The cannabis plant consists of over 480 known compounds that induce different effects for the user. Whether legally defined as hemp or marijuana, varying amounts of these compounds are naturally present in every cannabis plant. Depending on the amounts and ratios of each compound, you may feel a different effect from plant to plant. For example, a plant high in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive compound found in cannabis, may produce an altered state of consciousness, whereas a plant carrying no or very low levels of THC, like industrialized hemp, will not produce any psychotropic effects.
Broadly speaking, the compounds found in the cannabis plant can be divided into two categories: cannabinoids and terpenes. Cannabinoids interact directly with the human endocannabinoid system and are mostly found in cannabis and hemp plants (though a few others like chocolate and black pepper plants also produce cannabinoids). In contrast, terpenes exist in nearly every plant and while they do interact with some receptor systems in the body, they do not interact with the endocannabinoid system. They also create distinct smells and flavors, unlike cannabinoids. Some commonly known cannabinoids include:
- Cannabichromene (CBC)
- Cannabicyclol (CBL)
- Cannabidiol (CBD)
- Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA)
- Cannabigerol (CBG)
- Cannabinol (CBN)
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
- Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA)
- Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)
Additionally, a few well-known terpenes are:
Both cannabinoids and terpenes work to generate various effects.
So, what is the entourage effect? The entourage effect is the cumulative effect that occurs when you ingest a particular combination of cannabinoids and terpenes. Alone, a compound produces a specific effect, like how the isolated cannabinoid THC induces a psychotropic effect that may cause some users anxiety. When taken with another cannabinoid like CBD, which may act to counteract anxiousness and stress, that unwanted feeling of anxiety can be reduced. Many researchers theorize that cannabis works best when different cannabinoids and terpenes work together rather than independently. A 2011 review concluded that when combined, cannabinoids and terpenes worked synergistically to help reduce anxiety, pain, inflammation, and fungal infection, as well as potentially reduce symptoms associated with epilepsy and cancer.
The effectiveness of the entourage effect does not mean that isolated cannabis compounds are not beneficial on their own; rather, their potential increases with the addition of other compounds. For example, isolated CBD has been shown to help combat anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress. It may also have benefits for those who deal with pain, addiction, arthritis, and sleep disorders, among many other ailments. When combined with other compounds, those effects simply intensify. Combining CBD with CBN or myrcene may be especially beneficial to those dealing with insomnia because both CBN and myrcene carry a sedative effect. Or consuming a CBD product that also contains a small amount of THC might act as a more potent anti-inflammatory than CBD alone because THC targets and activates receptors that reduce the production of cytokines, or inflammatory signal proteins.
Understanding the entourage effect is advantageous when considering how you’d like to pursue addressing different health issues with cannabis. Some prefer to stick to broad spectrum products that only contain cannabinoids like CBD, CBN, or CBG because they are not psychoactive and will not leave any trace of THC in the system. Others enjoy full spectrum hemp products because they carry less than 0.3% THC, which allows the product to remain non-psychoactive while introducing the benefits of THC to the body. Whatever regimen you choose, it’s important to have a well-rounded knowledge of the compounds at hand!