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The Entourage Effect | CBD and Synergies with other Cannabinoids

The Entourage Effect | CBD and Synergies with other Cannabinoids

Entourage: A group attending or surrounding an important person. That’s the dictionary definition of entourage, a word that’s fast becoming closely associated with CBD. In this scenario, CBD is the “important person,” and the attending group is the wealth of supportive cannabinoids, flavonoids, terpenes and other phytochemicals found within the cannabis plant. But what is the CBD entourage effect, and how do you achieve it?

What is the Cannabis Entourage Effect 

The entourage effect happens when CBD is ingested with other compounds from the cannabis plant, rather than in isolation. The theory is that by using the whole hemp plant rather than a singular aspect, there's a boost in the health benefits and overall therapeutic effect of cannabinoids. In short, the effects of CBD are boosted by working synergistically with other compounds, like terpenes.

What are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are generally the first chemical compound you learn about when dipping your toe into the pool of CBD knowledge. CBD, or cannabidiol, is a cannabinoid. It is one of only many found in the cannabis plant.

Cannabinoids are found naturally within the human body and can also be created synthetically. A cannabinoid describes any chemical compound that has a direct impact on the endocannabinoid system, a neurotransmission network within all mammals. Neurotransmission simply means the passing of messages between body and brain. Cannabinoids can aid this transmission by sending the right signals to the brain to regulate various systems within the body.

What are Terpenes?

Terpenes are plant chemicals that give plants a certain smell or taste. There are plenty of terpenes that you come in contact with on a regular basis. Some common ones include:

  • Limonene, found in citrus fruit peel
  • Linalool, main component of lavender
  • Mycerne, found in mangos
  • Pinene, from pine resin
  • Eucalyptol, from eucalyptus and tea tree
  • Nerolidol, found in ginger and lemongrass

That sharp and pleasant smell that hits you as you peel an orange: that’s caused by terpenes. The aromatic tea tree oil in your facial cleanser, that’s got terpenes in too. The interesting thing is, though, all of the terpene types named above are also found in the cannabis plant-- along with over 100 other compounds.

Each strain of cannabis has evolved to have differing amounts of terpenes, which is why various species of cannabis have their own unique aroma. Many of these compounds work to protect the plant from fungus and bacteria, and even attract pollinators. In fact, every terpene has its own special use, both by the plant and by the human body. When combined with CBD oil, these terpenes can have synergistic effects. Here are a few of the beneficial effects of terpenes that have been studied so far:

  • Limonene: elevates mood
  • Pinene: increases alertness
  • Eucalyptol: anti-bacterial
  • Nerolidol: may enhance the effects of other compounds

Each of these cannabis terpenes have many potential beneficial effects individually. However, the entourage effect happens when they are used together, and in conjunction with cannabinoids such as CBD. Although hemp and cannabis research regarding the efficacy of terpenes is still ongoing, the theory of the cannabis entourage effect has been around for many years.

Over 20 Years of Research

Dr. Raphael Mechoulam and Dr. Shimon Ben-Shabat are the two scientists credited with understanding what would later become known as the entourage effect. Dr. Mechoulam had previously discovered that the human body produces cannabinoids, which work with cannabinoid receptors in what we now refer to as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS deals with achieving homeostasis,or a state of balance within the body and many other therapeutic effects. The ECS is known for its impact on:

  • Sleep
  • Mood
  • Appetite
  • Pleasure
  • Pain
  • Memory

In 1998, Ben-Shabat and Mechoulam theorized that cannabinoids would bind better to our CBD receptors when used in synergy with the fatty acids also found in cannabis. Research into this has been ongoing, and in 2009 Dr. Gudrun Ulrich-Merzenich and Professor Hildebert Wagner expanded upon the entourage effect theory to describe exactly what it meant:

  • A synergistic effect which works on many different areas within the body
  • Improving the body’s ability to absorb beneficial chemicals through the blood-brain barrier
  • Helps to overcome bacterial defense mechanisms
  • Minimizing unwanted side-effects

To simplify, they discovered that by using a range of phytochemicals (chemicals from plants) together synergistically, the user would experience a holistically more positive effect.

Terpenes vs Cannabinoids

Unlike terpenes, cannabinoids interact directly with the cannabinoid receptors in the human body. The brain, the nervous system, immune system and various other key areas within the body contain these receptors. Cannabinoids, whether artificial or organic, bind to the receptor, instructing the body to either produce more or less of specific chemicals. This helps achieve therapeutic effects such as: balance and general wellbeing, and keeps many of the human body’s systems in good working order.

Terpenes may work to enhance the effect cannabinoids have on the cannabinoid receptors, plus each has its own unique impact on the human body even when taken individually. However, using each chemical compound in synergy with one another produces the most profound impact: the entourage effect.

Terpenes vs Terpenoids

You may have heard the term "terpenoids" as well as "terpenes" when discussing the health benefits of CBD. The two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, however, they have slightly different meanings.

Cannabis terpenes are organic hydrocarbons found naturally within the cannabis plant. A hydrocarbon simply means a chemical that only contains hydrogen and carbon molecules, although these can be bonded together in many different ways.

Altering terpenes (usually in a drying process) creates terpenoids. While drying out, terpenes undergo oxidization, which alters the chemical structure, creating terpenoids.

How do I Experience the Entourage Effect?

When you take CBD products like CBD oil, avoid anything that purports to be CBD isolate or “pure” CBD oil if you are seeking the entourage effect. Most high-quality CBD oil will claim to be full spectrum or broad spectrum CBD oil. This is why it’s important to double-check a product’s lab reports. Instead of going for a CBD isolate capsule or tincture, try opting for a product that contains a variety of beneficial terpenes, cannabinoids, flavonoids, and other beneficial phytochemicals.

Broad Spectrum CBD Oil

This is CBD oil which has some of the additional cannabis compounds included. This will usually include many beneficial terpenes and possibly other cannabinoids like CBG (considered a minor cannabinoid however it may still be a beneficial component of the entourage effect) or CBC (cannabichromene), an abundant cannabinoid within the cannabis plant. There is generally zero THC in broad spectrum CBD oil.

Full Spectrum CBD Oil

The best full spectrum CBD oil is one that contains all the cannabis compounds from within the cannabis plant. As long as it's hemp-derived, the THC will be less than 0.3%. This ensures that it can have no psychoactive effect on the person taking the product, whilst boosting the potential for the entourage effect. Full spectrum CBD oil will contain:

  • CBD
  • Other cannabinoids
  • Terpenes
  • Flavinoids
  • Fatty acids

Each chemical compound listed above contributes towards the entourage effect.

It’s fascinating that every strain of cannabis is subtly different, thanks in part to terpenes, from its aroma to its taste to its actual effect it has on the body. CBD oil is blended with additional terpenes to create specific effects, such as increasing the amount of limonene to help reduce stress levels or raise your mood. As further research is conducted, we will only discover more about the benefits of cannabis compounds.

What are your favorite terpenes? Have you experienced the entourage effect in your favorite CBD product? Tell us all about it! 


Reviewed by Gabe Kennedy

Co-Founder of Plant People, Gabe Kennedy is an acclaimed chef and entrepreneur. Growing up in a house of healers and herbalists, he is passionate about the power of food as a tool for health, and actualized this passion and belief system into his company, Plant People. Named to Forbes 30 under 30 Gabe has shaped menus and cooked his way around the world with his mission to promote a more communal, green and healthy world.

Gabe is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. You can learn more about his work at his website.

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