If you’ve been following cannabis news, you’ve probably heard all about cannabinoids and terpenes, marijuana’s most well-known chemical constituents. Less known are a class of chemicals called flavonoids.
While flavonoids can be found in cannabis, they are not unique to the cannabis plant. Scientists have found them in all kinds of plants, from flowers like cannabis, to the fruits, grains, and vegetables we eat. They provide color, aroma, and flavor to the plants that contain them.
Because of these therapeutic benefits, the group of chemicals have become an indispensable ingredient in many nutraceutical, pharmaceutical, medicinal and cosmetic applications.
Cannaflavins: The Cannabis Specific Flavonoids
The subset of flavonoids found in cannabis are called cannaflavins, and were first discovered in 1986 by researcher Marilyn Barrett at the University of London. Barret found two cannabis-specific ones, but about 20 more have been found in marijuana since.
In cannabis, like in other plants, these flavonoids can affect the taste, color and aroma of the flowers. They can also alter the way that a particular strain or variety of cannabis affects the person taking it.
With cannabis, each strain has a unique blend of chemical components. But even with the same strain, there can be a big variation in the natural chemicals present in the cannabis plant. Depending on what blend of cannabis’ chemicals you are consuming, it might affect you in different ways and you might experience different therapeutic benefits.
While you may have heard that terpenes and cannabinoids are wholly responsible for these perceptual and medicinal factors — flavonoids can also play a role in creating these differing effects.
Interacting With Other Chemicals in Cannabis
To make things more complicated, the chemicals in medical marijuana may also create different effects depending on what other chemicals are present in the cannabis blend being consumed. This is called the ‘entourage effect’ and is an acknowledgment that cannabis’ active chemicals likely work together synergistically to create effects that wouldn’t come from any of their parts individually.
Studies have shown that some flavonoids can alter the effects of THC in the same ways as CBD. By inhibiting certain enzymes, their presence can block part of the metabolism of THC — altering how it feels and affects those who use it.
Potential Therapeutic Effects
Research on these lesser explored chemicals in the cannabis plant is still very limited, but that which has been done is promising. We can also learn a lot from research done on flavonoids derived from non-cannabis plants.
Here are a few of the ways scientists say flavonoids may be helpful for your health.
When it comes to cannaflavins, one big therapeutic benefit is their anti-inflammatory powers. While many flavonoids are anti-inflammatory, certain cannaflavins seem to offer more serious inflammation relief. Cannflavin A and cannflavin B were both found to have anti-inflammatory benefits 30 times more effective than Aspirin! This could be huge news for those suffering from inflammatory conditions. If we had good sourcing on isolated cannflavins, medical marijuana providers might be able to offer a more powerful inflammation cure than those currently available.
Preventing and Fighting Cancer
There is also growing evidence that flavonoids may aid in cancer prevention and treatment.
Studies are showing that flavonoids can discourage the process of carcinogenesis by actually interfering with multiple signal transduction pathways related to cancer’s growth and spread throughout the body. This acts to limit proliferation, angiogenesis and metastasis of cancer cells, and can even increase apoptosis—the death of cancerous cells.
Most recently, a 2019 study found that cannabis cannaflavins show promising signs as a treatment for pancreatic cancer, both in terms of shrinking tumors and preventing secondary tumors. Of course, this research is limited and more research is needed to find out how, and if, they can actually be utilized by patients in the fight against cancer.
Promoting Skin Health
Flavonoids may also be very helpful when it comes to protecting and treating skin disorders. As we have seen above, they can be a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agents, which is great for the skin. But they have also been found to be protective against depigmentation, sun damage and the effects of aging on the skin.
To make flavonoids an even better skin tonic — they are also very efficient at being absorbed through the skin. So in topical formulations, they could be very effective. While research still needs to be done to figure out exactly what formulations will be helpful and safe for consumers, the current research is promising that they can be a big help for some serious skin conditions.
Researchers have also found some evidence that they can be neuroprotective, antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-allergic, fight against hepatitis, reduce bruising, ease glaucoma, and calm anxiety.
The Research is Just Getting Started
While flavonoids, including cannaflavins, are clearly potent and therapeutically active chemicals, it’s still early when it comes to using cannaflavins as a treatment for specific conditions. Research, so far, has been limited when it comes to human testing of specific treatments, and there are other barriers to developing these treatments as well.
In many countries, getting approval to research cannabis is difficult and flavonoids are usually far down on the list of chemicals being looked at when human cannabis studies are approved. Their limited bioavailability when taken orally, and the very small quantity of cannaflavins in cannabis, also make developing treatments challenging. It requires large amounts of cannabis to get the needed flavonoids for most proposed treatments, making them cost-prohibitive for most.
Still, the preliminary studies already available are beginning to inspire more researchers to investigate these helpful chemicals. Some are even looking at how to grow more cannaflavins per plant, to create more cost-effective ways to obtain cannaflavins. Hopefully, with time, scientists will be able to learn more about how to produce and use cannaflavins in more targeted ways and begin to offer flavonoid based treatments for specific conditions.
In the meantime, you can still enjoy the benefits of cannaflavins in your cannabis. These cannaflavins only make up about 0.014% of the plant’s weight — but that doesn’t mean they aren’t making a difference!