Cannabis has such high therapeutic potential due to the complex range of compounds within its matrix. In our introduction to cannabis pharmacology, we explored the major compounds at play – cannabinoids and terpenes – along with their isolated therapeutic properties. However, what we have seen from both scientific and anecdotal evidence is that isolated compounds from cannabis do not work as well as whole plant preparations. Whole plant preparations or full spectrum products contain a diverse range of compounds – cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids and in some cases even phytonutrients.
Cannabis compounds work better together. This phenomenon led a prominent cannabis researcher, Dr. Ethan Russo, to formally theorize that cannabis compounds exhibit synergy. Synergy occurs when the physiological effects of the compounds together are greater than the sum of their parts. The theory that cannabis compounds exhibit synergistic effects is named the Ensemble Effect.
There are over 500 compounds currently identified in cannabis and we believe there are still many left to uncover. All compounds may have some influence on each other and exhibit synergistic effects. There is documented scientific evidence that suggests specific synergistic properties between the common compounds found in cannabis – cannabinoids and terpenes. The following are a few documented synergistic effects among cannabinoids and terpenes:
- To increase neuroprotective and antioxidant effects combine THC, CBD and myrcene.
- To reduce appetite and promote weight loss combine limonene with CBD and THCV.
- When co-administered with THC b-caryophyllene has greater likelihood in acting as an anti-pruritic (anti-itch).
- When co-administered with CBD, b-caryophyllene shows a dramatic increase in anti-inflammatory benefit.
- Linalool, when combined with CBD and THCA, may increase the anticonvulsant efficacy, making it an ideal formulation for anti-seizure medication.
- When combined with b-caryophyllene, humulene has shown a 25-30% increase in its anti-cancer efficacy
The above are only a few examples of how cannabis compounds can work together to better facilitate symptom relief and therapeutic benefit. As a consumer, choose whole plant products (aka flower) to experience the Ensemble Effect. Whole plant products contain quite a diverse range of compounds and therefore synergy occurs. If you cannot choose whole plant, then look for full spectrum. Full spectrum formulations retain a large range of compounds and therefore also increase the potential for synergy. The more compounds, the greater the Ensemble Effect!
Additional Resources on the Ensemble Effect: