What Are Flavonoids, and How Do They Work in Cannabis?

Tina Magrabi
Tina Magrabi - Content Writer

Nov 27 2021 - 5 min read

Flavonoids are pigments responsible for the flavors and colors of plants, including cannabis. Flavonoids are found in many foods and could be useful for treating chronic pain, cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, and many other conditions. Turmeric latte, anyone?

There are over 6,000 different types of flavonoids in the plant world which are classified into three main groups:

    • Flavonoids
    • Isoflavonoids
    • Neoflavonoids

Flavonoids are further broken down into twelve separate categories:

    • Anthocyanins 
    • Flavanones
    • Flavanonols
    • Flavans
    • Isoflavonoids
    • Isoflavones
    • Isoflavanes
    • Isoflavandiols
    • Isoflavenes
    • Coumestans
    • Pterocarpans

Learn the role of each flavonoid in the cannabis plant in our comprehensive guide to these essential compounds.

What Do Flavonoids Do?

First, flavonoids are essential for numerous plant functions, including reproduction and ultraviolet (UV) filtration. These key compounds also act as chemical messengers and physiological regulators. In short: flavonoids are essential for the plant’s survival and reproduction. 

Beyond their role in the life cycle of a plant, flavonoids offer wide-ranging health benefits for people. 

Health Benefits of Flavonoids

Each flavonoid offers health benefits, but these are some of the most common therapeutic uses for flavonoids:

    • Protect your cells from damage (antioxidants)
    • Fight disease-causing inflammation
    • Improve cardiovascular function
    • Prevent or decrease cognitive decline, including dementia 
    • Treat viral infections 
    • Reduce the risk of diabetes, cancer, and many other diseases

Panda green tea. Green tea is full of flavonoids.

Risks and Side Effects

Flavonoids carry no known side effects. However, taking flavonoid supplements may pose certain risks, as can any other dietary supplement not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Toxicity issues and drug interactions may arise from certain flavonoid supplements. It’s best to get your fill of these botanical compounds straight from the source: fruits, veggies, and herbs.  

Flavonoids and Cannabis

Cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes/terpenoids interact together to produce unique physiological effects. Flavonoids can be used for several ailments at different concentrations and dosages via interaction with our endocannabinoid system (ECS)

Major Flavonoids in Cannabis

Cannflavins A, B and C

Cannflavins are produced exclusively by the cannabis plant and belong to the flavone class of flavonoids. Flavones have been shown to be:

    • Neuroprotective
    • Antioxidant
    • Anticancer in several animal models. Cannaflavins act on the inflammatory pathway of prostaglandins (lipids with hormone-like effects), meaning they are anti-inflammatory.

Cannflavin A is of particular interest and has been the most studied of the cannaflavins. Cannflavin A may interact with CBD and THC and may reduce inflammation.

Βeta-Sitosterol

Beta-Sitosterol is a white, waxy flavonoid with a chemical structure similar to cholesterol but can lower cholesterol levels. This flavonoid could be used in combination with THCV for the treatment of obesity and coronary heart disease. Beta-sitosterol is often found in avocados and nuts, and some claim it has a yogurt-like smell/taste.

Kaempferol

Kaempferol has a yellow hue and can be found in kale, beans, tea, spinach, and broccoli. This flavonoid has a bitter flavor and could be useful for the treatment of cancer. Kaempferol may also prevent cancerous tumors from metastasizing (spreading) throughout the body. Finally, 

kaempferol helps the body produce new blood cells and affects the body’s antioxidant effects against harmful free radicals. 

Quercetin

Quercetin is a flavonoid found in almost all vascular plants (particularly capers, kale, apples, and red onions). It provides anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic (i.e., can prevent changes in DNA sequences), antiviral, antifungal, and antioxidant effects. Quercetin may also improve mental and physical performance. Quercetin has a bitter flavor and is found in beverages, including red wine.

Orientin

Orientin is a particularly potent antioxidant with antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties. It is common in both cannabis and tea plants, such as rooibos. Orientin has been described as having a sharp or bitter taste.

Luteolin

Luteolin is found in celery, thyme, green peppers, and chamomile tea. As with orientin, luteolin has a powerful antioxidant and anti-cancer effect but is perhaps less bitter, fruitier, and sweeter in flavor.

