What Does Marijuana Smell Like?

Updated May 26, 2022
Marijuana Plant

The smell of marijuana is easily distinguishable if you've ever been around it. Due to its increased availability and interest in the plant's health benefits, this is an odor you might encounter more often. So what does marijuana smell like?

Before or after it's smoked, marijuana has a strong musky odor, similar to a skunk, with other herbal undertones. If you have limited experience and exposure to this scent, there are a few key factors that can help you identify it.

What Does Weed Smell Like?

Marijuana, commonly referred to as pot, weed, cannabis, or even Ganga, is sold legally in several states. Marijuana produces more than 200 known aroma compounds according to the American Chemical Society (ACS). Each of them will have a slightly different odor depending on the strain and the terpenoids that it contains.

Terpenoids, or terpenes, are naturally-occurring compounds found in plants. Terpenoids create scents that are often used in perfumes and food flavorings. They are also widely studied for their medicinal benefits. Terpenoids give marijuana (and other plants) their distinct smells. For instance, pine trees and lavender contain powerful terpenes.

Research from the ACS notes that terpenoids are the most common aroma compound found in marijuana and are likely the cause of its skunk-like scent. But the smell that you detect may depend on other factors as well, such as where you smell it. For instance, the smell of marijuana in the air might be different than the smell of marijuana on a person or in the bag.

The Smell of Marijuana in a Bag

Marijuana in the bag is often described as woody, earthy, musky, citrus, skunk, floral, and/or pine notes with one smell tending to dominate. Marijuana is often stored in small, airtight containers that dampen the smell significantly. Stinkier marijuana strains include Cat Piss, Space Queen, and Super Skunk. Space Queen is said to smell similar to spoiled dairy, while Cat Piss and Super Skunk are aptly named for their stinkiness. Unique combinations of organic terpenoids come together to give the plant its distinct smell.

The Smell of Marijuana as a Plant

According to ACS, the distinct smell of a marijuana plant comes from a unique group of volatile sulfurs. The plant will vary in scent depending on its maturity. Immature plants tend to smell less, and if stored appropriately, a scent may not even be detectable. More mature plants will have a stronger odor. The plant can smell earthy, floral, or woody and have notes of pine and skunk, depending on the strain. The weather can also influence scent with heat intensifying the odor, so you may notice the smell more on hot days.

The Smell of Marijuana on a Person

After learning more about how pot smells different depending on how you encounter it, you may still be wondering about what weed smells like when it's actually being smoked. Understanding the scent may be particularly helpful if you want to be able to tell whether someone around you has smoked marijuana or not. So, what does weed smell like on a person during and after they've smoked?

While Smoking

During the smoking process, marijuana will smell like the dominant notes in the strain. However, smoking adds some other layers to the odor, including the scents of fire, smoke, and a stronger skunk smell. Some strains have fruity scents, while others tend to be more earthy, musky, and herbaceous. The smell can be strong enough to stink up a room or even an entire house, depending on how much was smoked. If someone is smoking in a car, the scent can penetrate the upholstery and can be difficult to cover up.

After Smoking

Marijuana smells very similar after being smoked as it does during the smoking process. This is especially true if the smoke gets on your clothes, sheets, upholstery, or other fabric sources that tend to absorb smells. Most people note that it smells like the dominant strain notes mixed with a skunky odor. For example, if the strain has a lot of lemon notes after it has been smoked, it will smell faintly of lemon and skunk.

The Smell of Cannabis Sativa vs. Cannabis Indica

The terpenes and terpenoids come together in different ways for cannabis Sativa and cannabis Indica, which means that they have different smells. In addition to smelling different, they also look different when they grow on a plant, and are associated with different feelings in the body and mind.


Cannabis sativa has higher amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and it is usually associated with sweet, fruity, and even spicy smells. Sativa plants present differently than indica ones and are usually taller and skinner in size and their leaves are thinner and more pointy. They take longer to grow than indica plants and also yield fewer blossoms per plant.


Cannabis indica has been found to have a greater concentration of cannabidiol (CBD). It gives off more of the traditional musky, earthy, and sometimes stinky, scents associated with weed. Indica plants have a fuller, bushier appearance when growing, and their leaves present as being shorter and wider in appearance.

Different Uses

Sativa is known for giving users more of a 'head high', which can bring with it feelings of alertness, euphoria, and creativity. It has also been found to give people increased energy, which is why it is typically used during the day. On the other hand, indica is known for giving users a 'body high'. It is typically used at night as a sleep aid and is also widely used as a form of pain relief for many ailments, including inflammation. Indica can also promote relaxation and act as an appetite stimulant.

What Else Smells Like Marijuana?

There are many other living things that can smell like marijuana. The following have the potential to trick your mind into thinking you're smelling marijuana:

  • Skunk cabbage: This is a wetland plant that can smell like marijuana or rotting flesh during its blooming season. You may encounter it on the woods or on hikes.
  • Skunk: Marijuana can smell skunky, depending on the strain. The skunkiest strains include Chronic, Uncle Andy, and Master Kush. However, skunk generally doesn't include the undertones of herbs.
  • Hoppy beer: Hops and marijuana may be genetically related, hence the similar scent.
  • Moss phlox: This flower has a smell so similar to marijuana, it triggered a police raid.
  • Spider flower: Many people say this flower smells musky, lemony, and skunky with leaves that resemble marijuana leaves.

Unless you're used to the smell of marijuana, it may be tricky to distinguish the scent - especially if there are other aromas present. But chances are if you're smelling something vaguely reminiscent of a skunk mixed with herbs, floral, or citrus notes and without the telltale skunk smell of sulfur, it's probably pot.

What Does Marijuana Smell Like?