Cannabis should be classified by aroma profile - Abstrax Tech confirms

Recently, the team at Abstrax Tech published a research paper titled Minor, Nonterpenoid Volatile Compounds Drive the Aroma Differences of Exotic Cannabis.

In their paper, the researchers explain that there is “a myriad of nonterpenoid compounds strongly influenc[ing] the unique aromatic properties of cannabis.

With their research, the team of Abstrax Tech shines a necessary light on the fact that “the importance of terpenes appears to be overstated[!]” due to the fact that there are various other compounds that contribute to the overall aroma and effects of cannabis.

In this blog post, we’d like to give you an overview of this important research and discuss why assessing the aromas of your cannabis is far more important than the few (if any) terpene numbers on your cannabis packaging.

Abstrax's Research

For their study, the researchers “[analyzed] the volatile chemical profiles of 31 cannabis ice hash rosin extracts with a wide aromatic diversity using 2-dimensional gas chromatography coupled with time-of-flight mass spectrometry and flame ionization detection.” As a result, they “identified a myriad of nonterpenoid compounds that strongly influence the unique aromatic properties of cannabis.”

In short, they tested some hash and found a bunch more different aroma molecules than just Terpenes.

They have performed this study because past research suggested that cannabis be classified based on its key terpenes. As a result of this classification process, strains with different aroma profiles were classified in the same terpene cluster, “which is contrary to the paradigm that these dominant terpenes dictate their aromatic character.”

This insight is “[further] reinforced by previous sensory studies finding limited evidence that specific cannabis aromas are correlated to terpene concentrations.”

By doing the testing, the researchers of Abstrax Tech showed that “the phytochemical makeup of cannabis is rich in chemical diversity, […] showing major classes of secondary metabolites identified in cannabis.” Therefore, this phytochemical makeup not only includes Cannabinoids and Terpenes but also other key classes of volatiles beyond terpenes that the researchers referred to as flavorants.

Abstrax Tech - Figure 1 - Secondary metabolites of cannabis

There’s more than terpenes

The flavorants can be further classified by their chemical functionality into:

  • esters
  • alcohols
  • heteroaromatics
  • aldehydes
  • volatile sulphur compounds (VSCs)

whereas terpenes are classified into:

  • monoterpenes
  • monoterpenoids
  • sesquiterpenes
  • sesquiterpenoids

Through their sensory analysis of the 31 ice hash rosin extracts, the researchers could “illustrate the wide spectrum of different aromas that cannabis produces as defined by [their] sensory panel.”

In this sensory panel, the researchers grouped the smell descriptors into three classifications: sweet exotic, prototypical, and savoury exotic. As a result, the “top four and bottom four ranked varieties by exotic score [showed] significant differences in reported sweet and savoury descriptors from sensory experiments.”

Abstrax Tech - Figure 3 - Sensory Panel

To understand the chemical origins of the sensory analysis, the researchers did some further testing to determine the entire volatile compounds of each sample.

As a result, they’ve found key compounds that contribute toward either sweet-exotic or savory-exotic descriptors, including:

  • Volatile Sulfur compounds
    Aromas: pungent skunky, gas-like
  • Tropical volatile sulfur compounds
    Aromas: pungent sulfuric Citrus, fruity
  • Indole Derivatives like 1H-Indole and Skatole
    Indole Aroma: floral, mothball-like
    Skatole Aroma: strong chemical, ammoniacal
  • Senecioates
    Aroma: fruity, fruity fusel base note with different nuances
  • Esters
    Aroma: sweet, fruit
  • Dimethyl and Ethyl
    Aroma: Grape
  • Phenethyl n-butyrate, Isobutyrate, and N-propanoate
    Aroma: mild, sweet, honey
  • 6-amyl-α-pyrone
    Aroma: creamy, coconut

Abstrax Tech - Figure 5 - Nonterpenoid Compounds

Further, after applying a correlation matrix to the exotic scores and chemical similarities of the tested varieties, the researchers showed that “monoterpenes and monoterpenoids, which are often found in high concentrations, have strong chemical similarities between varieties despite their widely divergent aromas, suggesting that they are not the origin of the unique scents assigned to each variety. […] Conversely, flavorants have wide-ranging correlations depending on the varieties measured.”

An analysis of the total amounts of volatile compounds and relative amounts of key classes of compounds as a function of the exotic score suggested that flavorants drive the unique aroma properties of these varieties.

In short, strains that had the same terpene profiles smelled different, which means that the falvorants were responsible for the unique aroma profiles.

Lastly, the researchers “hypothesize that some of these newly reported compounds, like terpenes, may possess biological activity that could influence the psychoactive effects brought on by THC.”

To sum everything up, the researchers concluded:

“Our results yield a more complete understanding of the unique aromas that cannabis produces and help establish these nonterpenoid compounds as an important part of the phytochemistry of cannabis. Furthermore, the discovery that terpenes have less influence on the differentiating characteristics of the aroma of cannabis than traditionally thought may have important ramifications for the legal cannabis industry related to product labelling and marketing, laboratory testing, and quality indicators for end consumers and producers alike.”

In short, it’s not all about the terpenes, and the legal cannabis industry needs to stop hyping up the terpenes and instead focus on all phytochemicals and the actual aromas of the weed.

