Like most plants, the make-up of cannabis is astoundingly complex, interesting and with research studies continuing to reveal new, exciting things, there is always something new to learn.
The study of flavonoids in cannabis, which belong to a group of plant chemicals known as phytonutrients, is somewhat stifled by legal restrictions preventing extensive research in most parts of the world – even though they will not get you high.
However, their benefits are heralded as game-changers in cannabis consumption and what we do know about cannabis flavonoids further promotes the benefits of cannabis-derived products, such as CBD oil.
What exactly are flavonoids?
Scientists have currently discovered over 6000 different varieties of flavonoids in plants, 23 of which are unique to cannabis and are referred to as cannaflavins. Although you won’t find them described on the back of food packaging in the supermarket, underneath ‘ingredients’ and ‘vitamins,’ flavonoids are abundant in the fruit, vegetables and herbs we consume every day.
The cannabis plant is no exception to this and flavonoids work alongside cannabinoids like THC and CBD, plus terpenes like myrcene and limonene, to produce a wide range of effects on humans (more on this later). One of the great things about flavonoids is that, unlike other plant compounds, they reside in pretty much all areas of the plant, including the stems, leaves and seeds – meaning that no part of the plant is left useless.
Flavonoids are responsible for helping to create the colour, taste, smell and overall sensory experience of consuming members of the plant kingdom. Why are strawberries red? Flavonoids. Why is broccoli green? Flavonoids. They are the main reason that people tell you that you should ‘eat the rainbow’ and are often a great influencer in a plant going from common meal ingredient to ‘super food.’
As cannabis grows, flavonoids also contribute to UV light filtering and making sure that unwanted fungi and pests are suitably repelled. They really are all around us and when they buddy-up with each other and other cannabis phytonutrients they manifest many of the features which we associate with consuming cannabis products, such as its relaxing effects, as well as carrying anti-oxidant properties.
What is the entourage effect?
Another great thing about flavonoids in cannabis is that they contribute to what is known as the ‘entourage effect.’ This term describes the wonderfully interesting results which occur when all of the components and chemicals present in cannabis, including cannabinoids, terpenes and terpenoids, come together and work as one.
The concept is still in the depths of investigation, but evidence seems to point to the cannabis plant being much more medically valuable in its whole form, compared to when compounds, like flavonoids, are individually extracted.
It is also believed that flavonoids may help to improve the bioavailability of other compounds in cannabis, influence the way in which they are transported around the body and change how they bind with receptors. As you can see, it seems that when it comes to cannabis, its components work better as a team.
Which flavonoids will I find in cannabis?
The scent and colour attributed to different strains of cannabis are due to the different flavonoids active within each plant. To date, the flavonoids which scientists have discovered reside in cannabis are: Cannaflavins A, B, and C, β-sitosterol, Vitexin, Isovitexin, Apigenin, Kaempferol, Quercetin and Luteolin. The presence of each is dependent on the plant’s genetics, the conditions in which it is grown and it is important to know that each strain of cannabis will carry a varying concentration of each flavonoid.
Cannaflavin A, B and C for instance, were first discovered in the 1980s and were most recently isolated in a study back in 2013. They are known to have anti-inflammatory properties but more research needs to be undertaken to understand them fully.
Apigenin and Quercetin are both colour flavonoids found in many fruits and vegetables like onions, oranges, apples and tomatoes. Apigenin is commonly used in textile industries to dye fabrics, whilst Quercetin is often what makes a lot of superfoods, well, ‘super.’
β-sitosterol is known for its odour and helps to create the scent we recognise in plants. It is also widely used in medicine - from topical ointments for cuts and burns to colon cancer prevention. Known in the pharmacological world for their anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects, Vitexin, Isovitexin and Kaempferol (also known for its yellow pigment) have recently received increased attention as flavonoids needing further research in cannabis studies.
Finally, Plants rich in Luteolin, which is also yellow in colour, has been used to treat various diseases in traditional Chinese medicine for years and this flavonoid can be found in abundance in cannabis.
It’s interesting to remember that plants have been a source of medicinal agents since ancient times, long before modern medicine and scientists in lab coats were able to tell us exactly what properties they had. Whilst research into cannabis flavonoids are somewhat currently limited and prevented by its legal position in most countries, it is clear from their incredible reputation in the plant world as a whole that, aside from their human sensory experience, there is a whole of world of benefits to be gained from consuming them.
How can I consume cannabis flavonoids?
If you are on a raw fruit and vegetable diet, it seems that you may be receiving an extra hit of flavonoids from the foods you eat, compared to someone with a diet where their plants are mostly consumed cooked. This is because flavonoids are very fragile compounds and tend to be eliminated during the cooking process – hence cooking with cannabis and CBD oil may not allow you to access the full flavonoid experience. Consuming full-spectrum CBD oil directly, either orally or through vaping is the best way to ensure that you receive the full range of cannabis flavonoids available.
It is now possible to extract flavonoids from the cannabis plant and isolate them, allowing for a more concentrated sample, with a stronger sensory experience. These can be purchased in supplement form and can have a relaxing effect which is similar to CBD.
What’s the bottom line on cannabis flavonoids?
Although science has shown us that cannabis flavonoids are both important to the sensory experience and can enhance the benefits of other plant compounds when consumed together, there still needs to be further studies to highlight the full spectrum of benefits to consumers. In the mean-time, the easiest way to ensure that you are able to experience the complete combination of benefits which cannabis can offer is to use full-spectrum CBD oil.