04/03/2012 12:45 pm ET

Skunks Or Weed? Columnist Ruminates On Chicago's Seasonal Aromas

This time last year, the pungent, recognizable smell of skunk permeated Illinois more than usual.

That may happen again this season, but for different reasons.

Chicago Tribune columnist Barbara Brotman mused Monday that she's been smelling skunk around the city. Last year that could be blamed on the influx of the species in Illinois and across the midwest.

NPR reported last year that there was a 46 percent increase in the number of skunks from 2009 to 2010, and said the numbers were still rising for the population, which has few natural predators in the area. Companies licensed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources captured 8,700 skunks in northern Illinois last year, most of which were in Chicago.

But as Brotman points out, it's likely not the four-legged critters contributing to the whiffs she's been catching around Chicago.

"The smell [of marijuana] has changed," Ryan Vandrey, a behavioral pharmacologist and assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who has studied marijuana for 12 years told Brotman. Another expert explained that the skunk-like smell is an increasingly popular variety associated with a powerful high.

The similarities can be uncanny, so much so that a ten-person Canadian police squad recently ran a botched raid on a suspected growing operation, only to discover a terrified Quebec man with a skunk living under his front porch, according to CBC News.

With the warmer weather and the onslaught of outdoor concert and festivals headed Chicago's way, this "infestation" is likely to grow just as rapidly as the skunk population this season.

Need a better explanation of the difference? Directly from the source: