The entourage effect is the combined effect of marijuana’s different compounds.
Early marijuana research focused on THC alone. But over time, it has become clear that the other compounds in marijuana are important, too. Research also shows that whole plant cannabis affects people differently than pure THC.
The cannabinoid CBD has a well-documented synergy with THC, reducing its negative effects and amplifying its benefits. Other cannabinoids as well as marijuana’s many terpenes also contribute to the entourage effect.
As a result of research on the entourage effect, many people now believe that “whole plant medicine” is superior to cannabis extracts such as pure THC or pure CBD.
What Is The Entourage Effect?
The entourage effect refers to the combined effect of the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other chemical compounds in marijuana. These compounds work together to produce an effect that is greater than the sum of their parts.
An “entourage” is a group of people that surround and support another person, and the metaphor makes sense for the entourage effect.
A 1981 study found that whole plant extracts produced 330% more activity than THC alone. The researchers hypothesized that cannabis contains “synergist” and “inhibitor” compounds.
Since then, scientists have determined that cannabinoids and terpenes are responsible for these effects. For example, cannabinoids such as CBD can subdue the negative effects of THC, while boosting its benefits.
Terpenes are scented compounds found in marijuana that are also thought to play a role in the entourage effect.
Many people take this as evidence that “whole plant medicine” is superior to extracts which focus on one or two compounds.
What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes are compounds that contribute to the flavor and scent of marijuana. Terpenes can alter how cannabinoids bind to their receptors, thereby altering their effects.
Interestingly, terpenes and cannabinoids share a chemical precursor, indicating that they are chemically similar. This could help explain why they work together so well.
Not only can terpenes affect marijuana, they also have effects in their own right. According to a 2011 paper by Dr. Ethan Russo, studies show that inhalation of terpenes at concentrations similar to that in marijuana leads to “profound effects on activity levels, suggesting a direct pharmacological effect on the brain”.
Terpenes have a broad range of effects, including sedation, pain relief, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects.
In addition to these effects, terpenes also act in concert with cannabinoids, altering how they are experienced.
In his paper, Dr. Russo identified three “synergies” between terpenes and cannabinoids. Evidence suggests that cannabinoids and terpenes may work together synergistically to treat acne, MRSA infections, and psychiatric illnesses.
Much more research is needed to determine the exact role of terpenes in the entourage effect.
The Interaction of THC and CBD
THC and CBD are the two main cannabinoids in marijuana. They share a special synergy that contributes to the entourage effect.
CBD is thought to block many of the negative effects of THC — including tachycardia, intoxication, and sedation — while it potentiates many of its benefits. It also contributes its own medical benefits.
This is the reason why pharmaceutical companies have in recent years focused on products containing both THC and CBD such as Sativex, as opposed to those containing only THC such as Marinol.
In 2011, researchers surveyed 953 participants about their medical marijuana and marijuana-based medications. The researchers found that 98.2% of respondents preferred natural cannabis over Marinol.
CBD also reduces the psychoactive effects or “high” that THC causes. In a 1976 study, researchers administered THC and a large dose of CBD. 11 out of 15 subjects felt the high was stronger when they were given THC alone, suggesting that CBD can reduce the psychoactive effects of THC.
CBD has these effects because it changes the way THC acts on the body. CBD can bind to different sites on cannabinoid receptors and change how responsive they are to THC. Other cannabinoids, such as CBN, CBG, and CBC can also impact THC’s effects in their own unique ways.
The entourage effect helps us understand why certain strains of marijuana may affect people differently.
Marijuana comes in thousands of different varieties, or strains. Different marijuana strains have vastly different chemical profiles that cause different experiences in the same person.
This explains why sometimes marijuana can make a person feel calm, while other times it can make that same person feel anxious or paranoid.
Each strain of marijuana contains a unique profile of hundreds of cannabinoids and terpenes, which act together to produce the plant’s effects.
This means that if you change the “recipe” for a marijuana strain, you change the effects, too.
In the future, terpene profiles and other chemical profiling techniques could help marijuana users make better-informed choices about their strains.
Marijuana contains hundreds of chemical compounds, including cannabinoids and terpenes. These compounds act together to produce stronger benefits than they would separately.
THC and CBD have a well-established synergy, and researchers are learning more about the role of other cannabinoids in the entourage effect. Terpenes also contribute to many of the benefits of the entourage effect.
The entourage effect supports the idea that whole plant medicine is superior to pure extracts. In the future, chemical profiling may help doctors and patients find marijuana strains that produce the best benefits.