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What Is the Entourage Effect?

by Dan Ketchum

At its core, the entourage effect is the theory that when multiple compounds that naturally occur in the cannabis plant are used together, that interaction will have a more impactful effect on the body. Of course — as is often the case as we continually expand our knowledge of cannabis and its vast potential —the iceberg goes far deeper, and cannabidiol (or CBD) may play an important role in the entourage effect experience, alongside various other naturally occurring cannabinoids. 

The Entourage Effect : Basics

While tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) gives cannabis its psychoactive properties, the hundreds of other natural chemicals, terpenes, flavonoids and cannabinoids that the plant contains are essentially what give cannabis its character — and they’re what give all of the plant’s diverse strains their own unique character, too. As the journal Current Neuropharmacology points out, what we call “cannabis” “is not a single compound product, but is known for its complicated molecular profile.” This diverse spectrum of cannabinoids is an essential factor in exercising the entourage effect’s potential, as well.   

How It Works

The basis of the entourage effect theory lies in the notion that even non-THC cannabinoids, such as the non-intoxicating cannabidiol (or CBD), express neurochemical actions. As such, all of these diverse cannabinoids affect the cannabinoid receptors in our bodies in a variety of ways. For instance, in studies involving medical cannabis, researchers have found that cannabis-based medications that contain only THC exert notably different effects on users than those that contain both different types of cannabinoids in equal parts, a result that indicates a synergistic effect between the two cannabinoids.Similarly, when various cannabinoids interact with different terpenes — compounds that give cannabis plants their distinct scent and flavor profiles, such as piney or citrusy — that synergy results in different effects. For users, these effects may be the difference between a cannabis product making you feel energetic and creative or one that helps you de-stress after a long day’s work.  

The Research: Cannabinoids and Synergy

As legalization expands and the cannabis user base continues to broaden, scientific research on the entourage effect — a theory that relies heavily on anecdotal evidence — continues to grow, as well. The concept of the entourage effect dates back to at least 1998, when Raphael Mechoulam’s and Shimon Ben-Shabat’s findings in the European Journal of Pharmacology observed that numerous “inactive” metabolites in cannabis markedly increased the activity of primary endogenous cannabinoids.  

Another fundamental piece of research is a 2016 study from the journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology, which confirms that non-THC cannabinoids exercise neurochemical effects and affect the central nervous system in different ways. More recently, the aforementioned Current Neuropharmacology study from 2020 concludes that while more research is warranted, “The value of […] entourage effects, enhancing the beneficial influence of cannabis, is very high,” noting in particular a significant synergistic effect between cannabinoids and terpenes. 

Significant research on the entourage effect occurs among cannabis growers, who seek to breed strains that specifically leverage its benefits. Speaking to Scientific American, geneticist Mowgli Holmes says, “We have a huge set of cannabis genomic data that will, hopefully, allow us to ID genetic markers associated with chemical results and certain patient outcomes. We’re just getting started.”

More to Discover

As a Weedmaps research review notes, there’s still plenty to discover regarding the potential synergy of cannabinoids. It’s speculated that yet another factor contributing to the entourage effect is that cannabinoids and terpenes essentially “hit” different targets (or receptors in the body’s physiological systems) in the endocannabinoid system – our body’s built-in cell-signaling system – and that this combined activity at those receptors results in better outcomes. So, in practice, if a variety of cannabinoids target inflammation at a variety of the problem’s sources, a greater effect can be achieved. Per Weedmaps, “It’s also plausible that terpenes could enhance our bodies’ ability to absorb or process cannabinoids.”

The Entourage Effect and CBD

In the aforementioned  Scientific American writeup, Phytecs medical director and cannabis researcher Ethan Russo puts it plainly: among the wide spectrum of cannabinoids, it’s possible that “the biggest influence [in the entourage effect] is CBD.” 

According to Healthline, research suggests that taking cannabidiol and THC products together may be more effective, or at least may exert different effects, than taking either one alone. However, the entourage effect’s influence also applies to cannabidiol when taken by itself, as various types of CBD feature different terpenes and other non-THC cannabis compounds and cannabinoids. 

For instance, certain flavonoids and terpenes can potentially enhance the anti-inflammatory effects of CBD. These differing interactions among diverse cannabinoid profiles are part of the reason why cannabidiol products like KOR Health encourage everyday stress reduction and immunity support while KOR Sleep promotes restfulness, to use a real-world example.   

Applying the Knowledge

As a consumer, purchasing cannabidiol from trusted manufacturers like KOR Medical helps ensure that each compound that plays a role in the entourage effect is safe, effective and up to spec. As you shop, seek third-party lab-tested products that are manufactured in facilities that adhere to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) standards and that are registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Likewise, knowing these common labels can help you understand exactly what sort of cannabinoids and other compounds your CBD contains:

  • CBD isolate refers to products that contain only cannabidiol, and no other compounds.
  • Broad-spectrum CBD does not contain THC, but does contain other cannabis compounds, meaning that it’s more than just CBD by itself. 
  • Full-spectrum CBD contains some amounts of all parts of the cannabis plant, including THC (however, federal laws require no more than 0.3% THC content in states where cannabis is not fully legal).

As Frontiers in Plant Science puts it, “The data supporting the existence of cannabis synergy and the astounding plasticity of the cannabis genome suggests a reality that obviates the need for alternative hosts, or even genetic engineering of Cannabis sativa, thus proving that, ‘The plant does it better.’” But while there’s plenty of plant potential to get excited about, the experience of the entourage effect may differ per individual, so it’s important to keep in mind an old and wise cannabis credo when trying new types of cannabis therapeutics: Start low and go slow for the best result. 

Dan Ketchum is an LA-based freelance lifestyle, fashion, health and food writer with more than a decade of experience. He’s been fortunate enough to collaborate and publish with companies such as FOCL, Vitagenne, Livestrong, Reign Together, Out East Rosé, SFGate, The Seattle Times and more.