Phytochemicals are biologically active chemical compounds
produced through primary or secondary metabolism in plants in order
to help the plant grow and/or protect itself from disease and pests.79 80
The term phytochemical includes both nutritional and non-nutritional
compounds found in a plant; however, the term is generally used
to refer to the non-essential nutrients and compounds in a plant.81
Essential nutrients are compounds the human body can’t make (or
makes, but doesn’t produce enough of) that are required for normal
human body functioning. When considering the entirety of the plant
(roots, stalk, leaves, seeds, and flowers), the phytochemical makeup
of cannabis is quite profound.
The known categories of essential nutrients for humans are:
● Calories (energy) from protein, carbohydrate, or fat
● 8-10 essential amino acids
● Essential fatty acids
● 13 vitamins
● 16-20 minerals82
A fresh cannabis plant is eighty percent water. Cannabis calories
can be derived from protein, fats, and sugars. Cannabis seeds contain
around 30% oil and about 25% protein. Thirty-three different fatty
acids have been found in cannabis seed oil.83 Polyunsaturated fatty
acids account for 80% of cannabis seed oil. The proteins contained in
cannabis seeds (mainly edestin and albumin) are highly nutritional in
the form of easily digestible essential amino acids. 84 85 The cannabis
plant contains many sugars including thirteen monosaccharides, two
disaccharides, five polysaccharides, and sugar alcohols. In addition,
cannabis is a source for cyclitols. Fresh juice of the cannabis plant is
a good source of vitamins, nutrients, protein, oil and insoluble fiber.
Cannabis juice is rich in vitamin K, and eighteen elements have been
found in cannabis including essential minerals sodium, potassium,
calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, and zinc.86
All other biologically active chemical compounds produced
by plants are considered non-essential nutrient, or non-nutrient
phytochemicals. Despite their non-essential categorization, non-
nutrient phytochemicals have been found to provide protection for human health.87
Phytochemical cannabinoids are chemical compounds found
in cannabis that bind to receptors in the human body. There are currently over 100 known
cannabinoids, though most of them have yet to be independently
studied and fully characterized. Two of the better known cannabinoids
are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is
well known for the psychotropic/euphoric high it produces due to its
activity as a partial agonist of CB1 receptors.88 CBD is known for its
anti-inflammatory,89 anti-anxiety,90 and seizure-reducing properties91
with a reduced psychotropic effect. CBD is also a negative allosteric
modulator on CB1 receptors92 and a weak antagonist of CB2
receptors.93 CBD is not as psychoactive as THC but does have a
significant sedative effect at higher doses.
Other cannabinoids, while less studied, are also known to have
therapeutic effects. Cannabigerol (CBG) is known for its antibacterial,
anti-tumor, and sedative effects. Cannabinol (CBN) is the result of the
oxidative process that occurs when THC is exposed to oxygen and
heat; it can result from aging, exposure to sun, or overheating of THC
products. While individual cannabinoids have different properties,
their effect on the body is greater when different cannabinoids are
combined than when they are used in isolation.94 This synergistic
interaction is commonly referred to as the “entourage effect.”
Some examples of cannabinoids found in cannabis and
their associated benefits are:
● THC: generally the most abundant cannabinoid in cannabis,
causing the most psychotropic effects
○ analgesic, appetite stimulant, antiemetic, antispasmodic
● THCa: main constituent in raw cannabis converting to Δ9-
THC when heated (decarboxylated)
○ anti-inflammatory, anti epileptic, anti-proliferative
● THCv: minor cannabinoid found in only some strains of
○ anorectic, anti-epileptic, anti-diabetic, bone-stimulant
● CBN: mildly psychoactive cannabinoid that is produced from
the degradation of THC
○ analgesic, antispasmodic, anti-somnia
● CBD: rather than an “on/off” or “lock and key” receptor
mechanism, CBD modifies the receptiveness of
endocannabinoid receptors and also appears to interact
elsewhere in the body
○ analgesic, anti-inflammatory, appetite stimulant,
antiemetic, intestinal anti-prokinetic, anxiolytic,
antipsychotic, antiepileptic, antispasmodic,
immunosuppressive, anti-diabetic, neuroprotective,
antipsoriatic, anti-ischemic, antibacterial, antiproliferative, bone-stimulant
● CBDa: CBD’s form prior to decarboxylation
○ anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative
● CBDv: non-psychoactive cannabinoid similar in structure to
● CBG: non-psychoactive cannabinoid
○ analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal,
● CBGa: CBG’s form prior to decarboxylation
● CBC: second most prevalent cannabinoid in cannabis
produced through an enzymatic process converting CBGa to
CBCa, which then makes CBC when heated
○ analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, antiproliferative, bone-stimulant
● CBCa: CBC’s form prior to decarboxylation
○ anti-bacterial, anti-fungal
Terpenes are chemical compounds produced in plants that
contribute to the plants’ flavors and smells. Terpenes protect
cannabis from environmental stressors such as excess moisture,
mold, penetrating sun, and pests. Terpenes can also attract beneficials
(helpful insects such as ladybugs). Like cannabinoids, terpenes
interact with a multitude of receptors in the body.95 Many of the
benefits associated with essential oils are due to their high terpene
contents. Two common terpenes in cannabis are alpha-pinene and
D-linalool (also found in pine trees and lavender, respectively). Alphapinene has demonstrated anti-inflammatory,96 bronchodilating,97 and
antibiotic98 properties. Of special interest to cannabis researchers
is alpha-pinene’s ability to inhibit the breakdown of acetylcholine,
which mitigates the short-term memory degradation associated with
THC.99 D-linalool has been shown to have anticonvulsant,100 anxietyreducing,101 and sedative effects.102 D-linalool also seems to have
local anesthetic effects comparable to that of procaine and menthol,103
which would be relevant in topical applications of cannabis.
