If you take a closer look at your cannabis plant to see the buds from a detailed perspective, you will see a sticky layer of crystal resin on the very top. This layer consists of hundreds of natural compounds referred to as terpenes and cannabinoids.
There are over 130 substances in the cannabis plant, and thus far, scientists have managed to examine cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol quite well over the last decade. However, these phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids from outside sources) are merely two drops in the ocean of therapeutic compounds found in the cannabis plant.
Why am I saying this? Well, there is a growing body of evidence supporting the theory that cannabinoids and terpenes in cannabis complement each other, and therefore, create a synergistic relationship known as the entourage effect.
This effect seems to be what gives certain cannabis strains their “character”.
What Is Entourage Effect?
The very term ‘entourage’ refers to a group of people surrounding one another in order to achieve a common goal. This pretty metaphor explains the cannabis entourage effect to the point, because, like I said, the compounds in the cannabis plant enter synergistic interactions that result in certain effects produced by different weed strains.
Remember the difference between smoking Bubba Kush and puffing Lemon Haze? I bet you do. Bubba Kush produces a sedating high that will make you super relaxed and hungry, whereas Lemon Haze will come in handy when you need an extra boost of energy and creativity throughout the day.
That’s because these strains – like all other marijuana varieties – have different ratio between particular cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. Given this, they affect your endocannabinoid system in a slightly different way.
Mowgli Holmes, a geneticist and founder of a cannabis genetics company Phylos Bioscience, says that it is the mutual cooperation of all active compounds in the marijuana plant that gives weed its specific character, its soul. On the contrary, when you take isolated THC, you will feel a bland high with no character at all.
But how can we tell that the entourage effect isn’t just another weed legend?
Entourage Effect in Practice: THC and CBD
Source: Medical Marijuana, Inc.
The relationship between THC and CBD is what has given rise to the theory about the entourage effect in cannabis.
THC is known for its psychoactive properties. In other words, THC is what gives you the euphoric high when you smoke weed. However, when too much THC taps to your endocannabinoid system, chances are you will experience anxiety, cold sweat, and even panic attacks.
Interestingly, CBD seems to counter the side effects of THC by blocking the areas in the brain to which tetrahydrocannabinol wants to bind. Many patients who use Marinol for pain relief (Marinol is a THC-isolated drug) report that they experience acute anxiety over time, but when they use the whole plant, they feel very little to no anxiety.
But does it mean that CBD blocks the high from THC?
No, not at all.
In fact, CBD can boost the beneficial properties of its psychoactive counterpart while mitigating the side effects, which is why we’re talking about the synergy in the entourage effect – THC and CBD work together in order to magnify the therapeutic effects of cannabis.
Nonetheless, it looks like other cannabinoids and terpenes can affect your cannabis experience as well.
So, how do terpenes contribute to the entourage effect?
Entourage Effect and Terpenes
According to Dr. John McPartland, the synergy between the multiple components of cannabis makes the plant inherently polypharmaceutical.
Think about the role of terpenes, for example. There are around 200 such substances in weed, but only a few of these volatile molecules appear in amounts significant enough to be worth an in-depth analysis.
Terpenes are mostly associated with the characteristic, pungent aroma of cannabis, but there is more to terpenes than meets the eye, or nose, as it were.The terpenes in cannabis have given the plant a strong, evolutionary advantage. Intense terpenoid oils protect marijuana against insects and animal grazers; they can also prevent fungus.
As it turns out, terpenes are beneficial not only for plants but also for people. Dr. Ethan Russo issued a report in September 2011 in which he discussed the versatile therapeutic features of terpenoids in the whole cannabis plant, in comparison with CBD-only products that are void of terpenes.
According to the report (it was published in the British Journal of Pharmacology), many of the marijuana terpenes are common among other edible herbs. For example, Beta-caryophyllene is found in the essential oil of black pepper, oregano, and other green, leafy vegetables. It shows gastro-protective properties and researchers believe that this particular terpenoid offers great promise as a therapeutic ingredient for autoimmune disorders and inflammatory concerns.
In addition, Beta-caryophyllene has the ability do bind to the CB2 receptor, which is quite unusual because no other terpenoids are capable of directly activating a cannabinoid receptors. The terpene can improve metabolism and help deliver more oxygen to your body – this is why the Swiss scientist Jurg Gertsch describes it as “a dietary cannabinoid”.
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How Do Other Cannabinoid and Terpenes Contribute to Entourage Effect?
Well, if I were to describe the potential therapeutic properties of each known cannabinoid and terpene, I would need some potent sativa-dominant hybrid to keep me going through the task.
But generally speaking, terpenoids and cannabinoids both reduce blood pressure, supports cortical health, and obliterates respiratory pathogens, including MRSA – the morbid, antibiotic-resistant bacteria that took lives of thousands of Americans recently.
Dr. Russo believes that the interactions between cannabinoids and terpenes could produce synergy that may come in hand for the treatment of a series of health conditions and diseases, such as pain, depression, addiction, cancer, epilepsy, inflammation, and anxiety.
Like CBD, some terpenes can amplify the benefits of THC while mitigating its side effects. Pinene, for example, helps counteract impaired cognition and memory caused by THC, and a combination of pinene, caryophyllene and myrcene shows anxiety-relieving properties. On the other hand, myrcene alone can reduce resistance in the blood-brain barrier, which means that other beneficial chemicals from cannabis and outside sources can easily pass the barrier.