The cannabis plant, scientifically known as Cannabis sativa L., is a treasure trove of chemical compounds, with an estimated 545 distinct entities of various biogenetic classes. While the plant is most renowned for its secondary metabolites, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), it also produces a plethora of other compounds with promising therapeutic potential . This blog post delves into the world of non-cannabinoid metabolites of cannabis, including flavonoids and terpenes, and their potential nutritional and therapeutic applications.
The Hidden Gems of Cannabis: Flavonoids and Terpenes
While cannabinoids have been the centre of attention in cannabis research, the plant also produces non-cannabinoid phytochemicals (biologically active compounds found in plants), that hold significant therapeutic potential. The most notable of these are flavonoids and terpenes . Flavonoids are a diverse group of plant metabolites known for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties. Terpenes, on the other hand, are aromatic compounds that contribute to the unique flavorus and scents of many herbs and plants, including cannabis. They are known for their analgesic, antimicrobial, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties.
The Power of Antioxidants
Many of the non-cannabinoid compounds in cannabis, including flavonoids and terpenes, are potent antioxidants. They help to mitigate the damage caused by reactive oxygen species (ROS) or free radicals, which are produced in excess during many pathological conditions and disease processes such as age-related inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, asthma, atherosclerosis, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, diabetes, and dementia. By reducing oxidative stress in cells, antioxidants may have therapeutic applicability against many human diseases, including but not limited to cancer, viral infections, cardiovascular diseases, and inflammatory diseases.
The Richness of Terpenes
Terpenes are a large and diverse class of aromatic compounds responsible for the unique flavours and scents of many herbs and plants. Over 20,000 terpenes exist across plant species, and over 150 alone in the cannabis plant. This makes terpenes the largest classification of phytochemicals . The most common terpenes in cannabis include limonene, α-pinene, β-pinene, humulene, β-caryophyllene, linalool, and myrcene . These compounds provide aromatherapeutic benefits to humans, including stress, anxiety, and depression relief, decongestion, and a general pharmacologically synergistic effect in combination with cannabinoids and flavonoids.
The Potential of Polyphenols
Polyphenols, a class of over 10,000 chemical compounds found in plants, are also present in cannabis. Notable ones include catechin and epicatechin, known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties; quercetin, a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent; kaempferol, researched for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and potential anti-cancer properties; and cannflavin A and B, unique to cannabis and shown to have significant anti-inflammatory properties .
Flavonoids are a large family of polyphenolic plant compounds that naturally occur in fruits, vegetables, chocolate, and beverages such as wine and tea. They provide color, flavor, and aroma, and have anticancer, antioxidant, antithrombogenic, antidiabetic, and neuroprotective activities .
Fatty Acids of Cannabis Seeds
Cannabis seeds, particularly those of the hemp variety, are rich in fatty acids, which have high nutritional value and play crucial roles in our bodies. They provide energy, form the building blocks of cell membranes, transport fat-soluble vitamins, and more. Hemp oil, extracted from C. sativa L. seeds, offers an optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, making it a valuable source of these nutrients, especially for those following plant-based diets .
Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, are essential for various biological functions. Hemp seeds contain nine essential amino acids that our bodies can’t produce and must obtain from food. Hempseed protein is unique as it contains a high composition of the easily digestible globulin edestin, which is highly compatible with human protein. This makes it a valuable plant-based protein source, especially for those following vegetarian, vegan, or plant-focused diets .
Stilbenes and Stilbenoids
Stilbenes and Stilbenoids are naturally occurring polyphenolic phytochemicals that have a wide range of biological activity and medicinal value to humans. One in particular, dihydro-resveratrol, a metabolite derivative of the antioxidant, resveratrol, shows promise for several potential health benefits. These include anti-inflammatory properties, antioxidant activity, cardiovascular health, neuroprotective effects, and anti-cancer properties .
The cannabis plant is much more than its most famous compounds, THC and CBD. It is a complex organism that produces a wide array of non-cannabinoid compounds, each with its own potential therapeutic benefits. As research continues to uncover the medicinal properties of these compounds, the future of cannabis-based pharmaceuticals looks promising. With continued research and development, the full therapeutic potential of cannabis can be unlocked, offering new treatment options for a variety of ailments.
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