The entourage effect. You have heard of it. Your friends are talking about it. Your budtender insists on its importance. But what is it, really? Why is the entourage effect so crucial to your cannabis experience?
The entourage effect is a fancy way of referring to the scientific phenomenon of the cannabis plant working together to provide certain therapeutic benefits. And it’s nice when everything works together as a team, don’t you think? So, let’s get into the science of it all in simple terms.
What is a terpene, you ask?
The cannabis plant is filled with aromas and flavors. The signature scents are something most people can relate to. And terpenes are what these beautiful characteristics can be attributed to. The variety of flavors are abundant. From citrus to diesel to pine to skunk, there is a terpene responsible for its flavorful and aromatic qualities.
Have you ever wondered how certain strains get their names? Especially names like “sour diesel?” They are named based on their flavor and terpene profile.
The supporting role of terpenes
Terpenes are about more than the aroma, however. In fact, if there was a “best-supporting actor” award for cannabis, terpenes would win, hands down. Terpenes work together with other cannabinoids to provide many of the therapeutic and psychoactive benefits of cannabis. This is the very essence of the entourage effect.
Cannabis is a complex plant containing hundreds of molecules, all having the ability to affect our bodies and minds differently. You are aware of the two most significant phytocannabinoid molecules, such as CBD and THC. They are the stars of the show. But other derivates of the plant, such as terpenes and flavonoids, also bind to our cells and receptors. This combination (the entourage effect) creates a unique experience for the user.
Terpenes in nature
Terpenes are not unique to the cannabis plant like CBD and THC are. They are a large class molecule found in various plants such as conifer and citrus trees. When you pull the essential oils from a plant, it is the terpene in that plant that gives it its unique aroma.
There are a whopping 200 terpenes found in the cannabis plant. They are found in different concentrations and combinations, making terpenes the biggest group of phytochemicals in the marijuana plant. Cannabis cultivars take much pride in breeding plants that provide unique blends of these terpenes.
But terpenes don’t stick around for too long. When ignited by heat, they are the first molecules to vaporize into the air or your lungs if inhaling the plant. The flavors in the compounds are maximized by whole-flower vaporization. You can maximize the flavors and effects of the terpenes by vaporization (vaping) over combustion (smoking) because smoking damages the terpene and renders it not as effective.
Terpene and terpenoids
You may have heard these two terms used interchangeably, terpene and terpenoid. But they are not identical. Terpenes are in hydrocarbon form. Terpenoids have been denatured through the oxidation process in the plant’s curing and drying processes.
Will I get high from terpenes?
“Is it Indica or Sativa” are common questions by cannabis consumers. Most know that Sativa produces more of a “head” high, and Indica provides a more mellow “body” effect. And if these were the only two things to consider in choosing your cannabis strain, that decision would be pretty cut and dry. Enter terpenes…
Terpenes have everything to do with the nuances that certain strains produce. If you wonder if you will get “high” from terpenes alone, the answer is no. It is the THC in the cannabis plant that produces the high effect. The terpenes only act to accentuate the experience and deliver a unique therapeutic product that THC alone and terpenes alone cannot do.
Medical benefits of terpenes
Have you heard the term “plants as medicine?” Well, this applies to cannabis as well as fruits and vegetables. A combination of these phytochemicals combines to heal the body and keep it in good working condition.
Now, let’s talk about terpenes and the body. Yes, terpenes have beautiful aromas. But they also interact with the body in a specific way. Did you know that when alpha and beta-pinene are consumed, they produce an anti-tumor effect on cancer cells? That’s pretty amazing! Because of this entourage effect, it is suggested that cannabis products utilizing the whole plant are preferred to the more isolated compounds. If you isolated the terpene, it would be aromatic and provide a flavor. Still, it would not offer any psychoactive effects you would notice.
Terpenes in the body
So you have three major components in this entourage effect:
- The cannabis plant with its signature cannabinoids.
- Terpenes and flavonoids.
- Your own body.
Substantive body processes contribute to why terpenes and other cannabinoids work better than isolated ones.
First, there is the blood-brain barrier and its permeability. Certain terpenes can contribute to how THC combines with the CB1 receptors in your brain or endocannabinoid system. Another terpene, alpha-pinene, often found in pine trees, can counterbalance the short-term memory loss often associated with THC. And limonene, a terpene giving cannabis its citrusy flavor, has demonstrated some anti-depressant and anti-anxiety benefits. Granted, this was shown in lab studies with rats, but still, it is promising for us humans who are looking for answers in the entourage effect.
The Endocannabinoid system and terpenes
A brain is a complex place. Cannabis, and its complementary terpenes, provide unique therapeutic effects by hitting different targets in the brain or endocannabinoid system. For example, cannabinoids and terpenes that have anti-inflammatory properties target the area in the brain causing inflammation, thereby triggering an anti-inflammatory response in the body. This combination of terpenes could also aid the body’s ability to absorb adequate amounts of the cannabis plant for optimal performance.
There is also evidence that specific undesirable effects of cannabis can be mitigated by combining THC with particular molecules. For example, combining the cannabinoid CBD with THC can reduce the anxiety and paranoia associated with Sativa strains.
The importance of the entourage effect
It is easy to focus on the critical components of cannabis, such as THC and CBD. But these elements alone can only do so much. Imagine only having a quarterback on the football field with no team. He would have no one to throw the ball to and an inability to score points or win the game. But nobody will deny that a quarterback is often the show’s star.
The entourage effect is about playing together as a team. The combination of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids all work with the body’s cannabinoid receptors for optimal performance. So, when talking to your budtender or selecting a cannabis product, always ask about full-spectrum products providing the optimal entourage effect.
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