by Deb Powers
Pungent, spicy, citrus-drenched, floral, earthy, pine — these are just of the few aromas and flavors commonly associated with different strains of cannabis. A plump bud may be golden, purple, deep green, black or any one of many other colors. As scientists are gradually freed to research cannabis, they’re learning that there’s far more to cannabis than THC and CBD.
Like all plants, hemp is made up of an assortment of chemical compounds, commonly called terpenoids (or terpenes) and flavonoids, that impart color, flavor, and aroma. They also may be responsible for many of the effects of cannabis, including pain relief, stress reduction, euphoria and relaxation.
Understanding how these compounds work in synergy and enhance each other can help you make more informed choices about your own consumption. Here’s a look at what we know and what we’re still learning about the natural power of the flower.
What You Should Know about Cannabinoids
Cannabinoids are a group of chemical compounds found in cannabis plants. Scientists have identified more than 100 cannabinoids, including CBD and THC, and they are among the most studied compounds in the cannabis plant. In fact, it was studying the effects of THC that led to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the human body.
The Endocannabinoid System
In the early 1990s, researchers studying THC discovered an entirely unknown network of cells in the human body — a system of nerves and pathways that appear to play a major role in regulating many of the body’s biological functions, including sleep, mood, appetite, memory, reproduction and fertility. They named it the endocannabinoid system in recognition of the unique way that cannabinoids bind to receptors found throughout the body. It consists of three main components:
- Endocannabinoids — chemicals similar to cannabinoids found in cannabis (like THC), but naturally produced by your body.
- Endocannabinoid receptors — cell structures to which cannabinoids and endocannabinoids attach.
- Enzymes — responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids once they’ve done their job.
What exactly does the ECS do? Researchers are still working on understanding the full extent of the system’s functions, but they do know that it is involved in an incredible range of bodily functions. Those functions include:
- Appetite and digestion
- Pain management
- Immune system responses
- Motor control
- Learning and memory
- Cardiovascular function
- Muscle and bone formation
- Liver function
- Skin and nerve function
They believe that its central role is to help the body maintain homeostasis. Essentially, when everything is working right in your body, there’s a balance between what’s happening inside your cells and outside them. When an outside force, such as pain, throws that balance off, the ECS goes to work to try to restore the balance.
ECS and Cannabis
So what’s the connection between the ECS and cannabis? Simply put, substances found in cannabis are practically identical to the endocannabinoids produced by the body. Both THC and CBD can bind to ECS receptors, signaling the brain/nervous system to release neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. The precise effects depend on which receptors the CBD or THC bind to. Considering the list of processes that involve the ECS, it should come as no surprise that marijuana and CBD seem to help with nearly everything from reducing nausea and improving pain management to sparking creativity and inspiring relaxation.
What Are Terpenes and Terpenoids?
Simply put, terpenes and terpenoids are the chemical compounds found (mostly) in plants that give them their aroma. They are responsible for the sour, the spice, the earthiness, the sharp tang of pine, the sweet hint of mint, not just in cannabis, but in all types of plants. Scientists speculate that terpenes help protect plants from grazing animals, attract beneficial insects, and repel infectious germs. They may also be the reason for some of the potential health benefits of cannabis and other plants.
A pretty smell is often more than just a pretty smell. Some terpenes may also act on the ECS in ways similar to cannabinoids, though the body absorbs and uses them differently. Research has bound that some terpenes are bioactive — that is, they have a biological effect on the body. They may also have a synergistic effect when combined with other compounds and components in a plant, such as CBD and THC. There is some scientific evidence to support the existence of what’s called the entourage effect — a theory that suggests the presence of terpenoids and flavonoids in cannabis contribute to and may intensify its effects.
Terpenes vs Terpenoids
While many people use the terms terpene and terpenoid interchangeably, they’re not exactly the same. Terpenes are the form of these substances in the live plant. Terpenoids are oxidized terpenes — the form they take as the plant dries and cures. When you’re talking about the content of these substances in dried bud or cannabis oil, you’re talking about terpenoids.
Some Common Terpenes
Cannabis growers may be way ahead of traditional science when it comes to figuring out the effects of the most common terpenoids and flavonoids. They have, after all, been breeding and experimenting as part of their business during a time when academics were prohibited from doing research into marijuana. These common terps are among the best known.
- Limonene — characterized by a lemon-y, citrus-y scent. Limonene is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral and may help lift your mood, among other benefits.
- Pinene — the pungent forest-pine scent. Pinene has many of the same effects as limonene, as well as being antiviral, antimicrobial, antifungal, and anti-allergenic. It also may help improve memory and enhance relaxation.
- Myrcene — earthy and spicy, the most common terpene in most strains of cannabis. It may have a sedative effect and is thought to help people dealing with chronic pain.
- Linalool — floral, earthy, spicy, also found in lavender, mint, coriander, and cinnamon. It has strong sedative and relaxing properties.
The Role of Flavonoids
Flavonoids may be the next frontier in customizing cannabis hybrids and effects. While terpenes are responsible for the aroma of the plant, flavonoids give a plant its color, and may be responsible for the beneficial effects that get a plant designated a “superfood.”
When it comes to cannabis, researchers are especially interested in the role that two cannabis flavonoids appear to have on pain. These two flavonoids, unimaginatively dubbed cannflavin A and cannflavin B, appear to have pain-relieving effects that are 30 times stronger than aspirin.
Those two are just the most high-profile cannabis flavonoids being studied by researchers, though. In fact, cannabis has about 20 different flavonoids that, in total, may make up as much as 2.5% of the plant’s dry weight. These flavonoids include:
- Cannflavine A
- Cannflavine B
- Cannflavine C
If some of those names sound familiar, it may be because a few of them, such as quercetin, are widely used as dietary supplements. Research into cannabis flavonoids is just beginning, but there is every reason to believe that scientists will find that they contribute synergistically to the overall effect of distinct strains of cannabis.
As research into the health and wellness effects of cannabis — and as it becomes more and more accepted for recreational use — researchers will have an excellent incentive to learn more about the entourage effect, and how all of these compounds work together.
Until then, it only makes sense to choose cannabis products that maintain the balance and integrity of the compounds naturally found in the cannabis flower. For example, the specific ratio of the cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids of certain strains can be thrown off balance by popular extraction methods such as wax and live resin as the high temperatures used to extract THC can destroy these more delicate compounds. This means you may experience a significant difference in the experience produced by your favorite strain when you vape it or smoke the whole flower.
This is why an extraction method like Hi-Phi is so extraordinary. This method uses a proprietary combination of high pressure and low temperature to produce the finest, uncut cannabis oils that are as pure and natural as the flower itself. This means that you get to experience the full magical effect of the flower, in a convenient and luxurious way — and what’s more powerful than that?