Why Do Skunks Smell Like Weed?

I am a big fan of the furry type of skunk, personally. As a licensed skunk rehabilitator, I transport these amazing creatures frequently in my car and have been sprayed a few times while rescuing upset animals.

The resemblance between skunk musk and marijuana has, unfortunately, led to some awkward encounters. “Yes, sir, I do have an actual skunk in my vehicle, and nothing illegal.”

So what’s up with the resemblance? Here’s the scoop on skunk: a skunk’s distinct smell comes from three types of organic sulfur compounds, known as thiols. Thiols are intensely musky and overpowering, which is what makes them such potent weapons.

Cannabis doesn’t contain thiols, but it does contain hundreds of compounds known as terpenes. Terpenes include the spicy-smelling compound caryophyllene, the citrusy compound limonene, and the musky compound known as myrcene. Myrcene is the chemical in marijuana that is most distinctly similar in scent to skunk spray.

In the 1970s, Dutch growers in the United States cultivated a hybrid cannabis strain called “Skunk” that was unusually rich in myrcene. The strain became more and more potent in time and became a parent breed to many other types of medicinal and recreational marijuana. That’s why many kinds of cannabis used today smell skunky.

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