As our scientific understanding of cannabis continues to expand, it brings surprising new developments. Of these new advances, studies into the entourage effect of cannabis are shaking up our current understanding of medical marijuana. The term “entourage effect” is used to describe the holistic effect of cannabis use on a subject — this effect includes the simultaneous influence of the whole flower in cannabinoids, terpenes, and other plant material.

Novel research into the benefits of medical marijuana is beginning to show that this symphony of compounds works together in giving cannabis its physiological and psychoactive effects.

Interestingly, according to the Project CBD website, it is believed the entourage effect process “magnifies the therapeutic benefits of the plant’s individual components — so that the medicinal impact of the whole plant is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Flowers and Whole Plant Extracts

Those looking to experience cannabis’s entourage effect need look no further than Mother Nature herself. That’s because cannabis flowers are the most direct expression of the plethora of unique compounds found within the cannabis plant. To this end, whole plant extracts also offer consumers the added benefits of the entourage effect.

Whole plant extracts are defined as cannabis extracts that are sourced from the entire cannabis flower and not refined down to a “single molecule” product.

As such, whole plant extracts feature all the beneficial compounds that define the entourage effect, while products like CBD distillates are purified down to pure chemicals, such as CBD.

These pure products stand in stark contradiction to the chemical diversity found in both flowers and whole plant extracts, whereas studies show a startling 400 compounds working in synergy with one another.

Read also: The Lesser Known Cannabinoids and their Effects

THC’s Relationship with CBD

As all avid cannabis consumers are aware, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the most prominent psychoactive compound found in cannabis. Looking at the industry today, a majority of plant breeding programs and extraction technology platforms are built around maximizing THC production. Yet, research into the entourage effect is beginning to paint a different picture about this prized chemical. Namely, it is not as effective on its own.

According to Wired Magazine, THC “has a complicated relationship with CBD in particular.”

This is because some cannabis consumers report that CBD lessens the “paranoia and anxiety that comes with being too high.” As such, CBD could very well be the primary catalyst in making cannabis accessible to a wider demographic, as it could help quell the mental unease that often comes with THC use for many users.

CBD and the Entourage Effect

The CBD industry has exploded over the past couple years, with CBD products now lining store shelves in both legal and non-legal states across America. Yet, as seen with THC, many believe CBD does not work nearly as efficiently without the added synergies of the entourage effect.

People living in legal states like Colorado often find CBD products sourced from whole plant extracts far more beneficial than those made from isolate. To illustrate, leading cannabis companies in Colorado have found immense success with edibles that are a mixture of high-dose CBD and low-dose THC. For many consumers, a CBD to THC ratio at 10:1 or 5:1 is far more effective in treating sleep disorders, anxiety, and pain that seen with CBD isolates.

Read also: The Entourage Effect

Terpenes

Terpenes are widely known as the chemicals in plants that are responsible for giving them their aromas and flavors. However, recent research into medical cannabis is also uncovering some intriguing new data about terpenes and the entourage effect.

To this end, terpenes are believed to inhibit as well as encourage cannabinoid receptors found in the human body. This means terpenes may actually help regulate how receptive your body is to cannabinoids, including both THC and CBD. To illustrate, the terpene myrcene is believed to help the human brain receive THC more efficiently.

Subjectivity in Drug Use

From the production of typical pharmaceuticals to cutting-edge research on psychedelic drugs like psilocybin mushrooms, attempts to explain and classify the effects of drugs in ordered categories has proved problematic. Because there are countless influences within the human organism that can shape how a substance reacts with a person — these include wide-ranging stimuli within the fields of physiology and psychology. A person’s age, physique, and diet can have as much power over a drug’s influence as levels of THC and CBD. The same can certainly be said about tolerance.

Looking back to the entourage effect, while bearing in mind the aforementioned information on drug research, we realize the fact that drug experiences are highly subjective affairs. Recent findings on the entourage effect only complicate this notion further, as we are beginning to see the effects of cannabis don’t fall within any neat, clean categories. In fact, a person’s experience with cannabis is the result of a dynamic exchange of bodily processes combined with a plethora of compounds present in cannabis. In the end, the effect is likely singular in nature, where a person’s specific physical and mental state at a precise time react with the chemicals present in a specific cannabis product.

Summary

As we continue to learn more about the entourage effect, we will also have to redefine our understanding of medical cannabis. In fact, to accurately prescribe medical cannabis, the process will likely require someone more closely representing a wine sommelier than a doctor. Because understanding the complex terpene and cannabinoid profile of a strain or extract requires a deep aesthetic appreciation of cannabis — one that can only be achieved through dedicated and passionate studies. The defining factors of cannabis products bleed well beyond the tidy confines of medical classifications and into the realm of personal experience.

When looking at the biochemical intricacy of the cannabis flower, as well as the dynamic systems in the human body, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed in choosing a cannabis product. Yet, we should rest assured that the chemical complexity of this natural medicine is a boon for medical cannabis advocates. While modern drug companies are clamoring for a “piece of the pie” in the newly established hemp-based CBD industry, it seems they are at least partially missing the point. The true medicinal benefits of cannabis are irrevocably tied to the flower itself — as plants produce a unique natural product which can’t be synthesized by even the biggest pharmaceutical companies. Looking forward, it will be interesting to see how attempts to monetize synthetic cannabis medicine will measure up to the striking complexity of cannabis’ entourage effect.