The Ensemble (AKA Entourage) Effect: Time for a Change

Cannabis research has been going on for years in Israel, the UK, and South America, but not much is done in the United States. This is largely due to the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I Controlled Substance (in the ranks with heroin and cocaine). One thing that research has shown is that while THC, CBD, and terpenes all have some medicinal benefits alone, the combination of them together is far greater than by themselves. 

Back in 1998, Dr. Ralph Mechoulam was one of the first researchers to use the term “The Entourage Effect” when discussing cannabinoid synergy. However, as cannabis education evolves, we’re also trying to change some of the common nomenclatures, like certain terms describing things that are cannabis related. For instance, the word marijuana has some racial undertones that can be offensive to people. And it’s why people are increasingly using the term cannabis instead of marijuana. Along the same lines, another term that needs to be addressed is “The Entourage Effect”. 

As a Cannabis Nurse and Senior Budtender at Feel State, I’m still hearing patients asking about which product has the highest THC level. This is a topic that patients deserve to be educated about. There are many who believe that THC is the only part of this amazing plant that they can benefit from. The Entourage Effect suggests that THC is the big star in cannabis and that all of the other cannabinoids and terpenes are part of its entourage. 

When Dr. Mechoulam coined the phrase “The Entourage Effect”, THC was, in fact, the big star of the show. Now, over 20 years later, research shows that instead of an isolated cannabinoid like THC, the combination of cannabinoids, terpenes, and phyto-nutrients are more powerful. As THC, CBD, and terpenes interact with our endocannabinoid system, we can be provided with some amazing medicinal benefits. 

It makes sense that a combination of all these would be more synergistic together. Below, we highlight some of the purported medical benefits that may be provided by THC, CBD, and the six dominant terpenes found in cannabis. 

THC Benefits

– Pain relief (analgesic properties)

– Eases nausea & vomiting

– Effective sleep aid

– Improves, sleep, quality of life, frequency of nightmares, and hyper-arousal   syndrome related to PTSD

– Decreases intraocular pressure

– Increases appetite

– Protects brain cells  (a positive THC screen has been associated with decreased mortality in adult patients sustaining a TBI)

CBD Benefits

– Offsets anxiety and depression (works with 5HT1 serotonin and Adenosine receptors)

– Treats select epilepsy syndromes (Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome)

– Relieves PTSD symptoms

– Aids in opioid addiction (reduced heroin users’ cue-induced cravings, withdrawal anxiety, resting heart rate and salivary cortisol levels)

– Alleviates ALS symptoms (decrease muscle spasticity)

– Relieves unmanageable Pain (Sativex – THC & CBD – for MS neuropathic pain; topical CBD products)

– Eases diabetic Complications (could be a natural treatment for diabetes by helping the body regulate insulin-related hormone levels)

– Protects against neurological diseases (has been found to be neuro-protective and to decrease neuro-inflammation)

– Inhibits arthritis (inflammatory and autoimmune benefits)

Six Cannabis Terpenes and Benefits

– Myrcene – analgesic, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, muscle relaxant, sedative 

– Beta-Caryophyllene – analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, reduces anxiety, antidepressant effects, gastro-protective, used for addiction treatment for alcohol and cocaine

– Limonene – anti-anxiety, anti-depressive, anti-tumor, effective for GERD, stress reduction, anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, supports immune system

– Alpha-Pinene – antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, bronchodilator, increased focus

– Linalool – anti-anxiety, anticonvulsant when combined with CBD and THCA, antioxidant antidepressant, sedative, local anesthetic for pain relief

– Humulene – anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-tumor, antibacterial, sedative

Seeing all of this information helps to understand why the combination of cannabinoids, terpenes, phyto-nutrients, as well as our own endocannabinoids, provides much more medicinal benefits than just one cannabinoid alone, like THC or CBD. It’s also why suggesting that THC is the big star with its entourage isn’t as relevant as it used to be. I’ve heard some cannabis educators start using the term “The Ensemble Effect”, and  since I’m a musician, I love it!  Take the analogy of a band for instance, who would want to go watch a drummer play a show by themselves with no other musicians for a 3-hour set?  It would be powerful, just like THC, but very one dimensional. On the other hand, the whole ensemble (with a guitarist, bassist, keyboard player, and singer) will truly be a more synergistic and pleasurable experience. Just like an ensemble of cannabinoids, terpenes, and phyto-nutrients will be more synergistic in our body than just a product with high THC levels.

So, if you walk into a dispensary and ask, “What product has the highest amount of THC?”, the person helping you may point it out . However, don’t be surprised if they also ask if you have ever heard of CBD or terpene and work to help educate you on the value of whole plant medicine and that THC isn’t the only quotient in the equation of how one achieves…“The Ensemble Effect”.