What are Terpenes and Flavonoids and Why are they Important?
Anybody who does a degree of research around taking CBD and other products derived from cannabis or hemp will have heard people talking about terpenes and flavonoids. We often hear descriptions of full or broad spectrum CBD oil to include a range of ‘cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids’, but it is often not so clear exactly what ‘terpenes and flavonoids’ are.
Anyone who is looking to use CBD for their general well-being, or for a more specific reason, should be aware of what they are putting into their body and how it might affect you, and this is why it is good to understand about terpenes, flavonoids, how they fit in with CBD and why they’re important.
The Compounds of Cannabis
CBD or Cannabidiol is one of the major compounds that is present naturally in the cannabis plant. It is classed as a cannabinoid and it interacts with the human endocannabinoid system when it is taken.
Different cannabis strains have been substantially mixed up over the last few hundred years, meaning that there are a lot of different varieties out there, each with their own balance of levels of cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids.
For example, hemp – which is the particular strain of cannabis from which most CBD products are made in the UK – has very low levels of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and usually higher levels of CBD amongst the other compounds.
When CBD oil is made, it is extracted from the plant. Depending on whether you get full spectrum, broad spectrum or CBD distillate, you will get a varying amount of the other compounds in the plant as well. And this is where terpenes and flavonoids come into play.
Although you could be forgiven for thinking that it is only CBD (and THC) which can affect the human body, it is, in fact, a little more complicated than that. Whether they are taken in conjunction with which terpenes and flavonoids is also very important.
What are Terpenes and Flavonoids?
Just as with any other plant, cannabis, although it has a distinctive smell and flavour, also has a range of odours and flavours within it. What gives each strain it’s flavour and odour is a complex mixture of terpenes and flavonoids, but there are other things that terpenes and flavonoids do.
Terpenes are what’s known as ‘aromatic metabolites’ whose main function is to attract pollinating insects and repel potential dangers. There are over 100 terpenes present in the cannabis plant and they can be heavily affected by the conditions that the plant is kept in.
Stress, humidity, light and temperature can all make a difference to the terpenes that are produced, and this is why people who are growing hemp try to reduce the stress it is under and keep its cultivating conditions as stable as possible.
Increasing amounts of research shows, however, that the terpenes which are present in the plant can have an impact on how hemp extract products can affect the body and mind. It is important to remember, however, that official, clinical research is still very low on the ground when it comes to terpenes and flavonoids as many people are concentrating first on CBD and THC.
Some common terpenes include:
- Myrcene – one of the most common terpenes found in the cannabis plant, which users say gives a sedative, relaxing and inflammatory effect.
- Limonene – is said to help to lower stress levels and has antibacterial and antifungal properties which help to protect the plant and can be beneficial to people. Limonene has also been known to be able to help absorption through the skin – and is, therefore, an excellent ingredient for topical creams and lotions.
- Humulene – is also found in hops and basil and is best known for its anti-inflammatory properties as well as pain relief.
- Linalool – has been shown in some people to reduce anxiety and stress, reduce pain, boost their immune system and lower the chance of seizures.
If a terpene is dried out, sometimes some of its properties can change and it becomes what’s known as a ‘terpenoid’. These are used a lot in essential oils which can be bought for a number of different uses.
Coming along hand-in-hand with terpenes, are flavonoids. These also play a part in giving the hemp plant its flavour and aroma and are exceptionally understudied compared to even terpenes. It is thought that flavonoids make up about 10% of the compounds in the hemp plant.
Although flavonoids can be found in many different plants, there are some which are unique to the cannabis plant, and these are called cannaflavins.
It is usually the flavonoids which give a flower it’s pigment and therefore colour, as well as helping it to protect the plant from pests and harmful UV rays.
Some common flavonoids include:
- Cannaflavin – which studies show has anti-inflammatory qualities.
- Quercetin – a flavonoid which research shows has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
- Kaempferol – is another flavonoid which is high in antioxidant properties and has potential in the future to help to deal with cancer.
Terpenes, Flavonoids and the Entourage Effect
It might seem that the particular qualities of terpenes and flavonoids would be reason enough to take them, however, there is (arguably) an even bigger reason.
When cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids and taken individually they can be beneficial to you. However, when they are taken together, they can multiply in their effectiveness through what’s known as the ‘entourage effect’.
This means that each compound can enhance certain effects of others, meaning that generally speaking, it is much more effective to take a mixture of these compounds, rather the only CBD.
CBD oil usually comes in three types – whole plant extract or full spectrum CBD oil, broad spectrum
CBD oil and CBD distillate.
- Full spectrum or whole plant extract will give you an extract of the whole plant, including all of the compounds – including CBD, terpenes and flavonoids. This allows you to get the full entourage effect making your CBD oil as effective as possible.
- Broad spectrum CBD includes most cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids, but not all of them. However, most of them are present, with typically only THC which is not extracted. This means that you will benefit from the entourage effect to a degree.
- CBD distillate is made only from CBD. Although some people prefer to use it, it won’t include other cannabinoids, terpenes or flavonoids and therefore you won’t benefit from the entourage effect.
Terpenes and flavonoids are generally considered to be safe around the world, with most legalities based around the cannabis plant centred on THC levels. In the UK, for example, THC levels must be less than 0.2% to be able to be sold and consumed unless you have a medical reason to be able to get medical marijuana on prescription.
If you are thinking about trying CBD products for the first time it is important to remember that each person reacts differently to CBD and it is recommended to start with a very low dosage, gradually increasing it every 3 days until you reach the best dosage for you.
CBD has no long term side effects, is safe, non-addictive and no-one has ever died from taking too much CBD, but if you are taking medication and thinking about trying it, you must speak to your doctor first to check that that it doesn’t interact with the medication that you are taking.
There is still a lot more research that needs to be carried out with regards to terpenes and flavonoids. Whilst they are already helping to improve people’s experience with CBD products, there seems to be so much more that is there for us to discover about these compounds which seem so insignificant at first glance.