When we smoke or consume cannabis, we only think about two primary chemicals – THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol) – but there are, in fact, hundreds of other chemicals within the plant. When taken all together, these compounds create a powerful and compounding phenomenon called the Entourage Effect.
What is the Entourage Effect?
The cannabis plant is a complex plant that contains a hundred important and organic compounds. If you take a pure and isolated THC ingredient, you will realize that it has no specific character and does not deliver any of its known psychoactive effects. However, when combined with the other compounds found in a cannabis plant, the chemicals are observed to alter and enhance the THC’s psychoactive properties, allowing it to produce its effects.
This synergistic phenomenon, called the Entourage Effect, allows cannabis plants to deliver stronger and more diverse effects and benefits. And with literally hundreds of naturally-occurring terpenes produced within the plants, the variety of synergies offered is simply astonishing.
The term “Entourage Effect” was first coined by a group of Israeli researchers in 1998, Dr. Shimon Ben-Shabat and Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, who proposed that cannabis compounds would bind better to the body’s endocannabinoid system with the presence of a fatty acid. This theory was further expanded in 2009 by another group of scientists who supported the idea that the synergy between different cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and fatty acids allows for better absorption of the body and overall enhancement effect as they influence many different areas of the body.
To further understand how powerful this phenomenon can be, we will take a look at the interactions between the two primary groups of cannabis compounds – the cannabinoids and the terpenes.
THC, CBD, and the Entourage Effect
Cannabinoids are a group of active compounds that interact with the receptors in our endocannabinoid system to deliver the cannabis effects. Aside from the well-known THC and CBD compounds, scientists have identified a hundred more different cannabinoids. These include the compounds CBN, CBG, and CBC. Many other cannabinoids remain unidentified.
When these cannabinoids are used together, their unique properties are enhanced through the entourage effect. A 2010 study conducted in the UK showed that patients suffering from cancer pain reported greater pain reduction from receiving a 1:1 ratio of THC: CBD as compared to receiving the isolated compounds (like pure CBD or THC) by themselves. The CBD compound is actually found to mitigate the effects of THC, which otherwise can induce symptoms like delusions and paranoia even at a dosage of 10 milligrams. Thus, demonstrating the importance of this synergistic phenomenon.
Many older studies and anecdotal information are confirming the general function of the entourage effect between the cannabinoids. And to be clear, many other active compounds play key roles in the effect, such as the combination of the CBN compound to the THC chemical to enhance any sedative effects.
Terpenes and the Entourage Effect
Terpenes are the molecules found in many fruits and herbs, including cannabis plants, that work hard to give the plants their scent and taste – be it citrus, woody, diesel, skunky, herbal, tropical, and many more. Various researches have emphasized the importance of terpenes, which form the basis of aromatherapy and other forms of holistic healing treatment.
While they are generally credited for giving marijuana its varied and unique fragrances, they do more than provide flavor and aroma. Studies have found that these terpenes or terpenoids also enhance and manipulate the way cannabinoids bind to their respective receptors, influencing our experiences. By doing so, terpenes can stimulate a variety of effects, including physiological and psychological effects, that can be highly beneficial to us.
There are around 200 terpenes found in cannabis, and some of the common terpenes include caryophyllene, pinene, linalool, limonene, and terpineol. Each of these compounds offers different benefits. For example, a study published in 2018 examined pinene, which is identified with the traditional pine aroma and found that it can effectively boost a person’s mood while limonene, which is distinguished by its zesty citrus aroma, can help alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety. In other studies, caryophyllene is found to provide anti-inflammatory and analgesic benefits while giving out a unique sweet, spicy, and earthy fragrance.
Terpenes – Cannabinoids Interactions and the Entourage Effect
The theory of terpenes and cannabinoids potentially working together is thoroughly described in a review written by Dr. Ethan Russo. In his review, terpenes – cannabinoids interactions have been found to amplify any effects, both recreational and medicinal, of cannabis plants. While terpenes as singular compounds have many medicinally-beneficial properties, they become much more effective when paired up with cannabinoids. Dr. Russo’s studies support the claims that taking the two groups of compounds in conjunction can be beneficial for pain, stress, anxiety, inflammation, fungal infection, and even cancer.
One of the synergies detailed in his review included the combination of the caryophyllene terpene and the CBD cannabinoid, which has shown positive results in treatments of addiction. Another example is the way the pinene terpene can help counteract any memory and cognition impairment effects caused by consuming the THC cannabinoid.
One factor contributing to the entourage effect of these interactions could be that terpenes and cannabinoids hit different targets, and the combined effects result in a much potent and enhanced outcome. They are observed to not only interact with each other but also interact with different brain receptors. For instance, different molecules attack multiple sources of inflammation resulting in a better effect. Another factor that supports the enhanced effects of terpenes – cannabinoids interactions is that any undesirable effects caused by a set of molecules are minimized by other groups.
Understanding how the different components within the marij]uana plant work and support one another could completely revolutionize the medical cannabis industry. As researchers continue to learn more about the different terpenes – cannabinoids interactions, they will be in a position to produce even better results from future compound combinations.
Despite the many pieces of research and anecdotal evidence on the synergistic or entourage effects in cannabis, there is still no hard study conducted to investigate the effects of the plants’ many terpenes and cannabinoids other than THC and CBD. Still the same, the entourage effect has firmly taken root in the cannabis community and among its users as many consumers believe that with the surplus of anecdotal proof, the results from any research studies will exactly be the same.