What is the entourage effect and is there evidence for it?

A friend of mine was looking for CBD oil a few weeks before Christmas. For some reason, she was stressed out going back to her country and seeing family members which she hasn’t seen for years.

Initially, she wasn’t sure which one to go for as she was concerned about other ingredients and compounds in the oil. She didn’t know if they had any benefits to them or if it was all marketing talk.

After some initial research, she did end up buying a broad-spectrum CBD oil. She didn’t want any THC in her oil. In her opinion, the other compounds were not harmful and the least they could do was nothing.

After about two weeks, just before her flight, the CBD oil did show the desired result and calmed her down. It was enough to look forward to the trip as she was still a little nervous.

Is CBD better without all other compounds?

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is continuing its march into popularity as more and more countries are legalizing the compound. CBD is among ca. 120 already identified phytocannabinoids contained in cannabis plants. Another more famous compound is THC, short for Tetrahydrocannabinol.

Cannabis plants include terpenes, flavonoids and phytocannabinoids and products come in three forms:

  • Full-spectrum CBD
  • Broad-spectrum CBD
  • CBD Isolate

The full-spectrum version of CBD includes all cannabis compounds. It also hasn’t undergone any additional filtering. Broad-spectrum CBD has been stripped of the THC and CBD Isolate contains what it says on the tin: Pure CBD.

Proponents of full-spectrum CBD argue that the combination of all cannabis compounds is more effective. This is in comparison to its individual compounds in isolation. They call it the entourage effect. It’s one of the most exciting and controversial claims when it comes to phytocannabinoids.

The entourage effect is also part of the “whole-plant medicine” movement. Some medicine today already comes from plants. But only individual plant compounds are isolated and repackaged into medicine form. There is a growing group of supporters who believe using the entire plant for medicine would have a more beneficial impact on the body.

CBD Oil and medical cannabis leaves

What is the entourage effect?

Each one of the 120 identified phytocannabinoids comes with a unique effect and benefits. But, their behaviour might change depending on which other phytocannabinoids are with them. This is called the entourage effect.

It means that the whole cannabis plant has a greater effect than the sum of its individual phytocannabinoids. If you would consume 20mg of CBD isolate you’d experience a milder effect than consuming 20mg of full-spectrum CBD.

But there’s a subtle difference between the entourage effect and synergy. Synergy can be explained with vitamins. Individual vitamins still have an effect. But not as good as eating whole fruits and vegetables that contain a wider variety of antioxidants and vitamins.

For the entourage effect to be valid, the individual compounds must have no noticeable impact. But, when they are mixed with other compounds the whole group has a benefit to it.

It’s also the reason why different cannabis strains affect you differently. A strain called Bubba Kush will leave you relaxed whereas Hippie Chicken should give you a similar kick like a cup of coffee. Each strain comes with different phytocannabinoid combinations in it hence the different effects.

This effect is comparable to how your mood changes depending on the social environment you are in. When you are at a party with people you don’t know you would behave differently compared to when you are at a party with your best friends. And when you are home alone you behave differently altogether.

Holistic whole plant approach

The concept of the entourage effect is very simple. Products should contain compounds from the whole plant. They shouldn’t only contain CBD or THC. It’s not only about isolation but also about the balance of those compounds.

Scientists are trying to breed certain cannabis strains that will include more of a specific compound. They are trying to treat certain health ailments. In theory, this should result in the whole plant having fewer side effects.

But it can also mean that the amount of individual cannabis compounds is too high creating an imbalance. This imbalance might jeopardise the entourage effect in those plants.

For medicinal use, the single compound approach is still preferred by medical professionals. Their aim is to treat specific problems as this approach is widespread in Western medical philosophy. It keeps the side effects at a minimum but also kills the entourage effect.

Cannabis flowers in a pot

How can you experience the entourage effect?

Avoid any products that only contain CBD isolate or contain pure CBD. Those products will not include other phytocannabinoids, terpenes or flavonoids. Even though some products don’t contain THC, you need the other compounds so the CBD product can deliver the entourage effect.

Backers of the entourage effect believe that CBD isolates limits the benefits of cannabis. Pure CBD should only be used if you are constrained to that for legal reasons. You might not be able to legally buy a full-spectrum or broad-spectrum product in your country.

Full-Spectrum CBD products offer whole-plant benefits

A full-spectrum CBD product could give you the best experience of the entourage effect. Any product that is declared as full-spectrum should contain

  • other phytocannabinoids
  • terpenes
  • flavonoids

This also includes THC. Some products will only contain trace amounts of THC but might still be labelled full-spectrum.

Even though a label of a product says full-spectrum check the lab report to make sure it is what it says it is. Because full-spectrum oils are not filtered their consistency is thicker. They have a stronger flavour profile compared to oils using isolates.

Broad Spectrum CBD products offer a THC-Free option

Broad-spectrum CBD products are full-spectrum but have undergone an additional filtering process to remove all the THC. This version can still deliver the entourage effect as other phytocannabinoids and terpenes are still in the product.

There are two reasons why THC would be removed:

  • Some people don’t want to take THC or cannot take any THC due to medical reasons
  • THC is still an illegal compound in most countries. There are only a few countries in the world that legally allow it. In the UK, THC is still a controlled drug and therefore illegal.
Closeup of a cannabis plant

Cannabinoids and cannabinoids work together

Researchers have already proven that CBD and THC work together. When CBD is ingested with THC at the same time, CBD reduces the psychoactive effects of THC and reduces its adverse event profile. That means THC might not cause an increase in anxiety and paranoia when taken together with CBD.

As for other compounds, it has been shown that CBN and CBDV may increase the effect of CBD.

Cannabinoids and terpenes potentially work together

Terpenes are plant chemicals that appear in other plants as well as cannabis. They provide a distinct flavour and smell for the plant. Terpenes also come with additional health benefits. You come across terpenes almost every day in your life:

  • Limonene, which is found in the peel of citrus fruits
  • Nerolidol, which is found in ginger and lemongrass
  • Eucalyptol, which is found in eucalyptus

Terpenes are the reasons why each cannabis strain comes with its own unique aroma. But they don’t work directly on cannabinoid receptors like cannabinoids.

Instead, scientists believe that terpenes enhance the effect cannabinoids have on cannabinoid receptors. In particular, terpenes may affect how THC reacts to CB1 receptors.

Evidence of the entourage effect

There are studies for and against the entourage effect. Hence why it is a controversial subject and it hasn’t been fully proven yet. But people usually fall into two camps: Either they believe in it or they don’t.

Ethan Russo, a board-certified neurologist and researcher, is a big advocate of the entourage effect. He has conducted several studies in which he shows evidence of it. In his summary “The case for the entourage effect” he looks at several research papers and concludes there is “… a firm foundation for Cannabis synergy.

But, other researchers recently looked at the effect of terpenoids (dried terpenes) on other cannabinoids. They found that none of the main terpenoids had any effect on receptor-cannabinoid interaction.

Closeup of a cannabis plant

Final thoughts

For me, there is only one obvious benefit of the entourage effect. It’s the reduction in adverse effects of THC when taken together with CBD. Terpenes might have a beneficial effect on its own, but I’m not 100% convinced about the entourage effect.

I would always prefer a full- or broad-spectrum product to an isolate but because of the effects of the individual compounds. The evidence that terpenes have a positive effect on cannabinoids is not compelling in my opinion. That doesn’t mean I want them though. Terpenes have their own health benefits.

What’s your opinion on the entourage effect? Let me know in the comment section below.

If you are still unsure about the entourage effect and which CBD oil to use, check out this article here. It explains the different variations in more details so you can make an informed decision.

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