Sometimes talk of cannabis can divulge into what complex, man-made combination of cannabinoids and terpenes produces the best potential health benefits or pain relief. Consumers and sellers alike can get caught up in a game of “besting” cannabis, when maybe an alternative approach is best. This is where the entourage effect and whole plant medicine come into play.
Many are likely already acquainted with cannabis’s most popular cannabinoids / compounds: THC and CBD cannabinoids. However, there exists an abundance of other compounds the plant produces in smaller sums that seem to serve a supporting role in the overall physical and mental effects of each particular strain. The entourage effect encapsulates this theory, maintaining that a range of cannabis compounds actually work together to create individualized effects.
Overall, the theory mirrors that of whole plant medicine in that cannabis is deemed more beneficial when the whole plant is involved. For example, CBD is a very popular cannabinoid that’s sometimes stripped, leaving only the pure distillate — CBD cannabinoids only. The entourage effect loosely dictates that instead, a combination of CBD and other cannabinoids would actually serve consumers better as their presence — and relationship to CBD — would encourage other, different, or more powerful effects.
What is the Entourage Effect?
The entourage effect occurs when the multitude of chemicals, compounds and components within cannabis interact with the human body and result in a stronger influence than any single component alone. The basis is fairly simple: the more cannabinoids and compounds working together, the better the cannabis’s results.
Some explain the entourage effect as a multiplying effect of sorts; the combination of multiple cannabinoids and other compounds don’t just add to a greater sum, but amplify one another. The cannabinoids that work together impact each other’s chemistry and, therefore, their overall effects on the body. This type of cannabinoid interaction / whole plant synergy has been said to make plants more effective in addressing unwanted symptoms as well.
This synergistic relationship can be seen clearly with THC and CBD cannabinoids. While pure, synthetic THC has been around for decades, it’s been seen in cases to be less effective than a more whole plant / natural experience. That’s not shocking though, considering there are over 100 different cannabinoids at play in natural cannabis extracts. CBD in particular actually serves to modulate and the effects of THC on the body, fending off the more adverse psychological effects it can create.
Specialty cannabis plants bred to contain similar amounts of both THC and CBD cannabinoids have been shown to be the most effective in a variety of symptom relief. Findings such as these suggest the ratio and relationship of cannabinoids are key in determining the efficacy of cannabis, especially therapeutically.
The benefits of the Entourage Effect
The entourage effect goes beyond just CBD and THC though. Cannabis produces other cannabinoid offshoots like CBN, THCV, CBC, etc. in addition to terpenes — aromatic compounds found in plants like cannabis, lavender, pine and many more. With so many diverse compounds at play, the amount of potential synergistic relationships is nearly unimaginable. And while there’s little research completed in this sector of cannabis, as a theory, the entourage effect is still supported by a large collection of anecdotal evidence and small collection of scientific evidence.
As stated above though, studies have shown that CBD cannabinoids do help “even out” the more psychological effects of THC. In a popular study regarding the entourage effect, “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects,” Dr. Ethan Russo explores cannabis compounds and how they impact the human body.
Studying the common compounds of cannabis, Russo explains their potential synergistic relationships. For example, CBG and CBD cannabinoids have been found to prevent certain bacterial infections. The report questions if and how much more effective these cannabinoids could be if paired with other compounds known to produce similar effects — like the MRSA-fighting terpene pinene or other terpenes that increase skin permeability.
Russo’s research presents scientific evidence that even non-cannabinoid plant components can decrease the more intoxicating effects of THC and therefore increase its more therapeutic effects. The study indicates terpenes alone display “unique therapeutic effects” that may contribute meaningfully to “the entourage effects of cannabis-based medicinal extracts.” These therapeutic effects can include, but are not limited to: the treatment of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections.
How to take advantage of the Entourage Effect
Understanding how the entourage effect may impact one’s cannabis experience can help improve it and take it to the next level. With many cannabis consumers using the plant for very specific reasons — skin irritation, mental health, body aches — they can dive deeper into what cannabinoids, terpenes and synergistic relationships may serve them best.
A simple way to take advantage of the entourage effect is to seek more full-spectrum extracts. Products such as these will include a huge variety of cannabinoids and terpenes, as opposed to an isolate that strips the cannabis of everything but a select compound. For example, a full-spectrum extract could include CBD, pinene, CBN, myrcene, THC, and much more, while an isolate would only contain the singular CBD cannabinoid.
More experienced or committed cannabis consumers may even seek out specific pairings of cannabinoids and terpenes in their strains. Consider CBD, caryophyllene and pinene — all of these compounds are known for their potential to ease anxiety / soothe the nervous system and when paired together in a strain may have the capacity to encourage enhanced effects. This deduction could be applied to a variety of chemical combinations; it’s all about what the consumer is looking to take advantage of.
To sum it up
Some may see the entourage effect as more old-fashioned, given it embraces a more holistic approach to cannabis. But, studies show, more and more people are opening themselves up to alternative medicinal practices. The ultra fancified modes of consuming cannabis and its over 100 different cannabinoids could be on their way out in favor of this more natural method. According to the entourage effect, the whole may truly be greater than the sum of its parts.