Got Purps? Dialing In Cannabis’ Effects With Flavonoids

Flavonoids Cannabis Now Magazine

Explore the active molecules in marijuana, and learn why precision chemical fingerprinting will one day replace inexact strain names like OG Kush and Girl Scout Cookies.

In the modern day marijuana marketplace there is a dizzying array of strains to choose from, but luckily with testing methods surrounding the chemical make-up of our favorite flowers advancing just as rapidly as their development, smokers have more tools than ever before to find the strain that works best for them.

Working in conjunction with marijuana’s psychoactive component, THC, cannabis is made up of several different classes of molecules like cannabinoids — such as THC and CBD — as well as terpenes and “flavonoids.” The combination of these tiny natural molecules all contribute to a certain strain’s effects in what’s known as an “entourage effect.”

And, the flavonoids — the molecules that add to the color and flavor of the flower, among other things — are a treasure waiting to be unlocked. Early research shows they’re powerful anti-cancer agents, anti-inflammatories, anti-oxidants and anti-microbials. You could one day take medical cannabis to avoid the flu.

Raphael Mechoulam — the Israeli biochemist who determined the structure of CBD in 1963 and was the first to isolate THC a year later ­—  told Cannabis Now that he sees promise in terms of the interaction between cannabinoids and terpenes (known for giving strains their signature scents). But he also noted that he was not aware of any current research on cannabinoids interactions with flavonoids.

“Very little study has been done on flavonoids and cannabis. In fact, we’re probably going to be one of the first labs to even offer flavonoid testing in cannabis anywhere in the world,” says Reggie Gaudino, vice president of scientific operations and director of intellectual property and genetic analysis at Steep Hill Labs.

Gaudino explains that flavonoids have very similar properties to terpenes as all compounds of marijuana branch out from a master scientific classification known as terpinoids. Flavonoids, he says, are essentially made up of terpene groupings and, in this way, like terpenes, they play a role in the flavor, scent and medicinal properties of certain strains. In addition, certain flavonoids have a role in the pigmentation of the plant.

“There’s one particular type of flavonoid that gives you the purple coloration, but flavonoids themselves really are more about flavor and odor,” Gaudino says. “The specific flavonoid that gives you pigment are the anthoxanthins or anthocyanins and while those do have some properties that have been shown to go along with these pigmentation colorations like the purples — the coloration alone is not what gives you those effects. It’s actually the chemical properties.”

To further unpack the idea, Gaudino explains that not only can flavonoids result in the deep purple hues of marijuana, they are also associated with additional benefits for the plant such as UV protection. While flavonoids are present in many different plants, the types unique to cannabis — cannaflavin A, B and C — have been shown to have exceptional medicinal benefits. A study published in the 1980s by Dr. Marilyn Barrett showed cannaflavin to be 30 times more potent than aspirin as an anti-inflammatory.

“The important thing about flavonoids is that many of them have some sort of medicinal or, if not medicinal, protective function,” Gaudino says. “So a lot of flavonoids are known to be anti-fungal or anti-bacterial. That’s why they help the plant and because of those things, by consuming them, they can help us as well as a natural anti-fungal or a natural anti-biotic.”

With advanced cannabis testing, the categorization of marijuana continues to grow in complexity to include flavonoids. Whereas cannabis was previously categorized as indica or sativa, now those in the scientific community are more apt to differentiate between narrow leaf drug types (sativas) and broad leaf drug types (indicas).

“OK, so sativas have narrow leaves and indicas have broad leaves, great, so why are we changing the names?” Gaudino says. “I’m not sure why, but what we do see is that it’s difficult to really go by a morphology because what we see now that we understand the genetics better is that some things, when they are grown under different conditions, can actually show a spectrum between narrow leaf and broad leaf.”

And as adventurous breeders continue to create new strains, scientists like Gaudino will simultaneously continue to hone their skills and techniques to classify and distinguish the properties of certain types of marijuana. Eventually, the hope is that by understanding the precise chemistry of a strain, users and doctors can select the most appropriate cannabis profile for the patient’s needs.

“I think ultimately we will have to categorize by chemical profile as opposed to morphology,” Gaudino says. “We keep what is really a picture that is limited by the resolution of what we can find, and so as the techniques improve and as the resolution gets finer we will be able to do a better group distinguishing and thus providing the right chemical profiling to be used as a medicine.”

