If you have been in the cannabis/cannabinoid industry for any amount of time, you may have encountered the term “entourage effect.”
So what exactly is the entourage effect? For starters, it has nothing to do with the—somewhat questionable—2000s TV series. Instead, it orbits the harmonious effects of the cannabis and hemp plant’s collection of chemical compounds.
As you may already know from firsthand experience, cannabinoids can provide all kinds of therapeutic benefits. According to the entourage effect, these benefits change and expand when you combine the many chemical compounds found in the plant.
Emerging research suggests that the entourage effect may be more powerful than we once thought. No matter where you sit within the wellness industry, it’s important that you understand the basics.
Explaining the entourage effect
The entourage effect is a hypothesis about the cannabis and hemp plant that was first posited in the late 1990s. In short, the theory suggests that consuming the entire plant—with all of its active compounds—is more beneficial than consuming a singular, isolated compound.
Before the idea of the entourage effect was laid out, researchers had mostly focused on the two main constituents of the cannabis plant:
- Tetrahydrocannabinol – Called THC for short, this is the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. In other words, THC is what’s responsible for the euphoric “high” feeling.
- Cannabidiol – Typically shortened to CBD, cannabidiol is a non-intoxicating ingredient touted for its potential benefits on our overall wellness. When used on its own, CBD isn’t psychotropic, meaning it won’t produce a “high.”
Even now, CBD and THC are the two most well-known compounds in cannabis.
If you’ve ever visited a dispensary, you’ve probably seen products that contain THC only, CBD only, or a combination of the two. Because of the desirable—and generally understood—properties of THC and CBD, cultivators and product developers have long worked to maximize or isolate these compounds in different cannabis strains and finished product formats
However, the cannabis plant is so much more than a two-trick pony. In all, the average cannabis plant contains more than 550 chemical compounds, including:
- Cannabinoids – Along with THC and CBD, you’ll find cannabinoids like Cannabicitran (CBT), Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), and Cannabichromene (CBC).
- Terpenes – Terpenes like limonene, myrcene, and linalool are the aromatic compounds found in cannabis (and other plants). While terps can give your favorite strain of cannabis its telltale scent, they may also have therapeutic benefits of their own.
- Flavonoids – Flavonoids play a role in the smell, taste, and color of the cannabis plant (and other plants), but they may also have other effects. Examples include cannaflavin, silymarin, and orientin.
- Esters: In cannabis, esters do not bind to receptors in our endocannabinoid system and are considered inactive. However, they have been shown to increase the functionality of cannabinoid receptors. Some common examples are methyl cinnamate (strawberry) and beauty butanoate (pineapple).
When taken alone, each compound can affect your mind or body. But when you combine them—so says the entourage effect—all of these molecules work together to produce an irreplicable experience that exceeds the isolated use.
How does the entourage effect work?
This is a tricky one to answer.
Truth be told, the jury’s still out on exactly how the entourage effect works. This lack of information is due to the cannabis plant’s history of strict regulation—even if humans have been consuming it for thousands of years. Until recently, conducting experiments on cannabis hasn’t always been easy.
Even so, a growing body of research suggests that the entourage effect is very real—and quite beneficial.
Here’s what we do know: When you consume cannabinoids, they’re processed by your endocannabinoid system (or ECS). Your ECS is a “lock and key” system that regulates and controls many of our most critical bodily functions such as learning and memory, emotional processing, sleep, temperature control, sensation control, and inflammatory and immune responses.
When a single cannabinoid—such as THC or CBD—enters your system, it binds with CB1 and CB2 receptors, and you’ll receive some of the benefits of the chemical compound. But, in theory, you won’t receive all of them unless you throw in other cannabinoids or terpenes.
Why? Because the different chemical compounds in the cannabis plant have been shown to work together to modulate and improve your experience. The terpenes hitch a ride with the cannabinoids and make it a bonafide party.
It’s like when you’re cooking dinner. Sure, an ingredient on its own may be tasty enough, but it’s nothing compared to a well-seasoned, complex meal. With that in mind, think of the entourage effect as the act of “seasoning” your experience with cannabinoids. If THC or CBD is the star of the dish, cannabinoids and terpenes can act as the garlic, ginger, and spices that elevate your meal.
How to take advantage of the entourage effect
So how can you design products that harness the power of the entourage effect to make the most of your customers’ experience?
If your business already produces capsules, tinctures, or other options that contain isolated THC or CBD, consider the addition of another non-intoxicating cannabinoid that works well in conjunction with THC or CBD.
Certain cannabinoids can work particularly well together, like CBC with CBD, THCV and THC. (See also: What is THCV? 5 Things to Know About THCV)
In the same vein, if you have a product with natural or added terpenes, your customers could benefit from the addition of a rare cannabinoid like CBT or CBC. While research on how much terpenes influence the entourage effect is still in development, terpenes and cannabinoids can have beneficial properties when combined.
Alternatively, you can move to a “full-spectrum CBD” or “broad-spectrum CBD” approach. Unlike pure solutions that isolate a cannabinoid, these products maintain the full range of beneficial chemical compounds found in cannabis. The entourage effect is built right in.
Here’s the bottom line: We’re not trying to suggest that isolated cannabinoids have no value. They definitely do. But there’s likely more value in cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids working together as an entourage. However, we don’t recommend overcomplicating your life unless you really know what you are doing. The wrong combo can just as easily detract from the intended effect. Sometimes keeping it simple like CBC+CBD or THCV+CBC or CBC+THC are just enough to improve and differentiate your product.
Interested in putting the power of rare cannabinoids to work for your business? BayMedica’s efficient, patent-pending manufacturing process makes rare cannabinoids affordable and accessible. Reach out to our team to see how we can become a part of your entourage.
- NCBI. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165946/
- NCBI. Constituents of Cannabis Sativa. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33332000/
- NCBI. Cannabis, a complex plant: different compounds and different effects on individuals. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3736954
- NCBI. The “Entourage Effect”: Terpenes Coupled with Cannabinoids for the Treatment of Mood Disorders and Anxiety Disorders. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7324885/
- NCBI. The Endocannabinoid System of Animals. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6770351/
- ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/07/210714110455.htm