The Wheel of Cannabis Aromas
The Sense of Smell
Olfaction, or the sense of smell, is the process of creating the perception of smell. Humans have about 450 different types of olfactory receptors. Each receptor can be activated by many different odor molecules, and each odor molecule can activate several different types of receptors. The complexity of receptors and their interactions with odor molecules are what allow us to detect a wide variety of smells. And what we think of as a single smell is actually a combination of many odor molecules acting on a variety of receptors, creating an intricate neural code that we can identify as the scent of kush, skunk, or gas.
Smell and Quality
There is a whole vocabulary to describe things like wine (crisp, oaky, tart), beer (grainy, warming, sour), and coffee (malt-like, ashy, resinous) that help consumers to categorize and sort these products. For wine connoisseurs, the smell and aromas are the main impressions to evaluate a good wine. While the weed smell is known to produce complaints from non-users (and annoyed neighbors), cannabis consumers also rely on the aroma as an indicator of cannabis quality. Studies have found that the perceived potency and price of market cannabis strains are often correlated to the presence of strong scents. However, there isn’t any official language to describe the sensory traits of cannabis.
Smell and Potency
The main component contributing to a strain’s potency is its THC percentage; although THC and CBD are the two main active molecules responsible for the cannabis effects, every other cannabinoid and terpenes present in the plant will affect the user experience. Studies show a significant correlation between certain terpenoids and the main phytocannabinoids in various strains. Terpenes are a good gauge of the quality of cannabis flowers and extracts, and while THC content is a more accurate measure of strength alone, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence showing the full potency of cannabinoids can only be achieved through the entourage effect of cannabinoids and terpenes.
If you are a seasoned cannabis consumer you probably know a thing or two about “terps”. Terpenes are known as the main components responsible for the aroma in plants, and they can be traced to the introduction of Camphor in Eastern Europe by the Arabs in the 11th century as a treatment for illness and pain – even as a fumigant during the Black Death era.
Terpenes may get all the glory, but they are not the only compounds that give away smell. In a small concentration, phenols, alkaloids, and esters are other aromatic elements responsible for some cannabis scents. These are all volatile aromatic compounds that evaporate when exposed to air, a process which we perceive as “smell”. But the layers and nuances of combinations of different molecules at different ratios make it challenging for us to say that a bud smells like one particular thing or another.
Most strains have a main character and identifying scent, but the complexity of bouquets are always described as having a trace of this, a hint of that, and a dash of something else—a distinct progression of single identifiable notes that intertwine to create the complex concoction of aromas that each cannabis plant gives off. These factors contribute to the complex array of aromas we get every time we smell cannabis. Our brains can decipher many of them, depending on our sensitivity and the concentration of the compounds.
Strainy Wheel of Cannabis Aroma
Using a corpus of lexicon collected through cannabis sales experience and field research, Strainy Wheel of Cannabis Aroma was created to help organize and describe the Canadian Cannabis perfumes and flavors. Starting from 5 origin notes: Acrid, Earthy, Fresh, Woody, and Floral, we break down to 10 different categories and 20 different smell descriptors:
The Strain Wheel of Cannabis aromas is a visual glossary of cannabis aromas organized by notes. It’s a useful tool to have on hand while tasting, sampling, and reviewing cannabis products.