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What is the Entourage Effect and How Does it Work?

Review and Comment by Dr. Debra Kimless for Verilife

We talk about the entourage effect all the time when it comes to cannabis consumption, and there’s a good reason for it: it’s a fascinating and unique process that happens when you consume marijuana. In this guide, we’ll discuss:

  • What is the Entourage Effect?
  • How Does the Entourage Effect Work?
  • Who Discovered the Entourage Effect?
  • How do Cannabinoids, Terpenes, and Flavonoids Work Together?

What is the Entourage Effect?

The entourage effect is a theoretic principle that suggests that compounds made in the cannabis plant’s trichomescannabinoidsterpenesflavonoids, and more work together to create a whole-body experience. 

“The cannabis experience is much more than just THC or CBD, as the cannabis plant is more than just a few cannabinoids. Think of it as different parts of the plant all working together in favor of your body,” says Dr. Debra Kimless, a cannabis expert with board-certification in anesthesiologist, pain management, and lifestyle medicine. “No other plant is as efficient or multi-modal as cannabis.”

How Does the Entourage Effect Work?

Sometimes, analogies help explain things, so that’s what we’re going for here. Imagine your favorite movie or show soundtrack. Imagine all the instruments playing in that soundtrack. Percussion, string, wind, etc. Now, imagine the cannabinoids are the percussion, the terpenes are the string ensemble, and the flavonoids are the wind instruments. Sure, you could have a good song with just one piece of that symphony, but imagine the soundtrack just being percussion? It just isn’t quite as good. That’s the same idea with the entourage effect and the cannabis experience.

Can you buy different parts of the plant on their own? Yes, you can! There are distillate and isolate products available, which are a pure form of a targeted cannabinoid created by removing everything except the desired compound (like THC pills). This will create a different experience than consuming full spectrum or broad spectrum extracts, which contain a variety of cannabinoids and terpenes. Only you can decide if it’s better, but most cannabis connoisseurs prefer the full entourage effect experience.

Who Discovered the Entourage Effect?

Many scientists have studied and continue to study cannabis, but it was Israeli chemists Shimon Ben-Shabat and Raphael Mechoulam who discovered the effect in 1998. These professors theorized that cannabis compounds work together to enhance their individual effects, creating distinct characteristics and psychoactive capacities. It became more well-known in 2011 when psychopharmacologist Dr. Ethan Russo published a paper regarding the adverse effects in THC-only medications.

“The concept is very common in medicine. A physician wouldn’t rely on a large dose of one single medication, as that may cause adverse effects,” notes Dr. Kimless. “Rather, we combine a variety of medications that work together to produce the most optimal solution.”

How Do Cannabinoids, Terpenes, and Flavonoids Work Together?

There are a wide variety of factors involved in the entourage effect–meaning it’s not just one terpene, cannabinoid, or flavonoid working to create the effect we experience when consuming cannabis. Rather, it is every part of the marijuana plant, down to those little individual molecules and compounds, which create a whole-body experience.

“Beta Caryophyllene is a common terpene found in nature, including in the cannabis plant, that is known to influence immune cell function,” says Dr. Kimless. “This terpene sits on your CB2 receptor, the endocannabinoid receptor that influences immune function. However, when this is paired with the cannabinoids and flavonoids found in specific cannabis strains, it has the potential to provide a variety of benefits. But, again, we need research to discover more.”

As the cannabis community has started to research cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, we’ve come to discover that each cannabinoid, terpene, and flavonoid react differently when they enter the human body. This is because of how they interact with the endocannabinoid system. This, again, is just another piece of the entourage effect.

Why Is the Entourage Effect Important?

A paper was published in 2005 by cannabis researcher Raphael Mechoulam, titled “Plant cannabinoids: a neglected pharmacological treasure trove.” In it, Mechoulam says that there are non-psychoactive cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant that could be of biological interest. According to Dr. Kimless, we have a good idea of how cannabis works with the body, but there is still a ton of mystery out there. Without continued research, we cannot hope to understand every unique property of marijuana.

About Debra Kimless, M.D.

Debra Kimless, M.D., is the Chief Medical Advisor for PharmaCann, overseeing the company’s medical cannabis program. As a board-certified anesthesiologist, pain medicine, and lifestyle medicine physician, she focuses on educating audiences about the benefits of cannabis. Dr. Kimless graduated magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa from Muhlenberg College, and earned her M.D. at Rutgers University. She then completed her anesthesiology residency at Temple University.
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This content is not intended as medical advice. The information provided is meant to encourage cannabis education, not replace direct patient-healthcare professional relationships.  Always consult your primary care physician or other healthcare provider prior to using cannabis products for treatment of a medical condition.  Any statements contained herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products referenced are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.  Products are only available where consumption of cannabis is legal.