The cannabis herb produces more than 400 chemical compounds—all of which manifest in different efficacy profiles depending on consumption avenue, including ingestion (edibles) and inhalation (smoke and vapor, each producing different molecular profiles).
The most noted and understood of these molecules are cannabinoids and terpenes. Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-impairing cannabinoid that provides anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain relieving) benefits. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the infamous psychoactive cannabinoid that fights pain and depression. Unfortunately, THC can also produce disorientation and even panic attacks—especially in larger doses and when consumed by inexperienced users.
Major terpenes include myrcene (the most common found in cannabis that acts as a sedative), limonene (an anti-inflammatory and anti-proliferative [anti-cancer] agent), pinene (an anti-inflammatory that is helpful for respiratory conditions), and linalool (an analgesic terpene that also relieves anxiety).
Within this cacophony of cannabis chemistry lurks the redheaded stepchild of herbal enhancement: Flavonoids. These molecules share many traits with terpenes, including their availability in thousands of plants and fungi other than cannabis. The flavonoids found exclusively in cannabis are called cannaflavins. Roughly 20 flavonoids are found within the cannabis genome (not all of which are exclusive to this herb that is also categorized as a vegetable).
Primary Functions within Plants
Flavonoids serve two primary functions within the plants in which they appear: 1) Aroma/flavor and 2) pigmentation (typically intended to attract pollinating insects). However, the unique fragrance of each cultivar of cannabis is produced not by terpenes alone, but rather the delicate interplay of flavonoids and terpenes. Despite the reputation of terpenes as being solely responsible for pungent pot, aroma and flavor profiles of all cultivars would be markedly different if not for their chemical cousins the flavonoids.
The majority of edible non-green fruits and vegetables owe their yellow pigmentation to flavonoids (the Latin root word flavus means the hue of yellow found in nature). Flavonoids provide benefits to plants beyond aroma and pigmentation, including protection from UV rays, pests, and even defense against disease.
Flavonoids are categorized in six classes, each comprised of a slightly different molecular structure and delivering varied medicinal benefits: Anthocyanins, chalcones, flavones, flavonols, flavandiols, and proanthocyanidins.
6,000 Varieties in Nature
It is estimated that more than 6,000 varieties of flavonoids are produced by the majority of edible fruits and vegetables in the plant kingdom. Other sources of significant volumes of flavonoids include bark, cereal, flowers, grains, roots, stems, tea, and wine (red).
According to one study, certain plants are rich sources of particular flavonoids. Reported the study’s researchers, “These subgroups have unique major sources. For example, onions and tea are major dietary sources of flavonols and flavones.”
Cannabis cultivars exhibiting a dominant purple hue can attribute this attractive characteristic to the flavonoids anthoxanthins and anthocyanins. The exact color achieved—which can range from blue to purple to red—is determined by pH (acid) level.
However, the roles played by flavonoids extend beyond aroma, flavor, and pigment. Like terpenes, flavonoids have been shown to provide significant and wide-ranging medicinal value. Although scant research is available, it appears that flavonoids may deliver great health value, especially the cannaflavins found only in cannabis.
The spectrum of cannabis flavonoids delivers a wide range of medicinal efficacy, including anti-fungal, anti-inflammation, anti-microbial, and antioxidant. It is believed that some flavonoids—in another instance of how they mirror molecules such as cannabinoids and terpenes—may also be anti-tumor and fight cancer.
A few of the major flavonoids produced by cannabis, including their efficacies and vaporization temperatures, are listed below:
Apigenin: Anti-inflammatory and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety); 352° F (178° C)
Beta-sitosterol: Anti-inflammatory; 273° F (134° C)
Quercetin: Anti-cancer, anti-fungal, and antioxidant; 482° F (250° C)
Catechins: Antioxidant and cardiovascular benefits; 630° F (332° C)
Cannaflavin A: Anti-inflammatory; 360° F (182° C)
Relatively little research has been conducted regarding cannaflavins. However, because flavonoids appear in so many plants in nature, available research indicates that various flavonoids may be beneficial in preventing or treating diseases involving neurological degeneration, including Alzheimers and Parkinson’s.
A 2016 study entitled “Flavonoids: An Overview” that was published in the Journal of Nutritional Science found that a variety of flavonoids convey anti-inflammatory properties and also fight particular diseases.
Concluded the study’s researchers, “The interactions of flavonoids with receptor molecules during the treatment of acute and chronic diseases are an important area of future research. More research is needed to discover new flavonoids from nature…so that this will replace the use of synthetic medicines which are harmful to the body.”
A 2013 study entitled “Recent Studies on Flavonoids and their Antioxidant Activities” and published in the journal Experimental and Clinical Sciences conducted a literature review of existing flavonoid research and found considerable health benefits derived from these unique molecules. The health-giving characteristics noted included reductions in inflammation, prevention or reduction of allergic reactions, and even anti-tumor (anti-cancer) properties.
Stated the study’s researchers, “Flavonoids have attracted considerable interest because of their potentially beneficial effects in humans; they have been reported to have antiviral, antiallergic, antiplatelet, anti-inflammatory, antitumor, and antioxidant activities.”
A 2013 research study entitled “Chemistry and Biological Activities of Flavonoids: An Overview” that was published in The Scientific World Journal uncovered multiple health benefits from several flavonoids. This included the distinct capability to fight multiple forms of cancer.
Reported the study, “Quercetin is known to produce cell cycle arrest in proliferating lymphoid cells. In addition to its antineoplastic activity, quercetin exerted growth-inhibitory effects on several malignant tumor cell lines in vitro. These included…leukemia cells, gastric cancer cells, colon cancer cells, human breast cancer cells, human squamous and gliosarcoma cells, and ovarian cancer cells.”