What the Heck is the Entourage Effect?

 

There are a lot of different hemp products out there and when you’re shopping, the choices can quickly get confusing. One of the terms you might have come across is, “entourage effect.” What does this mean, and is it something you want? Read on to learn more.

 ©Andrei Lazarev

©Andrei Lazarev

A Wealth of Beneficial Chemicals

The entourage effect is basically the idea that the cannabis plant contains lots of beneficial chemical compounds, but these chemicals work better if you keep them together—the way they naturally occur in the plant—rather than trying to isolate just the ones you want. Many people buy hemp products because they’ve heard that these products can improve their health and wellness. For example, there is widespread evidence that cannabidiol (CBD) can have numerous different health benefits. However, some experts believe that it’s wrong to look for health benefits by focusing on only one ingredient, such as CBD, because there is evidence that all of these chemicals work together in synergy. According to the entourage theory, if you use a hemp supplement, you should make sure it contains the full spectrum of hemp’s chemical compounds, rather than just one of them.

Evidence

Researchers found evidence of the entourage effect in a recent study of mice. They were investigating how CBD can help with inflammatory conditions, and discovered something else. When they used an extract of pure CBD on mice, they found that it did indeed improve inflammatory conditions. However, they found that this was only the case within a very limited dosage range; treating the mice with more or less than that amount did not give a beneficial effect. When the researchers tried treating the mice with a whole-plant CBD extract that included the numerous other chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant, they found that it was a much more effective treatment. Rather than working only at a very specific dosage, the whole plant extract helped the mice even at smaller or higher doses. In addition, a much smaller dose provided the same relief. The researchers concluded that whole-plant CBD is superior to a purified dose of CBD only.

Cannabinoids and Terpenes

So what are some of these chemical compounds that work together to create the entourage effect? One is a group called cannabinoids. CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the most well-known cannabinoids, but they are not the only ones. Overall there are thought to be at least sixty different cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, with some estimates coming closer to a hundred. Other common cannabinoids include cannabinol (CBN), believed to increase appetite, and cannabigerol (CBG), thought to help with pain relief.

Terpenes are another group of chemicals found in cannabis. These oily molecules help give the plant its aroma. For example, a terpene called limonene can create a citrus aroma. There are many different terpenes, with a wide variety of aromas like pine, floral, and mint. It is these aromas that often help distinguish different strains of cannabis. Other plants have terpenes too, including various herbs. Many people believe that different terpenes have very specific types of health benefits.

In addition to cannabinoids and terpenes, there are a number of other chemical compounds in cannabis that are believed to contribute to the entourage effect. For example, fatty acids and flavonoids.

How to Get the Entourage Effect

Now that you know what it is, let’s talk about how to get the entourage effect. Each part of the cannabis plant contains different types of chemicals, so experts recommend that you use a whole-plant oil that’s made from the stalks, leaves, and flowers, so that you get all of the beneficial chemicals. For example, if flowers aren’t included, you might be missing out on terpenes, since that’s where most of them are located.

You also have a better chance of getting more beneficial chemical compounds if you choose a product that has been extracted with a process that preserves as many of the chemicals as possible. Some extraction methods are done with harsh chemicals or at high temperatures, which can destroy nutrients. Many experts agree that a method called  CO₂ extraction is a good choice.

Hemp- vs. Marijuana-Derived Extracts

Another common question is whether there’s a difference between extracts that come from hemp, and extracts that come from marijuana. One of the major differences is the THC content. Hemp-derived extracts shouldn’t have any more than a trace amount of THC, since hemp is not supposed to have more than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight in the United States. In contrast, marijuana-derived extracts could have a lot more, depending on the THC level of the marijuana they came from. 

There are different opinions on which is better. Some people insist that THC is an important part of the entourage effect. Others maintain that it’s not necessary to have a significant amount of THC in order to get health and wellness benefits. Still others dislike the effects of THC, and don’t like marijuana-derived extracts for that reason. Overall, there’s not enough research about the entourage effect itself, let alone which type of extract is better, to really settle the debate. You’ll probably need to experiment to find out what works best for you. Also keep in mind that not all hemp products are legal, so your choice might be influenced by where you live, and what is available to you. 


Written by:  Andrea C. Nakaya