Cannabis is an infinitely complex plant. It contains more than 400 chemical compounds – only a fraction of which are known, while even fewer have been studied. These compounds give cannabis its flavor, aroma, and appearance.
They determine the experience of each unique strain, and when they come together, they create something known as the entourage effect.
Often confused with marketing techniques used to sell cannabis for its strain-related effects, the entourage effect is rooted in the centuries-old practice of whole plant medicine.
The basic concept is that the chemical compounds found in medicinal plants work together to maximize the plant’s therapeutic potential.
Some argue that consuming the whole plant is better for the patient than taking an extract of a single chemical from that same plant, as is standard practice in modern medicine.
The term entourage effect was first introduced into the cannabis lexicon in a paper published in 1999 by Rafael Mechoulam, the Israeli chemist. He first discovered THC as the main psychoactive component of cannabis.
In his study, Mechoulam and fellow chemist Shimon Ben-Shabat examined the interactions between compounds in the cannabis plant. They found that certain cannabinoids, which did not affect their own, could help other cannabinoids in the plant work more effectively.
To put it simply, when speaking with Scientific American in 2017, Chris Emerson, a chemist for Level Brands, described the entourage effect as “the sum of all the parts that leads to the magic or power of cannabis.”
In cannabis terms, this means full-spectrum products that do not isolate a single component but instead use all of the components in the plant to provide a more balanced and complete result.
Much like the full-spectrum CBD products provided by Cornbread Hemp, America’s only provider of full-spectrum, USDA Organic CBD products with the most THC allowed by federal law.
Photography by Georgia Love for Herb
But full-spectrum doesn’t necessarily mean that a product has intoxicating properties just because it carries THC in its formula.
Cornbread Hemp’s products are made with full-spectrum, Flower-Only™ hemp extract that does not have a psychoactive profile because they keep THC levels low enough.
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At the most basic level, the benefits of the entourage effect can be understood in terms of the most well-known compounds: THC and CBD.
These compounds have an inverse relationship, meaning that the higher the concentration of THC in a given strain, the lower the levels of CBD will be.
But THC and CBD also have another effect on each other which plays out after the cannabis plant is consumed. THC will cause a head high that may lead to anxiety and paranoia; CBD helps mitigate that anxiety with its mellow body effects.
The reason for this lies in how these chemicals react on a molecular level. In a 2011 review published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, chemists found similar interactions between cannabinoids, like THC, and terpenes, the chemical components which give cannabis strains their aroma.
Researchers discovered that a terpene, linalool, combined with a cannabinoid, in this case, CBD, could be used as an effective anti-anxiety medication.
On the other hand, combining linalool with THC makes for a potent sedative. In contrast, alpha-pinene, another terpene, combined with THC, helps retain acetylcholine–a molecule that aids in memory retention– and could help mitigate the short-term memory loss caused by THC.
In a sense, isolated cannabinoids can be thought of as medicine with a list of fine-print side effects. These effects could be mitigated or enhanced when paired with other chemical compounds that naturally appear in whole-plant cannabis.
While these studies show promise for the future of the entourage effect, far more research is needed before we can say anything for sure.
Especially the kind of research that involves clinical trials–in which medicines are tested on human patients–is something that researchers have been unable to do due to prohibition.
That lack of clinical trial research has given rise to critics of the entourage effect who claim that it does not exist.
A study conducted in 2013 by neurobiologist Margaret Haney of Columbia University tested the effects of smoked marijuana with synthetic THC and found no difference in the impact.
Photo by Keti Chikhladze, @immigrantstoner
The study found that “under controlled conditions, marijuana and dronabinol decreased pain, with dronabinol producing longer-lasting decreases in pain sensitivity and lower ratings of abuse-related subjective effects than marijuana.”
For this reason, researchers like Haney believe that the entourage effect is a myth concocted by budtenders to sell more weed.
Still, when patients are consulted about the type of medicine they prefer, they often choose whole-plant cannabis. A study conducted by Dutch medical cannabis company Bedrocan BV in 2013 found that patients tend to prefer whole-plant cannabis to its pharmaceutical alternative.
The survey asked 953 patients across 31 countries, though the company pointed out that too few patients had tried synthetic pharmaceutical cannabis.
Photography by Georgia Love for Herb
CBD and THC-only products isolate the cannabinoid compounds found in the plant itself. They have been separated from the rest of the components that make up the whole-cannabis plant.
Cornbread Hemp is built upon 250 years of Kentucky hemp tradition.
It is a family-owned business fighting against the low standards set by corporate CBD by producing the best full spectrum CBD + THC products in America.
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THC and CBD are isolated in these products mainly due to the regulatory standards that surround them, especially when dealing with THC.
In essence, isolated compounds are much easier to dose, measure, and track than a compound found naturally in a plant. But, the effects are limited.
Weed products approved by the FDA have to be standardized, meaning that every dose must contain an exact amount of THC. This can be difficult to guarantee in smokable cannabis, which usually comes with a THC content range rather than a precise measurement.
That’s why you’re better off trying products like Cornbread Hemp’s gummies which have precise measurements of THC and CBD so you can control your intake and avoid bad experiences.
The FDA also doesn’t like the uncertainty of having other chemical compounds, like terpenes, in their approved products without knowing exactly what effects they may have on the body.
After all, one chemical is easier to keep track of than 400.
An excellent example of a plant that has been reduced to a single compound can be seen in a revolutionary medicine that is now considered an ordinary pill: aspirin.
When the main medicinal component of aspirin was discovered in the late 19th century, it was among the first modern medicines to be isolated into its most basic medicinal ingredient.
Felix Hoffmann, a chemist at the German pharma company Bayer, first synthesized what we know as aspirin in the form of acetylsalicylic acid to treat his father’s joint pain.
But the word for aspirin comes from the Latin word Spiraea, a family of plants that naturally produce aspirin’s main ingredient, which can be found in willow trees, jasmine, clover, and a variety of other plants.
According to Aspirin: The Remarkable Story of a Wonder Drug, ancient Egyptians used this medicine in the form of willow bark with similar effects that did not require distilling the plant into a pill.