The entourage effect is the result of many components within the cannabis plant interacting with the human body to produce a stronger influence than any one of those components alone, also called synergy. A large part of alternative medicine revolves around using the entire plant for medicinal purposes rather than isolating or producing the active ingredient in a laboratory. Herbalists excel at matching holistic, plant-based treatments to a variety of ailments, which, in practice, is known as whole-plant medicine. Whole-plant medicine has been in use for thousands of years in ancient healing arts such as Modern Western herbalism and Chinese herbalism. Evidence suggests that medical substances may be more effective in their whole and natural state.
The entourage effect becomes especially evident when comparing the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant) with the effects of using the whole plant.
When pure, synthetic THC became available (as the drug Marinol) in the mid-1980s, scientists expected it to work just as well as using the entire cannabis plant. However, they discovered that patients preferred to use the whole plant instead of the synthetic drug Marinol.
As it turns out, cannabis contains more active compounds than just THC. There are a large number of cannabinoids that have been found to work in conjunction to produce the relief that is often reported by cannabis users. In particular, the compound known as Cannabidiol (CBD) modulates the effect of THC on the human body.
Scientific and clinical experimentation has revealed that a cannabis plant which contains far more THC than CBD makes the user feel intoxicated or “high.” Hemp, which contains the inverse ratio (more CBD than THC) can relieve symptoms without the psychoactive effect of marijuana. In most states, the maximum amount of THC that can be found in the plant order to be categorized as Hemp is .03%
Terpenes are a class of molecules that are produced by many species of plants. They are the main ingredient in essential oils, and are the fragrant compounds responsible for plants’ distinctive smells. The cannabis plant produces at least three dozen different terpenes. The unique scent of each cannabis strain profile is a result of the unique balance of terpenes produced by that particular plant. Terpenes dissipate into the air very easily, and are the first molecules to vaporize when heat is applied to cannabinoids. In addition to their aromas, terpenes have direct interactions with our bodies. For instance, alpha-pinene and beta-caryophyllene are compounds that interfere with molecules that dilate our blood vessels, which in turn results in less inflammation. Evidence suggests that whole-plant cannabis is superior to isolated compounds from the plant. Example; if pinene and Cannabidiol (CBD) are both anti-inflammatory, then the body has a chance to fight inflammation from two different pathways using a single flower. This combined benefit is the Entourage Effect. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD produce better outcomes when they are consumed together alongside a supporting cast of terpenes.