If you are reading this blog, you are likely comfortable enough with medical cannabis to have settled on a few favorite products, be they oil or flower. You know you like certain combinations of cannabinoids and enjoy a specific flavor profile. Your favorite strain provides the relief you are looking for, with a pleasant experience, and minimal side effects.
Cannabis strains are essentially neat plant packages with many valuable components inside. Each compound might have medicinal value, but together they really are more effective or effect you differently.
Experts have labeled this the Entourage Effect. It is a perfect explanation for why cannabis is exponentially more valuable as a whole flower (or extraction) than the sum of its parts (just THC or any cannabinoid), which is why flower can often be a great option, despite the tendency for many to opt for oil.
What is the Entourage Effect?
Many resources attribute the Entourage Effect to Ethan B. Russo, a board-certified neurologist, psychopharmacology researcher, and Medical Director of PHYTECS. He has worked with cannabis for close to two decades and is a leading researcher advancing our current understanding of the plant.
However, the first mention of the Entourage Effect was by two researchers, ProfessorsRaphael Mechoulam and Shimon Ben-Shabat, working out of The Hebrew University Medical Faculty,Jerusalem. They were not looking at cannabis at all but instead theorized that our endocannabinoid system worked better when boosted with additional different compounds. These added compounds provided synergistic benefit to our natural cannabinoids (endocannabinoids), making the entire system function better.
The authors then explored how this Entourage Effect may be used to explain the function of botanical medicines. As Russo explained, “Theyalso postulated that this helped to explain how botanical drugs were often more effective than their isolated components.” Russo and others latched on to this idea and applied it to the study of cannabis.
The Entourage Effect, when applied to cannabis, describes how the hundreds of different chemicals in the plant (cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, etc.) all work together for improved therapeutic benefit. If you were to isolate each compound, you’d find they were not as helpful as when used together. They have synergistic relationships with one another, for therapeutic benefit.
The Entourage Effect in Practice
Have you ever experienced the calming effects of CBD on an all-too-strong THC experience? The mutual relationship between CBD and THC is a perfect example of the Entourage Effect.
In our endocannabinoid system, THC binds strongly with our CB1 receptors. These receptors are located in the brain and central nervous system, and it's a reason why THC is so useful for pain relief, but also triggers a high.
Too much THC floating around, and the intoxicating effects are strong and long-lasting. However, adding a small percentage of CBD into the mix seems to encourage decoupling of the CB1 receptors and the THC molecule. Adding CBD, therefore, reduces the length and strength of a high caused by THC.
Russo details another fascinating finding about the synergy of cannabis compounds. He asked, “Can a cannabis preparation or single molecule be too pure, thus reducing synergistic potential?” After looking at the body of research on CBD for epilepsy, he found plant extracts were better than isolates in treatment. In other words, your THC and CBD are more effective when combined with the other physical elements of the cannabis flower. Some of these qualities can get lost when creating an oil or concentrate.
According to his analysis of the current literature, 71% of patients improved with CBD-predominant cannabis extracts while only 36% on purified CBD. Furthermore, patients needed a much lower dose with broad-spectrum extracts than with the isolates, and adverse reactions were much lower.
This analysis strongly suggests there is something exciting going on when we use plant-based medicines. At least for patients with epilepsy, plant-based compounds seem to work much more effectively, with fewer side effects than with a purified compound. Could it be because they contain additional and synergistically beneficial compounds?
Although the pharmaceutical model is primarily based on isolated compounds, current research suggests the synergy between natural compounds is very intriguing. Of course, despite the extremely positive initial studies, there is a long way to go before this theory is well accepted and medically established.
The Entourage Effects and Terpenes.
Terpenes, not to be left out, may also have a role to play in the Entourage Effect. Considering cannabis contains more than 200 terpenes, it is worth investigating how they can influence the experience of individual strains. For those unfamiliar, terpenes are natural oils that play a role in protecting the plant from environmental conditions. They are the reason a Super Lemon Haze Smells like citrus, and aSour Diesel smells like skunk-gasoline.
Researchers have known fora while now that terpenes have therapeutic value. For example, they can interact with cell membranes, neurotransmitter receptors, and secondary messenger systems in our bodies. They are also lipophilic, meaning they combine or dissolve well with fats. From all the edibles you’ve been making, you might remember fats and cannabis go well together.
Research tells us that many common terpenes in cannabis are beneficial. For example, limonene(citrus-lemon smell) in animals studies “suggest it to be a powerful anxiolyticagent.” Using an essential oil with limonene has also improved the outcome of patients with depression in a small trial.
With over 200 known cannabis-sourced terpenes, there are many other examples. Pinene (pine scent) may be useful for bronchitis in humans and has anti-inflammatory benefits. Myrcene, one of the most common cannabis-derived terpenes, also blocks inflammation and maybe slightly sedative in nature. Linalool, usually associated with lavender but also found in cannabis, is a known anti-anxiety compound.
When combined into a sophisticated cannabis strain, with dozens of other compounds - terpenes very well may add medicinal value. Logically, if you add CBD (a known anti-inflammatory) with myrcene and pinene, you’d assume there would be improved anti-inflammatory powers beyond just these three compounds. However, the inverse is also possible; with cannabis oils, many of them have lost their terpenes due to the heat required for the extraction of cannabinoids like THC andCBD. Thus, when you are consuming your CBD oil, many people aren’t getting the full benefit of the plant because those terpenes are missing.
The synergy between all the different compounds in cannabis produces beautiful experiences. The EntourageEffect is demanding changes to the conventional pharmaceutical model of isolation. It’s challenging researchers to look at botanicals as a whole rather than their individual parts. The complicated relationships between all the terpenes and cannabinoids are likely why people still love flower, despite the many highly concentrated options available.
What is your favourite strain of cannabis, and why? Does it provide long-lasting pain relief, with a delicious aroma? Maybe, despite the potency, you find it easier to manage because it's a strain with a CBD component and therefore has a lower adverse reaction. We'd love to hear how the Entourage Effect effects the strains you choose and the relief you experience.