Cannabis contains hundreds of compounds for the full spectrum effects. Every strain of cannabis contains different levels and ratios of compounds. That is why they have different smell, taste, and effects. Effects are of course the main topic of scientific research, that is trying to understand the process of the entourage effect on the body.
There is no doubt that multiple compounds of the plant affect its smell and taste. On contrary, the idea that a group of elements have an effect on cannabis effects is not accepted by everybody. There is a division of opinions especially on the subject that a group of compounds work together to create the effects of cannabis.
The idea, that cannabis compounds work together synergistically to create the effects of cannabis is called “The Entourage Effect”. Entourage effect theory is a popular topic in the scientific community in the past years. There is more and more evidence for the entourage effect of at least 2 elements of cannabis, THC and CBD. Does that mean that the entourage effect is real? In this article you can read more about how exactly THC and CBD work and all there is to know about the entourage effect.
THE ENTOURAGE EFFECT BEGINNINGS
The expression goes back to the work of chemists Raphael Mechoulam and Shimon Ben-Shabat in 1999. In their research they developed a theory, proposing that cannabis compounds work together to create the therapeutic effect. They named this mechanism the entourage effect. This theory contradicted the popular theory of that time, which stated that primarily, only THC creates the effects of cannabis (and not the full spectrum of compounds). You can watch an interesting documentary on this topic below.
Cannabis contains hundreds of compounds including:
- More than 120 cannabinoids, including:
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG) cannabichromene (CBC), tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), cannabidivarin (CBDV), cannabinol (CBN).
- More than 150 terpenes, including:
- Myrcene, limonene, linalool, caryophyllene, alpha-pinene, beta-pinene, alpha-bisabolol, eucalyptol, borneol.
- More than 20 flavonoids, including:
- Quercetin, catechin, orientin, silymarin, kaempferol.
- Fatty acids.
Mechoulams in Ben-Shabats theory explained that all elements play a part in the effects of cannabis, however they were certain that fatty acids play a particularly important role in stimulating the entourage effect. They proposed that fatty acids enhanced cannabinoid activity by allowing cannabinoids to bind better with CB1 and CB2 receptors of the body’s endocannabinoid system. Their research suggested that not only do fatty acids stimulate cannabis phytocannabinoids activity, but they also stimulate the activity of body’s natural endocannabinoids. You can read more about endocannabinoid system and its effects on our body here.
MODERN ENTOURAGE EFFECT THEORIES
There are two respectable updates of the entourage effect theory from the following research papers:
- Synergy Research: Approaching a new generation of phytopharmaceuticals – Hildebert Wagner and Gudrun Ulrich-Merzenich from 2009.
- Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoids-terpenoid entourage effects – Ethan Russo from 2011.
The first research focuses on the potential working of the entourage effect, while the second one focuses on the theory, that primarily there are two cannabinoids responsible for the entourage effect.
How the Entourage Effect Works
In 2009 research, Wagner and Ulrich-Merzenich expanded on the idea of the entourage effect by searching for ways in which the cannabis compounds could interact. Their work focuses on the possibility of the whole plant synergy and includes all chemical compounds in cannabis (full spectrum). Their research states 4 abilities that full spectrum could offer:
- Ability to affect different targets in different body areas.
- Ability to improve absorption of active ingredients.
- Ability to overcome the bacterial defense mechanism.
- Ability to minimize negative side effects.
Cannabinoids, Terpenes, and the Entourage Effect
In the 2011 research (Taming THC), neurologist and pharmacologist Ethan Russo studied how two types of cannabis compounds, cannabinoids, and terpenes, can create the entourage effect. Cannabinoids and terpenes have a variety of studied benefits. Russo explains in detail, how these benefits could potentially work in synergy. For example, Russo mentions, that CBD and limonene have a huge potential in alleviating anxiety and work very well together to achieve this result.
Russo’s research did not prove the entourage effect theory; however, it is worth mentioning due to its primal ideas and effects on further research of cannabis full spectrum of compounds effect on the human body.
HOW CBD AND THC WORK TOGETHER
The most convincing evidence of the entourage effect come from the latest research in CBD and THC interaction. A number of latest studies suggest that both CBD and THC work better if used together.
How CBD Helps THC
Studies have shown that CBD has a modulating effect on THC (the part of cannabis responsible for the psychoactive effects). As it seems, CBD enhances some of the THC’s positive effects, such as pain relieve. At the same time, CBD decreases the potential negative side effects of THC, that can cause anxiety, dizziness, and nausea.
Many cannabis users report that CBD help them in decreasing the negative effect of THC overuse. This is in terms with predictions, as studies suggest that CBD can decrease or completely eliminate the negative effects of THC.
Experts conclude that CBD changes the way our body consumes THC, however more studies are required to understand the details of the entire process. Some studies suggest that CBD achieves this by changing the way THC and CB1 cannabinoid receptor in the brain interact. A 2019 study found that CBD can prevent the overstimulation of a specific brain pathway (the extracellular signal-regulated kinase – ERK pathway). The entourage effect at work.
How THC helps CBD
CBD has been thoroughly studied for its positive effects. Studies found that CBD has very strong anti-inflammatory effects and neuroprotective effects. Researchers are currently studying the possibility of using CBD to treat anxiety, pain, depression, PTSD, opioid addiction, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis. CBD also proved well in treating epilepsy, with Epidiolex (which only has 1 active compound – cannabidiol).
CBD has a wide range of potential positive effects while used alone (without other cannabinoids). Furthermore, some studies proved that CBD is even more efficient in combination with THC. Even trace amounts of THC can profoundly improve the effectiveness of CBD products.
Because of this greater effectiveness, full spectrum cannabis products are advised instead of isolates of cannabinoids. “Full Spectrum” means that the product contains an entire spectrum of compounds found in whole plant extract. In many countries (including Slovenia) the THC level permitted is limited to 0.2% (around Europe up to 1%), which does not cause psychoactive effects. That is why such products are suitable for a wider population.
Is There an Ideal Ratio Between CBD and THC?
CBD and THC work better when used together to create the entourage effect. However, does an ideal ratio between them exist? According to research up to now there is no ideal ratio. Further research is required in the field of interaction between various cannabinoid in different ratios.
However, anecdotal evidence shows that there are different ideal ratios between CBD and THC. It very much differs for the purpose of use and the condition of individual. For example, someone who uses medical cannabis to treat nausea from cancer therapy treatment will most likely have a different cannabinoid ratio than someone who uses cannabis recreationally, for its psychoactive effects. Moreover, there are many reports of individuals using cannabis for various conditions, that it works much better in the form of full spectrum compared to only one isolated individual part.
Research on Cannabinoids and Terpenes Interaction
Unfortunately, little research was conducted on the topic of cannabinoid and terpenes interaction, and consequently its effect on the human body. Studies were conducted in general on terpenes. For example, one study concluded that terpene caryophyllene can have pain reducing effects, anti-inflammatory effects, and works as an antioxidant. Unfortunately, most terpene studies do not use cannabis terpenes and does not research the interaction between the terpenes and other cannabinoid elements.
At least two cannabis cannabinoids (CBD and THC) display a very strong entourage effect when used together. CBD modulates the effects of THC and THC enhances the effects of CBD. Unfortunately, we do not have much strong evidence on how terpenes affect the entourage effect. Further research is required to scientifically prove the relationship. We can conclude that the entourage effect is real and is highly important part in cannabis use. However, we will have to wait on more research to understand all the compounds that are included in the entourage.