Cannabis sativa L. still holds many secrets. But, one compound at a time, scientists are beginning to decipher its complex code. In addition to increased interest in studying the hundreds of minor cannabinoids and terpenes the plant is capable of producing, researchers have also begun to examine the pharmacological benefits of cannabis-sourced flavonoids.
These secondary metabolites, also known as cannflavins, are responsible for the colorful variations in chemovarietals (including those consumer-favorite purple varieties) that help attract pollinators, protect the plant from pests and diseases, and lend nuance to taste and aroma profiles. They also have therapeutic promise in their own right.
Cannflavin B and Pancreatic Cancer Therapy
In 2019, researchers associated with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School conducted a study to look at the effects of one such flavonoid, cannflavin B, on animal models of pancreatic cancer. Published in Frontiers in Oncology, the investigators found that a derivative of this compound developed by biotech firm Flavocure, known as FBL-03G, or Caflanone, enhanced radiation therapy treatment outcomes and resulted in tumor growth inhibition of both locally treated and distant untreated tumors, with and without radiotherapy.
With a five-year survival rate for patients at a dismal 8%, pancreatic cancer is inherently aggressive. According to the study's authors, the disease tends to metastasize to other organs long before patient diagnosis and is notoriously defiant to current therapies. With a lack of successful treatment options available to patients currently, the immunotherapeutic potential of this cannabis derivative on pancreatic cancer is an important discovery.
While more research is needed to determine its specific mechanism of action, the study suggests that FBL-03G could be leveraged to treat pancreatic cancer metastasis and improve overall survival rates in patients. In addition to demonstrating therapeutic potential on its own, the cannabis derivative was shown to potentially reduce radiative tissue toxicity by reducing the amount of radiation therapy needed for efficacious results. The study’s authors also pointed out how these benefits could improve patient costs.
“Using only one fraction of RT [radiotherapy] would also be more convenient for cancer patients who usually must come in repeatedly over many weeks to be treated with several fractions of radiotherapy. This should significantly reduce treatment time and costs. It would be a benefit in resource-poor-settings where access to RT services is limited, reducing cancer health disparities, with major impact in global health.”
Sourced from a rare, flavonoid-rich chemovar native to Jamaica known as Black Swan, FBL-03G was granted orphan drug status by the U.S. FDA last year after these preliminary findings and is now on track to be included in clinical trials set to begin in the spring, according to a report from Medical Cannabis Network.
The therapeutic potential of flavonoid derivatives like FBL-03G builds on previous research into how cannabinoids work to effectively target pancreatic cancer cells, which could lead to a better understanding of the synergism between the myriad phytochemical components of cannabis.
More Than Its Pancreatic Potential
Other therapeutic benefits associated with cannflavin B have been investigated as well, with one study demonstrating anti-inflammatory activity 30-times more potent than aspirin.
According to a 2016 review of flavonoids, these antioxidants also have potential in the treatment of neuroinflammation and neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, as well as in reducing the risk of cardiovascular conditions, like atherosclerosis. In addition, the review found that the dietary consumption of various plant flavonoids, particularly those found in cannabis, is well established to offer neuroprotective, antioxidant, and anticancer properties in several animal models.
In a 2017 review titled, “Cannabis Phenolics and their Bioactivities,” cannflavin B was able to inhibit prostaglandin E2 production in a manner relevant to the relief of inflammatory symptoms such as those associated with arthritis and inflammatory pain. Antimicrobial and anti-leishmanial (a disease characterized by skin ulcers caused by parasites) activity was also reported in this review.
By improving our understanding of how the individual chemical components of cannabis work within the human body to alleviate and treat symptoms of disease, pharmacological research into isolated compounds can help consumers and clinicians alike begin to differentiate between available products in the adult-use and medical cannabis markets and choose the best product for their needs while the world awaits more targeted cannabis-sourced therapies. Dependent on full-spectrum testing across the industry, of course.