The entourage effect:
How cannabis compounds may be working together
Take a close look at your cannabis buds. They’re covered in sticky, shining dots of resin, and in this resin are hundreds of therapeutic compounds that contribute to the effects and benefits of cannabis. You’re likely already acquainted with the plant’s two most famous compounds, THC and CBD, but there are many other compounds the plant produces in lesser abundance that seem to play a supporting role in the overall effects of a particular strain.The theory that various cannabis compounds work together to create unique effects and benefits has been coined “the entourage effect.”
What is the entourage effect?
When we smoke or vaporize cannabis, our bodies take in hundreds of botanical compounds. Each one arrives with unique effects and benefits, and their behavior may change in the presence of other compounds. This is the entourage effect. It’s kind of like how your mood might change depending on your social environment. How do you behave when you’re alone, at a party with strangers, or hanging out with your best friend? Your mood and the personality you project shifts depending on who’s in the room.
Cannabis is far more than just THC and CBD.
Cannabis plants also produce other cannabinoids like CBN, CBC, CBG, and dozens more – as well as terpenes, which are aromatic compounds also readily found in the essential oils of lavender, orange, black pepper, eucalyptus, and much more. With such a diversity of useful compounds in cannabis, the possible synergies could make your head spin with excitement. Unfortunately, there are very few studies that explore these synergies in humans – it’s still only a theory supported by a small body of research, and of course, loads of anecdotal evidence from curious cannabis enthusiasts around the world experimenting with new varieties of the plant.
Cannabinoids and terpenes potentially work together
This theory of the entourage effect is thoroughly described in a review called “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects,” authored by Dr. Ethan Russo—a neurologist and pharmacologist who has long studied cannabis compounds and how they affect the body. In this review, Dr. Russo details the studied benefits of common cannabis compounds, and based on their pharmacology, describes their potential synergistic effects. To reiterate, the entourage effect remains an unproven theory. But as terpenes and novel cannabinoids become objects of consumer intrigue, we’re likely to find more research on the horizon.
Beyond THC: It’s time to assert the primacy of terpenes
In response to this decades-long demand for higher highs, the plant has been bred to contain virtually nothing but THC. Practically every other cannabinoid is a whispered afterthought, with some high-CBD cultivars posing exceptions. Getting the plant to produce a diverse “treasure trove” of therapeutic compounds will require a lot of time—and consumer demand. Interest in terpenes and rare cannabinoids is beginning to flow in, if only at a slow trickle. We’re starting to see, for example, cannabis breeders focus on CBG production and extract producers capture novel cannabinoids like CBN, CBC, and delta-8-THC.
And research on terpene entourage effects is also increasing in interest. With the continued spread of legalization and information, it’s nice to think we’re not too far off from unlocking the treasure trove cannabis has to offer.