What is the Entourage Effect?

Cannabis Plant Top

Cannabis is known to include more than 480 components, including 66 cannabinoids unique to the plant. These compounds are at the heart of our discussion today.

There is a research-backed term known as the entourage effect that describes how CBD products with a full-spectrum profile may offer superior benefits to the user. This also explains why single-molecule isolates are less effective. Let's discuss how to take advantage of these benefits.

Entourage Effect Basics

The concept of cannabis effectiveness when the whole plant compound spectrum is consumed was coined as the 'entourage effect' by Raphael Mechoulam. Mechoulam and his team published an article in 1998 outlining the concept. (1)

The entourage effect is the research-backed concept showing that the many compounds found in cannabis, including cannabinoids and terpenoids, have a synergistic interaction with each other. In practice, these interactions magnify the therapeutic benefits when compared to ingesting individual components of the plant alone.

Cannabis researcher Dr. John McPartland states: “Cannabis is inherently poly-pharmaceutical, and synergy arises from interactions between its multiple components.”

Similar to how taking vitamins are less effective than eating fruits or vegetables which contain a wide variety of vitamins and antioxidants, consuming individual compounds from the cannabis plant is not as effective as consuming a full-spectrum set of compounds.

A Well-Known Entourage Example

One of the most common examples of the entourage effect is the interaction between two of the most abundant cannabinoids found in cannabis: cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

THC is the cannabinoid that produces the euphoric 'high' effects associated with marijuana use. CBD, on the other hand, is non-psychoactive and carries a range of health benefits. Research has found an inverse relationship between CBD and THC - when consumed together, CBD is found to reduce the psychoactive effects of THC. (2)

Unfortunately, the legal status of cannabis has resulted limited the amount of research performed on the subject. As such, scientists have yet to determine exactly how this wide range of chemical components work together. Other un-researched interactions may have yet-to-be-discovered valuable synergistic effects.

There is a wide range of potential in this area that could lead to some very exciting uses of cannabis in the future.

Terpenes in the Mix

While the most commonly known interaction is between the cannabinoids found in cannabis, there are other compounds to consider. Terpenes are volatile aromatic molecules that are commonly associated with small. Research on these compounds has uncovered the pharmacological importance of these terpenoids in conjunction with the other components of the cannabis plant.

Roughly 200 terpenes have been found in cannabis, yet only a few are in large enough amounts to be apparent by smell. A 2011 study published by GW Pharma outlined synergistic cannabinoids associated with common terpenes found in cannabis. Terpenoids like limonene, pinene, linalool, and myrcene were all found to have synergies. The resulting pharmacological effects included anti-inflammatory, sedating, anxiety reducing, anti-cancerous, anti-acne, and other properties. (4)

Many CBD producers are looking at and even offering terpene inclusion and reporting in their CBD products.

The Trouble with Single-Molecule Medicines

As the health benefits of the individual compounds in cannabis were discovered, scientists set out to extract or synthetically render these individual compounds. As a result, THC-only and CBD-only pharmaceutical medicines were created.

Popular THC-only medicines include Marinol (dronabinol) and Cesamet (nabilone). These are legally approved pharmaceuticals mostly prescribed to treat nausea related to cancer. Compared to natural whole-plant medicines, these single-molecule medicines were proven ineffective.

The missing entourage effect of a natural product was obvious to patients. A 2011 survey of patients using synthetic THC medicines found that 98% of patients preferred natural medicines. (3)

Similar to these THC-specific medicines, there has been a focus on creating CBD-only medicines like Epidiolex from British company GW Pharmaceuticals. While this highly-priced CBD-only liquid hopes to pave the way as the first FDA-approved CBD medicine, it falls short of full-spectrum products that are already readily available over the counter today.

Whole Plant Full-Spectrum CBD Products are Entourage Friendly

Unlike medical marijuana, CBD products are primarily extracted from hemp. Ideally, these products are extracted from the whole hemp plant as a full-spectrum oil. Using superior extraction methods like supercritical CO2 extraction, the full-spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes can be preserved. The result is an oil that provides the full entourage effect to the CBD user.

The market is being flooded with CBD products that are isolated CBD molecules or extracted only from parts of the plant. These products are often sold shoulder to shoulder with full-spectrum products, yet don't offer the same benefits. These isolates and sub-par oils are less effective than full-spectrum oils which preserve the whole plant properties and enable the entourage effect.

Future Outlook

Despite some information being published, researchers agree that the entourage effect is a concept that is still not fully understood. There is much research to be done in this exciting area to discover synergies between compounds found in cannabis.

While that research develops, what is important to know today is that as a cannabis user, you should be looking for products which offer whole-plant, full-spectrum medicine. These products are going to be more effective than single-molecule products.


  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0014299998003926?via%3Dihub#!
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21592732
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24175484
  4. https://bpspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.x

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