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Terpenes vs Flavonoids: A Guide

That cannabis is called a "plant of a thousand compounds" may initially sound like a gross exaggeration, but it is probably true. Researchers cannot exactly say how many compounds exist naturally in cannabis, but they are certainly many. Most scientific publications quote figures north of 400, and there is no reason to doubt this.

An easier way to identify the different types of compounds in cannabis is by classifying them. Thus far, scientists have identified cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, vitamins, and omega fatty acids as some of the major components of cannabis, and who is to say that they won't discover more? With cannabis research getting the green light it previously lacked, it seems highly likely.

That said, you have probably heard (or know) about cannabinoids. How can you not? Cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have been the talk of the town for quite some time now. CBD is all the rage in health and wellness circles thanks to its much-touted medicinal benefits.  

However, the 'miracle workers' that make cannabinoids shine are lesser-known compounds called terpenes and flavonoids. Not everyone can hog the limelight, right? Despite their seemingly underappreciated behind-the-scene roles, terpenes and flavonoids are the keys to a truly authentic cannabis experience.

In this article, we talk about terpenes and flavonoids and explain how they help cannabinoids achieve their effects. We also tell you about their health benefits and highlight their key differences.

It is a long ride, so buckle up and let's roll! 

Key takeaways 

  • Terpenes are aromatic compounds mostly associated with plants' scent and flavor.
  • Flavonoids are phenolic compounds that give cannabis strains their unique colors.
  • Terpenes are cannabimimetic, i.e., they can mimic cannabinoid activity. Others, like β-Caryophyllene, can selectively activate the CB2 receptor.
  • Consequently, terpenes are considered the "effect drivers" of cannabinoids.
  • On their own, terpenes exhibit a host of potential health benefits, such as pain relief and anxiety reduction.

What are terpenes?

Terpenes are a large group of aromatic compounds produced predominantly by plants, mostly conifers. They are normally differentiated by their isoprene units (building blocks). Based on these, a terpene can be a mono, di, tri, tetra, sester, sesqui, or polyterpene (>100 carbon atoms).

Though terpenes and terpenoids are often used interchangeably, they are actually different. The former are simple hydrocarbons and the main compounds in plants' essential oil, while the latter are modified terpenes. In most cases, terpenoids have an oxidized methyl group and other additional elements.

Terpenes are mainly produced in the trichomes of plants and are responsible for the different aromas and scents plants produce. If you have ever walked through a forest, you may have whiffed the sharp, sweet scent of pine trees (and probably loved it!). That’s terpenes doing their thing!

These compounds give various cannabis strains their unique scents and flavor. If you have wondered why Sour Diesel has a gas-like aroma while Strawberry Cough gives out a sweet scent, now you know.

For plants, terpenes perform important ecological functions. They attract pollinators, ward off pests and insects and defend against predators like herbivores. These compounds also support plant growth and aid fluid control, among other functions.

But that's not all. When you consume cannabis, terpenes play a vital role in dictating the experience. If you have ever wondered why different cannabis strains give you different experiences, it is due to their terpene profiles.

Different strains have different terpene profiles – this is what makes them unique. Much like cannabinoids, some terpenes induce sleepiness while others are energizing. Others are analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and so on.

How do terpenes help the effects of cannabinoids?

A significant discovery about terpenes relates to their ability to mimic cannabinoid activity. Of course, cannabinoids have been linked with wide-ranging pharmacological effects, including pain and inflammation relief, sleep improvement, seizure control, anxiety reduction, etc. 

A paper published in Scientific Reports concluded that "cannabis terpenes are cannabimimetic and selectively enhance cannabinoid activity." Cannabinoids exert their bodily effects by interacting with and activating endocannabinoid receptors. Once activated, these receptors trigger neutrons that control various physiological processes. 

For instance, these Sleep Gummies are infused with an all-cannabinoid team of premium-grade CBD and CBN to help you calm down and transition effortlessly into dreamland.

