Cannabis 101: Understanding the Entourage Effect
May 10, 2022
If you follow our cannabis blog, you already know that we spend a lot of time focusing on individual components, such as the cannabinoids and cannabis terpenes that make cannabis such a powerful medicine.
But here’s a fascinating—and still emerging—detail about these compounds: While they’re chemically very different from one another, there’s a growing body of evidence suggesting they may actually work in harmony with one another. This idea is called the “entourage effect,” and it’s what we’ll be sharing in today’s post. If you’re interested in getting the very most from your medical cannabis experience, it’s an important theory to familiarize yourself with.
Ready? Let’s dive in!
What Makes Cannabis Tick? Introduction to the Entourage Effect
In previous posts, we’ve shared news and research about how cannabinoids such as THC and CBD may help us manage chronic pain, reduce anxiety and stress, and get a better night's sleep, among other important effects. We’ve also taken a deep dive into the world of cannabis terpenes, those aromatic “essential oils” that not only give specific strains of cannabis their distinctive flavor profiles, but impart specific and medically useful effects as well.
To date, most of the research into these important natural chemicals has treated them more or less as separate entities. That may be changing now, as scientists get a better grasp on how these various compounds interact.
What’s the common thread? It comes down to the endocannabinoid system, or the “ECS.” The ECS is an innate bodily system that was only identified about thirty years ago, but is believed to be one of the body’s most important regulatory networks. And it is important in understanding the entourage effect, too.
We’ve written about the ECS before, and how it’s the gateway between many of the compounds in cannabis and the body (not only the human body, but every animal's body). Among other things, the ECS is involved in regulating vital functions such as:
Appetite and metabolism
Communication between cells
If you need a refresher, we invite you to revisit that earlier post about the ECS. For now, it’s most important to know that, when it comes to making use of the powerful medicines in cannabis, the ECS is an important player.
Next, let’s take a closer look at some of the fascinating interactions that may contribute to the entourage effect.
The Entourage Effect: What the Science Says
How did we even find out about the entourage effect? It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that its existence was first proposed by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, the Israeli researcher who identified THC as the source of cannabis’ euphoric psychoactivity. In short, his theory proposes that the various chemicals in cannabis act in partnership with each other, sometimes potentiating (or strengthening) each other, and sometimes counteracting each other.
The fact that cannabinoids interact with one another has actually been known for a while. The minor cannabinoid CBG, for instance, moderates some of the intoxicating effects of THC, something we already know CBD does as well. Elsewhere, a growing body of evidence supports that the ensemble effect is both real and medically useful, at least when it comes to interactions among different cannabinoids.
How about the notion of cannabinoids interacting with terpenes? That’s a little more out there.
The Role of Terpenes
Cannabinoids interact with the body via the endocannabinoid system, specifically with the receptors called “CB1” and “CB2.” Some cannabis terpenes interact with these receptors as well, though others interact with different neurotransmitter networks such as the serotonin system, for example.
Lost your keys recently? One research paper published in 2011 suggests that the terpene alpha-pinene helps to counteract THC’s negative impact on short-term memory. Another preclinical study suggests that the terpenes linalool and humulene potentiate (or strengthen) the activity of the cannabinoids, while yet another preclinical study found that several common terpenes acted directly on ECS receptor cells. Scientists are gathering more and more evidence to support that the entourage effect is an important factor in cannabis’s therapeutic properties, though as is so often said in the cannabis world: “More research is needed.”
That said, there are opposing opinions. One preclinical study found that five common cannabis terpenes—including alpha-pinene and myrcene, two of the most common found in cannabis—failed to demonstrate any noticeable ensemble effect by binding to the receptor cells in the ECS.
The conversation does not end there. As we’ve covered, researchers have already discovered that at least some of the cannabis terpenes interact with neurotransmitter networks besides the ECS. It’s possible that the interactions between terpenes and cannabinoids occur through mechanisms we simply haven’t yet uncovered.
There is good news: Research is moving forward. A recent study from the University of Arizona Health Sciences suggests that the entourage effect contributes to cannabis’s pain-relieving effects. The National Institute of Health awarded a grant to researchers at Johns Hopkins University to study three different kinds of cannabinoid-and-terpene interactions. We’ll be keeping a close eye on these exciting new areas of research.
In the coming years, a great deal of attention will be focused on the potential benefits of the entourage effect. And because—let’s face it—we’re kind of science nerds here, we’re hopeful that once it’s better understood the ensemble effect will enable doctors to create highly targeted and specific treatments from medical cannabis.
The Entourage Effect: In Conclusion
Our understanding of the entourage effect is still developing. In sharing developments in this research our hope is that you can use the information to help find even greater beneficial effects from your medical cannabis experience.
At 3Fifteen Primo, we’re passionate about connecting our customers with cutting-edge medicines that make a real difference in their lives. If you have any other questions about cannabinoids, cannabis terpenes, or the ensemble effect, just ask your budtender next time you stop by one of our Missouri shops (or you’re always welcome to drop us a line). We’re always here and happy to help!