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what is the entourage effect

Breaking Down the Entourage Effect Theory

Tatum Blakeney

An Introduction to the Entourage Effect Theory

In recent years, the popularity of hemp-based products has exploded. CBD oil, in particular, has been praised for its potential health benefits from supporting sleep, stress relief, and for pain and inflammation.

If you've shopped around for CBD products, you may have encountered the term "entourage effect."

But what exactly is the entourage effect? And is there more to it than a marketing buzz term?

Simply put, the entourage effect is the theory that the cannabis plants' compounds work much more effectively in combination with each other than when used in isolation.

In this article, we'll break this theory down and look at the scientific literature that suggests the potential cannabis synergy and why it's worth looking into when shopping for CBD products.

Article Highlights:

  • The entourage effect explains that there are hundreds of chemical compounds in cannabis, like cannabinoids and terpenes, and that these chemicals can have more powerful and unique effects when combined than when isolated. 
  • On a biological level, the effects of the entourage effect will take place when specific terpenes and cannabinoids interact with each other after various chemicals within cannabis attach to different receptors in the brain.
  • There are three types of hemp extracts on the market: full spectrum CBD, broad spectrum CBD, and CBD isolate. CBD isolate will not produce the benefits of the entourage effect as its only active ingredient is CBD.
  • Cannabinoids affect individuals differently, depending on their genetics, lifestyle, and wellness goals, so it's important to do your research with cannabinoids and experiment safely.
  • Always reference a product's Certificate of Analysis when shopping for cannabis products to ensure it contains what's advertised and is safe for consumption.
Cannabinoids together producing the Entourage Effect

What Is The Entourage Effect?

The health and wellness space is saturated with CBD products—CBD or cannabidiol is the primary active cannabinoid in the hemp plant, but it's not the only active compound. It is, however, extensively researched for its safety profile and effects.

Many manufacturers harvest hemp crops solely for this cannabinoid. Still, many experts believe that these CBD-only products or CBD isolates lack many of the other vital cannabis plant compounds that can support CBD's full effects on the body.

So, what exactly is the entourage effect?

The entourage effect theory in cannabis suggests that the different compounds in the plant work together to produce more prominent effects on the mind and body than one of them could do on its own.

While there's still more research to be done in this area, early studies have shown that this theory may have some merit.

What Are The Active Cannabis Compounds In Hemp?

The cannabis Sativa plant is one of the oldest medicinal herbs—but it wasn't until the last few decades modern science has been able to uncover how cannabis can provide such a wide range of potential wellness benefits.

Within the flowers of cannabis plants, you'll find hair-like resin trichomes that house hundreds of cannabinoids, terpenes, and plant esters that have unique interactions with mammals.

Let's get into the two main active compounds found in hemp resin.

What Are Cannabinoids?

You may have heard of THC and CBD.

These are the two main cannabinoids, but researchers estimate that there are over a hundred different cannabinoids found in cannabis extract.

Minor cannabinoids like CBN, CBC, and CBG are found in smaller concentrations, but their presence in the plant is suggested to offer greater support to the two main cannabinoids.

Some brands even experiment with the ratio of cannabinoids by taking hemp cannabis extract enriched with minor cannabinoids like CBG to support energy and focus or with CBN for sleep.

These compounds interact with a system found in all mammals called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The fact that the names "endocannabinoids" and "cannabinoids" sound very similar is no coincidence.

The discovery of the endocannabinoid system resulted from researchers looking into the pharmacology of the cannabis plant.

They found that cannabis-derived cannabinoids closely resemble communicator cells in the endocannabinoid system, which connect with receptors that initiate actions to regulate various functions, including mood, stress, appetite, sleep, pain, and immune response.

What Are Terpenes?

Terpenes aren't unique to cannabis plants, they're found throughout the botanical kingdom, and they're the aromatic compounds that give plants their scent and flavor.

These powerful compounds do more than make your hemp or marijuana plant taste fruity or skunky—some of them have been observed to interact with cannabinoids like THC and CBD to produce unique effects in the endocannabinoid system. Some of these effects could make the user feel more relaxed or social.

Terpenes may be best known for their role in essential oils, but they actually occur naturally in all sorts of plants and fruits. In fact, you've probably experienced the fragrance of terpenes without even realizing it.

For example, the characteristic scent of lemons is due to a high concentration of terpene called limonene.

Terpenes are also responsible for the distinctively pungent aroma of garlic and the woody smell of pine trees.

These potent compounds can have powerful effects on the human brain, which is why they're often used in aromatherapy.

But terpenes aren't just good for your nose—they also offer a range of health benefits.

For instance, limonene may help boost your immune system. So next time you enjoy the scent of a lemon, take a moment to appreciate the power of terpenes.

Products that embrace the entourage effect have more than just the various cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Terpenes also help contribute to the entourage effect. 

A person experiencing the effects of the entourage effects

How Does the Entourage Effect Work, And What Are Its Potential Benefits?

Basically, the entourage effect is the phenomenon by which the hundreds of different compounds in cannabis work together to produce a more powerful effect than any one of them could on its own. THC, CBD, terpenes, flavonoids, and other cannabinoids all have their own unique effects on the human body.

