Posted on: July 10, 2020 at 2:07 pm
Last updated: October 23, 2020 at 12:40 pm

Present-day science is in the early stages of showing that the positive effects of marijuana are a product of complex interactions. Research reveals there is a multitude of compounds in cannabis that may have beneficial effects on human health, and not just THC and CBD [1]. 

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Several studies also suggest that the chemical components in the marijuana plant may provide a more beneficial impact when they are used synergistically [2].

This effect was first termed “the entourage effect” by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, an Israeli scientist, in a co-authored paper of the same name [3]. 

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With resistance from legal systems, Mechoulam managed to study and identify the compounds THC and CBD in the 60s, subsequently studying many other cannabinoid and non-cannabinoid components. His work continues to be at the forefront of cannabis research.

Marijuana Chemistry

Marijuana contains around 66 identified cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are what are considered the active cannabis-specific chemical compounds in the plant.

Overall, there are around 480 different known components that contribute to the make-up of the herb as a plant. The most well-known and researched of these are delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

THC is the primary psychoactive cannabinoid-compound in cannabis. It’s associated with various health benefits with some of the more well-researched ones being its effects on nausea, promoting appetite, chronic pain, and improving symptoms of multiple sclerosis [4].  

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CBD is another well-researched cannabinoid-compound found in cannabis. CBD doesn’t produce any psychoactive effects but is associated with various health benefits as well. For example, a 2001 review study published in the Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics identified over 20 potential benefits associated with CBD, including [5]:

  • Anti-inflammatory effects;
  • Anti-oxidant effects;
  • Anti-anxiety effects,
  • Analgesic (anti-pain) effects,
  • Sleep-improving effects. 

A few studies also suggest that CBD may reduce some of the adverse effects of THC [6]. The two chemicals are complementary.

Aside from THC and CBD, several other cannabinoids being studied, such as CBG, CBN, and THCV, have shown positive medicinal effects. Scientists are likewise discovering that non-cannabinoid compounds, such as terpenes and linalool, possess synergistic qualities when combined with cannabinoids [7]. These effects include improved absorption and reduced side effects.

Read: Why Heavy Cannabis Smokers are Arguably Less of Threat to Society Than Alcoholics

What Is the Entourage Effect?

The entourage effect described by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam is the observed mechanism by which various compounds in cannabis work together in an entourage or ensemble, enhancing each other’s beneficial effects and/or reducing each other’s adverse effects. Mechoulam and his associates strongly believed in the undiscovered power of various components of the herb.

The entourage effect can be explained rather effectively the analogy of eating whole foods vs relying on isolated nutrients (i.e. supplements). While supplemental nutrients have their place, they are no comparison to the symphony of vitamins and minerals we get from a healthy whole-food-based diet.

Among herbalists and natural/holistic health professionals, there’s a saying about herbal therapeutics:

The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum of It’s Parts

In other words, the totality of all its parts is greater than any single, isolated component (i.e. CBD or THC alone).

Traditional Chinese and Ayurveda Medicine insists on using full-spectrum herbal extracts in place of single, isolated components to take advantage of the whole plant’s synergistic properties.

Isolated compounds, in many instances, do not have the same degree of activity as, for example, the unrefined extract at comparable concentrations or dose of the active component [8].

When it comes to cannabis compounds, there is, in fact, some evidence suggesting that CBD taken as part of a full-spectrum hemp-extract (containing all hemp-derived cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids), can be as effective as an isolated form of CBD, but with a dose that’s 4-times smaller [9]. Though it should be noted that this data is based on a 2018 meta-analysis with a notable conflict of interest statement with links to industry funding.

This is not to say that isolated therapeutics like THC and CBD do not have their place, indeed they do. However, the advantages of a synergistic approach should not be ignored.

Read: Researchers Think They Know Why Cannabis Makes Some People Happy and Some Paranoid

Benefits of Whole Plant Interactions in Cannabis

The entourage effect is thought to have three main positive impacts when it comes to taking cannabis in the form of a whole-plant(-extract):

  • The enhancement of the beneficial effects of each individual compound [2]
  • Reduction in adverse side effects [6]
  • The activation of certain cannabinoid-receptors, that only get activated when exposed to a specific combination of compounds [3]

These effects are a result of interactions between cannabinoid and non-cannabinoid compounds like terpenes and from the interplay of different cannabinoids with each other. The interactive effects are providing a new horizon for research on the plant’s medicinal effects.

The best part is that the technology we use to consume cannabis is advancing at a fast pace, you can control which compounds in the plant get released through the different boiling points of the different compounds.

