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READING TIME - 7 MIN

The Science of Exotic Cannabis II: The Curious Case of Chem

In Part 2 of our Science of Exotic anthology, we’re diving into the funky, chemical, and savory notes of strains like GMO, Chemdawg, and more.

In Part 1 of our Science of Exotics anthology, we provided a rundown of the major findings in our white paper, The Science of Exotic I: The Dawn of Flavorants. It explains how the role of terpenes has been overemphasized in cannabis aroma (gasp!), how flavorants are responsible for the unique flavors within cannabis, and so much more.

Today, we’re breaking down our second white paper in this series, The Science of Exotic II: The Curious Case of Chem. If you’re a fan of the savory, funky, or even chemical aromas of varieties like Chemdawg or GMO, then this research will blow your mind. 

The Science of Exotic II: The Curious Case of Chem | White Paper | Abstrax Tech

From the discovery of cannabinoids and the Entourage Effect to cannasulfur compounds, our understanding of the various compounds produced by cannabis has continued to grow. And our understanding of exotic cannabis aroma just took a huge leap forward. 

Discover the groundbreaking compounds that promote funky, chemical, and savory cannabis aromas, what this means for the cannabis industry, and so much more. 

Flavorants and the Science of Exotic Cannabis Aroma

Our original goal was to discover the chemical origins of exotic cannabis aromas. Qualitative data from a sensory panel and quantitative data from 2-dimensional gas chromatography (GCxGC) were gathered and compared. While we ended up with a LOT more questions, we also discovered something revolutionary.

Similar to the way that classifications like indica and sativa no longer accurately describe the spectrum of cannabis effects, terpenes may no longer provide the necessary chemical information to differentiate varieties in regard to aroma. 

For example, during our experiment, we found that Grape Pie x Do-Si-Dos and GMO shared the same dominant terpenes. Considering the former is known for its sweet and fruity qualities while GMO has an intense savory aroma, we knew terpenes couldn’t be the only answer.

This leads us to flavorants. Flavorants are non-terpene compounds (esters, volatile sulfur compounds, heterocycles, alcohols, etc.) that are generally found in low concentrations. Additionally, we now know that these compounds are truly responsible for the diverse flavors and aromas of cannabis.

Exotic Cannabis Aroma Spectrum | Abstrax Tech

Figure 1. Schematic illustrating the wide spectrum of cannabis aromas reported from a sensory panel for multiple cultivars. The numbers in parenthesis are each variety’s Exotic Score (explained below) that indicates how exotic the cultivar is. Higher numbers indicate the variety was ranked to be sweet or fruity, while lower numbers indicate the varieties were ranked as not sweet or fruity. The numbers do not correspond to quality - meaning a higher number is not better than a lower number, rather just aromatically different.

Savory, Funky, and Chemical Cannabis Aromas

Cannabis aroma is unique. Its aromas can range from intensely sweet and tropical to savory and ammoniacal. To date, we’ve identified over 500 distinct compounds that contribute to its aroma, which is truly unparalleled. But what compounds are responsible for the savory, funky, and/or chemical aromas of some cannabis varieties?

Using responses from our sensory panel, we created the Exotic Cannabis Aroma Spectrum to illustrate the frequency with which the panel allocated specific descriptors to the top and bottom four ranked varieties. Today, we’re interested in the four furthest to the right, which were most often described as savory. 

By analyzing ice hash rosin samples, we identified two flavorants that, although found in very small amounts, have a significant impact on these aromas. Skatole and Indole.

Skatole: The Chemical Chameleon You Can’t Unsmell

Skatole is a heterocyclic compound found in mammalian feces. Yep, it’s found in poop. Oddly enough, it’s also a key compound in the perfuming industry, and it’s even used to flavor vanilla ice cream

If you’re having a hard time reconciling those two facts, we understand. How can a compound that, on its own, has a foul fecal fragrance be used in products that are meant to smell appealing? 

Well, it turns out that Skatole can combine synergistically with other compounds to create scents that are ammoniacal, naphthyl (e.g., mothballs), chemical, or even in the correct concentrations, floral. Through our analyses, we learned a LOT about Skatole. Here are just a few key findings:

  • Cannabis varieties that were more savory and non-sweet (GMO Cookies, 710 Chem, etc.) tended to have trace amounts of Skatole.
  • Its presence in sweet, exotic Fruity Pebbles leads us to believe Skatole may amplify lush, sweet, exotic fragrances when combined with other dominant fragrances.
  • Skatole may be pivotal in the “overripe” or “rotten fruit” aroma of some cultivars.

Indole: The Crucial Missing Piece in Botanical Terpene Blends

Unlike Skatole, which was only found in certain varieties, Indole was found in nearly every sample. On its own, it’s milder than Skatole and has a sharp chemical and ammoniacal fragrance. When diluted, however, its scent transforms and becomes more floral. 

What’s particularly unique is the way it interacts with other compounds. The funkiness it lends to varieties combined with its presence throughout our samples suggests that it plays a pivotal role in the quintessential aroma of cannabis. And that’s just the start:

  • The Indole structure is the core structure of many biologically important compounds within plants, humans, and animals.
  • It’s the key component of tryptophan and melatonin, and the main functional group of psychedelic tryptamines such as psilocybin, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).
  • The presence of Indole in fundamental compounds associated with regulating growth underscores its significance in the intricate tapestry of plant development.

GMO Terpene Profile | Native Series | Abstrax Tech

Want to experience Skatole and Indole in action? Get your hands on our new formulation of GMO based on the rosin analyzed in this study. See for yourself what savory, exotic cannabis can be like.

Abstrax Tech: Promoting Excellence in Cannabis Research and Product Development 

At Abstrax Tech, we pioneer the research of cannabis flavor and aroma. We conduct industry-leading, peer-reviewed research on cannabis to push the industry forward with better education and collaboration. 

Do you want to learn more about the chemistry of exotic cannabis? 

Have questions about savory, funky, or chemical aromas? Want expert assistance developing the right aroma, flavor, and effects for your products? That’s what we’re here for. Contact us today, and let’s get weird.

Minor, Nonterpenoid Volatile Compounds Drive the Aroma Differences of Exotic Cannabis
Iain W. H. Oswald, Twinkle R. Paryani, Manuel E. Sosa, Marcos A. Ojeda, Mark R. Altenbernd, Jonathan J. Grandy, Nathan S. Shafer, Kim Ngo, Jack R. Peat III, Bradley G. Melshenker, Ian Skelly, Kevin A. Koby, Michael F. Z. Page, and Thomas J. Martin

Experience Indole and Skatole

As the first to benefit from our breakthrough discovery, GMO is kicking off the next era of botanical aromatics. Flavorants Skatole and Indole multiply its notoriously savory and funky notes for a loud, gassy, and undeniably pungent finish.

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