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What is the Entourage Effect? The rundown on cannabinoids, terpenes, and more


What is The Entourage Effect?

Most of us are familiar with CBD and THC. Thanks to the popularity of CBD oil and the association between THC and intoxication, these two cannabinoids have received a lot of attention. 

It can be easy to overlook the hundreds of other active ingredients in cannabis, such as minor cannabinoids and terpenes.

Yet, these compounds play a crucial role in the therapeutic value of cannabis. They not only possess health and wellness benefits of their own but interact synergistically with THC, CBD, and each other. This holistic synergy is so important that researchers even gave it a name: the “entourage effect.” 

How does this effect work? How does it relate to CBD and terpenes? Here’s what you need to know.

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The Entourage Effect Defined

The entourage effect is the synergistic relationship between all of the active compounds found in the cannabis plant, including:

  • Major cannabinoids (THC and CBD)
  • Minor cannabinoids that are present in smaller quantities (CBG, CBC, CBN, and many others)
  • Terpenes
  • Flavonoids, fatty acids, minerals, vitamins, and other natural compounds

Due to this synergy, cannabis preparations made from the whole plant have greater benefits than THC- or CBD-only products.

An effective way to understand the entourage effect is to think of an orchestra. When played together, all of the music components of an orchestra —  violin, piano, flute, and others — create a sound that’s more harmonious and pleasant than the individual instruments.

Similarly, the holistic combination of all the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds in cannabis creates therapeutic effects that are greater than each compound in isolation. Put simply, when it comes to cannabis, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

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Entourage Effect: The Research

The entourage effect was discovered in 1998 by Israeli researchers who studied the effects of 2-AG, an Endocannabinoid made by the human body. They found that 2-AG’s beneficial effects, such as pain reduction, were stronger when it was administered alongside two related compounds.

Since then, the entourage effect has been demonstrated numerous times. For instance, a 2015 study in mice reported that a CBD extract made from the whole cannabis plant reduced paw pain and inflammation more effectively than pure, isolated CBD.

Meanwhile, a Brazilian paper examining the use of cannabis in treatment-resistant epilepsy reported that patients taking CBD-rich, whole-plant preparations required lower doses and had fewer side effects than those who took purified CBD.

According to the researchers’ own words, “The roots of this difference is likely due to synergistic effects of CBD with other phytocompounds (aka Entourage effect).

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Cannabinoids and the Entourage Effect

Cannabinoids are a class of active compounds found in the cannabis plant. Although cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the two most abundant cannabinoids, there well over 100 varieties, including cannabichromene (CBC), cannabinol (CBN), and cannabigerol (CBG). Cool!

Cannabinoids play the most important role in the entourage effect because they are the main ingredients responsible for the health benefits of cannabis.

Indeed, the best example of the entourage effect is demonstrated by the synergy between CBD and THC. By itself, pure THC is known to cause psychoactive side effects that include anxiety, paranoia, impaired memory, and euphoria. 

Yet, when taken with CBD, research suggests that these adverse effects are significantly reduced. This is a major advantage because THC-induced intoxication is the main barrier to its medical use.

Better yet, CBD adds on to the beneficial effects of THC, such as reduction of pain, inflammation, and nausea. 

This is just one example of the synergy between individual cannabinoids. Seeing how cannabis contains dozens of different cannabinoids, there are hundreds of other ways they can work together in synergy with CBD, THC, and each other. 

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Terpenes and the Entourage Effect

While cannabinoids tend to get all the praise, there’s another class of compounds that contributes to the entourage effect: terpenes. Found in a wide variety of plants, terpenes come with distinct flavors, aromas, and health effects.

Much like the case with cannabinoids, there are more than 100 different terpenes found in cannabis, such as linalool, limonene, myrcene, and pinene.

For example, limonene, which gets its name from lemon peel, has been shown to reduce inflammation and anxiety. Since cannabinoids such as CBD also have similar benefits, this means terpenes like limonene can add on to their effects.

But where terpenes truly shine is their synergistic interactions with cannabinoids. One of the best examples of this is the fact that many terpenes make it easier for cannabinoids to cross the blood-brain barrier.

In doing so, they improve the therapeutic effects of CBD and other cannabinoids in the brain. Meanwhile, the terpene pinene can improve memory, which can help counteract the memory impairment caused by THC.

These kinds of interactions highlight the beneficial synergy between terpenes and cannabinoids that forms the basis of the entourage effect.

However, researchers are still only scratching the surface of how these synergies work and more investigations are needed. 

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How to Benefit From the Entourage Effect

The ideal way to make use of the entourage effect is to choose cannabis preparations made from the whole plant instead of isolated cannabinoids.

Such products are typically called “full-spectrum,” meaning that they contain the complete spectrum of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other compounds naturally present in cannabis.

Full-spectrum CBD oil is one of the best examples of a cannabis product that maximizes the entourage effect. Such oils contain not only CBD but all of the compounds present in hemp: a variety of cannabis with low THC levels. 

In contrast, products that contain only pure CBD or THC, called isolates, are more popular in the pharmaceutical industry. For example, the CBD isolate drug Epidiolex has been recently approved as a medical treatment for certain types of epilepsy.

Although isolates have their uses, they’re simply not as effective than full-spectrum extracts. For example, research suggests that CBD isolates require larger doses and have a higher likelihood of causing side effects than holistic, whole-plant formulas. 

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Whole-Plant Medicine Works Best

In nature, herbal compounds are rarely found in a pure, isolated form. This explains why humanity has used cannabis and other herbal medicines in their whole-plant, holistic form for thousands of years.

This stands in opposition to the practice of making drugs with only one main active ingredient championed by today’s pharmaceutics industry. 

Now, thanks to a growing body of medical research demonstrating the cannabis entourage effect, we have proof that this historical practice works better than the single-compound approach.

As highlighted by Dr. Ethan B. Russo, one of the leading medical cannabis experts in the world, “reconsideration must be given to an older proven model of botanical synergy that may enable polytherapy in single preparations.” 

How To Maximize The Entourage Effect

In sum, if you want to maximize the entourage effect and get the most benefit out of CBD oil and other cannabis products, it’s ideal to choose preparations made from the whole plant instead of purified THC or CBD.

In this way, you’ll be making use of the holistic synergy our ancestors have utilized for millennia to support their wellness. 

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