Exhausted, with greasy hair from neglecting hygiene for the sake of deadlines, I pluck my Birthday Cake cannabis flower from my prized apothecary. I open the stash jar and inhale. My nose fills with a comforting vanilla scent. Yup, this is the weed I need. “Smelling your flower or cannabis product is a critical component of the cannabis experience. As a budtender early in my career, I learned that the ‘nose knows’ — meaning that there is no better way of choosing the right flower for you than by smelling it,” Veronica Paz Booth, director of education for Item 9 Labs Corp says.
The Indica-dominant hybrid Birthday Cake is known for its relaxing effects, ideal for unwinding after a long workday. After a few puffs, my home office smells like an infused cake dripping in honey. And, in a few minutes, my stress levels lower. While, let’s be honest, the THC does the heavy lifting, the strain Birthday Cake is rich in caryophyllene — a spicy terpene that acts as a cannabinoid — which is also found in cinnamon and cloves. Caryophyllene may have anti-inflammatory and stress-reducing properties.
Terpenes are naturally occurring chemical compounds found in plants, such as cannabis, and even in some animals. They’re responsible for the aromas, flavors, and even colors associated with various vegetation. Terpenes help make certain strains smell or taste different from others. However, that’s just part of what makes pot also perfume. “The essential oils of cannabis give it the signature scent. There are different chemical components to essential oils; I believe over 200 have been discovered,” according to traditional naturopath and registered clinical herbalist Dr. Lakisha Jenkins. “These compounds are associated with creating the scent profile and are primarily found in the plant’s trichomes. Historically, the credit has been given to the terpenes; however, new research is crediting newly identified chemical components called volatile sulfur compounds with actually giving cannabis the ‘skunk’ like smell familiar to most people.”
While the science of cannabis scent is more complicated than terpenes, the aromatic compounds do lend a hand in fragrance — and not just in pot. For example, limonene, a citrus-y terpene found in strains such as the Sativa-dominant Lemon Cake, has a lemon-like odor found in the rind of citrus fruits. Perfumers use limonene to infuse scents with the uplifting spirit.
As someone who writes about beauty in addition to cannabis, I understand that costume, makeup, and perfume can boost one’s mood just like the right strain of cannabis can. So, after I enjoyed my Birthday Cake from my apothecary, I turned to my perfume altar. On top of my apothecary, which is filled with essential oils, cannabis, and more, sit rows of perfume. Of course, there’s Byredo Rose Noir, a sultry and musky rose option, but I needed something more uplifting than intimidating. So, I opted for Annabel’s Birthday Cake, a sweet, decadent, and ethereal fragrance. The Eau de Parfum was created by perfumer Marissa Zappas and designed in collaboration with author and astrologer Annabel Gat. “A common phrase fans of the perfume use to describe it is ‘comforting,’” Gat says. “The perfume is technically what’s known in the perfume world as a gourmand; however, it’s not overly sweet. While the packaging may look like you’re about to indulge in a sugar rush, there’s something extremely playful about it, and it evokes the feeling of being at a fairytale birthday party.”
I sprayed it on, across my décolletage, wrists, and even between my thighs. The notes of lemon sugar, cake fresh-out-of-the-oven, and candied rose petals filled my nose and rolled through my body just like the cannabis strain Birthday Cake did. Research suggests that pot can enhance the senses, especially taste. Could the same be true for smell? “Cannabis has been proven to intensify the taste of food. More research is needed to say for certain that cannabis enhances smell. However, marijuana does have psychoactive properties, meaning that it alters how we perceive the world around us and how we relate to it. So your cognition and mood will shift, in addition to your perception of your five senses,” says board-certified physician and CEO of The Sanctuary, Dr. Pejman Bady, who has shifted to alternative medicine practices. However, I can personally attest that stoned perfume sampling is much more fun (and, in my experience, effective) than testing fragrances without an elevated state of mind.
