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Does The Smell of Cannabis Have Anything To Do With Its Potency?

The smell of cannabis can be pretty polarizing, but does it have something to do with the potency of a cannabis strain?

There’s just something about the smell of freshly broken nugs that puts a smile on our faces, and we know it’s not just us. Words like dank, loud, and skunk have been used for years to describe the pervasive aroma of cannabis. However, if you’ve been around for long enough, you know that not all cannabis smells the same. So, does the smell of cannabis have anything to do with its potency?

Yes! While some consumers believe THC levels are the main indicator of potency, low-THC strains like Zkittles debunk that myth. While some strains boast THC levels upwards of 25%, Zkittlez often sits somewhere around 10-15%. Considering its cult following and its long list of awards, THC clearly isn’t the only variable influencing its potency.

So, what does a strain’s smell have to do with its potency? Read on to find out!

Reading Time - 5.5 min

Cannabis Potency and Smell

Can’t wait for the details? We can’t blame you. Here’s the short version of what we’re covering today…

  • The smell of cannabis comes from its unique profile of terpene isolates. Terpenes are the organic hydrocarbons that dictate the aroma, flavor, and effects of most plants (including cannabis).
  • While some consumers buy cannabis based on its name and THC levels, that’s kind of like buying wine based on the label appearance and alcohol levels. 
  • THC levels don’t necessarily have anything to do with overall potency. One study even found that while consuming products with higher THC levels did cause greater THC blood plasma levels, it didn’t necessarily equate to greater overall potency.
  • Consumers SHOULD be shopping for overall quality and effects. The simplest way to determine that is to actually smell cannabis. The more pungent the aroma, the more potent the cannabis.
  • If the aroma of cannabis is weak or nonexistent when you open the jar, bag, or break open a nug, then it means the terpenes have evaporated or been destroyed in some way. That means lower quality and fewer compounds that influence the overall effects a strain will have.
  • Additionally, terpenes are necessary for the entourage effect. The more natural compounds are still present, the greater likelihood that they’ll work synergistically together to create effects more powerful than they’d be capable of on their own. 
  • In the end, pungency is a better indicator of overall potency when it comes to cannabis.

What Creates the Cannabis Smell?

First, let’s take a look at what creates the actual cannabis smell. You already know that different strains have different aromas. Depending on phenotypical expression, even two of the same strains can have slightly different aromas because of things like growing techniques, nutrition, weather, etc. Basically, it all comes down to terpenes. 

In nature, the production of terpene compounds is a natural response that’s designed to serve evolutionary purposes like reproduction, protection, etc. These terpenes are also what give plants (and cannabis strains) their distinct aroma and flavor. 

And bees aren’t the only ones that respond to these smells. We do too! Forbes even said, “terpenes are like the hardworking herbal roadies to the cannabis flower rock-star. Laboring behind the scenes, terpenes give cannabis its distinctive aromatic and flavor qualities, as well as imparting a host of therapeutic effects.”

So, those delicate citrus notes you love in Diablo OG? That’s from its unique terpene profile with dominant isolates D-Limonene, Myrcene, and Beta-Caryophyllene. Prefer the sweet, diesel fumes of Blackberry Kush? Thank D-Limonene, Myrcene, and both Alpha and Beta-Pinene.

Doesn’t THC Content Dictate Potency?

Yes and no, but mostly no. Unfortunately, the majority of consumers select strains based on the name and THC percentage. There are two things “wrong” with that. 

First, a strain's name doesn’t necessarily indicate anything about its potency. Yes, some names pay homage to a strain’s lineage and that can give you an idea of how it might affect you. But sometimes it’s just marketing designed to sell more products. Second, while THC is psychoactive, that’s not necessarily an indicator of potency. 

It’s kind of like buying wine based on the way the label looks and on the alcohol content. Yeah, you might get drunk, but you might not have a great time. Plus, research conducted by the University of Colorado and published in JAMA Psychiatry discovered that THC levels are often a very poor indicator of potency.

In the study, 121 participants were randomly assigned high or low THC products. However, “Despite differences in THC exposure, flower and concentrate users showed similar neurobehavioral patterns after acute cannabis use and the domains of verbal memory and proprioception-focused postural stability for both groups were associated with THC.” Essentially, while higher THC levels did cause greater THC blood plasma levels, it didn’t necessarily equate to greater overall potency (1)

The More Pungent The Aroma, The More Potent the Cannabis

While THC does get you high, that doesn’t mean you’ll experience specific effects like focus, creativity, energy, etc. Those effects come from terpenes. Consumers SHOULD be shopping for overall quality and effects.

The pungency of a cannabis bud will actually tell you quite a bit about its overall quality and the effects it may impart. If you can barely smell a cannabis bud when you open a jar, bag, or even if you’re breaking apart a nug, then that means the terpenes have evaporated or been destroyed in some way. That’s a big deal!

If terpenes dictate the overall effects of a strain, then not being able to smell them means you probably won’t feel them very much either. On the other hand, a particularly pungent bud is much more likely to give you a powerful experience because it still contains all those beautiful little hydrocarbons. 

Additionally, you need all those terpenes present if you want to benefit from the Entourage Effect. This effect describes the phenomenon where all the various compounds in cannabis (cannabinoids, terpenes, etc.) work synergistically together to create effects more powerful than they’re capable of on their own (2)

That’s why a strain like Zkittlez, with relatively low THC levels, is still so wildly popular. If you’ve ever managed to get your nose on some properly cured Zkittlez, you’ll know what we’re talking about. It’s shockingly fruity! Think sweet berries, crisp tropical citrus, and hints of earth and herbs. When you smell cannabis that has a pungent flavor, whether it’s bright and tropical or dank and diesel, you know it has the aromatic compounds present that indicate high quality and potent effects.

When It Comes To Cannabis, Pungency Equals Potency

Both terpenes and THC are important when it comes to the ways consumers experience your products. If you have any questions about product formulations in regard to botanical and/or cannabis-derived terpenes, contact us today.

READ NEXT → Are Terpenes More Important Than THC?


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