Vitexin and Isovitexin

Vitexin is found in passionflower, chaste berry, hawthorn, and pearl millet. Vitexin has 

pain-blocking properties and may help protect brain cells. There is much scientific interest in vitexin for its anti-Alzheimer effects. Isovitexin has a similar chemical structure and pharmacological properties as vitexin and could be beneficial for the same reasons. 

Apigenin

Apigenin provides muscle relaxing, sedative, and anti-anxiety effects. Apigenin can also lower blood pressure and is found in chamomile tea, which may be why chamomile is frequently used as a sleep aid. This bitter-tasting flavonoid is also found in wheat sprouts, onions, oranges, and parsley. 

Apigenin is active as an antioxidant and has numerous other therapeutic benefits. Apigenin is especially useful for organ transplant patients, particularly those who have suffered from renal injury and need a kidney transplant. Apigenin could therefore combine with CBD for helping treat kidney transplant patients and could theoretically reduce the need for powerful immunosuppressant drugs. 

Galangin

As the name suggests, galangin is found in the root spice galangal, which is related to ginger and turmeric. Unlike ginger, though, galangal has a sharper, citrus, pine flavor and is often used in Thai and Indian cuisines and medicine. Galangin has been shown to have antitumor, antibacterial, and antiviral properties in vitro.

Galangal; ginger; galangal root.
Galangal root. Source

Naringin

Naringin occurs in citrus fruits and is especially prominent in grapefruit, contributing to its bitter flavor. Naringin is a versatile flavonoid that exhibits the following properties:

    • Anti-inflammatory
    • Anti-cancer
    • Bone-regeneration – useful for arthritis and osteoporosis
    • Metabolic syndrome (obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure (hypertension)
    • Protection against DNA damage and the genes that code for the body’s essential amino acids and proteins
    • Help treat conditions that affect the central nervous system (CNS), such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s Disease, motor neurone disease (MND), neurofibromatosis, and Parkinson’s disease

Rutin

Rutin is another bitter flavonoid found in cannabis that is also present in citrus fruits, apples, and grains like buckwheat. Rutin can prevent blood clots.

Hesperetin

Hesperetin is a citrus-flavored flavonoid but is more sweet than bitter. Hesperetin is found in sweet oranges and lemons. Hesperetin may be useful in the treatment of lethal cardiac arrhythmias (fatal, irregular heartbeat).

Taxifolin

Taxifolin has an astringent flavor associated with tannin-rich foods and products like vinegar aged in cherry wood, tea, wine, cocoa, and milk thistle seeds. Taxifolin could be useful in managing inflammation, tumors, microbial infections, oxidative stress, cardiovascular and liver disorders.

Aromadendrene

Aromadendrene is a minty/woody tasting compound found in safflower, sweet marjoram, sweet bay, eucalyptus, and spearmint. When aromadendrene and the terpene cineole interact, they promote powerful antibacterial effects. There could also be an interaction with THC, contributing to its bronchodilatory effects (i.e., it opens up the throat and lungs to help the respiratory system take in more oxygen).

Catechin

Catechin is a flavan-3-ol and has a slightly acidic – but not bitter – taste. Catechin is found in peaches, green tea, vinegar, and barley grain. Catechin could be useful in treating diseases such as arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes and obesity, infections, and neurologic and oral health.

Frequently Asked Questions

What foods are high in flavonoids?

Foods high in flavonoids include parsley, onions, garlic, berries, black tea, green tea, oolong tea, bananas, wine, cocoa, buckwheat, sea-buckthorns, and a whole host of herbs and spices. 

What flavonoids are in marijuana?

Cannaflavins A, B, and C; Beta-Sitosterol; and Kaempferol are just a few of the many flavonoids naturally found in marijuana. 

Are flavonoids good for health?

Yes, flavonoids are found in many “superfoods” like blueberries and offer health benefits ranging from pain management to memory boosting.

Experience the flavonoids and other therapeutic compounds in cannabis by obtaining a medical marijuana card. The knowledgeable doctors at Leafwell are here to guide you through the process and meet with you one-on-one in our virtual clinic. 

Written by
Tina Magrabi
Tina Magrabi

Tina Magrabi is a writer and editor specializing in holistic health. She has written hundreds of articles for Weedmaps where she spearheaded the Ailments series on cannabis medicine. In addition, she has written extensively for the women's health blog, SafeBirthProject, as well as print publications including Destinations Magazine and Vero's Voice. Tina is a Yale University alumna and certified yoga instructor with a passion for the outdoors.

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