Some terpenes found in cannabis, with their aroma/
flavor, effect/medical value, and an example of each strain are:
● Myrcene: tropical and earthy; analgesic, anti-inflammatory,
and antibiotic (Pure Kush)
● Limonene: citrus; antifungal, antibacterial properties, and
anticarcinogenic (Super Lemon Haze)
● Pinene: pine; expectorant, bronchodilator, anti-inflammatory,
and local antiseptic (Jack Herer)
● Eucalyptol: mint; pain relief and improved concentration
● Terpineol: floral; sedative (White Rhino)
● Borneol: mint; combat fatigue, stress, and illness (Diamond
● Caryophyllene: pepper; anti-inflammatory and analgesic
(Super Silver Haze)
● Linalool: lavender; anti-anxiety and sedative (Grape Ape)
Flavonoids play a role in the color and aroma of flowers to
assist in attracting pollinators and are involved in seed and spore
germination.104 During growth, they help the plant filter light105
and protect them from mold, mildew, and pests.106 Flavonoids
are suspected to play an influential role in the effect that cannabis
produces but are currently the least studied of the compounds in
cannabis. They are a key area of investigation for scientists studying
the health effects of plant consumption and have been studied for their
antiviral,107 antibacterial,108 anti-inflammatory,109 neuroprotective and
regenerative,110 anti-oxidative,111 and anti-cancer effects.112 There is
significant need for additional studies on how flavonoids interact
with cannabinoids and terpenes.
Very little is known about the beneficial potential of other lesser
known cannabis phytochemicals such as alkanes, amines, phenols,
alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, acids, esters, and lactones. These
additional constituents further enhance and differentiate flavors and
aromas, and fruit and vegetable research is showing their contribution
to various health benefits.
79 Molyneux RJ, Lee ST, Gardner DR, Panter KE, James LF. Phytochemicals:
the good, the bad and the ugly. Phytochemistry. 2007;68(22–24):2973–85.
80 Harborne JB, Baxter H, Moss GP, eds. General Introduction. Phytochemical
dictionary: a handbook of bioactive compounds from plants (2nd ed.). London: Taylor
& Francis. 1999;vii.
81 “Phytochemicals”. Micronutrient Information Center, Linus Pauling
Institute, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR. February 2016. https://lpi.
oregonstate.edu/mic. Accessed December 8, 2018.
82 II. What we need to eat. Introduction to Nutrition -- Nutrients essential
for man. https://library.med.utah.edu/NetBiochem/nutrition/lect1/2_4.html. Accessed
October 22, 2018.
83 ElSohly MA. Marijuana and the Cannabinoids. Totowa, NJ: Humana
84 Callaway JC. Hempseed as a nutritional resource: An overview. Euphytica.
85 HEMP SEED: The Most Nutritionally Complete Food Source In The
World. https://ratical.org/renewables/hempseed1.html. Accessed October 22, 2018.
86 ElSohly MA. Marijuana and the Cannabinoids. Totowa, NJ: Humana
http://www.medicinalgenomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Chemicalconstituents-of-cannabis.pdf. Accessed December 6, 2018.
87 Saxena M, Saxena J, Nema R, Singh D, Gupta A. Phytochemistry of
Medicinal Plants. Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry. 2013;1(6). http://
www.phytojournal.com/vol1Issue6/26.html. Accessed December 8, 2018.
88 Fride E, Mechoulam R. Pharmacological activity of the cannabinoid
receptor agonist, anandamide, a brain constituent. Eur J Pharmacol 1993;231(2):313-4.
89 Malfait AM, Gallily R, Sumariwalla PF, Malik AS, Andreakos E,
Mechoulam R, et al. The non-psychoactive cannabis constituent CBD is an oral antiarthritic therapeutic in murine collagen-induced arthritis. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA
90 Zuardi AW, Shirakawa I, Finkelfarb E, Karniol IG. Action of CBD
on the anxiety and other effects produced by delta 9-THC in normal subjects.
