What Puts the Skunk in Your Favorite Cannabis Plant?

Written by Sabine Downer

Have you ever wondered where the skunky scent of cannabis comes from? While terpenes are known to play a major role in the scent, flavor, and effects of cannabis, they don’t fully account for all of its aromatic attributes. This question led researchers to probe further into the origins of the skunk aroma in cannabis and their findings have been published in the article “Identification of a New Family of Prenylated Volatile Sulfur Compounds in Cannabis Revealed by Comprehensive Two-Dimensional Gas Chromatography.”

The chemical origin of the skunk scent in cannabis flower was investigated by using comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography equipped with time-of-flight mass spectrometry, flame ionization detection, and sulfur chemiluminescence. To their surprise, the research team discovered a new family of volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) containing the prenyl (3-methylbut-2-en-1-yl) functional group that is responsible for this scent. Specifically, the compound 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol was identified as the compound responsible for the skunky scent in cannabis.

These researchers studied a wide range of cannabis varieties that included cultivars with little skunky scent, those with moderate skunky scent, and plants with strong skunky and pungent scents. For example, Bacio Gelato, Gelato, and the OG clones were very high in VSC content while Gouda Berry and Black Jack had no detectable VSCs. Below is a full list of cultivars used in this study:

  1. Gushers
  2. Gelato
  3. Bacio Gelato
  4. Cali Berry
  5. Apple Fritter
  6. Gouda Berry
  7. Jetlag OG
  8. Black Jack
  9. Area 41
  10. WiFi Cake
  11. Chem 91
  12. Four OG varietal clones were used to study VSC development through plant lifecycle


During the lifecycle of cannabis, VSCs were found to increase substantially during the last weeks of the flowering stage, reach a maximum during curing, and then drop after just one week of storage. The study authors hypothesized that storage containers and conditions, cultivation practices, and genetics can all influence the development and retention of VSCs in cannabis.

The new found VSCs are very similar to those found in garlic, which sheds some light on how cultivars like Garlic Breath might have aroma and flavor features that aren’t detected in typical terpene profile testing. It would be interesting if future studies included cannabis cultivars that have been bred to showcase garlic aromas and flavors. In any case, the origin of the skunk aroma in cannabis appears to be this new family of VSCs.



[1] Oswald IWH, Ojeda MA, Pobanz RJ, et al. Identification of a new family of prenylated volatile sulfur compounds in cannabis revealed by comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography. ACS Omega. 2021;6(47):31667-31676. [journal impact factor = 3.512; times cited = 1]

Image: by Kindel Media via Pexels

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Sabine Downer

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