The cannabis herb produces more than 400 chemical compounds—all of which manifest in different efficacy profiles depending on consumption avenue, including ingestion (edibles) and inhalation (smoke and vapor, each producing different molecular profiles).
The most noted and understood of these molecules are cannabinoids and terpenes.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-impairing cannabinoid that provides anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain relieving) benefits. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the infamous psychoactive cannabinoid that fights pain and depression. Unfortunately, THC can also produce disorientation and even panic attacks—especially in larger doses and when consumed by inexperienced users.
Major terpenes include myrcene (the most common found in cannabis that acts as a sedative), limonene (an anti-inflammatory and anti-proliferative [anti-cancer] agent), pinene (an anti-inflammatory that is helpful for respiratory conditions), and linalool (an analgesic terpene that also relieves anxiety).
Within this cacophony of cannabis chemistry lurks the redheaded stepchild of herbal enhancement: Flavonoids. These molecules share many traits with terpenes, including their availability in thousands of plants and fungi other than cannabis. The flavonoids found exclusively in cannabis are called cannaflavins. Roughly 20 flavonoids are found within the cannabis genome (not all of which are exclusive to this herb that is also categorized as a vegetable).
Primary Functions within Plants
Flavonoids serve two primary functions within the plants in which they appear: 1) Aroma/flavor and 2) pigmentation (typically intended to attract pollinating insects). However, the unique fragrance of each cultivar of cannabis is produced not by terpenes alone, but rather the delicate interplay of flavonoids and terpenes. Despite the reputation of terpenes as being solely responsible for pungent pot, aroma and flavor profiles of all cultivars would be markedly different if not for their chemical cousins the flavonoids.
The majority of edible non-green fruits and vegetables owe their yellow pigmentation to flavonoids (the Latin root word flavus means the hue of yellow found in nature). Flavonoids provide benefits to plants beyond aroma and pigmentation, including protection from UV rays, pests, and even defense against disease.
Flavonoids are categorized in six classes, each comprised of a slightly different molecular structure and delivering varied medicinal benefits: Anthocyanins, chalcones, flavones, flavonols, flavandiols, and proanthocyanidins.
However, the roles played by flavonoids extend beyond aroma, flavor, and pigment. Like terpenes, flavonoids have been shown to provide significant and wide-ranging medicinal value. Although scant research is available, it appears that flavonoids may deliver great health value, especially the cannaflavins found only in cannabis.
The spectrum of cannabis flavonoids delivers a wide range of medicinal efficacy, including anti-fungal, anti-inflammation, anti-microbial, and antioxidant. It is believed that some flavonoids—in another instance of how they mirror molecules such as cannabinoids and terpenes—may also be anti-tumor and fight cancer.
A few of the major flavonoids produced by cannabis, including their efficacies and vaporization temperatures, are listed below:
Apigenin: Anti-inflammatory and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety); 352° F (178° C)
Beta-sitosterol: Anti-inflammatory; 273° F (134° C)
Quercetin: Anti-cancer, anti-fungal, and antioxidant; 482° F (250° C)
Catechins: Antioxidant and cardiovascular benefits; 630° F (332° C)
Cannaflavin A: Anti-inflammatory; 360° F (182° C)