This all starts somewhere near cilantro, I believe. I heard a 23andMe ad somewhere that said whether a person likes cilantro or not is influenced by genetics. Right behind marijuana, cilantro is my number one favorite leafy green. I've eaten entire salads based around it. I think I really got a taste for it while hanging around Vietnamese sandwich shops in Houston as a teenager. It has such a refreshing effect on the palate.
But apparently some freaks out there really hate it. I read up on it, and an NPR article claims that a sliver of DNA near a cluster of odor-detecting genes can cause some people to say it smells soapy and tastes “like crushed bugs.” I was aghast.
Last week I smoked Mystery #1 (THC: 21%—$11/gram) from Natural Rx, way off in the distant north. It made me smack my lips with hints of cilantro. I'd already guessed that I was going to like it by smell alone. I like bright smelling cannabis that tickles your nose and makes you want to sneeze. I was transported back to the bánh mì shops and street taco vendors of my youth—weirdly.
Enthusiasts will often tell me to use my sense of smell when picking out strains. “The nose knows,” and all that. It's a quasi-scientific approach that has served me well so far. I say “quasi-” because there's plenty of data out there that will tell you what medical effects specific terpenes will have, and detecting terpenes is just a matter of being familiar with their odor.
I've often wondered about flavor, too. Food cravings are complicated things, and while some are the direct result of sensory stimulation (you walk past a bakery, and the smell of fresh bread drives you in to pick up a bag of croissants), others can be caused by nutritional deficiencies or central nervous system feedback from gut bacteria.
As for the time travel: The link between smell and memory has been well established and is known by most of us plebeians. Last year a group of Toronto neurobiologists found the mechanism that allows us to vividly recall odors.
The process of smelling odors apparently evolved along with the brain's sense of time and memory. A region of the brain associated with the sense of smell known as the anterior olfactory nucleus is reportedly a place where information about time and space is crucial. Researchers Afif Aqrabawi and Jun Chul Kim with the University of Toronto published a paper in Nature Communications found a previously unknown neural pathway between the AON and the hippocampus in mice that forms a precise “what-when-where memory” whenever a new odor is encountered. That information is important to a mouse who needs to know if it's already searched this corner for food. But the authors of the paper say the discovery could lead to a better understanding of episodic memory in humans.
Our sense of taste is inexorably linked with our sense of smell. While it seems like we “taste” a wide spectrum of flavors, we actually only sense the basic flavors of salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami (a flavor found in mushrooms). The nuance we find between flavors is completely informed by our sense of smell. This means that taste is also deeply tied to memory.
(Those basic flavors are not an exact list, by the by, and you'll find that biologists and chefs alike are constantly debating it. We could go into it, but I'll leave it to the food section.)
Becoming familiar with what flavors and smells you gravitate toward is a good idea, since it probably has some kind of link to whatever your body needs. At any rate it will explain why tasting Mystery #1 took me back to high school in Texas. Hidden with the cilantro were spicy hints of mint (a giant bush outside of my friend's house in the sixth grade in the buttery summer—I'd pick the leaves and chew them). The buds smelled like lemon pledge (my kindergarten teacher leading a line of children to the school library) and were covered in trichomes like rock candy.
It was listed as a 50/50 hybrid, but I noticed a more sativa bent to it (full disclosure: I went down this olfactory and gustatory research hole after smoking two bowls of the stuff). I noticed a marked boost in mood and sense of focus.
While at Natural Rx, I also picked up some Banana Liquor (THC: 20.28%, CBD: 0.06%—$11/gram). Going by everything I've written so far, I should have hated this strain, since it smelled funky as hell—sweet and syrupy like fermented fruit (the reason for the name, I'm now realizing). But the truth is, I've never met a strain I didn't like.
Sweet and swampy, this dense flower zapped my brain and put me in a dreamy, relaxed state. I found it hard to keep up with conversation around me, but felt light and relaxed. I floated around my apartment, not doing anything in particular and taking notice of an extra bounce in my step. Banana Liquor is an indica-dominant strain, and its ability to relieve ocular pressure and joint pain was inarguable.
Did it remind me of anything? Not especially. I hate banana liqueurs.