Marijuana is an amazing plant that contains more than 113 cannabinoids, more than 200 terpenes, along with hundreds of other chemical compounds. Surely you’re well acquainted with THC and CBD, however, these are just two compounds among many others that work together to produce specific effects. When the compounds in marijuana work together to produce a synergistic effect it is known as the entourage effect.
Previously, marijuana research was mainly focused on THC. As time has past it became clear that the other compounds in marijuana played an important role as well. Research has shown us that when using the marijuana bud as a whole you get a different effect than using pure THC. This has been known for decades. In an old study researchers gave participants THC and then a large dose of CBD. More than 70% of the participants felt that the high was stronger when they were administered the THC alone. Therefore, it was suggested that CBD can reduce the psychoactive effects of THC. The reason that CBD has these effects is that it modifies how THC reacts inside the body. CBD binds to cannabinoid receptors throughout the body which changes how responsive the receptors are to THC. In there own unique ways, other cannabinoids like CBG, CBC, or CBN may also impact how THC reacts on the body. Cannabinoids along with terpenes in the marijuana plant contribute to the entourage effect.
Because of the entourage effect, many believe that whole plant medicine is better than using extracts like pure THC. THC-only medications are made of the synthetic renderings of THC like the medications Marinol and Cesamet. These drugs are legal pharmaceuticals that are usually prescribed to cancer patients to help treat their nausea. The efficiency of these drugs is debatable. A survey done by patients using THC-only drugs in 2011 found that of 953 patients only 1.8% of them preferred synthetic THC over inhaled or infused methods. This could be because it can take hours for the synthetic THC to give relief to the patients, but inhaled methods can be felt immediately.
This does not mean that synthetic medications are not effective. Synthetic medications can be effective for patients, especially when they live in a place where the law limits their access to using whole plant medicine. These synthetic medications have served a significant role in research, medicine, and even legislative stepping stones.
Terpenes also play an important role in the entourage effect. Terpenes are the compounds that help make up the flavor and scent of marijuana. Terpenes can modify how cannabinoids bind to their receptors, therefore, modifying their effects. For instance, in 2008, the Swiss scientist Jürg Gertsch documented beta-caryophyllene’s binding affinity for the CB2 receptor. He dubbed it “a dietary cannabinoid” as it is the only terpenoid that is known to directly activate a cannabinoid receptor.
The reason that terpenes and cannabinoids work so well together could be because they share a chemical precursor which means that they are chemically similar. Terpenes not only affect marijuana, they carry their own effects as well. Dr. Ethan Russo wrote a paper on the studies of terpenes. He wrote that the inhalation of terpenes at concentrations similar to that in cannabis led to “profound effects on activity levels, suggesting a direct pharmacological effect on the brain.” Some of the effects that can come from terpenes are pain relief, sedation, anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial. Dr. Russo also talked about the synergies between terpenes and cannabinoids in his paper. He wrote that evidence suggests that cannabinoids and terpenes may work together synergistically to treat ailments such as MRSA infections, psychiatric illnesses, and acne.
The entourage effect may help explain why some strains of cannabis affect people differently. There are thousands of different strains with diverse chemical profiles that will cause a different experience in the same person. This is how one strain can make a person feel calm while the same day if they consume a different strain they can feel paranoid and uncomfortable. Each and every strain of cannabis has a unique chemical profile containing hundreds of terpenes and cannabinoids acting together to produce the bud’s effects. Therefore, if you take out compounds of marijuana then the effects will be altered.
The cannabis plant has hundreds of different compounds. The sum of all its parts is stronger with more benefits than if they were separated. The entourage effect supports the idea that nature in its original form is superior to extraction of a single compound.