In that way, your vapor will consist of your own fine-tuned chemical cocktail of beneficial cannabis compounds. You can read comprehensive guides on the matter HERE.

Read: Nearly Century-Old Research Shows, Even Then, Cannabis’ Potential in Battling Epilepsy, Migraines, Asthma, Spasms

The Interactions of Marijuana Components

Despite a lack of availability of whole-plant resources to test, some dedicated scientists and medical researchers have cut through the red tape to provide evidence for some incredible effects of combination extracts.

Whole Plant Cannabis Treatment for Multiple Sclerosis

In a 2009 review, the combined application of CBD and THC has been demonstrated to be more effective than THC alone in the treatment of multiple sclerosis [10]. Sativex, a drug that combines CBD and THC, has been found highly effective for treating multiple sclerosis symptoms where CBD or THC alone has failed. Its effectiveness is attributed primarily due to the complementary effects of the two compounds.

Epilepsy Relief with Cannabis Combinations

CBD taken as part of a full-spectrum hemp extract that contains all hemp-derived cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, can be as effective as isolated CBD, with a dose that’s 4-times smaller for epilepsy patients [9].

In addition, CBD taken as part of a full-spectrum hemp-extract produced fewer side effects compared to CBD taken as an isolated compound. 

Improved Pain Relief from Whole Plant Use

A 2015 study compared pure cannabidiol to a standardized plant extract from Cannabis sativa. It found that pain relief was superior when whole plant extracts were used. CBD alone had a bell-curve-like drop-off, whereas the combined whole plant extract did not exhibit the same performance failure [11].

Positive Interaction of THC with Terpenes

Ethan Russo, a biomedical researcher in Washington State, published a paper in 2011 linking the effects of a terpenoid with THC, providing more confirmation of the entourage effect. His paper provides molecular proof that a terpenoid molecule, alpha-pinene, found in cannabis is active in counteracting the effects of short-term memory impairment, a known side effect of excessive amounts of THC [12].

Read: Johnny Depp Admits Giving His 13-Year-Old Daughter Marijuana

The Proof in Whole-Plant Strain Variations

For years participants in marijuana growth and use, both legally and illegally, have known that various strains of the plant create different effects. In fact, marijuana producers have been cross-breeding different strains for their effects for years. This, combined with the fact that it took so long to isolate the plant’s specific active ingredients, compounds the realization that there are multiple active ingredients at play in marijuana.

Why Limit the Entourage Effect?

The research into the different effects of various combinations of cannabis compounds is only just beginning due to the plant remaining illegal in many jurisdictions. The diversity of the reactions and positive effects are as numerous as the different components found in the plant – and the number of different strains of the plant itself [13].

Science may eventually catch up with more evidence to further understand the underlying mechanisms behind the entourage effect. However, in the meantime, thanks to increasing legalization, most folks won’t have to wait.

Since the entourage effect is affected by randomization, generalization, and individualization, the best way to benefit from it right now is to experience it firsthand. Do your own research for your specific need and give it a go. When trying cannabis or cannabis-derived products always try a product that’s as close as possible to the original biochemical composition of its source plant. 

With dry flower, you don’t have to worry about this because dry flower is the plant itself. However, when looking for cannabis-extracts, always go for a full-spectrum cannabis-extract.

Conclusion

Is the widespread paranoid view of recreational abuse preventing us from accessing the full potential of cannabis? Perhaps, but high-THC can be harmful especially to the developing brain of children and adolescents. Perhaps there’s good reason to make THC-rich cannabis and its derived products less accessible than for example low-THC, CBD-products. 

On the other hand, we can’t ignore the scientific evidence and thousands of anecdotal reports that suggest cannabis and cannabis-derived products are more beneficial when they’re not stripped by their characteristic compounds like THC. 

More research is needed to weigh the potential risks of using THC-rich cannabis products vs its potential benefits, including its benefits with regards to the entourage effect.

Keep Reading: Cannabis shows promise blocking coronavirus infection, claims Canadian researcher

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Winston Peki
Cannabis Educator
Winston Peki is a marijuana and vaporizer expert. Born and raised in Amsterdam, he grew up in a cannabis-friendly climate and learned quickly what a great ally this plant can be. He believes vaping cannabis and cannabis-based products is the easiest, safest and most straightforward alternative to smoking it. He is the Founder of Herbonaut, an informative vaporizer and cannabis-based products site where you can find vaporizer reviews, CBD oil reviews and more.

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