If terpenes are cannabimimetic, it implies they can also activate endocannabinoid receptors. Indeed, terpenes like linalool, alpha-humulene, geraniol, and beta-pinene are known agonists of the CB1 receptor, just like THC. 

In the experiment, these terpenes lowered pain sensitivity, reduced body temperature, and induced catalepsy (freezing) in rats. These are classic cannabinoid effects typically associated with THC. When combined with THC, the positive effects, e.g., pain reduction, was significantly amplified, affirming the theory that terpenes promote the "entourage effect."

β-Caryophyllene is a sesquiterpene found in cloves, rosemary, hops, copaiba, and (you guessed it) cannabis. It is responsible for black pepper's spicy flavor and is the only dietary cannabinoid approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for food use.

But most importantly, it is also the only terpene shown to bind selectively to the CB2 receptor. This receptor is a therapeutic target in the treatment of pain, inflammation, osteoporosis, and atherosclerosis, among other health issues.

For this reason, researchers contend that β-Caryophyllene may be beneficial in managing colitis, diabetes, osteoarthritis, cerebral ischemia, liver fibrosis, and anxiety. Cannabinoids like CBD and THC have also been shown to alleviate some of these conditions. 

So, combining terpenes and cannabinoids bodes well as far as enhancing the effects of cannabinoids goes. 

This is why our Delta-9-THC Chill Gummies are made with hemp-derived ∆-9 THC and a blend of other naturally-occurring cannabinoids like CBD, CBC, CBG, CBDV, and terpenes to aid relaxation and enhance mood. So, if you are looking for a perfect way to end a hectic workday, these edibles are the go-to.

A better way to convey the relationship between terpenes and cannabinoids is by using the analogy of a car. Cannabinoids—THC, CBD, and the minor ones—are the engine assembly that powers the car. They do most of the work, so the higher their quantity in a cannabis product, the more potent it is. 

Terpenes are the steering wheel and other related parts that control direction and motion. They determine the experience you get, whether relaxing, uplifting, or other unique experiences that cannabis offers.

As such, knowing how different terpenes affect your experience is vital to getting the most out of your cannabis product(s). So, while terpenes and cannabinoids may differ in how they interact with your body, there are indications that they work together to bring out the best experience.

Health benefits of terpenes 

In terms of pharmacological effects, terpenes are subtler than cannabinoids. Mostly, they elevate a person's cannabis experience. As a result, they have been an integral component of healing practices such as aromatherapy for many years.

Even though clinical studies on the medicinal effects of terpenes are minimal, these plant compounds have been shown to have the following therapeutic qualities:

  • Anti-anxiety
  • Antidepressant
  • Antimicrobial
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Neuroprotective
  • Antidiabetic
  • Antiviral
  • Antitumor

Keep in mind that terpenes are not exclusive to cannabis only. So, if cannabis is not your thing, you can still access these medicinal benefits through other plants like tea, thyme, citrus fruits (lemons, mandarin, oranges), sage, etc.

For example, in recent years, tea tree oil has grown in popularity as an alternative medicine. It is a volatile essential oil famous for its antimicrobial effects. Accordingly, it is a popular active ingredient in medications used to treat cutaneous infections.

Thyme is another plant that synthesizes phenols and alcohols with powerful antifungal and antibacterial properties. It is also an excellent food additive used for enhancing flavor.

For centuries, cannabis has served as a powerhouse of medicinal terpenes used to treat various infectious diseases. We will look at some of its more popular terpenes and their effects momentarily.

Spanish sage contains terpenes that are thought to enhance memory and prevent dementia, while those from citrus fruits are common ingredients in medicines used to treat pediculosis.

Lemongrass is another popular terpene-rich plant used as medicine and a spice. Its oil has a strong citrus scent and is a major ingredient in personal care products. Medicinally, it is believed to help with digestive problems and blood sugar. It is also a popular aromatherapy tool for its therapeutic effects on anxiety, stress, and depression.

