The cannabis plant holds a great many mysteries. It is largely understudied, thanks to a few decades of scare-mongering which has injected fear into the hearts of many at the mere mention of cannabis.
The plant itself has very familiar-looking leaves, with the shape of them being used as a symbol in itself. If you look closely, you’ll notice that these green leaves seem to sparkle when the sun hits at the right angle. It’s almost ethereal, but what exactly is going on?
Each sugar leaf of the cannabis plant is covered in trichomes, tiny little hairs which give the plant this shimmering quality. It is these trichomes that hold the source of this plant’s power, as they contain around 100 different compounds called cannabinoids, and other compounds known as terpenes.
The most famous (or infamous) cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), with a few others securing a place in the top spots for being well-known. While these compounds are the most commonly studied and the most understood, they are not the only substances present in the plant. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that other compounds also have important effects, not just CBD.
This is where the ‘entourage effect’ comes in. Perhaps you have heard this term before, perhaps not, but in this article, we are going to explain exactly what the entourage effect is and why it is so important.
Keep reading to find out more…
What is the entourage effect?
The entourage effect refers to the synergistic properties of cannabinoids. The cannabinoids and terpenes in the plant all work together in order to produce the effects that cannabis has on the body, including those it is so widely recognised for.
Interestingly, it is thought that the entourage effect is responsible for decreasing the effects of THC. In places where marijuana is legal for recreational use (of course this doesn’t apply to the UK), people use it recreationally to experience its psychoactive effects. However, if THC was ingested alone, the high would probably be too intense to withstand. In a study conducted by Dalton et al., CBD was found to counteract the high caused by THC, essentially mitigating its psychoactive properties.
Basically, the components of cannabis are not nearly as effective when taken alone as they are when taken together. It’s all about teamwork, which is why the term ‘entourage’ effect is so fitting for this phenomenon.
What is an applicable example of the entourage effect?
In the UK, medical cannabis is strictly illegal. While CBD oil derived from hemp – not marijuana – is allowed to be sold as a food supplement, anything containing THC is effectively banned. However, there is a cannabis-derived medication containing both CBD and THC available for prescription in the UK: Sativex. Don’t get too excited; Sativex is only available in very special circumstances such as which severe epilepsy, and is completely illegal otherwise.
Sativex contains around 48mg of THC, which is extremely high. It is actually possible to experience psychosis after only 10mg of THC, but research has shown that only 4 out of 250 patients on Sativex experiences toxic psychosis, which includes symptoms such as paranoia and a substance-induced disconnect with reality.
So why, if this drug contains so much THC, is it unlikely to cause psychosis? If you guessed that it’s thanks to the entourage effect, then you’re right! Sativex possesses an equal quantity of CBD to THC, allowing the anti-psychoactive properties that we mentioned about to come into play.
In other words, Sativex wouldn’t work if it wasn’t for the entourage effect, because the risks would pretty much outweigh the benefits for patients using this drug.
Evidence of the entourage effect
It’s very easy to make claims about things that are understudied, as there is not much research to argue the contrary. Cannabis as a whole is under-researched, which hopefully will change in the near future, but the entourage effect is yet another niche where research is thin on the ground. That said, there is enough scientific evidence to support the existence of the entourage effect.
In places where such compounds are legal, there is anecdotal evidence that full-spectrum products work more effectively than isolated compounds (such as CBD isolate) by themselves. Of course, anecdotal evidence is never concrete, but there is also scientific research.
All the way back in 1981, a study was published which first confirmed the existence of the entourage effect. Fairbairn and Pickens, the researchers, found that whole plant extracts produced 330% more activity when compared to THC alone. The hypothesis was that the cannabis plant might have “inhibitor” and “synergist” compounds which work together to produce the effects.
That study we mentioned earlier by Dalton et al. was done even further back, in 1976. The 15 subjects involved in that study were given large doses of both THC and CBD, with over 73% reporting that the high seemed stronger when THC was used alone. This is not conclusive evidence, of course, but it definitely points toward an inhibiting effect.
Another survey from 2013 investigated patients using marijuana-based medications or medical marijuana itself. There are plenty of cannabis-based drugs now available in certain localities, meaning that others exist alongside Sativex. One of these is Marinol, which uses a synthetic form of THC not extracted from the plant; In other words, this medication contains no other cannabinoids or terpenes from the plant.
In the survey, 953 individuals were questioned about their usage. An astonishing 98% reported preferring medical marijuana over medications such as Marinol. Basically, people prefer whole-plant methods over synthetic compounds, as these do not allow for the entourage effect to take place.
Once again, this is not clinical evidence, but it certainly points toward the existence and efficacy of the entourage effect.
Why is the entourage effect useful?
People in the UK are beginning to understand more how CBD could be beneficial for promoting wellbeing. Since CBD seems to interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system in order to help maintain homeostasis and provide the body with an added boost, it appears to have great potential when it comes to a healthy lifestyle.
But where does the entourage effect come in? Obviously, UK law prohibits the sale of products derived from marijuana, but CBD may be extracted from the industrial hemp plant. This means that none of the CBD products sold in this country can contain more than 0.02% THC. As a result, the full entourage effect is unlikely to take effect with any legal CBD oil in the UK.
Not to worry, though! CBD and THC aren’t the only compounds in cannabis, and there are a whole host of others that are not as notorious as THC. Furthermore, the hundreds of terpenes are also involved in the entourage effect. As well as giving the plant a flavour and scent, terpenes are thought to affect the way in which cannabinoids bind to their corresponding receptors in the body, meaning that terpenes are just as important as cannabinoids.
In short, it is a lot better to by a broad-spectrum extract, or even whole spectrum (as long as it comes from industrial hemp) in order to get the most out of CBD products. Many UK and EU manufacturers sell these products, stating that they include whole plant extracts in order to include the largest array possible of cannabinoids and terpenes.
What is the best form of consumption to receive the entourage effect?
If you’re thinking about trying CBD or if you have already begun to do so, then you should be checking the labels of your products. Getting your hands on full-spectrum or broad-spectrum products is easy – the label of whatever you’re taking should specify how the compounds were extracted.
The most common form of administering is to buy a full-spectrum CBD oil extracted from industrial hemp. That said, this growing market now includes the likes of edibles and vaping liquids, so it’s simply a matter of exploring what works for you.
Final thoughts on the entourage effect
We hope that you understand more now about what the entourage effect is and how it works.
As we have briefly mentioned, it is currently quite difficult to present a concrete, clinical argument to prove that the entourage effect exists, and it goes without saying that further research is definitely needed. But the anecdotal evidence and few trials to date do seem to show that it is definitely something that exists.
In conclusion, when buying CBD products, always check the label to make sure you’re buying whole plant products!