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Minor, Nonterpenoid Volatile Compounds Drive the Aroma Differences of Exotic Cannabis


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Abstract

Cannabis sativa L. produces a wide variety of volatile secondary metabolites that contribute to its unique aroma. The major volatile constituents include monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, and their oxygenated derivates. In particular, the compounds ß-myrcene, D-(+)-limonene, ß-caryophyllene, and terpinolene are often found in greatest amounts, which has led to their use in chemotaxonomic classification schemes and legal Cannabis sativa L. product labeling. While these compounds contribute to the characteristic aroma of Cannabis sativa L. and may help differentiate varieties on a broad level, their importance in producing specific aromas is not well understood. Here, we show that across Cannabis sativa L. varieties with divergent aromas, terpene expression remains remarkably similar, indicating their benign contribution to these unique, specific scents. Instead, we found that many minor, nonterpenoid compounds correlate strongly with nonprototypical sweet or savory aromas produced by Cannabis sativa L. Coupling sensory studies to our chemical analysis, we derive correlations between groups of compounds, or in some cases, individual compounds, that produce many of these diverse scents. In particular, we identified a new class of volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) containing the 3-mercaptohexyl functional group responsible for the distinct citrus aromas in certain varieties and skatole (3-methylindole) as the key source of the chemical aroma in others. Our results provide not only a rich understanding of the chemistry of Cannabis sativa L. but also highlight how the importance of terpenes in the context of the aroma of Cannabis sativa L. has been overemphasized.

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