April 20, 2020
You Are What You Eat… Or Smoke
How Terpenes Might Affect Body Odor
“Portrait of a dissatisfied young woman with curly hair in casual shirt standing showing stop sign and pinching her nose with a confused face. studio shot, isolated on pink background“Source: Adobe Stock
The cannabis industry has put terpenes on the map due to how they affect the scent, taste, and medicinal properties of the product. However, terpenes aren’t exclusive to cannabis – they’re found in plants, fruits, and spices.
Terpenes can be used to apply flavor or fragrance to products like essential oils or shampoos (just look at the ingredients of your favorite Lush soap). They also play a vital role in how plants interact with the environment, providing plants with an odor-based defense mechanism, says a 2015 3 Biotech article.
Furthermore, many people feel their body odor is affected by using cannabis and consuming certain foods can alter how you smell – including meat and tomatoes.
So, could terpenes be the culprit behind certain human body odors?
A Bit of Context…
Fun fact: Sweat itself is odorless, but “bacterial growth and decomposition of specific odor precursors in it is believed to give rise to body odor in humans,” says a 2018 Microbiome study.
Pheromones, on the other hand, differ based upon biological sex and genetic traits.
For example, women secrete estratetraenol and a 2019 Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience study found estratetraenol had cognitive, social, and sexual effects on heterosexual men.
On the other hand, men secrete androstadienone and a 2013 Facts, Views, & Vision inObyGYn study found the pheromone had similar effects on heterosexual women (but their data also shows the effects of androstadienone were dependent on the context of the study).
Your sexual orientation also plays a role in how you react to pheromones, according to a 2006 Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences study.
Additionally, your genes can determine your pheromone preferences. Using honeybees to model the link between human food and odor preferences in a 2012 Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology study, researchers observed food and social odors influence epigenetic food and social preferences.
If DNA is the hardware, epigenomes are the software. They’re the chemical compounds that turn genes within a genome on and off, and various lifestyle choices impact epigenomes, according to the United States National Library of Medicine. Epigenomes are also inherited across generations.
Evolutionarily, the idea makes sense – if the generation before you had to sustain themselves on the harvest of a nearby orange orchard, the scent of oranges will make your olfactory system scream “FOOD! FOOD! FOOD!” because it was an indicator of food and survival to your parents.
However, oranges don’t smell like oranges “just ’cause.” There are terpenes, like limonene, driving the force behind that signature citrusy smell, says a 2007 Genetics and Molecular Biology article.
Okay, But Why Do I Smell Like Weed After Smoking Weed
Well, well, well. Research on the direct link between terpenes and body odor are limited, but there are signs of a connection scattered across various research articles and interviews.
In an interview with VICE, Institute of Biological Chemistry researcher Dr. Justin Fischedick suggests cannabis terpenes can get stored in fat cells alongside THC, and are released while sweating.
Another researcher in the interview found 11 compounds in human sweat are present in cannabis, as well, offering another possible explanation.
However, it’s not just cannabis terpenes that have demonstrated a noticeable impact on human body odor. A 2014 Medical Hypotheses review suggests tomatoes, orange peels, and other plants rich terpenes lycopene and β-carotene may cause body odor.
Speaking of diet, a 2006 Chemical Senses study shows that women found the scent of men following a meatless diet “significantly more attractive, more pleasant, and less intense.”
“At this point, it is not possible to say how long the meat content in food remains perceptible in axillary odor,” the study concludes. “Nor do we know how long one must consume meat to produce discernible changes in body odor.”
While terpenes aren’t to blame in this case, researchers speculate the odor arises from compounds and metabolic processes taking place after consuming meat.
This ties back into the terpene theory. In the Medical Hypotheses study, the author suggests how the terpenes are metabolized contribute to body odor. After being metabolized, these compounds would be stored in your fat cells and released in your sweat.
And in the case of miss Mary Jane, if terpenes are concentrated in fat alongside THC, then a similar logic applies: the terpenes your body absorbed from cannabis would be released in your sweat.
A young man excitedly prepares to chomp into a fist-sized appleSource: Pexels
Human body odor can be tackled from many different avenues, whether it’s approached by analyzing skin bacteria and compounds in sweat or pheromone secretion.
Terpenes in and of themselves have opened up intriguing research opportunities on how these organic compounds interact with the human body on a cognitive and physical level.
Research shows that terpenes are responsible for flavors and fragrances in plants, and that our terpene preferences are shaped by our lifestyle as well as the lifestyle of our ancestors.
Although there’s not a big, red sign that screams “TERPENES AFFECT BODY ODOR,” experts hypothesize metabolized terpenes could be secreted, explaining why some individuals have more of a floral, citrusy, or pine-like smell to them.
So if it’s been a few days since your last rendezvous with reefer and that skunky odor seems to linger no matter how much you scrub in the shower, you’ll have to just raise both arms to the sky and sweat it out until the terpenes have been released from your body.
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