Understanding the Entourage Effect

Posted by Alex Corren on

Just imagine that instead of people it’s cannabinoids and terpenes…

Take a moment to picture what someone acts like when they’re stoned. Maybe you’re imagining them improvising some music or snacking on the couch. If you’ve ever had the chance to experience what it’s like to be high yourself, you know that sometimes it can induce uplifting, energizing effects, and other times it can make you want to melt into your bed and fall asleep.

Most people (incorrectly) attribute this variation in the physiological response to ‘sativa’ vs ‘indica’ strains — but what does that actually mean? What’s actually going on there that allows such different reactions from relatively the same thing? Also, how does this relate to hemp-derived CBD products that don’t contain enough THC to induce psychoactive effects?

It’s all about the Entourage Effect, which is defined on Wikipedia as being, “a proposed mechanism by which compounds present in cannabis (which are largely non-psychoactive by themselves) modulate the overall psychoactive effects of the plant.”

What that means is that there are other natural compounds present in the cannabis plant that contribute to the effects that you — the end user — experience.

The Entourage Effect is a term used to describe the synergy between the naturally occurring and massively diverse array of compounds (the entourage) present in cannabis, and how they interact with one another in complex ways to create effects that go beyond any of the individual parts on their own.

The Entourage Effect is the phytochemical equivalent of Aristotle’s famous quote, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

The phenomenon of the Entourage Effect is seen across the entire plant kingdom in different ways, where countless natural molecules interact with one another in ways that magnify and transform the benefits and effects one can experience. Many of these complex chemical interactions have yet to be truly understood and identified.

The most well-known Entourage Effect.

One of the more commonly recognized entourage effects is between the cannabinoids THC and CBD.

THC, which is responsible for getting people stoned, directly binds to the CB1 receptor of the endocannabinoid system. CBD, which does not get people stoned but has many health benefits, does not bind with the CB1 receptor.

When the two are introduced to the body together, there is a synergistic interaction that actually reduces the binding affinity of THC to the CB1 receptor, which means that the CBD/THC combination makes you feel less stoned and allows for a more balanced, non-anxiety-inducing high.

Pretty amazing, right? It gets much deeper and more complex than that when you consider the hundreds of other non-cannabinoid plant compounds that contribute to the Entourage Effect.

Take a moment to breathe in all those wonderful citrus terpenes!

It’s about far more than just CBD and THC.

Have you ever smelled different types of cannabis and been reminded of other aromas found in nature like lemons, pine trees, or berries?

Well, all of those scents are actually attributed to naturally occurring plant chemicals called terpenes, which are aromatic compounds. They’re largely responsible for scent and have their own medicinal and physiological effects too.

For example, cannabis shares the terpenes caryophyllene and humulene with black pepper and hops, which have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.

One of the main interactions we see in the Entourage Effect is between cannabinoids and terpenes.

Returning to the example that this post started with, the diverse ‘entourage’ of phytochemicals present in strains of pot considered indica traditionally produce the ‘effect’ of inducing hunger and tiredness, whereas the ‘entourage’ present in strains considered sativa traditionally produce the ‘effect’ of energy and creative inspiration.

There are literally hundreds of different compounds that include cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, polyphenols and more that create an incredibly complex web of interactions.

How does this all relate to hemp-derived CBD?

Now, turning our focus to the hemp CBD industry and looking at what types of products are out there, we see a general split between products containing ‘full/broad spectrum’ extracts, and ‘isolate’.

Full-spectrum products imply that the extract used retains absolutely all of the phytochemicals originally present.

Broad-spectrum products imply that the extract contains a wide range of the naturally occurring phytochemicals, but not necessarily all of them. For example, at UnCanny Wellness we use a broad-spectrum extract that has the THC removed — so technically it’s not full.

On the other end is an ‘isolate’ extract, which, as it sounds, is the CBD molecule ‘isolated’ and stripped away from all other phytochemicals that are naturally present. Because of that, the entire web of complex interactions and benefits associated with the Entourage Effect disappear.

Scientific studies have shown that isolate is less effective than full or broad-spectrum extracts. Knowing how the Entourage Effect works, these results should not come as a surprise.

In nearly all situations, it’s better to use a full or broad-spectrum extract product than one containing an isolate because the product with CBD isolate is missing out on the beneficial synergy of the Entourage Effect.

There’s a widespread trend to move towards more natural, holistic plant-based medicines and healing modalities — largely because people are recognizing the shortfalls of isolated, pharmaceutical compounds while waking up to the benefits of a more wholesome approach.

While our collective understanding of this topic has come a long way, there’s still so much for us to learn about the incredibly complex web of interactions that constitute the Entourage Effect.


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