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Why Does Marijuana Smell Like Skunk?

A Commentary and Mini History Lesson on the Origin of Skunk Weed

Growing up in Southern California as an anti-pot-smoker, I became very familiar with the strong smell of skunk that comes from people growing, carrying, and smoking weed.

Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, not to mention having a healthy black market that has existed for decades all throughout the state, country and world.

I personally did not become a medical marijuana patient until I moved to Colorado much later in life, and not until the year before it was legalized recreationally in 2012.

It wasn't until I started using weed (first as an edible and then smoking it) that I started having conversations about marijuana and heard the myth that skunk weed (the smelly kind of weed) was simply poor quality weed.

The common accusation from the pot smokers I met throughout Denver and Boulder was, "That's why it smells so bad in California, they have bad weed."

To strengthen the conviction of this myth for me, when I visited my first dispensary in California (after having been to dozens in Colorado), the skunk smell in the lobby was outrageously strong and much stronger than anything I had ever experienced.

I never actually got to try the weed in California, so I can't comment on whether it's good or bad quality. I can, however, confirm it smells much stronger of skunk than anything I've smelled in Colorado or Nevada.

Digging into the history a bit, I learned where the skunk smell truly comes from and it makes sense that there is going to be a stronger smell of skunk in some places rather than others.

It's all a matter of strain selection—and it has nothing to do with good or bad quality.

The skunk-like smell that is commonly associated with weed is actually known to come from a particular strain that was developed by Sam the Skunkman (David Watson of Sacred Seeds) in California in the 1970s.

It was the strain itself that simply smelled like an angry skunk that earned it the nickname. Prior to the development of the skunk strain, pot did not have that association at all.

"Skunk" as a breed became very popular when it was created as it was considered more potent than traditional weed and was developed for indoor growth—particularly helpful for the legalities of growing it.

After development, Skunkman took his Skunk seeds to the Netherlands and Amsterdam, where he created a new seed company. There the seed was picked up by experienced Dutch growers and has since been developed further and crossbred with several strains that have moved all throughout Europe and the UK, and many even back to the US.

Because of the cross-breeding, each plant has a unique scent and the amount of skunk smell in it can vary. If you are a regular cannabis connoisseur you might develop "a nose"—not unlike learning to taste wine—and be able to differentiate between the different types of smells each strain has.

Because cannabis can best travel state to state and country to country in seed-form, how it is grown may also play a part in the smell and taste contributing to the myth regarding the connection of smell to quality.

In my experience, different regions have different scents and tastes, some more or less skunk-like than others. I imagine what you could smoke in Amsterdam (where marijuana was first refined and truly cultivated) smells and tastes pretty different from what you could get anywhere else, and I'm excited to try it one day.

I have noted that people who do not smoke pot tend to believe that all pot smells only of skunk. It's the biggest complaint from my own family and friends who are not pot smokers—and the number one reason I don't invite them to my home.

However, more refined pot strains can have unique combinations of herbaceous scents both in the plant itself and when smoking—it doesn't all smell like skunk.

The names of different strains are often based on a dominant smell by the developer—the most popular connections being with sweets or aromatics such as fruit and cookies. I have actually smoked marijuana that tastes like lemonade—no joke!

In my very first wine appreciation class (a six-week wine course I took in college), I remember the response from literally every student in the class after smelling the first glass of wine and having to give an answer as to what it smelled like, "Grapes, of course."

And it truly did. At the age of 30 I could only differentiate each wine by how sweet, dull, or sharp it was. But by the end of that course I could identify over 200 different underlying aromas that characterized wines from the most popular wine regions all over the world.

It's kind of the same with marijuana; if you've never tried it, it just smells like skunk.

But if you can get into it and become a true connoisseur, you might be able to appreciate the art of cultivating a strain that has its own unique combination of smells, and tastes far more enjoyable than just skunk.

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