Terpenes and Flavonoids: The Chemistry of Cannabis

You’ve probably heard about the primary compound in cannabis, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC.  Cannabidiol, better known as CBD, has made its way into the popular lexicon through the federal legalization of industrial hemp production that has CBD products popping up on every corner like Starbucks. 

While these are the 2 most well-known of the compounds present in cannabis, there are many more compounds you’ve likely never heard of. In fact, cannabis is composed of over four hundred chemical compounds that provide varying effects. Over 100 of these compounds are cannabinoids, like THC and CBD. But, what are other compounds in cannabis that help to make it one of the most thoroughly studied plants in the world? 

What are Cannabis Terpenes?

Have you ever been at an outdoor concert and caught the whiff of a certain unmistakable scent wafting over the packed crowd? You have terpenes to thank for realizing that someone isn’t sharing. Terpenes are naturally occurring chemical compounds found in a wide variety of plants, not just cannabis. The sweet smell of lavender and the robust scent of rosemary both come from terpenes. Fruits such as mangoes, apples, and lemons contain high quantities of terpenes. Beer and various spices contain them as well. Manufacturers also use concentrated terpenes to give us the aromas from perfumes, body care products, and processed foods. 

What Do Terpenes Do?

Everyone who’s ever smelled it knows the scent of cannabis. There’s no mistaking it. Terpenes provide that uniquely powerful aroma and they cause certain strains to smell or taste different from other ones. 

While cannabis can have more than 140 types of terpenes, most are relatively uncommon. Previously, we discussed the common terpenes that appear most frequently across most cannabis strains today. Each of these compounds is in a wide variety of other plants that include evergreen trees, orchids, mint, and hops. 

What is the Difference Between Terpenes and Terpenoids?

Terpenoids are oxidized organic compounds, while Terpenes are simple hydrocarbons.

Do Terpenes Have Other Benefits?

Terpenes have been widely studied and have been found to possess a range of health benefits that include anti-viral properties and anti-inflammatory effects. Terpenes have also been shown to work as antioxidants, antiseptics, and digestive aids, and certain types are commonly used in folk medicine. Studies on the specific uses and benefits of terpenes continue every day, but evidence strongly supports a wider range of potential aside from simple aromatic properties.  

What Are Flavonoids?

Flavonoids are one of the least studied components of the cannabis plant. They contribute to how our senses perceive cannabis. Flavonoids aren’t unique to cannabis, as scientists have discovered thousands of these compounds across a wide range of plants, including celery, parsley, red peppers, and mint. Throughout nature, flavonoids provide the range of hues found in fruits and vegetables. They are also partially responsible for protecting plants from UV radiation, harmful pests, and deadly diseases. 

What are Cannaflavins?

Cannaflavins are varieties of flavonoids present in cannabis.

What Do Flavonoids Do for Cannabis?

Flavonoids and cannaflavins contribute to the unique qualities that help define individual strains of cannabis. Terpenes and flavonoids work together to affect the odor and flavor of specific plants while contributing to pigmentation such as that found in deep purple cannabis strains. 

Do Flavonoids Have Any Benefits?

Flavonoids are also pharmacologically active, meaning they’re not inert compounds that only provide pigmentation. Research has shown that cannaflavins help provide part of the medicinal properties of cannabis. Particularly, scientists have studied the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. Other active cannaflavins have also demonstrated possible potential for anti-fungal and even anti-cancer benefits. 

There’s Always More to Cannabis

As research into the cannabis plant continues, our knowledge about its benefits will grow. It’s not just phytocannabinoids that make cannabis so intriguing but all 400 potential compounds working together to deliver the effects we love. Only time will tell if cannabis and its many components are as wondrous as we think, but the outlook is bright.  

Want to learn more about how terpenes improve the cannabis experience? Check out our Terpene Guide!

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