What are Terpenes and Flavonoids in Cannabis
Along with cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids are among the most common bioactive compounds found in the cannabis plant. They’re produced primarily in the glandular trichomes of cannabis, which are crystal-like outgrowths densely concentrated on female flowers and other aerial parts of the plant. In cannabis, it’s believed that the terpenes and flavonoids may act synergistically with each other to trigger sensory effects they would otherwise not create on their own1. Interestingly, terpenes and flavonoids are not unique to cannabis – they are widespread in the plant kingdom. Terpenes act on our sense of smell (and taste); flavonoids act on our sense of sight, being responsible for the vivid colours of fruits and vegetables.
What are Terpenes?
Terpenes are volatile compounds that plants employ as either aroma-attractors (think of a flower’s scent or a mammal’s pheromones), or aroma-repellents (think of a skunk’s musk). Humans take advantage of the unique aroma characteristics of terpenes in aromatherapy. Lavender oil, for example, is concentrated with the terpene linalool, and is often used for its potential relaxation qualities in pillows and eye sachets2.
With cannabis products, in fact, you can distinguish terpenes by familiar scents. A cannabis product that gives off a piney scent likely contains pinene, also found in many pine trees; a citrus smell is produced by the presence of limonene, found in lemons and oranges; a sharp fruity smell may indicate myrcene, found in both mangoes and hops.
What are Flavonoids?
In cannabis, it’s likely that flavonoids have a complementary, but dramatic effect on aroma and taste in addition to terpenes. In other plants, flavonoids, from the Latin word flavus - meaning yellow - are associated primarily with colour, particularly the bright, pollinator-enticing colours of flowers, fruits and vegetables. But flavonoids also have less showy, equally powerful effects of their own: anti-oxidant qualities that have sparked the “eat by colour” super-food trends of recent years (e.g. blueberries and mulberries), and anti-inflammatory properties3 that, since the 1980’s, have shown promise as a pain-killing substance 30 times more powerful, by unit volume, than aspirin4.
This leads us to another reason why the techniques employed by MediPharm Labs for extraction of bioactive compounds from cannabis are so important to pharmaceutical research: the potential benefits unlocked from these two unassuming groups of compounds may be even greater than the already salutary dance they perform on the tip of a cannabis plant. As each terpene and flavonoid is isolated, their individual or combined effects can be studied as part of clinical trials for future potential cannabis-based medicines.
To learn more about MediPharm Labs’ cannabis extraction process, please visit “Supercritical CO2 Extraction Explained: What’s so super about supercritical CO2 extraction?”