When we consume cannabis, we are most likely seeking the effects of either THC or CBD, the most popular and well-known compounds found in the plant. While those two cannabinoids usually get all the credit for the therapeutic or other effects we feel after consumption, there is a theory that many different compounds are working together to deliver those results.
This idea is called The Entourage Effect. First presented in 1998 by Raphael Mechoulam, a chemist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Entourage Effect claims the chemical compounds found in cannabis, like cannabinoids and terpenes, have synergistic effects.
There are two main interactions researchers have investigated: cannabinoid-cannabinoid and cannabinoid-terpenoid. Considering there are hundreds of different cannabinoids and terpenes, all with their own host of potential medicinal benefits and side effects, it’s not hard to believe that these chemical compounds might interact with each other and shape how our body responds to the plant.
Dr.Ethan Russo, a neurologist and pharmacologist specializing in cannabis, reviewed this theory in detail in 2010. Russo discussed how cannabinoids like CBG and CBD have been shown to greatly inhibit MRSA infections. The terpene pinene was also found to be an effective antibiotic for MRSA. When used together, Russo said, these compounds could be even more successful.
One of the best examples of cannabis compounds working more effectively as a team is the relationship between CBD and THC. The two cannabinoids are both considered psycho-active, however, only THC is intoxicating. Consuming THC can come with some side effects, such as cognitive and memory deficiencies. Russo talked about CBD’s ability to mitigate those effects when administered in a dose proportionate to the THC consumed.
A recent study also found that when CBD is consumed in low doses along with THC, it actually enhances the intoxicating effects of THC. Participants in the study reported a significant difference in the high they experienced from THC alone versus THC paired with low-dose CBD.
However, not all researchers agree on the validity of The Entourage Effect theory. A study out of Macquarie University & the University of Sydney in Australia found that the two main receptors that cannabinoids attach to – CB1 & CB2 – weren’t altered at all by the six different terpenes used, even when used in conjunction with THC.
Those six terpenes used – α-Pinene, β-pinene, β-caryophyllene, linalool, limonene and β-myrcene – are the most common terpenes found in cannabis. This is not to say that terpenes don’t still have their own role to play. There is plenty of scientific evidence that terpenes have their own effects on the human body, and this specific study notes they may interact with different molecular targets within the body’s neural circuit. However, the study does throw a wrench into the cannabinoid-terpenoid interaction theory.
What researchers can agree on is that more studies and research is needed to investigate The Entourage Effect theory. If proven to be true in some capacity, The Entourage Effect could transform the way we think about and utilize cannabis as medicine. Some cultivators are already growing strains with high levels of specific cannabinoids, such as CBG, in an effort to target specific ailments. Further research could help to expand this kind of breeding, and help make certain cultivars more effective medicine for specific diseases and conditions.