Terpenes and Flavonoids: The Chemistry of Cannabis

You may have heard about the countless studies that attempt to explore all the benefits that cannabis has to offer and to unlock the secrets within. If you have at least a passing knowledge of the cannabis plant, then you have heard about the primary compound that gets all the attention, 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 by far the most well known and colloquially understood of the compounds present in cannabis, in the case of marijuana, it definitely takes more than two to tango. 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 they get enough attention. What are other compounds in cannabis that help to make it one of the most thoroughly studied plants in the world? 

The Aromatic Power of 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 an aromatic compound 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, they are also found in various spices and even in beer. Manufacturers also use concentrated terpenes to give us the aromas from perfumes, body care products, and processed foods. 

What Do Terpenes in Cannabis Do?

Everyone who’s ever smelled it knows the scent of cannabis. There’s no mistaking it. Terpenes provide that uniquely powerful aroma, due to the sheer amount that cannabis contains. 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 can also be found across a wide variety of other plants that include evergreen trees, orchids, mint, and hops. 

Do Terpenes Have Other Benefits?

Terpenes and Terpenoids are different! Terpenes are what we want to focus on. Terpenoids are oxidized organic compounds, while Terpenes are simple hydrocarbons.They 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, with certain types of terpenes commonly used in folk medicine. Studies on the specific uses and benefits of terpenes continue everyday, but evidence strongly supports a wider range of potential aside from simple aromatic properties.  

Flavonoids, Giving Cannabis Character

Flavonoids are one of the least studied components of the cannabis plant and have been shown to 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. Some varieties of flavonoids are only found in cannabis and are known as cannaflavins. 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 Do Flavonoids Do for Cannabis?

Like terpenes, flavonoids and cannaflavins contribute to the unique qualities that help define individual strains of cannabis. Terpenes and flavonoids work in conjunction 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 known to be pharmacologically active, meaning they are not inert compounds that only provide pigmentation. Research has shown that cannaflavins help to 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

The research into cannabis will seemingly never end and our knowledge about it’s benefits will continue to grow. With cannabis advocates loudly voicing their opinion and nationwide legalization a tantalizing prospect just over the horizon, more is sure to be revealed. 

It’s not just phytocannabinoids that make cannabis so intriguing, but seemingly all four hundred potential compounds working together to deliver the effects we have grown to expect. Only time will tell if cannabis and its many components are as wondrous as we think, but the outlook is bright.  


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