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Why the Cannabis Ensemble Effect is Important

 September 19, 2023  Written by Feel State
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Cannabis has a high therapeutic potential due to the complex range of compounds in its matrix. However scientific and anecdotal evidence has shown that isolated compounds from cannabis do not work as well as whole-plant preparations. Whole plant preparations, or full spectrum products, contain a diverse range of compounds like cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and in some cases even phytonutrients. 

In other words, cannabis compounds work better together.

This phenomenon led a prominent cannabis researcher, Dr. Ethan Russo, to formally theorize that cannabis compounds exhibit synergy. Synergy occurs when the physiological effects of the compounds together are greater than the sum of their parts. The theory that cannabis compounds exhibit synergistic effects is known as the ensemble (or "entourage") effect. 

There are over 500 compounds currently identified in cannabis and still more yet to be discovered. All compounds may have some influence on each other and exhibit synergistic effects.

There is already documented scientific evidence that suggests specific synergistic properties between the common compounds found in cannabis — cannabinoids and terpenes.

These are a few documented synergistic effects among cannabinoids and terpenes:

  • Increase neuroprotective and antioxidant effects by combining THC, CBD, and myrcene. 
  • Reduce appetite and promote weight loss by combining limonene with CBD and THCV. 
  • When co-administered with THC, b-caryophyllene has a greater likelihood of acting as an anti-pruritic (anti-itch). 
  • When co-administered with CBD, b-caryophyllene shows a dramatic increase in anti-inflammatory benefits. 
  • Linalool, when combined with CBD and THCA, may increase the anticonvulsant efficacy, making it an ideal formulation for anti-seizure medication. 
  • When combined with b-caryophyllene, humulene has shown a 25-30% increase in its anti-cancer efficacy.

Source: Emma Chasen

Be sure to look for whole-pant or full-spectrum products

As a consumer, choose whole plant products (aka flower) to benefit from the ensemble effect. Whole plant products contain a diverse range of compounds and allow synergy to occur.

If you cannot choose whole-plant, then look for full-spectrum. Full spectrum formulations retain a large range of compounds and therefore also increase the potential for synergy.

Pay attention to more than just the THC content

It's worth noting that only paying attention to a product's THC levels is ignoring so many other beneficial elements of cannabis. There are many who believe that THC is the only part of this amazing plant that they can benefit from.

When Dr. Mechoulam coined the phrase “The Entourage Effect”, THC was the big star of the show. Now, over 20 years later, research shows that instead of an isolated cannabinoid like THC, the combination of cannabinoids, terpenes, and phytonutrients is more powerful.

As THC, CBD, and terpenes interact with our endocannabinoid system, they provide some amazing medicinal benefits. It makes sense that a combination of all these would be more synergistic together.

Below, we highlight some of the purported medical benefits that may be provided by THC, CBD, and the six dominant terpenes found in cannabis:

THC Benefits

  • Pain relief (analgesic properties)
  • Eases nausea and vomiting
  • Effective sleep aid
  • Improves sleep, quality of life, frequency of nightmares, and hyper-arousal   syndrome related to PTSD
  • Decreases intraocular pressure
  • Increases appetite
  • Protects brain cells (a positive THC screen has been associated with decreased mortality in adult patients sustaining a TBI)

CBD Benefits

  • Offsets anxiety and depression (works with 5HT1 serotonin and Adenosine receptors)
  • Treats select epilepsy syndromes (Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome)
  • Relieves PTSD symptoms
  • Aids in opioid addiction (reduced heroin users’ cue-induced cravings, withdrawal anxiety, resting heart rate and salivary cortisol levels)
  • Alleviates ALS symptoms (decrease muscle spasticity)
  • Relieves unmanageable Pain (Sativex - THC & CBD - for MS neuropathic pain; topical CBD products)
  • Eases Diabetic complications (could be a natural treatment for diabetes by helping the body regulate insulin-related hormone levels)
  • Protects against neurological diseases (has been found to be neuro-protective and to decrease neuro-inflammation)
  • Inhibits arthritis (inflammatory and autoimmune benefits)

Six Cannabis Terpenes and Benefits

  • Myrcene: analgesic, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, muscle relaxant, sedative 
  • Beta-caryophyllene: analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, reduces anxiety, antidepressant effects, gastro-protective, used for addiction treatment for alcohol and cocaine
  • Limonene: anti-anxiety, anti-depressive, anti-tumor, effective for GERD, stress reduction, anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, supports the immune system
  • Alpha-Pinene: antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, bronchodilator, increased focus
  • Linalool: anti-anxiety, anticonvulsant when combined with CBD and THCA, antioxidant antidepressant, sedative, local anesthetic for pain relief
  • Humulene: anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-tumor, antibacterial, sedative

Seeing all of this information helps to understand why the combination of cannabinoids, terpenes, phytonutrients, as well as our own endocannabinoids, provides much more medicinal benefits than just one cannabinoid alone.

It’s also why suggesting that THC is the big star with its entourage isn’t as relevant as it used to be. Take the analogy of a band for instance. Who would want to go watch a drummer play a show by themselves with no other musicians for a 3-hour set?  It would be powerful, just like THC, but very one-dimensional.

On the other hand, the whole ensemble (with a guitarist, bassist, keyboard player, and singer) will truly be a more synergistic and pleasurable experience. Just like an ensemble of cannabinoids, terpenes, and phytonutrients will be more synergistic in our body than just a product with high THC levels.

Please note that this blog is not to be considered medical advice. Always consult your physician for more information and/or questions related to your specific medical history.

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