The entourage effect is one of the most exciting and controversial findings in recent times with regards to the marijuana plant’s phytocannabinoids. Proponents claim it increases the efficacy of medical marijuana or hemp. However, there is relatively recent research that claims it is a myth.
A full-spectrum product in the world of weed includes cannabis terpenes, cannabinoids, and other compounds. There are also broad-spectrum items and isolates. The latter is a product that has undergone a variety of filtration processes to get rid of all compounds except one, usually CBD or THC.
While there is a place for full and broad-spectrum, and isolate, products, is one of them the ‘best’? Also, is the entourage effect real, and if it is, what can it do for you?
What Is the CBD Entourage Effect?
In basic terms, the entourage effect helps maximize CBD oil’s therapeutic effects. It occurs when the hundreds of compounds within the marijuana plant interact with our bodies. The combination of compounds produces a stronger influence than any individual one in what is called a ‘synergistic effect.’
In 1998, Raphael Mechoulam and Shimon Ben-Shabat were the first scientists to suggest that the endocannabinoid system (ECS) demonstrated the ‘entourage effect.’ According to the duo, various ‘inactive’ metabolites and related molecules boosted the activity of the primary endogenous cannabinoids: 2-AG and anandamide. They said it helped explain why botanical drugs were often more effective than isolated ones.
As far as the entourage effect for CBD goes, it means that the cannabidiol in your product isn’t solely responsible for alleviating pain or reducing anxiety. Other cannabinoids such as CBN and CBDV, and terpenes such as beta-caryophyllene, increase the benefits of your CBD. The cannabidiol also positively influences the ECS, but it needs a ‘crew’ of compounds to achieve superstar status.
Terpenes are genuinely fascinating, not least because we’re still not sure how much they can help us. You will find them in the skin of citrus fruit and essential oils, not to mention bath products. They are also in the marijuana plant in abundance. For instance, pinene could help counteract any adverse effects on memory and cognition caused by THC.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States of America published a study by Gretsch et al. in July 2008. The team looked at beta-caryophyllene’s use as a dietary cannabinoid. They found that the terpene can bind to the CB2 receptors similarly to CBD.
The Most Well-Known Entourage Effect
The interaction between THC and CBD is one of the most cited entourage effects. While THC, the main intoxicating cannabinoid in weed, binds directly with the endocannabinoid system’s CB1 receptors, CBD does not. When you combine the two, the interaction reduces THC’s binding affinity to the CB1 receptors. As a result, you feel less high than you would without the CBD and enjoy a more relaxed experience.
There is a growing body of research that shows that CBD helps take the ‘edge’ off THC. Back in the 1980s, the FDA approved Marinol, a synthetic form of THC. While it does a great job of boosting your appetite, it also has side effects such as paranoia. Patients often get stoned, too. Sativex combines THC and CBD, and as a result, patients can tolerate it.
The main thing to note is the CB1 receptors when looking at the entourage effect involving THC and CBD. THC is an agonist which fits into the CB1 receptors as a key fits into a lock. CBD is NOT a direct agonist of the CB1 receptors, but it is in the vicinity.
It competes with its intoxicating cousin for space in the receptor. When you use the two cannabinoids together, there are fewer receptors for THC to activate. Therefore, its intoxicating effects, such as paranoia, are modulated.
According to Adie Wilson-Poe of Washington University (St. Louis), CBD has at least 14 different mechanisms of action in the central nervous system. As a result, it acts in numerous places, so it is hard to attribute its anti-anxiety effects to CB1 occupancy alone.
Of course, when you vaporize or smoke a full-spectrum product, there are a lot more cannabinoids and terpenes. For instance, THC and CBD have apparent anti-inflammatory effects. However, so do dozens of other marijuana compounds. When you use weed, you are possibly activating scores of anti-inflammatory molecules simultaneously.
