The cannabis plant is known to contain hundreds of different active compounds. The best known of these are the cannabinoids THC and CBD, with THC being responsible for the psychoactive effects of the plant and CBD having a wealth of potential health benefits. Other, lesser-known cannabinoids include CBG, CBN, and CBC, to name just a few.
In recent years, another group of compounds known as terpenes has been receiving more and more attention. These aromatic chemicals contribute to the different scents and tastes associated with different marijuana strains and also influence the way they affect our bodies and our minds.
The group of cannabis compounds which is most often overlooked is the flavonoids. However, these chemicals may be just as crucial as cannabinoids and terpenes when it comes to the plant’s medicinal properties.
In this article, we look at what flavonoids are, and why they are a vital component of cannabis which should certainly not be ignored.
What are Flavonoids?
Flavonoids are one group of a larger family of chemicals called polyphenols. Polyphenols have a chemical structure which includes several of what are known as phenyl groups. These phenyl groups are characterized by a ring of carbon and hydrogen atoms, attached to a hydroxyl group containing one oxygen and one hydrogen atom.
Although all polyphenols have some common features in their chemical structures, they also have certain differences. There are thought to be around 8000 different polyphenols, and as many as 4000 of these are flavonoids.
Flavonoids can be found in most plants, including fruits and vegetables. They are responsible for many of plants’ different colors, scents, and flavors, and they play a role in both protection and reproduction.
Some flavonoids act to protect plants from threats such as pests or harsh climates, whereas others are designed to attract creatures which either help with pollination or spreading seeds.
As it turns out, flavonoids are also very beneficial for human health. Studies have found them to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anticancer effects, as well as protecting the cardiovascular and nervous systems.
It has been noted that in places where more fruit and vegetables are consumed, there is a lower incidence of certain chronic diseases. This includes the Mediterranean, a region which is famed for its healthy diet.
The Health Benefits of Flavonoids
Some of the major groups of flavonoids and their benefits are listed below:
This group of flavonoids includes two of the best-known examples, kaempferol and quercetin. These chemicals are thought to have antioxidant effects and reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Flavonols can be found in onions, kale, lettuce, tomatoes, apples, berries, grapes, red wine, and tea.
These flavonoids are also known for their antioxidant effects. They help to scavenge free radicals, highly reactive molecules which can cause damage to our cells over time. By stabilizing these harmful molecules, flavonones may help to protect us against a variety of dangerous diseases including some types of cancer. They also have an anti-inflammatory effect and reduce cholesterol.
Flavonones can be found in grapes and citrus fruit. They are one of the compounds which give citrus fruits their bitter flavor.
These chemicals have phytoestrogenic effects, meaning that they mimic the hormone estrogen. They may play a role in hormonal balance and metabolism.
Isoflavonoids are found in beans and legumes, especially soybeans.
Anthocyanins are often responsible for giving plants and foods their distinctive colors. In terms of human health, they appear to have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
Anthocyanins can be found in grapes and berries such as raspberries, blueberries, and blackcurrants.
Other flavonoids which may have beneficial effects include flavanols, catechins, and chalcones. Some good dietary sources of these compounds include bananas, apples, pears, peaches, and berries.
Flavonoids and Cancer Prevention
One of the areas in which flavonoids show the most significant promise is in the prevention of cancer. One of the major causes of cancer is an excess of free radicals which causes healthy cells to mutate over time. These cells then grow abnormally to form tumors and can spread through the body in a process called metastasis.
Not only could flavonoids help to prevent cancerous cells from forming by stabilizing free radicals, but they also appear to have antiproliferative effects, meaning that they could stop the spread of cancer in its tracks. They may also increase the rate of apoptosis, a process whereby cancerous cells essentially self-destruct.
So far, studies have been carried out into flavonoids for oral cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, and leukemia.
It has been noted that death from cancer is less common in countries where high levels of flavonoids are consumed as part of a typical diet.
Flavonoids and Weight Management
Another area where flavonoids may benefit human health is weight management. It has been suggested that these chemicals could help to prevent obesity and many of its related conditions.
A 2016 study of 124,086 men and women followed its participants between 1986 and 2011, with any changes in body weight logged at four-year intervals.
The researchers found that people who consumed more flavonoids in their diets gained less weight throughout the study. Anthocyanins, flavonoid polymers, and flavonols were associated with the most significant results.
Flavonoids and Cannabis
Cannabinoids and terpenes have long overshadowed flavonoids, but flavonoids are actually far more abundant in marijuana than these other, more famous, compounds.
Around 20 different flavonoids have been identified in the cannabis plant so far, most of which fall into the flavonol and flavonone groups. Some of the most well-researched flavonoids in cannabis include the powerful antioxidants kaempferol and quercetin.
Cannabis also contains a unique group of flavonoids known as cannflavins which are thought to have potent anti-inflammatory effects. These are imaginatively named cannflavin A, cannflavin B, and so on.
There are numerous other flavonoids in cannabis with potential health benefits. Apigenin is a chemical which is also found in chamomile and shows promise in the prevention of skin cancer.
Another cannabis flavonoid, luteolin, is found in various foods including celery and green pepper. It is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and may protect against heart disease and cancer.
Anthocyanins are yet another type of flavonoid found in marijuana plants. These compounds are in part responsible for giving weed its myriad of different colors and are especially prominent in purple strains such as Purple Haze, Purple Trainwreck, and Granddaddy Purple.
As well as having numerous health benefits, flavonoids influence the aroma and flavor of cannabis, although this is also partly due to terpenes.
However, unlike terpenes and cannabinoids which are chiefly found in the trichomes that cover cannabis buds, flavonoids are present in other parts of the plant, too.
This includes the stems, leaves, and seeds of the plant, parts which are often disregarded as being of little value. However, it seems that these parts are by no means useless and may actually have an important role to play in the health benefits of marijuana.
Flavonoids and the Entourage Effect
As well as being highly beneficial for health, it seems that flavonoids may be a key player in what is known as the ‘entourage effect.’
This phrase is used to describe the way that the different compounds in cannabis work together synergistically to provide a more holistic effect.
The best-known example of the entourage effect is probably the ability of CBD to balance out the THC high. However, terpenes and flavonoids are relevant here too.
It is thought that flavonoids may help to improve the bioavailability of other active compounds in cannabis, influence the way they are transported within the body, and alter how they bind with receptors. It is also thought that flavonoids may affect an enzyme called cytochrome P450 which is involved in the metabolism of CBD and THC.
The entourage effect is one reason why some people prefer to take full spectrum CBD oils rather than isolates. It seems that flavonoids could play an essential role in enhancing the medicinal properties of CBD alongside other cannabinoids and terpenes.
What are Flavonoids? Final Thoughts
Flavonoids are chemicals which are found in most plants including many of those commonly eaten as fruit and vegetables. These chemicals have many benefits for health and wellbeing, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory effects, and they may protect against dangerous conditions such as heart disease and cancer. Flavonoids are one of the key reasons why plant-based foods are such an important part of any healthy diet.
Some foods and drinks which are especially rich in flavonoids include berries, apples, soybeans, tea, and red wine. These nutrients can also be found in high concentrations in cannabis, even in parts of the plant which are not typically used.
If you grow your own weed and are wondering what to do with your leftover leaves and stems, you could take advantage of these flavonoids by brewing a pot of cannabis tea or adding some fresh leaves to your smoothies or juices. What better way to reduce waste and give yourself a quick health boost in the process?