When we talk about the chemical constituents in cannabis, cannabinoids like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) often get all of the attention—as do terpenes like limonene and humulene. But the marijuana plant is made up of several classes of chemicals, and one class that deserves a closer eye is flavonoids.
Flavonoids are chemical compounds found in plants; we consume them when we eat fruits, vegetables, grains, coffee, teas, wine, and yes, you guessed it: cannabis. Currently, scientists have identified approximately 6,000 types of flavonoids. But why are flavonoids important in the plant world, and do they influence cannabis’s therapeutic properties?
Flavonoids have many responsibilities during the lifecycle of a plant. They help determine the color and smell of flowers, fruits and leaves; this in turn affects what pollinators visit the plant. Flavonoids also play a role in how a plant protects itself from insects, the elements and UV rays.
Research has indicated that flavonoids have the following properties, though more research is needed to fully understand their effects on humans:
We tend to credit terpenes with determining the aroma and flavor of a batch of cannabis flowers. However, it’s likely that flavonoids also play a role, as is the case in other plants.
Flavonoids can also influence plant color. We’ve all seen those beautiful purple flowers on dispensary shelves. Well, it turns out that a group of flavonoids called anthocyanins are often responsible for these hues.
Cannabis flavonoids may also help protect the plant from predators and harsh environmental conditions. Though there are no studies on how flavonoids specifically benefit the cannabis plant, we do know that flavonoids such as quercetin, which is found in both cannabis as well as other plants, protect plants from oxidative stress. Quercetin is also known to deter herbaceous insects from feeding on plants.
In fact, flavonoids may even influence the entourage effect: a phenomenon that, while unproven scientifically, still garners much interest and discussion among renowned cannabis scientists like Ethan Russo and Raphael Mechoulam.
In the entourage effect, cannabinoids like THC and CBD interact and influence each other’s effects. This concept is now being extended to other constituents of the plant including terpenes and flavonoids. Of course, the extent to which flavonoids play a role has yet to be determined.
Scientists have identified 26 varieties of flavonoids in cannabis, three of which are unique to the plant: cannflavin A, B and C. These cannflavins were first discovered in 1985 by researcher Mary Barrett and her team. That same year, Mary published another paper that noted the anti-inflammatory properties of cannflavin A.
Besides the 1985 discovery, cannflavins have been mostly overlooked, though there was one paper published in 2014 that noted some varieties of sprouted hemp seeds contain cannflavin A and B, giving them anti-inflammatory properties. More research is needed in order for us to fully understand the properties of cannflavins.
While we know little about cannflavins, we do know a bit more about the other flavonoids in cannabis, which include:
Collectively, these flavonoids have many of the properties this class of compounds is known for, such as the ability to protect the brain and heart as well as fight free radicals throughout the body. Overall, more studies need to be done to see how flavonoids can be harnessed to the benefit of our overall health.
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