Those acquainted with dispensaries and other legal cannabis outlets have likely encountered the term “entourage effect.” It shows up as a marketing buzz phrase on products like edibles, oils, and smokable forms of cannabis.
The entourage effect is described differently by different people, but it is essentially the synergy of cannabis’s more than five hundred compounds. In other words, the entourage effect is THC, CBD, terpenes, and flavonoids working together to create different effects and other desired outcomes based on the ratios of these different compounds. It is a “greater than the sum of its parts” claim. Many believe it; some don’t.
What is in Cannabis?
In 2014, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, interviewed Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, a highly accomplished Israeli researcher who spent most of his professional life studying the different compounds that make up cannabis. (He also published a paper describing the entourage effect in 1999 and is credited with coining the now well-used phrase.) “There are more than 480 natural components found within the cannabis plant, of which 66 have been classified as ‘cannabinoids,’” Gupta reported in the article he wrote following this interview. “Mechoulam, along with many others, said he believes all these components of the cannabis plant likely exert some therapeutic effect, more than any single compound alone.” The cannabinoids Gupta listed in his article include delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC), cannabinol (CBN), cannabinodiol (CBDL), cannabicyclol (CBL), cannabielsoin (CBE), and cannabitriol (CBT). Gupta also listed other constituents of the cannabis plant, including “nitrogenous compounds (27 known), amino acids (18), proteins (three), glycoproteins (six), enzymes (two), sugars and related compounds (34), hydrocarbons (50), simple alcohols (seven), aldehydes (13), ketones (13), simple acids (21), fatty acids (22), simple esters (12), lactones (one), steroids (11), terpenes (120), non-cannabinoid phenols (25), flavonoids (21), vitamins (one), pigments (two), and other elements (nine).”
Why the Controversy?
University and government researchers claim that there is, at best, only anecdotal evidence for the existence of the entourage effect. According to an April 2017 article in Scientific American, many researchers don’t discount the possibility of its existence; there has just not been enough trials to put those claims through the wringer of hard science. The entourage effect has never been through any properly conducted double-blind experiments to determine its legitimacy or existence. At least, it hasn’t in the US. As cannabis is still federally a Schedule 1 narcotic, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain funding for the legitimate and impartial research on cannabis. As such, many of the individuals and groups conducting such research are in the private sector. This does not make their claims invalid, but it does suggest the possibility for bias and partiality.
Why You Might Believe it to be True
What can be proven, though there may be some disagreement in the scientific community as to what extent, is that THC alone cannot perform or accomplish the benefits that marijuana provides. Case in point: Marinol. Marinol is a synthetically produced THC that has been approved by the FDA since the 1980s and prescribed for patients of serious diseases like AIDS and cancer to restore appetite. Still, this product produces more negative effects on its users than actual cannabis. When CBD is added to the THC, however, the user’s side effects are mitigated and the benefits are enhanced.
If claims of the entourage effect were simply coming from one cannabis user or one company, you would be right to be suspicious of their veracity. However, it seems that the entire industry is convinced this effect exists. Bona fide scientists and researchers employed by companies to study the entourage effect have found there may well be such a thing. Private interests constantly experiment with different formulations and combinations of cannabis’s components and market their results (psychosomatic or not). Consumers suggest they believe there is such a thing by voting with their dollars. In 2016, North Americans spent $6.7 billion in legally operated marijuana dispensaries. By 2021, this figure is estimated to jump to more than $20 billion.
Many Eastern and holistic practices recognize that some components exist to enhance or activate other ones, and that they may do nothing on their own. This is essentially the same principle of the so-called entourage effect. As legal restrictions of cannabis continue to relax in the coming years, researchers not funded by any cannabis company may well be able to verify and back up the claims other have been claiming for well over a decade: there is indeed such a thing as the entourage effect.