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Exploring the Entourage Effect: How Cannabis Compounds Work Together

Body and Mind
Body and Mind August 10, 2023

Imagine a tapestry of botanical brilliance, where each molecule dances intricately with others, creating a mesmerizing choreography of benefits far beyond what meets the eye. These hidden connections and entwined chemistry form the basis of the entourage effect, a process that we’re still learning more about. Dive into the beautiful yet complex picture of the entourage effect and the role cannabis compounds play in it.

Understanding Cannabis: Beyond THC and CBD

To understand the entourage effect, you must first understand cannabis and the compounds that make it work. When these compounds are present together, they enhance and augment one another in a phenomenon known as the entourage effect.

What Are Cannabinoids? 

Cannabinoids are compounds found in the resin of a mature cannabis plant. The most well-known are delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD), but more than 100 others have been discovered to date. These include minor cannabinoids like Cannabinol (CBN), Cannabigerol (CBG) and Cannabichromene (CBC), to name a few. 

Cannabinoids impart a wide range of effects, from altering pain perception to influencing appetite to affecting sleep. They do so by pulling the levers of the endogenous cannabinoid system (endocannabinoid system or ECS), a network of receptors, cannabinoids and enzymes that govern a series of processes controlled by the central nervous system (CNS), peripheral nervous system and immune system.

What Are Terpenes? 

Terpenes are volatile organic compounds found in all types of plants worldwide. Terpenes are best known for the smells and taste they contribute to a plant and are most familiar for their presence in essential oils. In nature, terpenes provide defensive benefits to the plant, including warding off predators, encouraging pollinators to help the plant reproduce and protecting against diseases. They also offer some therapeutic potential for humans and, when coupled with cannabinoids, contribute to the entourage effect.

The most abundant terpenes in cannabis include sweet and spicy myrcene, the peppery terpene beta-caryophyllene and citrusy limonene. However, there are plenty of others that can be found in cannabis.

How Do Cannabinoids And Terpenes Develop In The Cannabis Plant?

Cannabinoids and terpenes have been around well before humans began selectively breeding cannabis plants. Even landrace strains — the naturally evolved varieties of Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica plants — contain cannabinoids like THC and CBD and terpenes like myrcene and limonene. These compounds play an important role in the plant’s biology, ensuring its survival through a season and supporting its ability to reproduce for future generations. 

These compounds develop due to a complex biological process that begins from the earliest stages of a plant’s growth and continues into maturity. The precise balance of cannabinoids and terpenes a plant contains at maturity is a matter of genetic makeup — different strains have unique compound profiles. 

These compounds begin to develop in a process known as biosynthesis, which occurs in the resin glands of the cannabis plant, or trichomes. As a plant grows, trichomes form on the flowers and nearby leaves, producing a resin jam-packed with cannabinoids and terpenes. This process really takes off when a plant reaches maturity and begins to flower. 

Cannabinoids and terpenes form based on the genetic background of the plant, though that’s not the only factor that influences their development. Even clones, cannabis plants with identical genetics taken from cuttings of the same mother plant, can end up with slightly different compound profiles depending on the environmental factors selected by cannabis breeders and cultivators throughout the plant’s life cycle.

How Do Cannabinoids And Terpenes Interact With Your Body?

Cannabinoids and terpenes primarily exert their effects by influencing the ECS, which plays a vital role in regulating a whole suite of physiological processes in the human body. Mood, pain, immunity, appetite and sleep are among the processes influenced by the ECS.

Cannabinoids and terpenes can influence cannabinoid receptors in the ECS to prompt various effects. These cannabinoid receptors come in two varieties: the CB1 receptor, abundant in the CNS, and the CB2 receptor, more prevalent in the peripheral nervous system and particularly the immune system. The interaction with these receptors and the broader ECS grants cannabis its therapeutic potential and its psychoactive effects. For example, THC binds with these receptors to trigger a series of effects.

Interestingly enough, our body already makes its own cannabinoids, endogenous cannabinoids, or endocannabinoids. The most famous of these are anandamide and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), which keep the ECS in balance and achieve a state of homeostasis throughout the human body. The cannabinoids and terpenes found in cannabis just happen to fit into this system well enough to influence it. 

The ECS is subject to considerable research and may be key to unlocking cannabis’s therapeutic potential. That includes the way cannabinoids and terpenes work together to change how one another impact this system, an intriguing phenomenon that researchers have dubbed “the entourage effect.”

The Entourage Effect: Unity in Diversity

The entourage effect refers to the way cannabinoids and terpenes work together to exert influence over the ECS. While a single compound such as THC may exhibit certain effects on its own, those effects can change when present with other cannabinoids like CBD or CBN, as well as depending on the terpene profile of the cannabis product you consume. 

You may find, for example, that you prefer cannabis products that include relatively balanced levels of THC and CBD, which are thought to produce a less intense intoxicating effect than less balanced THC:CBD ratios. Or, if you’re looking for a relaxing experience, you might choose a cannabis product high in myrcene and beta-caryophyllene rather than the uplifting and energizing limonene. 