With all plants able to synthesize terpenes, thousands of these aromatic compounds exist. We have barely scratched the surface, highlighting the range of health benefits you can derive from them.

Difference between terpenes and flavonoids

Flavonoids appear to be responsible for the different colors exhibited by cannabis strains. Incidentally, some flavonoids were thought to be exclusively found in cannabis – cannflavins A, B, and C; however, cannflavin A has also been extracted from Bigelow's monkeyflower (Mimulus bigelovii).

The more spectacular colors exhibited by some cannabis strains, like blue, red, purple, and pink, are due to a particular class of flavonoids called anthocyanins. They are affected by PH and are also responsible for the blue and red hues of berries and grapes.

In cannabis, uniquely colorful strains like Blue Dream, BlueDream, and Purple Haze are typically rich in anthocyanins. Red and orange-colored strains such as Orange Bud and Lemon Kush are also anthocyanin-rich but have high levels of terpenoids too.  

Yellow-colored strains are rich in flavonoids called anthoxanthins. These could be either flavonols or flavones, which comprise most cannabis flavonoids. 

The primary difference between terpenes and flavonoids comes down to smell versus sight. Terpenes give cannabis plants their wide array of aromas and flavors, but flavonoids imbue them with colors. Both are quite useful aspects, aren't they?

List of terpenes and effects

Cannabis is undoubtedly a terpene-rich plant. So, it follows that some of the bodily effects a particular strain produces come down to the quantity and type of terpenes it possesses. 

The terpenes found in cannabis are either primary or secondary. Primary terpenes are the most abundant and typically dictate the experience you will get from a strain. Since they occur in higher concentrations, you can almost smell them in the buds.

Still, compared to cannabinoids, their concentrations are quite low, but they are important nonetheless. 

That said, here are the main effects of the primary terpenes found in cannabis:

  • Myrcene

This is one of the most common cannabis terpenes. It has been a mainstay in traditional folk medicine due to its anti-inflammatory, sedative, analgesic, and muscle-relaxing properties.

  • Limonene

Found in citrusy fruits and cannabis, limonene is another terpene with a storied medical history. It has traditionally been used as a mood enhancer and a cure for digestive problems, e.g., gastrointestinal reflux and gallstones.

Recent studies suggest that limonene has potent antimicrobial and antitumor properties, as it has been shown to reduce tumor growth in the mammary glands.

  • Caryophyllene

The first among equals, caryophyllene is a special terpene with robust anti-inflammatory characteristics. It is thought to have therapeutic benefits in managing pain and chronic inflammation.

  • Pinene

This is another common and equally abundant cannabis terpene. It is a powerful bronchodilator with significant benefits in asthma and other respiratory conditions. This terpene may also be useful in boosting focus and enhancing memory.

  • Linalool

Besides cannabis, this monoterpene is also found in mint, cinnamon, and laurel. While its sweet floral aroma might make you think linalool is all about smelling nice, it packs potent anxiolytic, sedative, and antimicrobial properties. It also demonstrates commendable pain-relieving and anti-seizure characteristics.

Secondary terpenes exist in much smaller quantities but still play a vital role in enhancing the cannabis experience. The most notable are:

  • Camphene

Its woody, earthy smell is reminiscent of fir needles, but camphene is also a pain reliever and antioxidant. This terpene is also thought to boost heart health and prevent fungal infections.

  • Borneol

A key ingredient in many traditional Asian medical recipes, borneol's strong points is its analgesic and anti-inflammatory qualities. This terpene is a sedative and can also help reduce fatigue and improve mood.

  • Camphor

This terpene is also found in camphor trees and has the unique ability to penetrate the skin. So, you find it in many topical formulations. Moreover, it has a cooling effect and is also used as an antimicrobial and anesthetic.

  • Eucalyptol

Eucalyptol emits a minty scent and is renowned for its powerful antifungal properties. As such, it is a popular ingredient in mouthwashes and cough syrups. It is also thought to reduce pain and inflammation when applied topically.

