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What is the “Entourage Effect” and Why Does It Matter?

Have you read about the “entourage effect” you may experience with certain cannabis products? This is a real thing – although still mysterious – and can influence how you feel when consuming certain products. This handy Ethos guide offers a snapshot of what we know and don’t know about the entourage effect, and why it’s important to be aware of its impact.

What is the entourage effect?

The entourage effect is a theory that describes how the phytocannabinoids and terpenes in cannabis enhance, dampen, or otherwise alter one another’s effects when consumed. Depending on the types of compounds present in a cannabis product and in which ratios they appear, your cannabis experience may differ. One common example of the entourage effect in action is a balanced THC:CBD ratio, in which CBD augments the effects of THC and results in an overall less intoxicating experience.

How does the entourage effect work?

According to Ethos Chief Medical Advisor  Dr. Brooke Worster, researchers know that the entourage effect exists, but they don’t yet know how it works. While it’s confirmed that this phenomenon does occur, science has yet to explain the precise mechanism behind it. 

Despite the need for more information, some of what we already know about how cannabinoids and terpenes work with the body’s endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS) can shed light on the entourage effect.

What is the ECS and why does it matter?

The ECS is made up of two major elements: cannabinoid receptors and endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids for short), which are cannabinoids like anandamide and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) produced by your body. Cannabinoid receptors are located throughout your body and come in two types: the CB1 receptor and CB2 receptor. Endocannabinoids interact with the receptors to regulate many bodily functions, including mood, appetite, sleep, and pain perception. 

Learn more about the endocannabinoid system and how it works by reading the Ethos guide!

Phytocannabinoids – those found in the cannabis plant like THC and CBD – also interact with the ECS, which is what gives them their therapeutic potential. Researchers have observed that when cannabinoids (and other compounds like terpenes) are combined in different ways, their effects can vary. This is what we call the entourage effect. As the theory goes, this would be the reason CBD “balances out” your high, as per the example earlier in this blog. But the entourage effect is about more than just THC and CBD, too. Across all varieties of cannabis there are about 100 cannabinoids and 150 terpenes – that’s a lot of potential combinations to consider! 

If the entourage effect theory is correct, it could be a powerful tool to leverage cannabis compounds for a wide range of therapeutic benefits. The question, though, is how relevant the interactions between cannabinoids, terpenes, and the ECS really are to how cannabis affects you.

What we know about the entourage effect so far

The debate on the entourage effect is generally based around the lack of double-blind clinical trials. This limitation has led some to categorize the most common evidence as anecdotal. Some healthy skepticism regarding the entourage effect may indeed be warranted given the historical dearth of research.

However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any evidence that something is happening when cannabinoids and terpenes are introduced in varying combinations. For example, one trial conducted in 2010 monitored the effects of cannabis extracts on patients with chronic pain. They found that the THC-only group responded worse than the placebo group; however, a group taking a balanced THC:CBD extract outperformed both groups in terms of pain improvement1.

More recent research offers support for the idea that terpenes play a crucial role as well. A 2021 animal study found that, when used in combination with a synthetic form of THC, four different terpenes all further reduced pain sensation than with the cannabinoid alone2. The researchers’ conclusion was they were observing a terpene/cannabinoid interaction that augmented the cannabinoid’s pain relieving properties.

What the entourage effect means for choosing a cannabis product

How does the entourage effect influence your buying decisions in a dispensary?

Full spectrum and broad spectrum products

Full spectrum cannabis products contain all the same compounds found in the source cultivar. Cannabis extracts that preserve the flower’s original cannabinoid and terpene content in the same proportions are considered full spectrum products. These products would, in theory, be the best candidates for eliciting entourage effect responses.

Broad spectrum cannabis products contain most or some of the compounds found in the source cultivar, but not necessarily all of them. Oftentimes, “broad spectrum” products remove THC but retain other phytocannabinoids and terpenes. Like full spectrum products, the entourage effect could occur if interactions happened between any of the compounds present.

These two product types are distinct from distillate or isolates, refined extract products that are a virtually pure distillation of a single compound, such as CBD isolate. These products do not offer any entourage effect unless used as an ingredient in an infused product that contains other phytocannabinoids and terpenes.

Compound profiles for specific needs

Understanding how the entourage effect may work for you means figuring out the best combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes. Consider your goals and why you’re consuming cannabis. An Ethos associate can help guide you to the best product for you, but these are some common combinations that may offer entourage effect benefits3:

  • Limonene and CBD together may improve stress alleviation and boost feelings of calm.
  • Cannabinol (CBN) in combination with THC may promote relaxation and sleep.
  • Pinene could serve to mitigate the memory impairment caused by THC.

Remember, the cannabis consumption experience is subjective and context-dependent. If you respond differently to any of these combinations, that’s okay – simply reassess and try a new approach until you find something that works. Ethos associates are standing by to make that process as simple and effective as possible.

Does the entourage effect influence the ECS?

Much more remains to be learned about the entourage effect and how it works, or if it’s even a significant part of how cannabis affects us at all. However, it does seem based on anecdotal evidence that every compound plays a role in the consumption experience. Better understanding the mechanisms that make the entourage effect tick could improve our ability to tailor cannabinoid and terpene formulations to offer much-needed relief from symptoms related to difficult to manage conditions.

Sources

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19896326/
  2. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/07/210714110455.htm
  3. https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/cannabis-entourage-effect-why-thc-and-cbd-only-medicines-arent-g

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