It’s worth noting that while pot and perfume are comparable in mood and scent, most modern fragrances are not made with plant medicine in mind. “I would say in commercial perfumery, the idea of plants as medicine is not so much taken into account, but I do frequently choose specific raw materials based on their more esoteric qualities rather than olfactive qualities,” Zappas says.
However, perhaps because Zappas made it, my mood did shift after applying Annabel’s Birthday Cake. I felt calm and pretty rather than frazzled and in desperate need of a shower. Of course, getting high certainly helped, but I couldn’t help but wonder, did the perfume, Annabel’s Birthday Cake, help amplify the effects of a comparable cannabis strain? Beauty entrepreneurs within the cannabis space certainly think so and consider perfume pairing when creating new products. “Our Keep Calm bath bomb dropped into a hot soak is a decompressing reward at the end of a whirlwind kind of day. We chose specific scents that, when combined with CBD, induce therapeutic benefits, says Laura Eisman, co-founder of Her Highness, a New York City-based glamorous cannabis brand. “Lavender, jasmine, rose, and chamomile all promote anti-anxiety, helping you to relax and calm down… Plus, they’re all flowers,” she adds.
Of course, we don’t always want to relax. There’s a reason why busy New York City’s favorite cannabis strains tend to be Sour Diesel and the aptly named NYC Diesel. “Similar to essential oils, different cannabis strains invoke different feelings. For example, a strain high in limonene would give off a pungent tangy, citrusy smell, producing an uplifted, energized effect, while a strain high in the terpene linalool would smell more flowery and herbal, producing a calming effect. Linalool is found in plants such as coriander, lavender, and rosewood,” says Dr. Bady.
When I ask Zappas to recommend an activating perfume to provide a boost similar, or in conjunction with, an energetic strain, she recommends The Sun Card (named after the tarot card, of course). With floral and spicy notes of sweet orange, a spritz with the spliff will take you right back to your last beach vacation. “Certain smells, like certain memories, have the power to really influence our moods,” Zappas says. There is, after all, science that suggests that smell is connected to memory.
While some Sour Diesel in your lungs and a citrus perfume between the thighs might automatically direct your brain back to sandy beach sex with an ex, if you approach both pot and perfume like a witch and connoisseur, you can use this to your advantage. “If you smell a perfume that reminds you of an ex-lover or an old friend, it might make you feel sad or pleasantly wistful depending on your relationship with them. We all have smells we associate with happy memories, or with feelings of romance, or of confidence, or even of spirituality. Perfume is so exciting because as you explore scents, you learn more about yourself,” Gat says. “You have this extra tool you can use to cultivate a vibe around you to cheer up, relax, feel romantic, or whatever it is you’re seeking.” Think of it as lucid dreaming while conscious.
Because we all have different dreams and react differently to pot, one person’s spliff might work like a cup of coffee, but give it to someone else and it could ruin their entire workday. And, like pot, perfume is a personal experience. “I wear [Annabel’s Birthday Cake] every day, but for some, it might be a date perfume since it has a flirtatious quality to it, and for others, it might be something they wear out with friends because the perfume does have such a fun personality,” Gat says.
And, if you really want to get straight to the point, you can always use pot as perfume. “For a social, giggly time, I enjoy a floral strain like XJ-13. For a sleep aid, it’s berry-scented Blue Dream. And for euphoria (and amazing sex), lemony Trainwreck is my absolute favorite,” Eisman says. So whether you’re pairing an uplifting citrus perfume, such as Maison Margiela’s ‘REPLICA’ Under the Lemon Trees, with the Hybrid strain Tangerine, or calming down with cannabis as a perfume itself, remember that putting on perfume is a ritual, and so is consuming cannabis. “Appreciate the aroma and take in the bouquet of that beautiful plant. Much like the appreciation of fragrance when grinding coffee beans in the morning or opening a bottle of wine on a relaxing evening, opening a jar of cannabis flower and grinding that flower should be an aromatic experience,” Booth says. As a weed and glamour witch, my ritual, whether ready for a date or to write, begins with consuming cannabis and ends with selecting and then applying a complementary scent.