Cannabis contains around 100 cannabinoids and other 500 different compounds, such as terpenes, flavonoids, ketones, lactones, alcohols, and fatty acids, among others. This large number of compounds explains the great diversity of cannabis varieties found in the wild and the importance of researching on every single one of its species.
What is the Entourage Effect?
In order to understand the entourage effect and how it is produced, we must first learn about the endocannabinoid system in the human body. This system produces endocannabinoids: molecules that act similarly to those produced by cannabis and target specific receptors, which activate to produce multiple effects. The cannabis plant produces phytocannabinoids. When entering the human body, these substances activate the same specific receptors as endocannabinoids, bringing about similar effects.
From the first scientific approaches to medical cannabis, research has been focused on isolating cannabis compounds, especially cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, so as to look into their medical properties and establish an adequate dose to treat each disease. However, this is not the sole purpose of this process; isolating compounds is an essential requirement for producing effective drugs in terms of allopathic medicine, i.e. doses of synthetic medications that induce opposite symptoms to those of the disease.
Isolation vs Synergy
Still, researchers have not achieved desired outcomes with isolated compounds and cannabis remains a subject of study. The efficacy of isolated cannabis compounds was only useful to treat a limited number of diseases, and, in many cases, these treatments were less effective than others using different drugs. The effect of the cannabis plant has a much higher efficacy when its compounds combine and complement each other, rather than when used isolated, as described by doctors Celeste Romero and Marcelo Morante in their book “Cannabis Medicinal, La Guía Completa” [Medical Cannabis, the Complete Guide]. According to these experts, there is a difference between using pure CBD and using a natural extract from a plant with not only a high CBD content but also other compounds that synergise with CBD.
During the 90s, scientist Raphael Mechoulam found the reason that explains the entourage effect a decade after discovering THC. Alongside Shimon Ben-Shabat and their research team, Mechoulam coined the term “entourage effect”, meaning that the different compounds in the cannabis plant have a much greater medical efficacy when combined rather than each one used separately.
In 2011, Ethan Russo, PhD at University of Massachusetts, published a study firmly establishing the existing synergy between phytocannabinoids and terpenes in cannabis.
Some Terpenes and Their Uses
There are approximately 120 identified terpenes in the Cannabis sativa plant, and each variety shows a different and unique combination of terpenes.
Terpenes are compounds that produce an effect on their own, but they also modulate the effects of some cannabinoids like THC and CBD. The most studied of these are already used in other industries. Limonene is known by its antidepressant effects and aids in the treatment of stomach, immunological and oncological disorders. Isolated, limonene has a strong orange fragrance, and it is widely used as a flavour enhancer for food or as an aromatic ingredient in the cosmetic industry. Another terpene, called myrcene, enhances the pain-soothing and muscle-relaxing properties of THC, as well as CBD properties, such as its anti-inflammatory benefits. The scent of myrcene is usually described as spicy and balsamic. Pinene is the most common terpene in nature and offers anti-inflammatory, bronchodilator and antibiotic benefits. Finally, we must mention eucalyptol, a terpene that is more characteristic among predominantly sativa plants. Eucalyptol influences the central nervous system, which is why this terpene is believed to enhance the psychoactive properties of cannabis, apart from having analgesic, bronchodilator, and anti-inflammatory effects.
Nowadays, standardised cannabis samples grown by scientists are still being researched on. However, the cannabis cultivation experience has established that two plants of the same variety may show considerable differences according to the growing method used, the place where they were grown and other factors—which determine their morphological features and chemical composition. Self- and cooperative cultivation stand out as a cheaper and effective aid in medical research for comparing different varieties, samples and experiences that help treat a huge number of diseases properly.