Focus on the Cannabis Aromas

Photo by Matt Love

Assessing Cannabis aromas

Another research study with the title The Nose Knows: Aroma, but Not THC Mediates the Subjective Effects of Smoked and Vaporized Cannabis Flower that was referenced in Abstrax’s research “indicates that the [entire] perceived subjective aroma of a cannabis product, rather than specific terpenes, correlates with user experience and preference.”

We applaud the fantastic work of these researchers, which backed up our hypothesis around cannabis aromatics and the importance of observing the entire bouquet of phytochemicals via smell rather than observing the terpene numbers on the product packaging.

With all this research in mind, we think it’s essential for consumers and budtenders to mindfully observe the actual aroma profile of the products they purchase, as the aroma is the perceived scent of all the various phytochemicals like terpenes and flavorants together.

Aroma Complexity Grading with the TDC Grading System

Therefore, we think cannabis stores should be especially proactive in assessing the aromas of the various products they carry to increase the product awareness of their employees and customers and decrease the terpene bro-science that is developing right now, similar to the bro-science around high THC percentages.

While we’re already on the topic of the THC bro-science, Zentrela Inc. & PAX also recently released a research paper called EEG-based analysis for quantifying the psychoactive effects, including onset time and maximum strength, of PAX’s Live Rosin with Natural Diamonds and High Purity THC Cannabis Products where they could show that puffs from a lower THC Live Rosin PAX pod resulted in higher psychoactive effect levels in participants than a high purity THC PAX pod with higher THC content.

Consequently, looking at the full spectrum of compounds in your cannabis products is vital to making better product recommendations and consumption decisions.

To support cannabis retailers, producers and consumers in assessing the different aroma profiles of the various cannabis products on the market, we developed the TDC Cannabis Grading System that allows the user to evaluate their buds, their consumption and the effects they felt after consuming.

In the Bud Grading, the user is assessing various quality characteristics of their cannabis buds, including their aroma.

To assess the aroma consistently, we split the aroma assessment into three different categories:

  • Aroma Intensity
    Evaluates: The Concentration of aromatic phytochemicals in the product.
  • Aroma Complexity
    Evaluates: The variety of present phytochemicals and undesirables.
  • Aroma Identification
    Evaluates: The identification of various aromas created by the bouquet of phytochemicals or undesirables.

In the aroma identification of our grading systems, we provided 100+ aromas that we further classified into unpleasant, average and complex aroma profiles based on the presence of undesirables and the concentration of various phytochemicals.

Aroma identification with the TDC Grading System

By using our grading system, we empower the cannabis industry and consumers to evaluate their products in a mindful and objective way to gain deeper insights into their products and how their nervous system responds to them.

Cannabis Businesses can benefit further from our digital cannabis evaluation tool by using the valuable data points they capture to build relevant assets for the products they sell.

A great use case for applying the grading data is making product evaluations through the TDC Grading System part of your smell jar process.

Having smell jars set up in a store is usually quite costly since the products lose their smell and appeal quite quickly and therefore need to be rotated through frequently.

Therefore, smell jars can often become a burden to a thought-leading cannabis store, given that the process requires time and resources, and old products could potentially even deter customers.

However, by grading the product before placing it in the jar, you’ll be able to build a valuable dataset that changes your product expense into a data investment. Further, because you gather the actual and relevant key characteristics of a freshly opened product, you can use those data points for the strain cards next to your smell jars empowering your budtenders to talk about the actual aroma of each product even if the current display already lacks in odor again.

Assessing cannabis aromas with the TDC Grading System

Conclusion: Cannabis should be classified by aroma profiles

In summary, we’ve learned that there are not only terpenes that drive the aroma of cannabis but especially so-called flavorants including volatile sulfur compounds, esters and others.

We also understood that the actual perceived aroma of a cannabis product has more to say about user experience and preference than the few terpene numbers on the packaging.

Lastly, we explored the aroma assessment in our TDC Cannabis Grading System and how mindful cannabis evaluations can empower cannabis stores, producers and consumers.

If you like this article and want to support us, please share this blog post on your socials and feel free to text us your feedback via email to or on Instagram: @urbanisticscopes.

Lastly, you can start assessing your cannabis aromas with our TDC Grading System here and contact us if you’re interested in bringing our education and the grading system into your retail cannabis store.


Study: Minor, Nonterpenoid Volatile Compounds Drive the Aroma Differences of Exotic Cannabis: Iain W. H. Oswald, Twinkle R. Paryani, Manuel E. Sosa, Marcos A. Ojeda, Mark R. Altenbernd, Jonathan J. Grandy, Nathan S. Shafer, Kim Ngo, Jack R. Peat III, Bradley G. Melshenker, Ian Skelly, Kevin A. Koby, Michael F. Z. Page, and Thomas J. Martin, ACS Omega Article ASAP, DOI: 10.1021/acsomega.3c04496

Study: The Nose Knows: Aroma, but Not THC Mediates the Subjective Effects of Smoked and Vaporized Cannabis: ****Plumb, J.; Demirel, S.; Sackett, J.L.; Russo, E.B.; Wilson-Poe, A.R. Flower. Psychoactives 20221, 70-86.

Study: EEG-based analysis for quantifying the psychoactive effects, including onset time and maximum strength, of PAX’s Live Rosin with Natural Diamonds and High Purity THC Cannabis Products: Zentrela Inc., Upmanyu Sharma, Israel Gasperin Haaz, Dr. Dan Bosnyak, Dr. David Faulkner, Ricardo Zelidon, Dr. Echo Rufer.

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