The entourage effect describes the role that terpenes and other cannabinoids play in potentially enhancing the impact of THC. Read on to learn more.

What is the Entourage Effect?

The “entourage effect” is the name for an idea, widely accepted in the cannabis community, that a variety of compounds work together to create the physical and psychoactive effects of cannabis. It suggests that the medicinal impact of the whole plant is greater than the sum of its parts. 

In other words, according to the entourage effect hypothesis, the effects of cannabis cannot be attributed to an individual compound like THC, but instead are produced through a complex interplay of various cannabinoids and other chemical compounds.

This idea was first put forward in 1998 by S. Ben-Shabat and Raphael Mechoulam, who suggested that the biological activity of cannabinoid compounds is enhanced by other compounds present in the plant. This notion challenges the traditional pharmacological viewpoint that the effects of a drug are primarily due to a single active ingredient.

In a survey of studies on the entourage effect published in 2020, the authors discussed evidence that the entourage effect could play a significant role in how different cannabis strains produce different effects, despite having similar levels of THC and CBD, the two most well-known cannabinoids. 

Proponents of the entourage effect argue that other compounds, such as terpenes, may also influence the overall psychoactive and medicinal effects of the plant. This theory leads many to believe that full-spectrum cannabis products offer more comprehensive therapeutic benefits as compared to products containing isolated THC or CBD alone.

Cannabis in a greenhouse, which increases terpenes thought to play a role in the entourage effect

CBD and the Entourage Effect

The interplay between CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is often at the forefront of conversations about the entourage effect. This is because these two compounds, often the most abundant in cannabis, have been shown to produce distinct effects and experiences when isolated.

While THC produces psychoactive effects, CBD is known for its non-psychoactive properties. What makes the relationship between CBD and THC particularly interesting in the context of the entourage effect is how CBD can modulate the effects of THC. Studies suggest that CBD may mitigate some of the less desirable effects of THC, such as anxiety and paranoia, which some users experience.

In other words, when CBD and THC are present together, they may work synergistically to create an effect that is different from what either could produce alone. This synergy can potentially enhance the therapeutic benefits of these compounds. For example, in pain management, the combination of THC and CBD has been found to be more effective in some cases than either compound alone. 

However, it's crucial to note that while there is promising evidence for the entourage effect in CBD and THC interactions, many in the scientific community call for more comprehensive studies in order to better understand the relationship between these compounds. 

Illustration of lemon and cannabis to represent the limonene terpene

Terpenes and the Entourage Effect

Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in many plants, including cannabis. While scientific research is lacking on the role terpenes may play in modulating the psychoactive effects of cannabis, it is clear that terpene profiles affect the flavor and scent of various cannabis strains. As a result, these compounds are heavily associated with the character of various strains, and are widely believed to play a significant role in the overall impact of various kinds of cannabis.

Myrcene 

Myrcene is one of the most abundant terpenes in cannabis. Anecdotal evidence suggests it may have relaxing, sedative properties. Users often associate strains high in myrcene with a calming, soothing effect. Myrcene is also found in mangoes, lemongrass, and thyme.

Pinene 

Pinene, as the name suggests, is a terpene with a distinct pine aroma. It is the most common terpene in the natural world and is found in pine trees, rosemary, and basil. Some cannabis users report that pinene can help counteract the cognitive and memory deficits sometimes associated with THC. Additionally, it is believed to have bronchodilator and anti-inflammatory effects.

Caryophyllene 

Caryophyllene is unique among terpenes because it can also act as a cannabinoid and interact directly with the endocannabinoid system, particularly the CB2 receptors. Found in black pepper, cloves, and cinnamon, caryophyllene studies show it can have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Cannabis users often associate it with a more physically soothing experience.

Limonene

Limonene has a citrus scent and is commonly found in citrus rinds, juniper, and peppermint, in addition to cannabis. Anecdotal reports suggest that it may have uplifting and stress-relieving effects. Some users believe that strains high in limonene provide a more vibrant, energetic high.

Linalool

Linalool is known for its floral, lavender-like aroma. It is often associated with calming and anti-anxiety effects. In cannabis, linalool is believed to help balance out the anxious side effects that some people experience with THC. Beyond cannabis, it's also used in aromatherapy for its purported calming effect.

Ratioed gummies are enhanced with minor cannabinoids thought to play a role in entourage effect

Is the Entourage Effect Real?

The legitimacy of the entourage effect in cannabis is a matter of ongoing debate within the scientific community. On the one hand, advocates argue that widespread anecdotal evidence and preliminary studies offer enough evidence of the entourage effect. On the other hand, skeptics argue that until more rigorous studies are available, scientists cannot advance the entourage effect as anything more than an unproven-hypothesis.

A recent article from Scientific American highlights that while the concept of the entourage effect is appealing and widely accepted amongst cannabis users, there is still a lack of large-scale, controlled studies that definitively prove the synergistic actions of various cannabis compounds. Indeed, the field suffers from a dearth of comprehensive research, largely due to the current legal and regulatory hurdles associated with cannabis research.

However, anecdotal reports from individuals who have experienced varying effects from different cannabis strains, although not scientifically rigorous, still offer powerful preliminary evidence for the entourage effect. 

It's important to acknowledge that the realm of herbal medicine, and cannabis in particular, is deeply informed by individual experiences and subjective effects. This is where anecdotal evidence becomes crucial. While anecdotal evidence cannot and should not be the sole basis for scientific conclusions, it can be a valuable starting point for future research as well as a guide for individuals interested in exploring the different potential effects of various cannabis strains.

What Does the Average Consumer Need to Know about the Entourage Effect? 

For the average consumer, understanding the entourage effect may become part of your decision making about cannabis products. For instance, you might opt for full-spectrum cannabis products (which contain a range of cannabinoids and terpenes), which may offer more comprehensive benefits than products with isolated compounds. 

In addition, when you’re looking for a balanced experience, you might consider the ratio of CBD to THC in a specific product, or even look out for strains high in a particular terpene.

On the other hand, for many consumers, simply understanding that various strains of cannabis will affect them differently is enough. Whether you dive deep into the ongoing research on the effects of various cannabinoids or not, know that exploring your own individual response to different strains can be a fun and enriching way to experience the therapeutic and recreational benefits of cannabis.

Learn More About Sun Grown Cannabis

If you're ready to perform your own informal research on the entourage effect, try some different strains of SunMed’s high quality, sun grown cannabis. Visit a dispensary near you to experience the remarkable difference of sun-grown cannabis firsthand.

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