Understanding Cannabis Aromas: Terpenes, Flavonoids, and Sulphur Compounds

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In the broad sense of scents, cannabis has an easily recognisable aroma. 

To the untrained nose, most cannabis plants and cannabis aroma profiles probably smell the same, because many cultivars (or strains) contain the same chemical compounds, which form scent archetypes. 

However, in fact, each of these cultivars, or cannabis plant species, smells slightly different – because these compounds vary in concentration from strain to strain. 

Terpenes, flavonoids, and volatile sulphur compounds are the main aromatic compounds within cannabis that are thought to influence its scent, and their presence affects how the plant’s overall aroma. 

How do Terpenes Affect Cannabis’ Aroma?

Terpenes are a type of natural compound that can be found in all different kinds of plants from flowers, to fruits, to herbs, and spices. 

Over 400 different types of terpenes have been discovered in cannabis plants around the world, and each terpene has its own characteristic profile, which can contribute to the scent, or therapeutic value of cannabis.

With its base note believed to be created by VSCs, terpenes add extra dimensions to the smell of cannabis cultivars, and can influence the plant to smell more sweet, spicy, or sour, and so on, depending on their concentration within the plant. 

Some of the most commonly found terpenes in cannabis are:

Limonene – smells like citrus, and can also be found in lemon and orange trees. 

Linalool – has a floral and herbal scent, and is also found in chamomile and lavender. 

Pinene – as its name suggests, this terpene can also be found in pine trees and gives them their distinctive, woody, piney aroma. 

Myrcene – typically smells earthy or musky, but can add sweet elements to the aroma. Myrcene is also found in lemongrass, hops, thyme, and even in mango. 

Beta-caryophyllene – has a peppery, spicy and slightly woodsy smell, and is naturally also found in cloves and hops.   

Humulene – has an earthy and slightly bitter or spicy scent, and is also found in ginseng.

What are Volatile Sulphur Compounds?

The underlying ‘skunky’ or sulphuric like-smell to cannabis is believed to be attributed to a family of volatile sulphur compounds, or VSCs in cannabis. Much like terpenes, volatile sulphur compounds are the origin source of many natural scents, and they are particularly odorous. 

One particular VSC, namely 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol or Prenythiol, is found abundantly in pungent, strong smelling cannabis cultivars, and is believed to be the main culprit, or primary odorant, for cannabis’ skunky smell. 

Can Flavonoids Impact the Taste and Smell of Cannabis?

It is believed that flavonoids, or cannaflavins – which are a type of flavonoid only found within cannabis – can influence cannabis’ characteristics in a number of ways, including the way it smells, tastes and looks. 

Working synergistically with the terpenes present, which admittedly do most of the scent related leg work, cannaflavins can affect aroma, whilst dictating its flavour as a flower, and often its colour as well. 

Currently, it is generally accepted that flavonoids have a minor influence on cannabis’ aroma in comparison to terpenes and VSCs’, but they are still believed to contribute, and so, still warrant a mention. 

What Other Factors Influence the way Cannabis Smells?

As well as these compounds, the plant’s freshness, when it was harvested, and the end product the plant is manufactured into, also all impact the smell and aroma of a particular cannabis plant. 

The unique combination of each of these factors gives each cannabis cultivar, or strain, its own unique scent. 

This can be replicated in standardised, controlled environments, such as when curating medicinal cannabis, but a completely standardised scent from batch to batch is rarely achieved by novice cultivators, due to this large number of variables. 

The post Understanding Cannabis Aromas: Terpenes, Flavonoids, and Sulphur Compounds appeared first on Wellbeing Magazine.

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