Thanks to the Schedule 1 status of marijuana, the science behind this intriguing plant isn’t as fully realized as it should be. But fortunately, we still know a lot about the plant – the biological structure, what differentiates various species of marijuana, and what produces the euphoric “high.”
In researching the medicinal benefits of cannabis, you may have heard about flavonoids. To date, over 480 active compounds have been identified in the marijuana plant. These compounds mainly include terpenes, cannabinoids, and flavonoids. Terpenes and cannabinoids tend to steal the spotlight, but flavonoids are also an important component. Flavonoids make up approximately 10% of known compounds with around 20 varieties that are known to exist in cannabis.
In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at flavonoids in the context of cannabis plants – what they are, what their purpose is, and how they contribute to the unique effects of the marijuana plant.
What are Flavonoids?
Flavonoids are not unique to the marijuana plant. Researchers have identified thousands of them throughout nature, from fruits and vegetables to flowers. Flavonoids are a diverse group of phytonutrients that are found in a variety of different plants. Together with carotenoids, they’re responsible for giving these plants their vibrant and attractive colors.
Flavonoids play a vital role in plants, particularly when it comes to flower coloration, producing blue, red, and yellow pigmentation in fruits or flowers which naturally attract pollinating animals such as bees.
Flavonoids are the largest group of phytonutrients, with over 6,000 types, which are typically broken down into 12 separate categories. Flavonoids with the most dietary importance are flavonols, flavones, anthocyanidins, isoflavones, and flavan-3-ols.
What are Cannabis Flavonoids?
Cannabis flavonoids are a group of naturally occurring phytonutrients that are responsible for the vivid non-green color pigments in cannabis and hemp plants. In addition, flavonoids are responsible for helping to protect the health of marijuana plants by preventing diseases, fungi, and pests, and filtering out UV rays.
While flavonoids are not unique to cannabis plants, there are some that can only be found within marijuana. They’re known as cannaflavins. These flavonoids play a role in how we perceive marijuana through our senses. However, there’s a lot more to flavonoids than meets our taste buds and nose.
Commonly grouped together, marijuana flavonoids are thought to supplement the other cannabis phytonutrients – playing a highly bioactive part in the plant’s cultivation and consumption.
There are thought to be approximately 20 flavonoids present in cannabis, some of which include; Quercetin, Beta-Sitosterol, Isovitexin, Kaempferol, Vitexin, Orientin, and Apigenin.
The distribution of cannaflavins in cannabis plants varies depending on the strain of marijuana and growing conditions. They play an important part in providing the flavor and odor differences between cannabis strain varieties.
What Do Cannabis Flavonoids Do?
Aside from contributing to the taste, smell, color, and overall sensory experience of weed, flavonoids also happen to be pharmacologically active compounds that might have medicinal benefits.
Research suggests that flavonoids work together with cannabinoids like THC and CBD, and terpenes like limonene and myrcene, to contribute to the range of effects associated with cannabis. A theory known as the “entourage effect” claims that all compounds of the cannabis plant – like terpenes, flavonoids, and cannabinoids – work together to influence the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) and intensify the beneficial natural effects of marijuana.
Cannabis flavonoids are non-psychoactive, meaning that they will not make you high, like the well-known cannabinoid, THC would. In fact, flavonoids may even subdue the psychoactive effects of THC.
Researchers have started to look into the potential therapeutic benefits of individual cannabis flavonoids. Unfortunately, cannabis flavonoids are vastly understudied, but thus far findings suggest that some may have beneficial properties related to their anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, and even anticarcinogenic effects that promote health.
Studies have found that catechins (also found in tea and cocoa) promote cardiovascular health due to its anti-hypertensive, anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, and anti-proliferative effects. It could also help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
Vitexin and Isovitexin
Both in-vivo and in-vitro studies have found that Vitexin and Isovitexin have anti-cancer effects. One particular review found evidence that they are both “chemopreventive” and act against cancer by encouraging the degradation or death of cancerous cells.
Cannaflavin-A and Cannaflavin-B
Both Cannaflavin-A and Cannaflavin-B have been found to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. In one study, both effectively inhibited PGE-2 – a prostaglandin that is responsible for inflammation – in a similar manner to how aspirin works. But they’re thought to be exponentially more powerful than the common, over-the-counter medicine.
Apigenin is among the best-studied of the cannabis flavonoids. It has demonstrated anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties. Furthermore, several studies have suggested that the estrogenic properties of this flavonoid have shown to inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells.
Orientin is one of the most commonly extracted flavonoids from all plants. It’s been shown to have a wide array of beneficial properties. Studies suggest that Orientin has anti-aging, anti-bacterial, radiation protective, pain-relieving, neuroprotective, anti-depressant, and anti-adipogenesis properties.
Flavonoids in Ancient Medicine
Flavonoids belong to a group of phytonutrients that are known as polyphenols. In ancient Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, polyphenols were commonly used to promote brain function, skin protection, and regular blood sugar. Polyphenols were also noted for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Today – aside from the medicinal benefits that we’ve mentioned above – research also suggests that flavonoids could help with the following:
- Weight management
You can easily purchase flavonoids in supplement form. However, according to some reports, many of these supplements may cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and tremors.
Many flavonoids are thought to be concentrated in the skin of fruit and vegetables. They are very fragile compounds, and also tend to be eliminated during most cooking procedures.
Final Thoughts on Flavonoids
With medical marijuana being legalized throughout the United States, researchers are looking to discover more about its effects and how to obtain it legally. Unfortunately, flavonoids remain vastly understudied due to federal regulations.
To gain a better understanding of the role that cannabis flavonoids play, it’s very important that federal actions be lifted in the U.S. to allow further studies to be done. Until we reach that point, researchers abroad continue to make new discoveries in chemical profiling, which allows us to better understand the complex nature of cannabis.