The Smell of Specific Chemical Groups

Picture of Terpene Belt Farms
Terpene Belt Farms

A Scentspiracy study shows us what different chemical groups smell like.

Chemical groups (e.g., alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, esters, phenols and more) are how we categorize the constituents in cannabis essential oil.

Why? Cannabis essential oil is complex. Each variety contains hundreds of constituents — each one of which, alone, has specific properties. Chemical group categories allow us to make sense of this complexity so we have some idea of what’s going on.

Let’s dive in.


Alcohols Breakdown

Alcohols have a pleasant smell at the beginning, but this declines with time. cis-3-Hexen-1-ol, also known as-3-hexen-1-ol and leaf alcohol, is a colorless oily liquid with an intense grassy-green odor of freshly cut green grass and leaves. It’s produced in small amounts by most plants and it acts as an attractant to many predatory insects. Over time, the freshly cut grass scent turns into a green fuel-like odor.


Phenols Chemical Breakdown

Phenols have a sharp repulsive smell (anethol and estragole excluded).

Diphenyl oxide, which is prepared from phenol, plays a key role in rose and other floral fragrances. When ethylene oxide is added to phenol, phenoxyethanol and its esters are created. The most important of these esters is the iso butyrate.

Aldehydes & Ketones

Aldehydes & Ketones

Because they’re more volatile (they don’t have hydrogen bonds) aldehydes and ketones have more pronounced scents. Formaldehyde and acetaldehyde have pungent odors. Valerian aldehyde and butyric aldehyde are extremely repulsive. Learn more about aldehydes and their scents.


Esters Breakdown

Esters have a very pleasant scent, typically of flowers and fruits. A few examples:

  • Ethyl acetate: a fruity vinegary odor
  • Ethyl propionate: chewing gum
  • Amyl acetate: banana
  • Ethyl butyrate: overripe strawberry


Amines Breakdown

Amines at a low molecular weight have an ammonia smell that grows in intensity with diamines and isonitriles, becoming a bad fish smell.

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