Major Flavors

Flavonoids make tea, wine and chocolate taste divine. Research shows that the 21 known flavonoids in cannabis might help fight cancer, inflammation, diabetes, viral infections, as well as increase cerebral blood flow, and enhance cortical activity. Here are a few major flavors.

Apigenin — a powerful anti-anxiety agent; also found in chamomile; potent anti-inflammatory; cancer inhibitor

Silymarin — impedes replication of hepatitis C virus; anti-oxidant

Luteolin — potential cancer preventative and therapeutic

Queercetin — interrupts cancer cell creation cycle; anti-viral; potent anti-inflammatory

Kaempferol — anti-oxidant; diabetes treatment; heart disease treatment; anti-bacterial; anti-viral

Orientin — antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and anti-cancer agent

Vitexin — anti-cancer properties; could help treat gout

Source: McPartland, Russo, Fundacion CANNA

Originally published in issue 21 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE

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Ellen Holland started working at Cannabis Now Magazine on April 21st because she was busy on 420. Holland is the senior editor at Cannabis Now and has also been featured on AlterNet, Reset.me and The San Francisco Chronicle. She served as the chief editor of the Big Book of Buds Greatest Hits as well as This Bud's for You with the legendary guru of ganja, Ed Rosenthal. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @hollandbuds

2 Comments

  1. Blaze420

    January 27, 2017 at 1:39 am

    Thank you for the article. Very informative! I am very happy legitimate research is finally taking place though it is still way to sparce and manipulated. I am a current MMJ patient as I said in a reply to a different article. I have PTSD/Extremely high anxiety/paranoia issues, chronic pain, heartburn/acid-reflux, respiratory problems and severe pain from breathing, as well as stomach/intestional issues/asthma among other things. Dr’s won’t diagnose me correctly as I have state funded insurance and docs don’t focus on problems they just hand out pills of all kinds with bad side effects and for me do as little testing as possible, but edible MMJ helps me get through each day. I have a Vape pen but hardly use it as smoking causes more problems and pain/stiffness throughout my body and I wake up unable to breathe right but my lung issues are from previous tobacco use menthol only which has caused my lungs to be filled with fiberglass particles sadly.
    I scooped up the TIMES Special Edition “Marijuana Goes Main Street” by Bruce Barcott. I also suggest people read his book titled “Weed The People” it’s very informative about the industry and where things are headed. It told a bit of little Charlotts story that led to the creation of “Charlotte Web”, Dr. Suzanne Sisleys long hard battle to study Cannabis and PTSD with veterans that is very promising and I am happy to hear that study is finally going to if not already taking place, as well as how Dr. Sanjay Gupta switched his positions and now has done at least 3 episodes of “Weed” on CNN.

    I am overjoyed such research is taking place and this proves beyond a shadow of doubt that Cannabis IS healthy, safe, and above all INCREDIBLY effective medically and that it’s not just THC and CBD with medical benefits it’s the whole genetic makeup of the plant.
    I am a strong advocate for legalization in my state which is trying to fight us tooth and nail (MA). Our lawmakers and people I n office are strongly against it and to prove that held a small meeting with few people to begin changing the legalization law “Question 4” to push back when retail stores can open and this insanity will only continue. This is how and why cannabis a safe natural plant no more harmful than a cup of green tea is still schedule 1 and why so many people are still suffering. Like the cannabis stamp tax act of 1937, they are trying to cover more attempts to keep it illegal than move forward with the truth.

    I am happy to see this progress and I know we WILL get to the point where the DEA can’t keep their control over cannabis research and honest information will force them to reverse. But we can’t sit and wait for it to happen… We need to fight for our medicine. As insane as that sounds we have to fight and protest and use our heads and not simply take what’s stated by the government and news and look beyond headlines for the God given right to be healthy and use a harmless natural and beautiful plant.

    I am a PROUD and VERY open user, supporter, and activist of cannabis use and I will continue to fight and use what helps me over what’s harmed me. I am glad to say I am off many pills and things with dangerous side effects and working to get off some very dangerous pills that I have been on for my anxiety/PTSD symptoms. I hope we see even more studies done to show how and why cannabis/hemp are such miracle plants. -Mason

  2. Sandra Neary

    November 28, 2016 at 3:21 pm

    Excellent article, I thank you very much. As a senior (and thus one of the fastest growing user groups) I’m teaching myself everything I can. Your article just added two new components. My present use is restricted to CBD rich oil and cream from hemp. I can see the day coming where I need to know what questions to ask.

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