To unlock the full potential of cannabinoids and experience the entourage effect, they're best used in conjunction with other cannabis compounds like terpenes, flavonoids, fatty acids, and other cannabinoids.

The Entourage Effect: What is It and Why It's Important

By Kristi Pahr

Cannabidiol (CBD), one of dozens of chemical compounds called cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, has been making waves in health and wellness for a few years now. It’s used to manage conditions ranging from acne to inflammation and has found a home in medicine cabinets around the globe. 

Research into cannabis, which was nearly impossible during the 20th century due to the strict DEA (the United States Drug Enforcement Administration) drug scheduling, is growing around the globe, and with it comes a clearer, more broad picture of the immense medicinal and therapeutic value of cannabis. CBD is a large part of that value, but other components of the cannabis plant should not be overlooked. 

While CBD has shown therapeutic value on its own, it might be more effective when combined with other cannabinoids in broad- and full-spectrum products–a phenomenon known as the entourage effect.

The Endocannabinoid System

To understand the entourage effect, it is important to first understand the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Discovered in the early 1990s, the ECS is a system of receptors located throughout the body specifically designed to work with cannabinoids. Mammalian bodies all create cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids, as part of normal physiological processes, but cannabinoids found in plants, called phytocannabinoids, also bind to ECS receptors. 

The purpose of the system is to help maintain homeostasis, or balance, in the body. Receptors are found throughout the body, with heavy concentrations located in the nervous system and immune system. When body systems are out of whack, endocannabinoids are released and bind with ECS receptors, bringing things back into balance. Phytocannabinoids also bind with ECS receptors, allowing people to bolster their ECS according to their own needs.

The Entourage Effect

When used in isolation, cannabinoids have some effect. But researchers discovered to unlock the full potential of cannabinoids, they're best used in conjunction with other cannabis compounds like terpenes, flavonoids, fatty acids, and other cannabinoids. Also referred to as "whole-plant synergy," the entourage effect was first theorized in 1998 by Israeli researchers Raphael Mechoulam and Shimon Ben-Shabat. The pair proved that more favorable results were achieved when various metabolites and compounds were added to a primary cannabinoid and named this synergistic mechanism the entourage effect.

Full-Spectrum, Broad-Spectrum, and Isolate CBD

CBD is available in three forms: full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, and isolate.

Though more research into cannabinoids is necessary, knowledge of the entourage effect allows consumers to tailor their CBD use to their specific condition. By choosing a product with a combination of cannabinoids and terpenes in addition to CBD, more favorable results might be achieved than by using CBD isolate. Though, in some instances and for some users, isolate may still be the best choice. As research into these compounds moves forward and more is known about the effects of each individual compound and mixtures of specific compounds, more targeted therapies will emerge. 

Currently, CBD is available in three forms: full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, and isolate. Broad- and full-spectrum CBD products contain CBD, but other compounds, like cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes, are included in the mixture as well. Full-spectrum products contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in negligible amounts of 0.3% or less, the cannabinoid responsible for the high associated with marijuana consumption (though, CBD doesn’t have psychoactive qualities). It’s not available in all geographic areas. Broad-spectrum CBD extracts contain terpenes, flavonoids, or other cannabinoids but do not contain THC and are therefore legal in most areas. 

CBD isolate is just that: isolated CBD. CBD is extracted from the plant. Through a complicated process of distillation, it is separated from all the other components and compounds found in cannabis and, in the case of tinctures, mixed with a carrier oil. CBD isolate can also be mixed into drinks or snacks, blended  into creams and lotions, or mixed into body oils, allowing consumers to choose the method of use that fits best with not only their condition or lifestyle.

References:

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  • Devane WA, Hanus L, Breuer A, et al. Isolation and structure of a brain constituent that binds to the cannabinoid receptor. Science. 1992;258(5090):1946-1949. doi:10.1126/science.1470919
  • Ferber SG, Namdar D, Hen-Shoval D, et al. The "Entourage Effect": Terpenes Coupled with Cannabinoids for the Treatment of Mood Disorders and Anxiety Disorders. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2020;18(2):87-96. doi:10.2174/1570159X17666190903103923
  • Russo EB. The Case for the Entourage Effect and Conventional Breeding of Clinical Cannabis: No "Strain," No Gain. Front Plant Sci. 2019;9:1969. Published 2019 Jan 9. doi:10.3389/fpls.2018.01969
Kristi Pahr is a freelance health and wellness writer and mother of two who spends most of her time caring for people other than herself. She is frequently exhausted and compensates with an intense caffeine addiction. Her work has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Real Simple, Men’s Health, and many others.

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