The possible benefits of THC are manifold and include relief from:
- Chronic pain
- Muscle spasticity
Then there is the small case of getting the munchies, a perfect scenario if you are having issues with your appetite. However, users must be wary of the dosage and understand that the effects of medium to high THC cannabis varies.
THC effects are usually at their highest when you consume an edible. When you eat a marijuana brownie, for instance, the THC goes straight for the liver. There, it metabolizes into a metabolite called 11-hydroxy-THC. That particular metabolite has five times the activity at the CB1 receptor as THC!
When you smoke weed, the THC goes straight for the bloodstream, bypassing the liver. As a consequence, a 10mg THC edible is as potent as 50mg of smoked THC. Add in the longer time it takes for edibles to take effect, and you could have a recipe for disaster.
The effects of CBD are very different from THC. The most noteworthy example is the lack of ‘high’ associated with CBD. It is the weapon of choice for kids with epilepsy because it doesn’t cause them to become stoned. Cannabidiol is also great if you have an upcoming drug screening! Its potential benefits include relief from:
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Chronic pain
The main downside is that you may require a lot of CBD isolate to get the desired effect. Also, your body may not react well to cannabidiol. You could suffer side effects of CBD, such as fatigue and irritability.
Whole Plant Medicine
Aside from helping to counteract the effects of THC, whole plant medicine could improve the overall efficacy of cannabinoids. The main issue we face at present is a relative lack of research into weed due to its prohibition. The lesser-known cannabinoids and terpenes have potential effects of their own, and we are unable to give an approximation as to how much better the entourage effect is when compared to isolated cannabinoids.
Is it a case of isolates being ineffective, or is it a matter of the entourage effect making everything better? The smart money is on the latter, as preliminary research indicates.
Evidence of the Entourage Effect
If you are a fan of full-spectrum CBD, there is plenty of science to support your decision. Back in 2011, Ethan Russo published an essential study in the British Journal of Pharmacology. In it, Russo wrote that cannabinoids and terpenes do work together to provide improved therapeutic effects.
Russo had a more recent study published on the topic in Frontiers in Plant Science, in January 2019. He went through numerous studies that looked at ‘the case for the Entourage Effect.’ Ultimately, he stated that the case for the effect is strong enough to suggest that one molecule is not likely to match the ‘phytochemical factory’ that is marijuana.
However, a study by Santiago et al., published in BioRxiv in March 2019, suggested there is no such thing as the entourage effect. If this were true, it would mean that a whole-plant extract is no better than an isolate. In the study, the researchers investigated the responses of cells transfected with human CB1 and CB2 receptors in the presence of THC and a few select terpenoids.
In the end, the team found that the receptors were not altered by any of the six terpenoids, whether they were mixed or used individually. It is important to note that the study authors admitted limitations with the study. The main one was the fact that the team only examined a single CB1 and CB2 pathway.
Final Thoughts on the Entourage Effect
There is no doubt that the entourage effect is generating a lot of publicity. If it is real, it may change the way we use hemp and marijuana-based medicine forever. The existence of the phenomenon doesn’t necessarily spell the end for sellers of isolates, however. There are cases where it is better if there is NO entourage effect.
For example, one of THC’s most popular uses is to treat glaucoma by lowering eye pressure. Research suggests that THC alone does an excellent job of managing the condition. However, if the entourage effect is real, CBD will block the THC from performing its role in this instance. There is a strong possibility that a full-spectrum marijuana oil won’t produce the same positive effects as THC consumed by itself.
Nonetheless, the idea that cannabinoids and terpenes are more effective when combined is a fascinating one. In this video, Dr. Sean McAllister discusses the effects of THC and CBD on cancer. Research suggests that applying the two cannabinoids to cancer cells in the lab leads to positive results in terms of preventing growth of these cells and even killing them in some cases.
It stands to reason, then, that the future of medical marijuana involves understanding and possibly leveraging the entourage effect. When we learn enough about the phenomenon, we could even discover how to break up the entourage when an isolated cannabinoid such as THC or CBD provides a better effect. Now that’s good science!