Just when we were starting to get a grasp on cannabinoids and terpenes, cannabis enthusiasts threw at us a new class of chemicals: flavonoids. To date, chemists have identified about two dozen flavonoids in the plant, enriching our perception of the chemical makeup of cannabis.
Flavonoids are another group of phytochemicals that are found in other plants. For example, many of the beneficial compounds found in tea are flavonoids. And wines, cocoa and berries all contain them. Flavonoids typically give plants their unique pigments, particularly in the yellow and bluish hues. By themselves, flavonoids don’t confer any special sensory characteristics, such as aroma or flavor.
The body’s CB receptors evolved to bind with cannabinoids—such as THC in cannabis or the body’s own endocannabinoid known as anandamide—as well as terpenes. But flavonoids, which work together with cannabinoids and terpenes, can interact with CB receptors, too. And just like those other two chemicals, flavonoids act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories and serve as anti-cancer, anti-aging, anti-bacterial and pro-cardiovascular agents.
Because flavonoids also bind to these CB receptors, they’re another member of the “entourage effect.” This is a model for explaining why certain cannabis strains produce different psychoactive or medicinal effects. Essentially, CB receptors don’t bind only to THC; rather, they bind to all of the cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids that we ingest, whether we’re smoking flower or eating cannabutter. The different ratios of these plant-based compounds trigger different kinds of chemical cascades in our nervous system, which may be the reason why some strains give us an uplifting effect and why some strains are better than others for controlling chronic pain.
One way to think about the entourage effect is to imagine you have only five CB receptors in your body (in reality, you have billions of them). If you inhaled pure THC, five THC molecules would bind to all five of your CB receptors. However, if you smoked cannabis flower, you would take in not only THC, but also CBD, other cannabinoids (like CBN), terpenes and flavonoids. Each of your five CB receptors would have something different bound to them: one with THC, one with CBD, another with CBN, another with a terpene, and the last with a flavonoid. Your nervous system will generate a different kind of high with this whole-plant entourage effect than if you consume pure THC.
In addition to CB receptors, flavonoids can also bind directly to our opioid receptors. These are the same sites that activate after binding with painkillers like Vicodin, Percocet or morphine. Some cannabinoids like THC can indirectly bind to opioid receptors, which stimulates but doesn’t truly activate the receptor. So, flavonoids provide a painkilling effect that you can’t get from terpenes and cannabinoids alone. Best of all, flavonoids aren’t addictive like most opioids.
Eating cannabis is the most sure-fire way to get the most flavonoids out of your buds. If you prefer smoking, combustion will likely activate some flavonoids while completely burning up others. If vaping flower is more to your liking, try experimenting with some different temperatures to target specific flavonoids. Tinctures may also deliver a hefty dose of flavonoids, but tincture prep may not activate all of them.
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