  • Nerolidol

Also found in ginger, lemongrass, jasmine, and lavender, this terpene is an antifungal, antimicrobial, and antioxidant. It can also induce sedation and relaxation, depending on the dosage.

What are flavonoids?

Like terpenes, flavonoids are plant compounds in fruits, roots, stems, grains, and flowers. They are also present in plant products like wine and tea. 

These hydroxylated polyphenolic compounds perform vital ecological functions in plants, such as regulating growth, facilitating pollination, and combating environmental stressors. In this regard, flavonoids and terpenes are similar.

These compounds are divided into 12 subclasses based on their chemical structures – six of which have dietary significance. These are flavonols, flavan-3-ols, flavanones, anthocyanidins, isoflavones, and flavones.

There are over 5,000 flavonoids in nature, with 20 unique to cannabis. Flavonoids derived from cannabis are called cannflavins, and like terpenes, they play a crucial role in how we experience cannabis. They add nuance to our sensory experience and the overall effect of cannabis.

It is estimated that flavonoids constitute 10% of the compounds in cannabis and comprise up to 3% by dry weight in dried buds and leaves.

Not much is known about the health benefits of flavonoids. However, researchers are convinced that they are powerful antioxidants and may have a role in the entourage effect. 

Much like flavonoids, botanicals like Lion's Mane also enhance the effects of cannabinoids. Fortunately, our Focus Gummies are made with the rare THCV and enriched with Lion's Mane to supercharge your brain and help you get the most out of it!

Flavonoids in hemp

Hemp has been shown to have over 20 flavonoids, the majority of which are flavanols (quercetin and kaempferol), flavone (luteolin and apigenin), glycosides, and aglycones.

A few words on the health benefits of cannflavins. 

One of the most studied properties of cannflavins is their anti-inflammatory property. Some studies propose that cannflavins may be involved in promoting or suppressing the production of prostaglandins in mice. 

Cannflavin A and B demonstrate immense promise as anti-inflammatories and are even touted to be 30 times more effective than aspirin.  

The neuroprotective properties of cannflavin A have also been studied, with results showing that it could have some therapeutic benefits. It is worth noting, however, that these findings were obtained from in vitro studies. So, naturally, there is a need for translational studies to understand how they would benefit humans.

Overall, the bioactive qualities of flavonoids spur the need to biosynthesize them in large proportions for downstream applications. In normal conditions, these compounds are present in low concentrations. However, selective breeding might be useful in developing strains with higher flavonoid concentrations that can be productively utilized.

But even if we still cannot get flavonoids in usable quantities, herbals like Maca root are equal to the task. Maca root is a natural aphrodisiac that boosts libido and enhances fertility. When combined with hemp CBD, you get an all-natural performance-enhancing Love Gummies that will reawaken the dragon in you!

Flavonoids vs terpenes

The way we see it, terpenes and flavonoids are critically valuable cannabis compounds with potential therapeutic value. Their roles in cannabis are yet to be explored thoroughly, but there is reason to believe that they work together to increase value.

Each strain's profile of flavonoids and terpenes gives it its unique physiological effect(s) depending on how they affect the endocannabinoid system.

Undoubtedly, further research is necessary to discern the exact ratios and amounts that can have a significant healing effect. Terpenes are the more abundant of the two, but in no way implies they are more important. 

If you recall our car analogy, cannabinoids might be the engine that produces the power, but terpenes and flavonoids are the "effect drivers." They dictate the overall experience you get from cannabis.

Where to find terpene-rich hemp products online 

So, where can you get terpene-rich hemp products? Well, to this, there is only one answer –Dragon Hemp. It is one thing being able to access hemp products but getting them from a brand that specializes in custom-tailoring hemp and Chinese herbs (and other healing botanicals) is the real deal.

So, click on this link to view our full range of high-quality hemp products in our online shop. We are sure you will find something that can help with a condition – be it insomnia, pain, or inflammation. 

Similarly, if you desire to boost your overall health, wellness, or productivity, we have just the products that might help.
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