Most people split cannabis strains into two categories: indica and sativa. And while this categorization does give consumers some idea of what to expect, it’s way too superficial to account for cannabis’s wide variety of multi-dimensional effects. But what can account for them is the unique combination and ratios of THC, CBD, terpenes, and flavonoids in different strains, or in other words, the entourage effect.
The entourage effect is the term, coined to describe the spontaneous synergy that occurs between different cannabinoids. We all know about the idea of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, and that idea is epitomized by the entourage effect. It’s like the robotic lions forming Voltron for the boss fights in the iconic 80s animation.
Moreover, the entourage effect is not just about amplifying the strength of cannabinoids’ effect. Rather, it’s about enriching and completing them.
If we were to compare a cannabis strain to a band, each cannabinoid plays an instrument, and while THC and CBD will always be the frontman and lead guitarist, respectively, the other bandmates provide an essential musical accompaniment that brings out the best of the central elements and makes their impact much more resonating. Just like guitar solos sound somewhat empty without those background chords to give them that depth and context, the same generally goes for cannabinoids when they’re not in concert with each other, or in other words isolated. That doesn’t go to say single-cannabinoid extracts don’t have their advantages, as some people and conditions might benefit the most from a single cannabinoid, just like acapella singing can sometimes be perfect and absolute on its own. However, generally speaking, the entourage effect is one of the scientific keys to tapping into cannabis’s full magic.
For example, one of the most famous manifestations of the entourage effects occurs between THC and CBD, with CBD balancing out the effects of THC to an extent. This is why when strains have a relatively balanced ratio of THC and CBD as opposed to being THC-dominated, the chances of experiencing THC-induced anxiety and temporary psychosis-like symptoms are minimized or even eliminated.
Another good example is the combination of THC and CBN, which is considered to be quite sedating and lulling, being that both molecules produce such effects on their own.
In the aforementioned cases, the entourage effect is rather straightforward and predictable. It only makes sense that when two cannabinoids fall on the same spectrum in terms of their effects, whether it’s close to each other or not, they will either augment or cancel each other out to a certain extent.
But the entourage effect comes in other more versatile and complex forms. In fact, we have only scratched the surface of the true understanding of them. The strongest catalysts of the entourage effect are believed to be the aromatic molecules terpenes which are found in various plants. This theory makes a lot of sense, considering that terpenes are key ingredients of teas and some of the main sources of their diverse effects.
For example, the terpene pinene, which carries the distinctive scent of pine, is believed to negate the signature THC-induced temporary memory impairment that makes us forget where we put the pizza knife that we’re holding in our hand.
Limonene, one of the most famous terpenes, is generally known for its soothing and invigorating properties, which is why it’s believed to boost CBD’s anxiolytic effects. But that’s just two elements of a complex equation. In combination with THC and other cannabinoids, limonene’s uplifting character can escalate into an exciting mental buzz and even mild euphoria and an all-around sense of joy.
In other words, cannabis strains are like cocktails, and the entourage effect is the interplay between its ingredients, but the results delight your mind rather than taste buds.
Unfortunately, due to cannabis’s status as a Schedule I Controlled Substance, studies on the entourage effect are very scarce, and respectively, so are the hard scientific evidence supporting it. However, the anecdotal body of evidence is hard to ignore, both in terms of its volume and the recurrent themes that surface in it.
And then, of course, there’s the support of someone like Dr. Ethan Russo, a renowned neurologist, pharmacologist, and long-time cannabis advocate, who has spent many years delving into the science behind cannabis and its compounds. He is the author of “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects,” a famous review that to this day is probably the most comprehensive scientific work, devoted on the entourage effect, and a huge source of validation of this theory – theory that will hopefully be studied more extensively in the future so we can rightfully call it a scientific fact.