Cannabis is one of the most nutritionally dense plants known. It consists of a variety of chemical compounds, most well-known of these compounds is THC, the psychoactive compound found in cannabis. However, there is far more to cannabis than THC alone. The prevalence of Flavonoids and Terpenes offer unique research opportunities into the cannabis plant. But what exactly are Flavonoids, Terpenes and Terpenoids?
Despite ongoing research, there are approximately 6,000 identified members of the flavonoid family, with more discoveries each year. Flavonoids consist of polyphenolic plant compounds that are found in a variety of foods, most notably plants. Flavonoids are integral to the natural functions of organic life, including the attraction of insects for pollination and for maintaining the growth of cells. There are 12 major subclasses of flavonoids that are common in dietary foods. Most prominent of these flavonoids are anthocyanidins; they are present in blue, red and purple pigments in fruit and vegetables. In short, flavonoids are present in most, if not all plants- including cannabis. However, cannabis has flavonoids that are, up to now unique to the plant: cannflavin A and B, apigenin and vitexin to name a few.
Each unique strain of cannabis has its own flavour; part of this is due to the prevalence of flavonoids in the plant. Flavonoids not only affect taste, but also appearance and scent. Like CBD (cannabidiol) affects the balance of THC, flavonoids also interact with various receptors in the body, giving unique flavour and taste.
Terpenes vs Terpenoids
There is a common misconception that terpenes and terpenoids are essentially, the same chemical. However, the crucial difference comes down to chemical structure of the two compounds. Terpenes are hydrocarbons, meaning they have only carbon and hydrogen present in their structure. Terpenoids however, are compounds that have been denatured, either by oxidation or an increase in temperature. Despite the terms being used interchangeably, there are differences between the two. Terpenes are found in high concentrations in unfertilized cannabis plants, and can undergo steam distillation or evaporation to extract essential oils used in a variety of food supplements and cosmetics.
Like Flavonoids, Terpenes benefit the plant by protecting it from bacterial and fungal infection and aggressive insects. In addition, Terpenes are components of flavour and scent, including the distinct aroma of cannabis. Like cannabinoids, Terpenes interact with neurotransmitters in the body to produce serotonin.
A recent study by The University of British Columbia found there to be 30 terpene synthases prevalent in cannabis; each terpene contributes to the unique flavours and scents of the plant. The 2017 study by graduate Judith Booth and the founder of Anandia Labs Jonathon, marks a new epoch in the study of cannabis, most notably in the study of Terpenes, Terpenoids and Flavonoids. With more research, the future of cannabis is at the tip of the iceberg.
Varieties of Cannabis Terpenes
The most common of terpenes present in cannabis is Myrcene. Most varieties of cannabis contain around 60% of this essential oil. It is described as having an earthy aroma with musky tones and is present in the oil of various naturally occurring products, including hops, citrus fruits, bay leaves and lemon grass.
Another distinct terpene variety prevalent in cannabis is Limonene, a monocyclic monoterpenoid described as having evocative citrus aromas of lemon, orange and lime. Highly absorbent, limonene is a natural insecticide that has been adapted for use in lemon cleaning products, perfumes and food.
Camphene is a monoterpene (a class of terpenes consisting of two isoprene units) described as having an odour of the woods, most notably fir. It is a component of essential oils found in turpentine, camphor and ginger oil and can be added as a flavouring in various foods or as a scent enhancer in perfume.
As well as being present in some varieties of cannabis, Terpinolene is a common component of rosemary and sage. It is widely used in soaps and perfumes, as well as in insect repellents. The aroma of Terpinolene is described as having a pine tinge with herbal and floral hints. It is also said to have sweet fragrances like Limonene: lemon, lime and orange.
Unlike Camphene, Beta Caryophyllene consists of three isoprene units that can also benefit plants by acting as defence against microbial attack. Beta Caryophyllene is described as having a peppery, spicy taste and is found in plants such as Thai basil, cloves and black pepper. This chemical is one of the most unique terpenes found in cannabis because it is the only terpene known to interact with CB2 receptors in the human body. The chemical acts as a CB2 agonist and does not produce psychoactive effects, often being added to CBD food supplements.
Alpha Pinene belongs to the family of bicyclic monoterpenoid Pinenes (compounds that possess two cyclic rings) and is most commonly found in pine resin. However, there are two forms that pinene takes: Alpha Pinene and Beta Pinene. The former is the most prevalent of terpenes in nature, found in conifers, balsamic resin and some citrus fruits. Alpha Pinene has an evocative pine, fir aroma and taste. As a principal monoterpene, Pinene also reacts with other compounds to form a variety of terpenes. Alpha and Beta Pinene form the two isomers of Pinene released by forest trees.
The sheer number and variety of Terpenes, Terpenoids and Flavonoids present in cannabis (as well as numerous plants alike) showcase the versatility of these naturally occurring chemicals. Each variety of cannabis has a unique aroma and taste, giving a natural signature.