Why Does Marijuana Smell Like a Skunk?

With 18 states allowing for the recreational use of marijuana, more and more Americans are becoming familiar with the odor emitted by smoking weed. Folks who smoke weed may like the smell of burning marijuana, but many non-users likely wonder why does marijuana smell like skunk?

New research now sheds some light on this question. Light a bong and a distinctive smell will soon follow."Skunky" is usually the term used to describe the smell of smoking marijuana, and a recent study now shows the link between that skunky smell and, well, skunks.

Prenylated Volatile Sulfur Compounds

A team of researchers at California’s Abstrax Tech recently isolated a new family of prenylated volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) that are responsible for creating the foul odor of burning pot.

The study found that cannabis sativa produces more than 200 unique aroma compounds.


Earlier studies had focused on odor-emitting compounds called terpenoids. Those substances often cause citrusy or floral scents.

Terpenoids failed to explain why does marijuana smells like skunk. The author of the study noted that terpenoids are the cause of most of the odors found in marijuana, but it does not explain the skunky smell.


Here is where the skunk connection comes in. Skunks also use VSCs in their spray. One study author suspected that there would be a link between cannabis' smell and the foul-smelling spray skunks use.

For the analysis, the researchers examined the flowers of 13 types of cannabis plants and used 2D gas chromatography to examine the smells that were released. 

Then, a four-person panel ranked the pungency of each marijuana variety. The panel ranked their feedback on a scale of 0 to 10. Five of the seven VSCs had sulfuric aromas that were skunk-like. 

VSC3 was the most common VSC detected. It was also the chemical that was rated as most skunky by the panel. VSC3 is also the compound that is commonly tied to skunky beer (beer that goes bad). VSC3 is also commonly found in vaping products. 

When Pot Is the Most Skunky

The study also explored when VSCs are the most potent. The presence of VSCs is highest near the end of the flowering stage, the study found. Specifically, curing is when pot is the most skunky.

Most marijuana producers place cannabis flowers in airtight containers at that point, which preserves the skunky odors. While the odors may be undesirable, the researchers noted that VSCs may offer important antioxidant properties. 

Shop for Premium Quality Smoking Accessories 

Now you know why does marijuana smell like skunk. The skunky smell of pot is here to stay, but at least we know the science behind those defining smells. 

At Brothers with Glass, we display the country of origin for all the glass we sell. Imported glass should be disclosed as such. To find your next smoking accessory, explore our bundle kits and other product lines. 

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