Whatever your goals, it’s important to pay attention to the full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes to make the best possible choice when buying a cannabis product. For example, research shows that combining cannabinoids that offer anti-inflammatory benefits with terpenes that offer the same could boost both compounds’ abilities to manage inflammation, a major driver of many health conditions. Researchers suspect that additional research into these properties and how they work together could help address mood disorders and immune system deficiencies, though more research is needed. 

The Role Of Cannabinoids And Terpenes In The Entourage Effect

How the entourage effect works comes down to the combination of individual cannabinoids and terpenes in a given cannabis strain or product. While each individual compound has its own set of characteristics, these may change when present alongside other compounds. 

Further, these effects may change depending on the amount of each cannabinoid or terpene that’s present. For example, how a high THC strain with low levels of CBD  and a myrcene dominant terpene profile affects you may vary from how a low THC strain with high levels of CBD and a myrcene dominant terpene profile does. 

It’s also important to remember that cannabinoids and terpenes produce individualized experiences. While some general understanding of how these compounds are most likely to affect you exists, everyone is different — so what your friend experiences from a cannabis strain may not be quite the same as what you experience. 

The Science Behind the Entourage Effect

The entourage effect remains the subject of considerable study, and researchers aren’t entirely sure how it works just yet — only that it’s happening. Here’s a closer look at some of the studies that have uncovered the entourage effect at work and the symptoms or conditions it may benefit:

  • Entourage effect existence: The entourage effect was first identified in 1998 when researchers noticed that the presence of several 2-acyl-glycerol esters modulates the effects of 2-AG on the ECS. While this study didn’t include the effect of cannabinoids and terpenes, it did show that a single compound’s behavior can change when present alongside others that also influence the ECS.
  • Mood and anxiety disorders: In 2020, researchers found “intra-entourage” effects, those between cannabinoids, and “inter-entourage” effects, those between cannabinoids and terpenes, that may offer benefits for patients living with mood and anxiety disorders. The researchers in that study noted that it’s possible that “combining terpenes with cannabinoids enhances the mood-stabilizing effects attributed to the main two cannabinoids, THC and CBD.”
  • Pain management: One study performed in 2010 examined how patients living with cancer-related pain responded to THC and CBD formulations, a THC formulation and a placebo. The group receiving the THC and CBD formulation outperformed both the THC and placebo group in terms of pain relief, though some showed worsened nausea and vomiting symptoms. Animal studies have also shown that formulations containing multiple cannabinoids can provide additional pain relief beyond a “ceiling” when using CBD formulations alone.
  • Cancer: A study into how cannabis compounds may affect breast cancer cell lines found that formulations containing multiple compounds produced more effective anti-tumor effects on these cell lines than those containing just THC. Researchers concluded there was significant value in considering these more complex formulations rather than pure cannabinoid preparations alone.

Ongoing research aims to uncover exactly why the entourage effect works as it does. By determining the precise mechanisms of action by which the entourage effect occurs, researchers hope to harness and optimize the therapeutic potential of cannabis. Understanding the entourage effect more clearly could lead to developing new medications. It can also help you make more informed decisions when buying cannabis from a licensed dispensary.

The Role of the Entourage Effect in Medical Cannabis

Improving our understanding of the entourage effect and how it works holds significant promise in the field of medical cannabis. The study of the entourage effect is, essentially, the study of cannabinoids’ and terpenes’ therapeutic effects and how combining them can maximize their potential. While we don’t yet know everything there is to know about the entourage effect, figuring out how to harness this therapeutic potential is a significant goal behind research into the entourage effect. 

However, the entourage effect is far from settled science. Some researchers dispute whether it happens at all, while others believe it definitely exists, but the promise of it is overblown. Others, though, see an opportunity for the next big breakthrough in medical cannabis. The results of ongoing research into how the entourage effect works and how significant its impact might be will help shed light on how important it is to maximize the value of medical cannabis for various symptoms and health conditions. 

Consuming Cannabis with Care

Cannabinoids and terpenes are generally well tolerated in most studies on the topic, but there is always the potential for negative side effects, especially when the entourage effect is considered. The effects of THC on anxiety are a good example. THC may alleviate anxiety for some, but high levels may lead to increased heart rate and feelings of anxiety. This may trigger panic attacks in those with anxiety.

Generally, the side effects of THC or other cannabis compounds can be avoided by consuming small amounts and only gradually increasing the dosage as needed to reach your desired experience. Keep an eye out for negative side effects when consuming, especially if you’re trying a new product like a cannabis extract or an edible for the first time.

It’s also important to consider your circumstances when consuming cannabis. You should avoid the operation of vehicles or heavy machinery when consuming cannabis. Always consume in a safe, comfortable environment to decrease adverse effects and increase the likelihood of a positive experience.

Embracing the Harmony of Nature with Body and Mind

Understanding how cannabis compounds work together to influence our endocannabinoid system can lead to a deeper appreciation of their therapeutic benefits and their diverse effects. The entourage effect highlights the importance of embracing the synergy of nature, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. With each discovery, we move closer to unveiling the true potential of this captivating plant. 

To embark on this journey of discovery for yourself, check out the wide range of cannabis products available at Body and Mind dispensaries. At our nationwide dispensaries, you can enhance your well-being and experience the wonders of cannabis firsthand!

Body and Mind
Body and Mind August 10, 2023

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