Understanding CBD: what are flavonoids?
The full colour spectrum of flavonoids
If you’ve been working your way through our library of CBD knowledge, then at this point you should have a good idea of what cannabidiol, terpenes and broad spectrum are (if not, get reading!). But fear not! There’s another prevalent hemp compound that’s often overlooked. Flavonoids.
Like terpenes, flavonoids are found throughout the plant kingdom, including in hemp. Whilst the etymology of the word calls to mind flavour, it’s actually rooted in the Latin term, flavus, which translates to “yellow”, and was particularly used to refer to the colour yellow as it manifested in the natural world.
Accordingly, one of the primary functions of flavonoids is providing the colour pigmentation for flowers, fruits and leaves, typically to attract pollinators or warn off herbivores, as well as helping with UV filtration.
Changing colours in nature
One of the most noticeable instances of the impact flavonoids have on pigment change is in the changing tone of autumn leaves. During spring and summer trees are predominantly green, a product of the masses of chlorophyll growth encouraged by high exposure to sunlight.
As the year goes on and the sun begins to fade, it’s the flavonoids (alongside carotenoids, another organic pigment) that come to the fore, giving the leaves their yellow colour. However, despite the etymology of the word flavonoid, and their role in turning tree leaves yellow, that doesn’t mean flavonoids exclusively provide yellow pigmentation.
For example, one of the most prevalent flavonoids, anthocyanins, are found predominantly in fruit, playing a key role in changing their hue as they ripen. Covering a palette of red, blue or purple, they’re often found in blueberries, blackberries and other rich dark fruit, reaching a far broader colour spectrum than yellowing leaves.
Flavonoids and CBD
Over 6000 unique flavonoids have been identified thus far within the world of flora, making them one of the largest known nutrient families. But what does this have to do with cannabidiol?
Well, of the over 200 different biological compounds within the average hemp plant, flavonoids make up around 10% of those that have been identified so far, a huge percentage when you consider the focus given to cannabinoids and terpenes.
Much like cannabinoids, flavonoids are pharmacologically active, with the properties of flavonoids found in other biological bodies having been well documented and researched due to their prevalence throughout the majority of fruit and vegetables we consume.
As with terpenes, flavonoids aren’t simply window dressing, but instead serve multiple roles. The most well documented of these is their usage as antioxidants, which ties to the role of flavonoids in warding off pests and fungi.
Getting to know cannaflavins
Looking specifically at the hemp plant, the 23 identified flavonoids are separated between those that occur elsewhere in the natural world, and those that are unique to the Cannabis family. The latter compounds are referred to as cannaflavins, a portmanteau of cannabis and flavonoids.
Whilst we typically associate terpenes with the flavours and scents that differentiate strains, flavonoids play an active role in this too, alongside their more obvious contribution to the pigmentation of the flowers.
Flavonoids and the entourage effect
As mentioned in our other pieces on whole plant and broad spectrum, a large part of the importance of flavonoids is their role in the entourage effect.
This proposed mechanism, as first raised by S. Ben-Shabat and Raphael Mechoulam, suggests that the potential effects of CBD are greatly amplified when the full range of phytochemicals found within the hemp plant are used in conjunction.
It’s a premise with a basis in respecting natural processes and synergy; of using scientific method to properly harness organic structures rather than radically alter them.
Learning more together
The specific role of flavonoids in this entourage effect is difficult to discern by its nature - it’s their function as part of the whole rather than as individual actors that is most significant. Due to cannabis’ widespread illegality, the research is limited, or biased due to its allegiance to either side of the legalisation debate.
At Vitality CBD we believe a well-informed user is a happier user, which is why we only provide verified information. To understand more about cannabidiol, read our introductory 4-step guide to CBD, and our introduction to terpenes.