But when combined, they interact with each other to produce a synergistic effect greater than the sum of its parts.

So why is this important?

Well, for one thing, it means that cannabis strains and even certain cannabis products can be tailored to produce specific effects, depending on their cannabinoid, terpenes, and flavonoid profiles.

For example, suppose you're looking for a product that will help you with sleep. In that case, you might want one with a high ratio of CBD and perhaps some CBN and calming terpenes such as bisabolol, which is also found in chamomile and believed to be responsible for the flower's calming properties.

On the other hand, if you're looking for a cannabis product that will boost energy, you might want one with a higher THC content (delta-8), and terpenes such as limonene, which is also present in citrus fruits—The scent of limonene invigorates the senses and naturally uplifts mood.

So what are the benefits of the entourage effect?

First and foremost, it allows us to get the most out of cannabis by using different strains and ratios of cannabinoids and terpenes to produce specific desired effects. Second, it helps us better understand how cannabis works in the human body and how different compounds interact.

Finally, it provides an alternative explanation for the sometimes seemingly contradictory results of clinical trials on cannabis-based medications.

Instead of saying that cannabis doesn't work because it hasn't been studied enough, we can say that it may work best when all of its different compounds are combined.

Holding a Cannabis Plant

The Cannabis Plant And The Endocannabinoid System Explained

So you may be asking yourself, how exactly do cannabis compounds interact with the human body?

The human body is equipped with a complex system called the endocannabinoid system.

This system is responsible for maintaining balance in the body. The Endocannabinoid System has receptors placed throughout our body, the CB1, and CB2 receptors.

When we consume cannabis products, cannabinoids act and react with these receptors to supplement the endocannabinoid system and help regulate our bodies to work at the most optimal function. These cannabinoid receptors have several ways of changing their physical response depending on the type of cannabis an individual consumes.

Have you ever wondered why certain strains of cannabis cause a euphoric high while other strains of cannabis help with rest and relaxation?

It comes down to a mix of chemicals affecting the body and the brain differently. The entourage effect explains how a complex group of cannabinoids and terpenes interacts with an equally complex organism like the human brain. 

Cannabis Extracts Explained

The Controlled Substances Act still has marijuana as a banned substance federally, so we'll focus mostly on hemp extracts.

Related Article: What Is Legal Delta-9 THC?

Hemp plants are cannabis plants that have no more than 0.3% THC by weight and are harvested mainly for CBD oils.

There are three main types of CBD oils: full spectrum, broad spectrum, and isolate. Full spectrum CBD oil contains all of the compounds found in hemp, including trace amounts of THC.

Broad spectrum hemp extract contains most of the compounds found in hemp, but all of the THC has been removed.

Isolate CBD oil contains only the cannabidiol compound.

Related Article: CBD Isolate Vs. Full Spectrum Vs. Broad Spectrum

Isolated CBD is the most prevalent type of extract on the market because it's the cheapest to produce. The process highly refines the hemp extract, stripping away all other compounds except for CBD.

This is much cheaper to produce in bulk as manufacturers don't have to worry as much about maintaining lower temperatures to preserve heat-sensitive cannabinoids and terpenes.

You can experience some aspects of the entourage effect in both full and broad spectrum CBD products, but only full spectrum CBD products are going to have the complete entourage effect since full spectrum CBD products will have THC.

While there's nothing wrong with using CBD isolate cannabis extracts, you're missing out on many of the other hemp compounds that could increase the effectiveness of CBD.

Most experts agree that using a full spectrum oil will provide more significant effects.

One example of this is a study looking at terpenes coupled with cannabinoids in treating depression and mood disorders.

Although THC and CBD may have therapeutic potential on their own, pre-clinical animal model studies found that THC and CBD work best to provide significant anxiolytic and antidepressant effects when combined [1].

Another study found that CBD and THC were more effective at treating pain when used together than when used alone [2].

The study also found that the combination of THC and CBD produced fewer side effects than either compound on its own.

While further research is needed to confirm these findings, the entourage effect provides a possible explanation for the therapeutic benefits of cannabis.

As more studies are conducted, we may learn even more about how the different compounds in cannabis work in synergy.

Can Cannabinoids And Terpenes Work Together?

While many people focus on cannabinoids working together, other key players in the entourage effect include terpenes.

Dr. Ethan Russo is a prominent cannabis researcher, neurologist, and pharmacologist who has made significant contributions to our understanding of how the cannabis plant works in the body.

His review, Taming THC: Potential Cannabis Synergy and Phytocannabinoid-Terpenoid Entourage Effects, brings to light some incredible observations about the beneficial effects of combining cannabinoids and terpenes.

For example, Russo notes that THC intoxication can be substantially mitigated by the concurrent use of caryophyllene (which is also present in black pepper).

Other observations include CBD and limonene's combination to alleviate anxiety symptoms and pinene's potential to enhance cognitive function and curb some of the short-term memory loss caused by THC [3].

