Have you ever wondered what makes one strain of cannabis different to the next? Somehow, different strains of cannabis have a different “character” — just like the budtender will tell you, this one will make you bounce off the walls but that one will put you straight on the couch with a bag of snacks in hand. 

The proposed hypothesis for this phenomenon is the entourage effect.

If you’re imagining Turtle, Chase, Ari Gold, and Johnny Drama, you’re not far off the entire concept of the entourage effect, although we’re definitely not talking about the television sitcom.  But it wouldn’t be Entourage if there was only Johnny Drama, would it? That’s the crux of the entourage effect.

The concept that the effects of cannabis aren’t caused by THC, but rather by the synergistic activity of all the cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other compounds in cannabis, was coined by Dr. Ben-Shabat in 1998. Although he wasn’t specifically talking about cannabis, he was pointing out something like an entourage effect that happens in the body’s own endocannabinoid system.

Since then, the entourage effect has received a notable amount of commentary and research, with Dr. Ethan Russo leading the research and enquiry. It’s become fundamental to our understanding of cannabis and the best ways to use it for therapeutic purposes.

What is the entourage effect?

Male and female ballet dancers creating synergy

The entourage effect is essentially the concept that cannabis’ effects are not caused by a single compound (such as THC), but are instead the result of a team effort by all of the compounds present in a single specimen of cannabis. This explains why different strains can make you feel completely different things, even though they are the exact same plant.

In practical terms, it means that the terpenes, flavonoids, and minor cannabinoids contribute to the effects just as much as THC or CBD do. If you’ve ever tried a cannabinoid isolate such as THC isolate, you might notice intoxicating effects, but those intoxicating effects might have no “character”. 

Every single cannabis specimen has a unique composition of botanical compounds including cannabinoids, terpenoids, and flavonoids. This is the nature of botanical medicines, and as Dr. Ben-Shabat and Dr. Raphael Mechoulam pointed out in a 1999 study, this is why botanical medicines are superior to their isolated components

Examples of the entourage effect.

One of the most obvious examples of the entourage effect is the activity between THC and CBD. It’s well documented that CBD reduces the psychoactive effects of THC, and overall the inclusion of CBD in THC products creates a more balanced cannabis experience. For example, strains with high CBD content are less likely to cause paranoia or other negative effects of THC.

This of course becomes tremendously more complex when we consider that a specimen of cannabis contains more than just two cannabinoids. There are over 400 chemical constituents in cannabis, all of which interact to create the cannabis experience users finally get.

Why is it so difficult to research and pinpoint the entourage effect?

man looking through binoculars 1 | My Supply Co.

You could say that, on a scientific level, we only really started to understand cannabis once we took it apart and understood what it was made of. Without knowing that cannabis contains cannabinoids, we would have never known how those cannabinoids interact with the human body.

Logically, the next step after that was to study individual cannabinoids and their different effects in the human body. And that’s pretty much what scientists have been doing for the better part of the last 20 years. 

A lot of cannabis research is controversial because:

  1. When we study cannabis in its whole form (flower or full-spectrum extract), we get a certain subset of study results
  2. When we study isolated cannabinoids, we get a different subset of study results
  3. Those results are sometimes contradictory (think about the entourage effect and how that might change the results between whole cannabis product and single cannabinoid therapeutics)

Now, we want you to think about what happens when we put all of the parts of cannabis back together and try to understand it. We know that THC has x actions, and CBD has x actions, but when we put it all back together, we actually observe x, y, and z. But we have no idea which component is causing which result.

That is why studying the entourage effect is so difficult.

But why is that important?

Well, the medical world talks a specific language. In terms of medical science, it really isn’t enough just to know that a certain plant has an effect. It is increasingly important to understand how and why it does certain things in the body. Without that data, the pharmaceutical industry has a very hard time manufacturing medicines.

Holism versus reductionism.

A child peeks through a hole in the wall

Everybody who studies medicine, especially those who study natural medicine, is confronted with the concepts of holism and reductionism. Holism is a philosophical school of thought that accepts all parts of a whole are in an intimate relationship with each other, and therefore shouldn’t be separated. Reductionism is a way of studying things by breaking it down into its constituent parts to understand its nature.

Holism is what’s often practised in herbal medicine whereas reductionism is the primary medical model, and definitely the one used by pharmaceutical industries. One of the reasons that the pharmaceutical industry is having a really hard time harnessing the potential of cannabis is because the best way to consume it is in its whole form, straight out of the ground. 

The entourage effect is at the essence of holism. And when you really think about, nature has spent millions of years evolving into the complex picture we see in front of ourselves in the forest. Cannabis is no different. There’s absolutely no way for humans to replicate that kind of complexity in therapeutics or in any other circumstance. 

Is one better than the other?

It’s hard to answer that question. When you have an infection and you just need something that kills the infection, then a reductionist philosophy could be helpful. But when you’ve got a chronic health condition with a lot of “seemingly” unrelated symptoms, holism has a role to play. 

Holism also helps us understand herbal medicines in ways that reductionism simply cannot. At the same time, reductionism also helps us understand herbal medicines in a way holism cannot. The cannabis industry has embraced both sides of the coin, understanding that some people prefer a full-spectrum product that encourages the entourage effect. But the industry also offers isolated cannabinoids and single-cannabinoid medicines for those who don’t feel the need to consume a whole range of compounds. 

Let us know in the comments the experiences you’ve had with whole cannabis products versus single cannabinoid therapeutics. We’d love to hear from you!

32 thoughts on “The Entourage Effect: More Than the Sum of its Parts

  1. This is really pretty interesting……thanks

  2. I prefer a cannabis with more CBD and less THC but yes you do need the other compounds for a full effect.

  3. Great intro

  4. This article armed me with good information. THanks!

    1. I actually didn’t know a lot of this! Good to know 🙂

  5. Never knew much about cannabis, but learning a lot on this site!

    1. This is exactly what we love to hear! Education is a massive part of our objective, so it’s nice to know that our efforts are working 🙂

  6. Thanks for explaining the the entourage effect

  7. great article

  8. Wow, how interesting. I wasn’t aware

  9. Wow, how interesting. I wasn’t aware of the importance of one playing off the other

  10. Interesting! Not something that I usually think about.

  11. Interesting article. Didn’t think of the connection before

  12. Hmm very interesting 🙂

  13. Well that explains a lot! Great article.

  14. OOOOOOOOOH ok ok, that makes sense. For 1) I love how nerdy you guys get about cannabis 🥰 and 2) I totally see how holism and reductionism are presented through “Eastern” and “Western” medicine too.

  15. Great read..informative and learning the lingo..ty

  16. Very interesting!

  17. i didn’t know about so much about the entourage effect

  18. great article. it let me thinking about it

  19. Great name too!

  20. This article really goes all the way in trying to explain how to understand cannabis’ differences, even going into the details of holism and reductionism!

  21. Great info!

  22. This was a very interesting read

  23. I had a friend tell me about this a few years ago. Makes sense to me. Nicely explained.

  24. These articles are great and love how you’re really breaking to info down.

  25. Cool info and helps me better understand why I enjoy 1:1 ratio products more!

    1. The more I read your articles, the more I realize how complex this really is.

      Thanks for all of the information

  26. Thanks for all the info, as a nurse, I am usually in tune with this but there was new info for me.

  27. I am starting to get a better understanding of this

  28. i haven’t paid attention to the differences in the past but i shall going forward

  29. Thanks for the info

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