How Do You Judge Cannabis Based Off Of Smell?

smell nose marijuana cannabis smelling aroma scent
(image via Potent Media)

I was recently selected to be a judge for the Cultivation Classic hosted by Willamette Week. The event is the ‘world’s only cannabis competition exclusively for ethically-grown product free of pesticides.’ Somehow I was lucky enough to get picked to offer up my opinion on no less than 14 one gram samples of some of the finest cannabis on the planet. It’s an experience that I will never forget.

The competition involved ranking each sample in three categories – nose/smell, taste, and effect. One of my favorite things about the competition is that ‘appearance’ was not one of the categories to be graded. So many competitions out there put a huge emphasis on how entries look, which is ultimately not something that truly indicated the quality of the cannabis. Anyone who frequents dispensaries knows that just because a strain is shiny and pretty in the jar or under the display case does not necessarily mean that it provides the smell, flavor, and effect that someone is looking for.

For me, the biggest indicator of quality is the smell of the flower. ‘What is the smelliest strain that you have? Preferably something that smells skunky or like a dirty sock, but, you know, in a good way’ is what I usually start off with when visiting a new dispensary. So many people either only shop with their eyes, or only look for the highest THC level. In doing so, consumers are missing out on some truly amazing cannabis.

THC numbers can be misleading. A lot of producers ‘lab shop’ and go with the highest THC score they receive. Sure, smell can be manipulated such as storing cannabis with orange peels or adding artificial scents to the flower, but those methods always result in the smell wearing off quickly, and the flower being worse off than when the grower started. When the smell is authentic, and desirable, it is very easy to tell.

Just because a particular flower sample doesn’t have a smell does not necessarily mean that it is deficient. How old a sample is, and/or how it was stored plays a big role in how cannabis flower smells. Something may have been worthy of awards at one point, but due to being stuck on a dispensary shelf in a poorly thought out container, it has lost its luster. Flower without a smell can still be desirable and provide a lot of flavor and effect, but it’s hard to know due to lack of odor.

But when cannabis flower smells so fantastic that it seems to touch your soul, it’s almost guaranteed to be possess the flavor and provide the effect that consumers are truly looking for. When I smell amazing flower, it gives me the image in my mind in the classic cartoons where the scent creeps up to the character’s nose and carries them away. That’s the type of cannabis I am talking about. For the Cultivation Classic, each sample was to be graded on a scale of up to 5 points. How the flower smelled, and how much the flower smelled was ultimately how I graded the samples in my judge’s pack.

How did the cannabis smell when I opened the container it was stored in? How did the cannabis smell when I pinched it between my fingers? How did the cannabis smell when it was ground up? How did the cannabis smell when it was being vaporized? Did it fill the room, or just smell like generic vaporized plant material? After consuming the vapor, did the cannabis smell fill the nasal cavity, and if so, how long did it linger? These were all questions that I asked myself when looking at each strain.

With flavor and effect, I judged each strain one at a time, with each strain receiving a full day of my undivided attention. But with nose/smell, I opened up each container one after the other, grading each sample on a curve. Four of the 14 samples received 5 out of 5 from me. One sample received a 2, with all of the other samples landing on either 3 or 4 out of 5. Between sniffs I smelled my own skin, which is an old trick a veteran grower taught me. Apparently smelling your own skin kind of ‘resets’ your sniffer so that each strain didn’t blend into each other. The samples that smelled the most amazing tended to leave their pleasant odor in my nostrils, so I had to clear it out before really knowing how the next strain smelled.  Closing your eyes helps enhance your smelling ability, so I recommend doing that if needed.

The smell of cannabis can come in many forms. If there is a type of smell out there, chances are there is a cannabis strain that smells like it. Below are some of the major categories that I have come across, but is by no means an exhaustive list:

Earthy – Some cannabis flower samples smell like dirt/soil, some like grass, some like wood, and some like vegetables that grow underground like beets, carrots, radishes, potatoes, etc., all in good ways of course.

Piney – These types of cannabis flowers smell like pine trees, pine cones, or pine needles. Strains that are particularly strong smell like Pine-Sol cleaner to me, sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way.

Citrus-y – Some of my favorite strains smell like citrus fruit. Two of the samples in my judges pack smelled like grapefruit, with one of them being the best smelling sample in my pack of 14 for the Cultivation Classic. I used to purchase a lot of grapefruit smelling cannabis in SE Portland in the early 2000’s, and I have always loved it.

Sweet - Sometimes flowers smell like candy, or fruity pebbles cereal such as one particular strain in my judge’s pack. Sweet smelling strains can also smell like garden flowers (the ‘regular’ kid of flowers, not to be confused with cannabis flowers!). Sweet can smell fruity, but in a way that is different than citrus fruits. Strawberries, cherries, grapes, apples, etc. are what I am talking about. I have smelled many strains that smell like passion fruit candy or Hawaiian Punch, which is very pleasant.

Skunky – My favorite strains, as described in my ‘go-to’ line at a new dispensary, is the super funky, borderline nasty, but all around desirable skunky strains. These types of cannabis have never let me down. They can smell like anything from a skunk to body odor, and in any other setting would be upsetting, but in cannabis reform for some reason make my lungs hungry like no tomorrow. Skunky strains seem to be getting harder and harder to locate unfortunately. None of the 14 samples I received in the judge’s pack had that smell unfortunately (not knocking the other strains, just longing for some weird smelling strains!)

Smells can come in almost any form. I have smelled cannabis that smells like coffee, or mocha, or fuel, or a number of other things. Many people out there get very technical in their descriptions, citing certain terpenes and whatnot, which is perfectly acceptable too. I just prefer to be a bit more descriptive by comparing the smell to something, as I think it conveys what I am thinking in an easier way for the average person to understand. My grandma doesn’t know the name of even one terpene, but she definitely understands when I tell her ‘this weed smelled like a box of fruity pebbles cereal when it is first opened.’

In summary, there is no one way to judge cannabis based off of smell. A sample that smells like one thing to one person may be different that what another person feels when they smell the sample. This is especially true when the aroma is faint. But I have found that GREAT cannabis has a smell so strong that it seems to hit you in the face, and often times with an aroma that is described the same way no matter who smells it.

How do Weed News readers judge smell? And what is your favorite type of smell? I look forward to reading the comments!

Johnny Green
About Johnny Green 965 Articles

Johnny Green is a cannabis activist from Oregon. Johnny has a bachelor’s degree in public policy, and believes that the message should always be more important than the messenger. #LegalizeIt #FreeThePlant