inducing spices like nutmeg and cumin.
  7. Limonene is a terpene found in many cannabis strains. While limonene appears in cannabis, it can also be found jam-packed in naturally-occurring places like citrus rinds and juniper, and also as an additive in cosmetics, perfumes and cleaning products.

You’re now sufficiently informed regarding what are terpenes in cannabis and will know that there’s a unique organic compound signature attached to your favourite strains. That signature interacts with the strain’s cannabinoid profile to tailor the way you experience it. The strains that win awards at the Cannabis Cup and other similar competitions tend to be those with higher cannabis terpenes content.  This suggests that buds that are complexly fragrant and aromatic are those that are most popular with people who enjoy smoking or vaping cannabis.