What Is The Entourage Effect? Learn How It Influences Your Session

You may have already heard of the entourage effect of cannabis. While this theory is a work in progress, anecdotal and scientific evidence alike points to the fact that something is indeed going on when multiple cannabis compounds interact with one another. 

While researchers are still working to uncover exactly how the entourage effect works, there are plenty of ideas about what it means for your session. This guide will introduce you to what we already know about the entourage effect and some of the questions that are left to answer.

What is the entourage effect?

The term entourage effect refers to a hypothesis that the cannabinoids and terpenes found in cannabis enhance or augment one another’s effects when consumed together. This could mean that it improves the therapeutic potential of broad- or full-spectrum cannabis products. The entourage effect remains a hot topic among researchers, many of whom debate how extensive the phenomenon may be and whether it offers enhanced therapeutic potential. However, we do know that different proportions of cannabinoids and terpenes can influence your overall consumption experience in a number of ways. 

What do we know about the entourage effect so far?

While we know the entourage effect exists, it’s not always clear exactly how or why it works. This uncertainty has led researchers to wonder if the entourage effect may be the key to unlocking cannabis’s therapeutic potential or if it’s just a quirk of some compounds influencing one another. 

The common thread appears to be the endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS), a network of receptors (called the CB1 and CB2 receptors) and chemicals throughout the brain and body that work to regulate a wide range of processes. Phytocannabinoids, which are found in cannabis, are similar to the “endocannabinoids” that operate the ECS and are also capable of pulling the levers of this system via interactions with the CB1 and CB2 receptors. The entourage effect assumes that when different cannabinoids are present together in varying proportions, they may elicit unique responses accordingly. Cannabinoid-to-cannabinoid interactions in the entourage effect are sometimes called “intra-entourage” interactions.

One of the most common examples of an intra-entourage interaction at work in an interaction between two cannabinoids is between Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). Low doses of THC and CBD have been found to reduce anxiety in both animal and human models. However, high doses of THC have been found to exacerbate anxiety. There is some evidence that when higher levels of CBD are present, they could reduce the anxiety-inducing effects of high doses of THC, however, offering some support for the idea that cannabinoids can augment the effects of one another.

It’s not always so cut and dry, though. Another study comparing two pain management groups found no significant difference between those consuming full-spectrum cannabis flower and those consuming dronabinol, a synthetic form of pure THC. Both groups reported modest improvements in pain, calling into question whether full-spectrum flower offers an entourage effect that provides additional pain relief beyond THC alone. 

More research is needed to understand exactly when and why the entourage effect occurs, and what therapeutic benefits it could offer. One thing we know for sure, though, is that the entourage effect does appear to have an effect.

Terpenes and the entourage effect

There is evidence that terpenes may be involved in the entourage effect as well, sometimes called “inter-entourage” interactions. One scientific review examining the entourage effect on anxiety and mood disorders found the possibility that interactions between cannabinoids and terpenes “opens the arena to the option of avoiding the adverse effects of the available antidepressants and mood stabilizers while treating mood disorders.” The study’s authors note that more research into this possibility needs to be done, despite the promising results they noted in their review of existing scientific evidence.

Another study examined alpha humulene, geraniol, beta pinene, and linalool in rodents both alone and in combination with a synthetic cannabinoid resembling the effects of THC. They found that when each of these terpenes were present, pain sensitivity was reduced even more than with the cannabinoid alone. Moreover, the study notes, three of the four terpenes reduced common side effects associated with THC.

However, there is also research that suggests the entourage effect is not a universal phenomenon and reveals that the specific mechanism by which it works remains unclear. Research on five of the most common cannabis terpenes — myrcene, beta caryophyllene, alpha pinene, beta pinene, and limonene — found that all but beta caryophyllene did not bind to either cannabinoid receptor, whether alone or in combination with other cannabinoids. The study’s authors note that this doesn’t rule out the idea that terpenes offer some entourage effect when present with cannabinoids, but it likely eliminates the possibility that they create any significant effect by binding with cannabinoid receptors or influencing the way phytocannabinoids do.

It’s clear from the conflicting results of these studies that, when it comes to interactions between terpenes and cannabinoids, significant questions remain.

How is the entourage effect theorized to work?

While researchers are still trying to understand these intra-entourage and inter-entourage interactions, we do know that there are examples of broad- and full-spectrum cannabis products producing different results than isolate. Full spectrum products include all cannabinoids and terpenes found in the origin cultivar, while broad spectrum has all those compounds except for THC. Isolate contains only a single, solitary cannabinoid.

The entourage effect theory suggests that while isolate may be effective for specific uses, its effectiveness may be limited without other compounds and side effects may seem a bit more exacerbated. When other compounds are present, though, its effects may be enhanced and any side effects minimized. 

Take the example of THC for anxiety from above: if you take pure THC isolate to manage anxiety but accidentally take too much, you could end up inducing panicked feelings instead of reducing anxiousness. However, if you were to consume a more balanced blend of THC and CBD to mitigate the anxiety-inducing effects of high dose THC, these unwanted side effects may be avoided. Moreover, some evidence suggests that terpenes like limonene could offer mood-boosting effects, which would further serve to prevent increased anxiety. 

Combining these compounds may, then, be more effective than consuming them alone — or so the entourage effect theory goes.

The ECS and cannabinoids: Why what’s in your cannabis matters

As mentioned above, the ECS includes two types of cannabinoid receptors, the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Additionally, the ECS works by relying on internally produced chemicals like anandamide and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), known as endocannabinoids. These endocannabinoids bind to the cannabinoid receptors throughout the brain and body to regulate key functions governed by the central nervous system and immune system.

Phytocannabinoids can bind to and influence cannabinoid receptors much like endogenous cannabinoids, which is what gives them the therapeutic potential to influence a wide range of processes including mood, pain perception, appetite, and more. Because different cultivars of cannabis have unique cannabinoid profiles, they cause different effects. This is why one strain may make you feel alert, energetic, and creative, while another may make you relaxed, sleepy, and calm. 

The example of CBD mitigating the anxiety-inducing effects of THC shows that intra-entourage interactions between cannabinoids is real. What is less obvious is exactly how they work and how to harness this knowledge for improved medical efficacy. That’s where additional studies come in: if researchers can determine the precise relationships between individual cannabinoids and the amounts needed to influence these interactions, they can improve the therapeutic potential of cannabis products and medicines.

Additionally, it’s still not clear how significant an effect terpenes have on the ECS. While there is some evidence that inter-entourage interactions occur, at least one study referenced above could not find a link between those effects and the cannabinoid receptors of the ECS. Whether terpenes are involved in some other part of the ECS or rely on an altogether different mechanism of action to get involved in the entourage effect remains unclear and will likely be the subject of further research.

The entourage effect remains an enigma

While the entourage effect appears to occur, it’s not always clear why or how it works. Moreover, dissecting the individual relationships of the more than 100 cannabinoids and more than 200 terpenes found in cannabis and how they might contribute to this entourage effect will take a considerable amount of time and effort on the part of researchers. 

In the meantime, though, the entourage effect has shed light on the importance of each individual compound found in cannabis. So, if you want to better gauge which product is right for you, consider first and foremost the cannabinoids and terpenes present in your products, and in what amounts each appears. If you’re looking for more information on the compounds that make cannabis work, ask your knowledgeable and friendly Iconic Wellness budtender today.

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