91 Carlini EA, Cunha JM. Hypnotic and antiepileptic effects of CBD. J Clin
Pharmacol 1981;21 (Suppl. 8–9):417S–27S.
92 Laprairie RB, Bagher AM, Kelly ME, Denovan-Wright EM Br J
Pharmacol. 2015 Oct; 172(20):4790-805.
93 CBD displays unexpectedly high potency as an antagonist of CB1 and
CB2 receptor agonists in vitro. Thomas A, Baillie GL, Phillips AM, Razdan RK, Ross
RA, Pertwee RG Br J Pharmacol. 2007 Mar; 150(5):613-23.
94 McPartland JM, Russo EB. Cannabis and cannabis extracts: greater than
the sum of their parts? Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics 2001;1(3–4):103–32.
95 Gertsch J. Anti-inflammatory cannabinoids in diet: towards a better
understanding of CB(2) receptor action? Commun Integrative Biology. 2008;1:26-28
96 Martin S, Padilla E, Ocete M, Galvez J, Jiménez J, Zarzuelo A. “AntiInflammatory Activity of the Essential Oil of Bupleurum Fruticescens.” Planta Med
Planta Medica 59.06. 1993;533-36.
97 Tang H, Goldman D. Myocyte Enhancer Factor 2C (MEF-2C). Wiley
Encyclopedia of Molecular Medicine. 2002; 372-78 doi:10.1002/0471203076.
98 Appendino G, Gibbons S, Giana A, et al. Antibacterial Cannabinoids
fromCannabis sativa: A Structure−Activity Study. Journal of Natural Products.
99 Miyazawa M, Yamafuji C. Inhibition of Acetylcholinesterase Activity
by Bicyclic Monoterpenoids. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
100 Elisabetsky E, Marschner J, Souza DO. Effects of linalool on glutamatergic
system in the rat cerebral cortex. Neurochemical Research. 1995;20(4):461-465.
101 Russo, Ethan. Handbook of Psychotropic Herbs: A Scientific Analysis of
Herbal Remedies for Psychiatric Conditions. New York: Haworth Herbal, 2001.
102 Buchbauer G, Jirovetz L, Jäger W, Plank C, Dietrich H. Fragrance
Compounds and Essential Oils with Sedative Effects upon Inhalation. Journal of
Pharmaceutical Sciences. 1993;82(6):660-664. doi:10.1002/jps.2600820623.
103 Ghelardini C, Galeotti N, Salvatore G, Mazzanti G. Local Anaesthetic
Activity of the Essential Oil of Lavandula angustifolia. Planta Medica. 1999;65(8):700-
104 Griesbach RJ. Biochemistry and Genetics of Flower Color. Plant Breeding
Reviews. 2010:89-114. doi:10.1002/9780470650301.ch4.
105 Takahashi A, Ohnishi T. The Significance of the Study about the Biological
Effects of Solar Ultraviolet Radiation using the Exposed Facility on the International
Space Station. Biological Sciences in Space. 2004;18(4):255-260. doi:10.2187/
106 Samanta A, Das G, Das S. Roles of flavonoids in plants. Int J Pharm Sci
Tech. 2011;6, 12–35.
107 Kaul TN, Middleton E, Ogra PL. Antiviral effect of flavonoids on human
viruses. Journal of Medical Virology. 1985;15(1):71-79. doi:10.1002/jmv.1890150110.
108 D-Alanine:D-alanine ligase as a new target for the flavonoids quercetin
and apigenin. Wu D, Kong Y, Han C, Chen J, Hu L, Jiang H, Shen X Int J Antimicrob
Agents. 2008 Nov; 32(5):421-6.
109 Madeswaran A, Umamaheswari M, Asokkumar K, Sivashanmugam T,
Subhadradevi V, Jagannath P. Docking studies: In silico phosphodiesterase inhibitory
activity of commercially available flavonoids. Bangladesh Journal of Pharmacology.
110 Paris D, Mathura V, Ait-Ghezala G, et al. Flavonoids lower Alzheimers Aß
production via an NFkB dependent mechanism. Bioinformation. 2011;6(6):229-236.
111 Kerry NL, Abbey M. Red wine and fractionated phenolic compounds
prepared from red wine inhibit low density lipoprotein oxidation in vitro1Supported
by the National Heart Foundation of Australia and the Australian Atherosclerosis
Society.1. Atherosclerosis. 1997;135(1):93-102. doi:10.1016/s0021-9150(97)00156-1.
112 Huang JH, Huang CC, Fang JY, Yang C, Chan CM, Wu NL, Kang SW,
Hung CF. Protective effects of myricetin against ultraviolet-B-induced damage in
human keratinocytes. Toxicol In Vitro. 2010 Feb; 24(1):21-8.