The Entourage Effect
In the pharmacological world, the focus is often on identifying and reproducing a single active ingredient, with efficiency and efficacy as the goal. The thinking is: Why would you hire an entire orchestra when you can create rhythm and tempo—music—with a drum?
THC has long been touted as the active ingredient in cannabis, the soloist. Meanwhile, scientists have been finding that nature is an excellent biochemist. THC is just one cannabinoid of dozens found in cannabis, each with its own set of properties and bioactive processes. In addition to cannabinoids, cannabis contains terpenes, flavonoids, and other potentially beneficial compounds, a veritable symphony of ingredients. An increasingly convincing body of research studying the impact of cannabis isolates (drum) vs. whole flower and broad-spectrum distillates (symphony) suggests that the latter have more desirable outcomes in testing on tissue samples, animals, and humans. The collection of desirable outcomes produced when the many constituents of cannabis are able to work in harmony with each other is known as the “entourage effect.”
What's going on?
Hard to say, exactly. The human body and its endocannabinoid system are complex, and what we know about them is a very small fraction of what there is to know. Similarly, cannabis is complex, and we’re only beginning to tap its potential.
Here’s a bit of what we do know so far about three of the more prominent components of cannabis:
While THC recognized as the star of the show, cannabis actually offers many cannabinoids in various combinations and concentrations. CBD, or cannabidiol, is the second most prevalent cannabinoid, and it’s been getting a lot of attention lately. CBD has been credited with benefits of its own, including the potential to reduce epileptic seizures, inflammation, anxiety, insomnia, and pain. Furthermore, studies show the impact of a given cannabis strain changes based on the ratio of THC to CBD, suggesting a distinct synergy between the two compounds. Specifically, as early as 1982 studies were conducted to test the theory that CBD mitigated the psychoactive effects of THC, with favorable results. So that’s two of many, many cannabinoids at our disposal. we have only begun to discover how all the others may be of use to us.
Learn more about THC, CBD, and others in our Guide to Cannabinoids.
Terpenes, or terpenoids, are found in all manner of vegetation, including cannabis. They have been credited with contributing to the distinct aromas and flavors associated with various cannabis strains. More recently, studies have demonstrated the music they create has much more depth. “Cannabis and Cannabis Extracts: Greater Than the Sum of Their Parts?,” an often-cited study by Ethan Russo states, “Some terpenoids act as serotonin uptake inhibitors (as does Prozac ®), enhance norepinephrine activity (as do tricyclic antidepressants), increase dopamine activity (as do monoamine oxidase inhibitors and bupropion), and augment GABA (as do baclofen and the benzodiazepines).”
Like terpenes, flavonoids exist throughout the botanical world. When found in cannabis, they are called cannaflavins. Cannaflavins make up about 10% of the roughly 200 bioactive compounds found in cannabis. They serve the plant’s lifecycle in a few key areas: providing color to attract pollinators, and providing protection against pests, UV rays, and disease. Once they’re on your menu, cannaflavins collaborate with terpenes to create aroma and flavor of different cannabis strains. Beyond that, studies show flavonoids demonstrate cardiovascular benefits, as well as exhibit anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, antioxidant, and anti-cancer potential.
In other words, when ingested as Mother Nature intended, the many compounds available in cannabis make harmonious pharmacological music. We look forward to more robust research studies to bear out what anecdotal evidence has been telling us for years: cannabis contributes to a greater sense of well-being on many levels.
1. Russo E (2018). The Case for the Entourage Effect and Conventional Breeding of Clinical Cannabis: No “Strain,” No Gain. Frontiers in Plant Science v9. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6334252/#B35]
2. Russo E, McPartland J (2001). Cannabis and Cannabis Extracts: Greater Than the Sum of Their Parts? The Halworth Press, Inc. [https://www.cannabis-med.org/data/pdf/2001-03-04-7.pdf]
3. Grinspoon, MD P (2018) Cannabidiol (CBD)—what we know and what we don’t. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School [https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cannabidiol-cbd-what-we-know-and-what-we-dont-2018082414476]
4. Zuardi AW, Shirakawa I, Finkelfarb E, Karniol IG (1982). Action of cannabidiol on the anxiety and other effects produced by delta 9-THC in normal subjects. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 76(3):245–5010.1007/BF00432554
5. Bennet P (2018). What Are Cannabis Flavonoids and What Do They Do? Leafly.com [https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/what-are-marijuana-flavonoids]
Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment with medical cannabis. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding your cannabis use. The information and materials provided to you by PharmaCann should not be used as a substitute for the care and knowledge that your physician can provide to you. There may be health risks associated with the consumption of medical cannabis, consult your physician. ©2019 PharmaCann. All rights reserved.