How Do You Shop For Products That Produce The Entourage Effect?

If you're like most people, you probably go to the store, pick up whatever product looks good, and hope for the best.

But when it comes to shopping for products that produce the entourage effect, there's a little more to it than that. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your shopping experience:

The first step is educating yourself on the different components of the entourage effect. The fact that you're reading this right now is a good start.

Consider The Experience You're Looking For In Your Product

Different cannabinoids are known to produce different experiences.

For example, CBN products support sleep quality, delta-8 THC is used for its mild psychoactive effects, and CBD is a catch-all for overall wellness.

Full Spectrum products contain specific cannabinoids that can help with various needs, such as CBG and CBN.

For example, VIIA offers two types of Full Spectrum CBD Drops:

  • Day DropsVIIA Day Drops embrace the entourage effect because they contain Full Spectrum CBD Oil but with an elevated amount of CBG. CBG is a minor cannabinoid that is popular for its uplifting and energizing effects.
  • Night Drops: On the other hand, If you are looking for a Full Spectrum CBD oil product that is good for sleep, VIIA Night Drops contain CBN. CBN is a minor cannabinoid similar to CBG. However, CBN is known for its relaxing and sleep sedating properties.

When shopping for products that produce the entourage effect, it is always helpful to keep in mind what benefits you would like out of your cannabis product. 

Everybody's body processes cannabis compounds differently. Finding the best product that produces the entourage effect can require some trial and error like most things do.

How your body reacts to the entourage effect depends on multiple factors, not just your body but also health issues, metabolism, and more. 

Read The Third-Party Lab Tests Before Buying CBD Products

Whatever cannabinoid you're looking for, check to see that it has the “full spectrum” of cannabinoids and terpenes. These can be in the form of oils, edibles, or even vape products

Good old-fashioned cannabis flower will produce the entourage effect, but THC edibles and vape pens made from hemp extracts might not (depending on the extract type).

If you're unsure what to look for, you can always ask your budtender or the manufacturer if they have any “full-spectrum” products.

Unfortunately, not all hemp companies on the market are honest about their products. We've come across many CBD oils claiming to provide the entourage effect but only contained isolated CBD.

For this reason, we strongly recommend referencing a product's Certificate of Analysis by an accredited third-party labto show the cannabinoid and terpene profile and a contaminant report to ensure its safety.

Genuine full spectrum hemp extracts contain CBD, trace amounts of THC (up to 0.3%), other minor cannabinoids (CBC, CBG, CBN), and terpenes.

If you're looking for a THC-free product but still want to take advantage of the entourage effect, broad-spectrum is the next best option.

The Certificate of Analysis of broad-spectrum extracts will read 0% THC but still have minor cannabinoids and terpenes present.

When buying CBD or THC products, it is vital to make sure that you are purchasing products that are clean, organic, and of high quality.

While some CBD companies may use fillers, cutting agents, or artificial flavors in their products, VIIA produces natural blends.

At VIIA, every product is carefully crafted from seed to finish with the highest quality ingredients.

In addition, each product goes through vigorous third-party lab testing at each production stage to ensure quality, potency, and free of contaminants.

Experiencing the benefits of combining cannabinoids

Final Thoughts: What Are The Potential Benefits Of The Entourage Effect?

As the cannabis industry evolves, so does the research on the many cannabis strains and their benefits.

Many cannabis brands in the industry are formulating products that embrace the entourage effect.

Isolated cannabinoids such as CBD isolate—which is CBD in its purest form—are beneficial on their own. However, when other compounds are combined, a new overall effect can be created, depending on the presence of cannabinods and terpenes.

You can harness the potential benefits of the entourage effect with full spectrum or broad spectrum extracts. It's important that you reference the Certificate of Analysis to peel back the curtains to see what compounds are at work in your product to match the type of experience you're looking for.

While the research on the entourage effect is fairly new, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to support its value.

These findings are significant because it suggests that combining different cannabinoids and terpenes could create a more effective and less harmful cannabis product.

As more research is conducted on the potential synergies between cannabinoids and terpenes, we are likely to discover even more ways to harness the power of this remarkable plant.

Resources Cited:

  1. Ferber, S. G., Namdar, D., Hen-Shoval, D., Eger, G., Koltai, H., Shoval, G., ... & Weller, A. (2020). The “entourage effect”: terpenes coupled with cannabinoids for the treatment of mood disorders and anxiety disorders. Current neuropharmacology18(2), 87-96.
  2. Notcutt, W., Price, M., Miller, R., Newport, S., Phillips, C., Simmons, S., & Sansom, C. (2004). Initial experiences with medicinal extracts of cannabis for chronic pain: results from 34 ‘N of 1’studies. Anaesthesia59(5), 440-452.
  3. Russo, E. B. (2011). Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid‐terpenoid entourage effects. British journal of pharmacology163(7), 1344-1364.
Tatum Blakeney

Tatum Blakeney

Tatum is the Digital Marketing Manager at VIIA Hemp Co. His passion for helping people finding the benefit in Cannabis flows through in the expert industry coverage and trending topics he provides. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn

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