What is the entourage effect: An overview
The entourage effect is the belief that cannabinoids work better together, rather than when they’re isolated; and the combination creates a synergistic experience for the consumer.
You need broad-spectrum and full-spectrum extracts to feel the entourage effect’s full potential. Full-spectrum extracts contain the entire plant profile, including a trace amount of THC, while broad-spectrum extracts contain everything but THC. Neither extract will create a high, per the 2018 Farm Bill, so it’s just up to you which one fits your needs.
What is a cannabinoid?
Cannabinoids are compounds found in the cannabis plant, including CBD and THC. Over 100 cannabinoids have been discovered by researchers, but CBD and THC are the ones dominating the marketplace.
Recently, other cannabinoids like CBC, CBN, and CBG have also entered the cannabis space. These cannabinoids are known as phytocannabinoids.
The entourage effect says putting these cannabinoids to work together will create a better outcome and experience for the consumer. The entourage effect’s discovery is credited to world-renowned cannabis scientist, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam and Dr. Simon Ben-Shabat. Neurologist and pharmacologist, Dr. Ethan Russo, is among the other influential cannabis-educated doctors that support the entourage effect. Dr. Russo wrote an in-depth review about the entourage effect, and throughout this article we’ll be referencing it a lot.
The endocannabinoid system
In addition to phytocannabinoids, our body also has naturally-occurring cannabinoids known as endocannabinoids. The endocannabinoid system produces endocannabinoids, and the whole reason phytocannabinoids like CBD work. The endocannabinoid system can be found in virtually all living creatures, excluding plants. That’s why you see CBD products marketed towards animals - because it works! The endocannabinoid system produces these cannabinoids as-needed. Fun fact: Breast milk contains an abundance of endocannabinoids!
The endocannabinoid system has receptors, and these receptors are located in different places throughout the body. Cannabinoids will target the endocannabinoid receptors to create homeostasis and balance in the body. As we’ve mentioned, it’s best that these cannabinoids work together to trigger the entourage effect.
So far, scientists have only been able to confirm two different kinds of receptors - the CB1 and CB2 receptors. THC fits the CB1 receptor like a key, and will immediately locate these receptors to latch onto.
You can find CB1 receptors in places like:
- The brain (cerebellum, basal ganglia, hippocampus)
- The nervous system
- The spinal cord
Find CB2 receptors in parts of the body such as:
- White blood cells
Hemp-derived CBD doesn’t create an intoxicating effect because it doesn’t directly engage with endocannabinoid receptors in the brain. CBD actually doesn’t directly bind to either receptor, and acts in a more roundabout way, unlike THC. THC meets the receptors in the brain, and that’s why it creates an intoxicating effect.
Let us be clear: CBD does work in the brain, so there are some potential neurological benefits to taking it, it just doesn’t operate like THC does.
The entourage effect & cannabinoids
This 2010 study supports using THC and CBD in conjunction to relieve cancer-related pain. Participants were given one of three treatments: a placebo, THC only, and CBD/THC together.
“In the intent-to-treat responder analysis,” the study reads, “approximately twice as many patients in the THC:CBD group had a reduction from baseline NRS of at least 30% compared with the placebo and THC groups (THC:CBD ¼ 23 [43%] vs. THC ¼ 12 [23%], placebo ¼ 12 [21%]).”
Dr. Russo’s review references a study combining CBD and CBG together to potentially treat MRSA. The referenced text reads: “All five major cannabinoids (cannabidiol (1b), cannabichromene (2), cannabigerol (3b), Delta (9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (4b), and cannabinol (5)) showed potent activity against a variety of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus.” Dr. Russo’s text explored the potential of treating MRSA with CBD and CBG specifically, and even added potential terpenes into the mix.
If you use high-quality full-spectrum CBD products with verifiable Certifications of Analysis (COAs), you’ll reap the entourage effect’s incredible benefits.
The entourage effect & terpenes
This concept doesn’t just involve cannabinoids. The entourage effect also involves other plant compounds in cannabis, such as terpenes. Terpenes give cannabis its unique smell and flavor, and recently, we’ve discovered that terpenes might have some powerful benefits, too. Terpenes, cannabinoids, and other plant compounds work together to create the much-desired entourage effect, and give you the best experience possible.
Terpenes aren’t only in cannabis plants, you can find them in other aromatic plants like lavender, basil, orange peels, and rosemary.
- Linalool is abundant in lavender, and commonly found in naturally-purple cannabis cultivars. Linalool is thought to have anti-inflammatory, sedative, and stress-relieving properties. It’s the reason people recommend lavender essential oil for anxiety! Russo’s review backs up this idea: “Certainly, terpenoids with pain-relieving, anti-anxiety or sedative effects may supplement such activity, notably, caryophyllene, linalool and myrcene.”
- Dr. Russo’s review shows linalool to create the entourage effect with:
- CBDV (a cannabinoid)
- THCV (a cannabinoid)
- A 1997 study concluded that myrcene is one of the most abundant, if not the most abundant, terpenes across all cannabis cultivars. The Swiss Federal Research Station for Agroecology and Agriculture released a study that says myrcene accounts for 65% of the terpene profile in cannabis. Myrcene is thought to be an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, potentially helpful for insomnia, chronic pain, and more.
- Beta-caryophyllene is also a common and abundant terpene, and it’s thought to have potential therapeutic value helping pain, anxiety/depression, and ulcers. Beta-caryophyllene (also known as b-caryophyllene and simply just caryophyllene) can be found in other aromatic spices like black pepper, cloves, and cinnamon.
- Dr. Russo’s review shows beta-caryophyllene to produce the entourage effect with:
Using CBD to cancel the effects of THC
Dr. Russo’s discussed a new idea making headway in the cannabis space. The idea sparked from the entourage effect, and it’s the thought that CBD will cancel the effects of THC. This is still the entourage effect at work, just in a different way than we’ve been describing.
For people that only consume hemp-derived CBD products, canceling the effects of THC isn’t a problem you face. But for high-THC cannabis consumers, paranoia is one of the most common side effects of cannabis, and can even turn people off from using it.
The tried and true method has always been to wait until time passes, because while scary, it’s not harmful to consume too much THC. But this research shows us there may be a better antidote, and better yet: the antidote is in the cannabis plant!
“Acute overdose incidents involving THC or THC-predominant cannabis usually consist of self-limited panic reactions or toxic psychoses, for which no pharmacological intervention is generally necessary, and supportive counselling (reassurance or ‘talking down’) is sufficient to allow resolution without sequelae. CBD modulates the psychoactivity of THC and reduces its adverse event profile,” reads Dr. Russo’s review.
Choosing the best product for the entourage effect
Dr. Raphael Mechoulam calls cannabis a “neglected pharmacological trove” in a 2005 paper of his. The entourage effect is just one piece of the giant puzzle we don’t know everything about. We can never guarantee a consumer’s CBD experience, as everyone is just so different. However, there are some things you can do to ensure you get the best chance possible:
- Make sure the Certifications of Analysis (COA) match the product’s label
- Choose a product with a potent cannabinoid profile in addition to CBD
- Choosing a company like Fletcher Farms who cultivates their own hemp ensures a higher-quality product, reduces your carbon footprint, and increases your chances at taking advantage of the entourage effect