BY DEANNA DEBARA
Photo: Getty Images
When most people consume cannabis, they want to have the most positive and effective experience possible. For example, if someone’s looking for help with pain, they want whatever they’re consuming to provide as much relief as possible. If someone’s seeking help with sleep, they want the product to deliver the most ideal sleep-inducing experience the plant is capable of.
And the science behind how to get that kind of positive and effective cannabis experience? It may boil down to something called the entourage effect.
But what, exactly, is the entourage effect? How does it work? And how can the theory help us better tap into the potential of cannabis—and have more positive, effective consumption experience as a result?
What is the entourage effect?
First things first—what, exactly, is the entourage effect?
“The Entourage Effect, a theory popularized by Dr. Ethan Russo, suggests that all compounds within the cannabis matrix work together synergistically to increase therapeutic potential,” says Emma Chasen, cannabis educator and industry consultant at Eminent Consulting. “This means the more compounds we consume, the more likely it is that we will experience symptom relief.”
Essentially, the entourage effect is the theory that cannabis compounds are more effective when consumed in tandem. So instead of isolating certain compounds (for example, distilling only CBD to make a tincture), according to this theory, by preserving the variety of compounds that are inherent in the plant like terpenes and other cannabinoids including THC, CBC, CBG, or CBN, you can increase the efficacy and therapeutic benefits of the plant. Together, this makes for a better, more effective experience for the consumer.
Since the entourage effect is all about the different compounds in the cannabis plant working together to deliver better results, how exactly does that happen?
“Many of these compounds, most notably cannabinoids and terpenes—as well as flavonoids and additional phytonutrients—have an impact on different physiological mechanisms and signaling pathways in our body,” says Chasen. “The compounds’ actions on these different pathways can multiply the likelihood for therapeutic action, such as pain relief.”
And as all of those different compounds work on the various mechanisms and signaling pathways, what’s the major benefit to you? An increased likelihood of experiencing a variety of therapeutic effects (at least according to the theory).
“The benefit of the entourage effect is the increase in likelihood of a therapeutic experience. More compounds consumed in whole plant medicine typically means a higher likelihood of pain relief, anti-inflammatory action, anxiety relief, etc. Additionally, consuming more compounds might help to mitigate the uncomfortable side effects associated with THC.”
So, according to the entourage effect theory, all the compounds in cannabis work together to create a more effective experience. What does that look like in action?
To showcase the entourage effect in action, let’s use what are arguably the two most well-known cannabis compounds as an example: CBD and THC.
“CBD cannot bind to the CB1 receptor without THC’s presence. THC must engage with the main binding site of the CB1 receptor to allow CBD to bind to a secondary binding site on that same receptor,” says Chasen. “When THC and CBD are both bound to the CB1 receptor in low concentrations, therapeutic likelihood increases while negative side effects such as paranoia and anxiety decrease.”
But cannabinoids aren’t the only compounds at play in the entourage effect. Terpenes also have the potential to deliver a host of therapeutic benefits when combined with other compounds in the cannabis plant.
For example, “when combined with THC and CBD, myrcene may act as a potent neuroprotective agent and antioxidant,” says Chasen. “Limonene, when consumed with other cannabinoids and terpenes, may increase the anti-inflammatory and immune regulatory potential of the experience. Pinene has shown great potential in its ability to reduce and in some cases even eliminate memory impairment and loss from overconsumption of THC.”
The entourage effect showcases the potential of the cannabis plant
While there have been a few studies into the entourage effect (for example, one study found that cancer patients who were given an extract with both THC and CBD experienced greater pain relief than patients given a pure THC extract), more research is needed to fully understand how the different compounds of the cannabis plant work together. But the entourage effect theory showcases the potential of the cannabis plant and why consumers need to think about products and brands that adhere to the idea of pushing full spectrum or whole plant. You want to consume as much of the plant as close to its natural state as possible for the best benefits.
So what cannabis products are best for if I want to experience the entourage effect?
If you’re looking to experience the whole plant, there’s nothing better than flower. It’s like eating an apple versus drinking apple juice concentrate — you’re getting all the benefits and you’re not losing anything due to processing. Concentrates, which include shatter, badder, etc. are another great source of full plant extract while vapes can also be an option. For vapes look for terms like “live resin”, “whole plant”, and “full spectrum.”
What if you don’t want to smoke? Well, some argue that most edibles do not provide the entourage effect. It’s because most edibles are made with distilled THC, which does not contain the other parts of the plant like terpenes, flavonoids, and even some cannabinoids. That’s not to say that that you can't enjoy them or experience a fun high. But if you're looking for an edible that's more likely to give you the entourage effect experience, you have to read the packaging to make sure that it says “whole plant” or “full spectrum”. And if you’re really unsure, you can also try tinctures which are more likely to encompass all the benefits of the entourage effect.
Curious about the entourage effect? Try these recommendations:
With a robust terpene profile that features terpinolene (found in citrus), pinene (found in pine trees), and myrcene (found in mangoes), this sativa-dominant strain is high in cannabinoids and offers an uplifting and energized experience.
Here’s an example of edibles that are whole plant — and they’re delicious as well. With 5mg THC per serving, it’s a low dose way to enjoy the entourage effect.
Prefer a tincture? This one is full spectrum, whole plant, and can be consumed by placing a few drops under the tongue. It’ll absorb sublingually and you should feel effects within 15 minutes. If you’re not a fan of the flavor, you can also mix it into a beverage.
Featuring sweet notes of berry and clove, this sativa-dominant flower is a fan favorite for its uplifting, happy high. And because it’s flower, you’re going to get all of the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids.
For those who want something that’s more chill, this indica-dominant flower is ideal. It’s potent at 24.5% THC so you’ll want to take it slow should your tolerance be on the lower side. A few hits will get you relaxed and ready for bed.