If you’ve done a bit of research on cannabis products, you’ve probably come across the phrase “entourage effect” before. Products that use full-spectrum or broad-spectrum cannabis extracts usually claim to be better than isolates because they benefit from that effect. But what exactly is the entourage effect? How does it work? And how should it affect the CBD products that you choose? This is our simple guide to everything you need to know about the entourage effect.
Cannabis: a treasure trove of botanical compounds
The cannabis plant contains hundreds of different compounds, including but not limited to CBD and THC. This is what gives it its medicinal properties. This also explains why some strains of cannabis are better than others for certain medical conditions.
CBD and THC are both cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are compounds which can have a lot of benefits for our bodies and minds, thanks to their effects on something called the endocannabinoid system, or ECS. This biological system is a vast network of receptors, running through our whole body. It regulates a lot of essential functions, including pain management, inflammation, anxiety and appetite. All cannabinoids affect the ECS, although they all do it in a slightly different way. As a result, strains that have more of some cannabinoids (THC, CBD, CBN) may fit the needs of some people better than others.
For example, some people find that THC high strains of cannabis are more effective for treating depression, while others tend to favor high CBD strains for conditions like chronic pain, anxiety or inflammation.
What’s interesting is that some strains of cannabis can have different effects, even if they have the same percentage of THC and CBD. We suspect that this is because of the other cannabinoids and terpenes that they contain.
Although we mainly hear about THC and CBD in mainstream media, cannabinoid compounds like CBN, CBG or THCV are already demonstrating their health properties. For more information about them, you can read our guide to cannabinoids here.
But that’s not all. Researchers believe that the effects of a certain cannabis strain can’t be attributed solely to the cannabinoids that they contain. We suspect that some other botanical compounds are at play, like the terpenes that give cannabis its smell and taste.
Moreover, the effects of cannabis may be greater than the sum of its parts. Scientists think that when certain compounds are present together, their effect is multiplied. Here’s what we know on that topic so far.
The word “entourage” comes from the French “entourer,” which means to surround. The “entourage effect” refers to the effects that cannabis compounds have when they are surrounded by other cannabis compounds.
One of the most well known consequences of the entourage effect is observed when we mix THC and CBD together. Numerous studies have shown that CBD can counterbalance some of the most vivid effects of cannabis. This is why even though THC is more effective than CBD at treating muscle spasms, cannabis based remedies include both compounds.
For example, the drug known as Sativex which is sometimes used to treat multiple sclerosis employs CBD and THC in a 1:1 ratio. Taken together with CBD, THC deploys its full potential when it comes to treating spasticity. And as a bonus, CBD counteracts the psychoactive properties of THC, which lowers the risks that people using the product will experience anxiety and paranoia.
So far, we’re still lacking studies on the interaction of different cannabinoids together. But one thing we know is that cannabinoids need each other to achieve their full medicinal effects.
The role of terpenes
Aside from cannabinoid compounds, cannabis also contains terpenes. These are molecules that give it a distinctive aroma and flavor. For example, pinene gives cannabis a pine scent, while caryophyllene can add a hint of pepperiness. Recently, however, we’ve been finding that these molecules do a lot more than simply affect the smell of cannabis.
In a 2011 review of studies, scientists paid close attention to terpenes or terpenoids and how they affect the working of THC. They found that these compounds have “unique therapeutic effects” and should not be neglected in studies on cannabis. According to a few of the studies reviewed, terpenes boosted the properties of cannabinoids like THC, CBD and CBG.
Is the entourage effect a proven theory?
As of yet, we don’t have enough studies to consider the “entourage effect” a scientific fact. Rather, it is a theory that cannabis researchers have been advancing for a few years. In short, it states that all the compounds in cannabis gain their effectiveness by being in the presence of other compounds. And as a result, cannabis based drugs or products should try to preserve as many cannabinoids and terpenes as possible to boost their effectiveness.
What does the entourage effect mean for you?
So why is it important to understand the entourage effect? In essence, this theory tells you that it’s better to choose products that contain as many different compounds as possible.
When it comes to CBD products, you have a lot of choice. You’ll find products that contain pure CBD isolate, meaning it’s a cannabis extract with no terpenes and no other cannabinoids. Although these products have advantages (they’re the safest when it comes to passing drug tests for THC), they won’t give you as many benefits as broad or full-spectrum products.
Broad spectrum products contain CBD, alongside other cannabinoids like CBG, CBN, CBDA and more. They also contain a whole array of terpenes, depending on the strain of cannabis from which they are extracted. In general, we recommend choosing broad-spectrum CBD products over CBD isolate-based products.
Finally, some countries have legalized the use of full spectrum products. These contain every single compound of cannabis, including CBD, THC, other cannabinoids and terpenes. According to the theory of the “entourage effect,” these products would maximize the health benefits of cannabis. However, they’re still illegal in a lot of places, and may not be suited for people who respond poorly to THC.
CBD is legal on a federal level in the United States, as long as it contains less than 0.3% THC. However, it is still prohibited by certain state laws and doesn’t have FDA approval. We encourage you to consult a physician before you start taking CBD.
Although the entourage effect isn’t a proven theory, it’s one that makes sense to a lot of scientists studying the effects of cannabis on the body. It essentially states that the molecules in cannabis can all have an impact on the effect and potency of other cannabis compounds. And as a result, trying to use the whole plant as much as possible is the best way to employ cannabis in medicine and psychiatry. Our advice? Prioritize broad-spectrum products over CBD isolate to maximize the potential of cannabis extracts.
2012 review of studies on the synergistic effects of CBD and THC
2011 review of studies on the effects of terpenoids on cannabinoids
2005 review of studies on the effects of different cannabinoids