Why cannabis has a pungent fragrance

Cannabis is becoming more and more well-liked as a drug for both medical and recreational purposes as it gets legalized in more places.
Some people find this plant’s strong, skunk-like stench appealing, while others find it revolting. Researchers have now identified a novel class of prenylated volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) that give cannabis its distinctive skunky smell. Their findings were published in ACS Omega. The researchers claim that the findings present opportunities to look into the compounds’ potential as medicines.

There are more than 200 identified scent compounds produced by Cannabis sativa L. Prior research has mostly concentrated on terpenoids, which can have an odor that is similar to that of fuel or that is woody, lemony, or floral. Different cannabis cultivars have unique combinations of these substances, which add to their distinctive fragrances. Terpenoids are the most prevalent fragrance chemicals in cannabis, yet there is scant proof that they are responsible for the characteristically skunky odour of many varieties. Since some VSCs are used by skunks in their pungent defense sprays, Iain Oswald and colleagues hypothesized that cannabis would include comparable compounds. To find out, the team opted to apply delicate analytical methods.

Using a specially created 2D gas chromatography equipment with three different kinds of detectors, the researchers examined the flowers from 13 distinct cannabis varieties. Afterward, a four-person panel graded the cultivars’ pungency on a scale of 0 to 10. The Bacio Gelato, which had the strongest flavor, contained the most VSCs. In this cultivar, the scientists found seven VSCs, some of which were also found in other cultivars. Five of the VSCs possessed skunk-like or sulfurous odors and the prenyl functional group. One particular substance, 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol, also known as VSC3, was the most prevalent VSC in the cultivars that the panel identified as having the strongest aroma. The flavor and aroma of “skunked beer,” or beer that turns sour after being exposed to UV radiation, have previously been linked to this substance.

The scientists blended VSC3 with a mixture of 10 other significant fragrance components from cannabis to produce a combined scent that was strikingly similar to the distinctive aroma of cannabis in order to confirm that VSC3 was the primary source of the skunk-like aroma. In cannabis concentrates used for vaping, such as those, they also found VSC3. The prenylated VSCs grew dramatically toward the end of the cannabis plant’s flowering stage, peaked during curing, and then sharply decreased after 10 days of storage, the researchers found in greenhouse trials. The new family of prenylated odor molecules should be researched for medical characteristics, the researchers suggest, because the VSCs’ chemical structures mimic compounds from garlic that have anti-cancer and cardioprotective effects.


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