If you heard the word marijuana, a few things would come to mind right away. You would likely think of the effects associated with its two main components, THC and CBD. For those of you unfamiliar, these two compounds are called cannabinoids. They're two of the most well-known compounds responsible for marijuana's effects.
THC and CBD are not the only psychoactive compounds found in weed, but they're the two that most of the scientific research is focused on. In truth, there can be several hundred compounds found in cannabis, and like THC and CBD, they do different things to you when you consume them in differing concentrations and combinations. This is what is referred to as the entourage effect, but opinions vary as to both its reality and the intensity of its effect.
What is the entourage effect and is there scientific evidence to explain how it works? The entourage effect is the theoretical result produced from the synergistic interaction of cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids and fatty acids naturally found in cannabis. We'll delve deeper into the subject below.
One of the biggest reasons the entourage effect is so interesting is that it would mean new, more finely-tuned cannabis strains could be cultivated. If it operates the way it's hypothesized to, many different types of medical benefits could be derived from future cannabis strains.
If research can demonstrate and measure an entourage effect, it should be possible to find the most desirable ratios of THC - CBD - terpenes, etc for differing conditions. We can learn what concentrations of individual cannabinoids produce the most pleasurable or beneficial effect for different users. And there are expert cultivators around the globe that have learned to develop specific strains with differing concentrations of cannabinoids.
This is also interesting and important because weed strains may affect everyone differently. Some may find that certain combinations are useful for pain relief but cause severe anxiety at the same time. Others may find that the same strain is perfect for relaxation and not feel any anxiety at all. There can also be non-psychoactive benefits for specific medical conditions such as tumors or seizures that can be targeted toward individual physiology.
With a better understanding of the entourage effect, we may be able to discover why these different reactions occur. We could then help users select the right combination of cannabinoids to avoid negative reactions and enhance good ones. With better knowledge may come additional marijuana products finely tuned for their users, including both physical and mental benefits and treatments.
Thus far, the medical research into the Entourage Effect has been limited. A 2011 review, Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects, asked the question on the top of many researchers' minds: “Is cannabis merely a crude vehicle for delivery of THC?”
The review states that “pure CBD and CBG powerfully inhibit MRSA (MIC 0.5–2 mg·mL-1) (Appendino et al., 2008). Amongst terpenoids, pinene was a major component of Sideritis erythrantha EO that was as effective against MRSA and other antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains as vancomycin and other agents (Kose et al., 2010).
The review goes on to state the following. “The preceding body of information supports the concept that selective breeding of cannabis chemotypes rich in ameliorative phytocannabinoid and terpenoid content offer complementary pharmacological activities (an entourage effect) that may strengthen and broaden clinical applications and improve the therapeutic index of cannabis extracts containing THC, or other base phytocannabinoids.”
Ultimately, this effect is believable and plausible given the context of what we already know about marijuana. Medical researchers and physicians knowledgeable about cannabis would not necessarily be surprised to see the entourage effect be empirically demonstrated. However, this demonstration is still necessary through the use of medical research. If this can be done, new and exciting medical marijuana advancements could be developed to improve the subjective and patient-specific effects of cannabis.
Other research, however, doesn't look as promising. This 2020 review, The ‘entourage effect’ or ‘hodge-podge hashish’: the questionable rebranding, marketing, and expectations of cannabis polypharmacy, found that current studies have, thus far, found no entourage effect. Although it does note that many are suggestive of otherwise. The paper, ultimately, warns that "overestimation of such claims [of an entourage effect] in the scientific and lay literature has fostered their misrepresentation and abuse by a poorly regulated industry." Given the context and the current lack of scientific evidence, it is wise, then, to be wary of any claims (especially marketing claims) related to an entourage effect.
An entourage effect would not be exclusive to marijuana flower. Naturally, it would occur in any marijuana product that contains both THC, and CBD and/or other cannabinoids and compounds. Dried flower consists are basically full-spectrum, although some strains have almost no CBD. Many cannabis concentrates like live resin also include CBD or other compounds and terpenes, so an entourage effect should be possible with these products if it is possible with flower.
But you should also keep this in mind if you're looking to avoid any entourage effect. As many know, THC and CBD do produce relatively different and sometimes clashing reactions. In fact, most people find that high levels of CBD can actually mute a "high" and make it "wear off" sooner. This is why many strains of flower are bred specifically for maximum THC and minimum CBD -- so as to increase the potent feeling of THC. Many types of concentrates contain only THC or CBD as well and for the same reason. When you shop for your products, you can compare the THC and CBD levels with this information in mind.
Your research into the entourage effect doesn't have to be a purely scientific matter. Personal experience is just as important, if not more so considering the individualized effects of cannabis.
Try keeping track of the different effects you feel with different strains in a notebook.
You can even add columns that show the cannabinoid content of each type of flower or concentrate you try. With a little trial and error, you might even be able to trace down the combination of major cannabinoids that gives you the most beneficial effect!
Ultimately, additional research is needed into the subject to prove whether an entourage effect like this is real, but why wait on the research when you can explore the possibilities yourself? After all, life isn't just about the destination; it's about the journey too!