The CBD Entourage Effect
With CBD fast becoming part of our everyday life, people are coming across some new, unfamiliar terms. One of the most often-quoted ones is the entourage effect.
The entourage effect refers to the potentially increased efficiency of CBD when it is taken alongside the other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids found in the hemp plant.
An increasing amount of research is suggesting that CBD may work better in association with all the compounds of the hemp plant rather than on its own.
What is the CBD entourage effect?
Through both research and anecdotal evidence, researchers have suggested that the overall effectiveness of CBD is increased when it is consumed with other hemp compounds.
Cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids increase each other’s performance and together produce a product that is possibly more effective and potent. The entourage effect results in the sum having a greater effect than consuming each of the hemp compounds individually.
Is there evidence for the CBD entourage effect?
While most people believe that only anecdotal evidence exists regarding the potential of the entourage effect, this is not the case.
Researcher Ethan Russo has focused his attention on the entourage effect. In his 2011 study, he established that there seems to be a synergy between phytocannabinoids and terpenes. He concluded that “psychopharmacological and dermatological indications show the greatest promise.”
A 2018 meta-analysis showed that CBD isolate was less effective than full-spectrum CBD when it came to epilepsy patients. The analysis concluded that “it’s reasonable to suggest that the higher potency of the CBD-rich Cannabis extracts over purified CBD is related to other plant compounds acting synergistically to CBD.”
A 2015 study in Pharmacology and Pharmacy showed that CBD isolate loses its effectiveness after a certain dose. But when CBD is administered alongside terpenes and other cannabinoids, the effectiveness continues to increase.
How does the CBD entourage effect work?
Unfortunately, while studies suggest that the entourage effect is real, we are still a long way from understanding how it might work. For example, a relevant study in Frontier in Pharmacology concluded that any entourage effect could not be attributed to any of the terpenes studied interacting with the endocannabinoid system. This means that we’re still unclear as to how the entourage effect might function in the body.
Research is still ongoing and more clinical trials are required to firmly establish what, if any, influence the entourage effect has on the body.
What we do know is which compounds seem to be involved in the entourage effect, even if we don’t understand how they work together.
The hemp plant is more than CBD
Even though most of the attention of the research community has focused around CBD and THC—the psychoactive compound of hemp that is responsible for a sense of ‘high’—the hemp plant contains hundreds of compounds besides them.
Researchers have identified some 120 cannabinoids so far, including CBN, CBG, CBC, CBDV, CBDA, and CBL, among others.
Likewise, there are more than 100 terpenes in hemp. Terpenes are aromatic compounds that give plants and flowers their distinctive aromas.
Finally, researchers have also identified 20 flavonoids in hemp, such as quercetin and luteolin. Flavonoids have been found to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
There is still ongoing research and clinical trials regarding the role of other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids on the human body. Some cannabinoids seem to be anti-inflammatory and anti-emetic, while others appear to be anticonvulsant and anti-depressive. Many terpenes, particularly beta-caryophyllene—found in great quantities in hemp—seem to be anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory.
Because most of the attention has been focused on CBD, these compounds have been largely neglected. However, as researchers are gaining a better understanding of how CBD works, they are now keen to study how these other compounds affect it.
Is CBD still beneficial without THC?
Not all CBD products are the same in regards to the entourage effect. The most popular ones are full-spectrum CBD, broad-spectrum CBD, and CBD isolate.
Full-spectrum CBD contains CBD along with all the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids found in the hemp plant, including a tiny amount of THC.
Although full-spectrum CBD needs to have less than 0.2% of THC to be legal in the UK, traces of THC can still be found and could potentially show up in drug tests.
Because no compounds have been subtracted from it, full-spectrum CBD can be expected to have the greatest entourage effect.
Broad-spectrum CBD is similar to full-spectrum CBD but without any trace of THC. Broad-spectrum CBD contains all the other potentially helpful compounds of the hemp plant. With the THC removed, however, consumers do not have to fear a drug test.
While ideal for consumers who are subjected to drug tests, the lack of THC means that broad-spectrum CBD has a relatively lower entourage effect.
CBD isolate (or CBD crystals) is 100% CBD. It is the purest form of CBD, without any other compounds.
However, with no cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, CBD isolate exhibits no entourage effect.
What are the other cannabinoids in hemp?
Because of their sheer number, the combinations between cannabinoids that display similar qualities are almost endless. Any of these interactions might lead to increased effectiveness of full-spectrum CBD products. For instance, finding out which phytocannabinoids have anti-inflammatory potential and adding them to CBD might create an entourage effect with strong anti-inflammatory qualities, far beyond the sum of each phytocannabinoid’s own anti-inflammatory potential.
Such cannabinoids include CBD, CBDA, CBG, and CBN.
CBC is found in small quantities in hemp. It has shown potential in helping with inflammation, depression, bacteria, viruses, and pain.
CBDA is the precursor of CBD in its raw format. If you cut a raw hemp flower and eat it, you are consuming CBDA. CBDA appears to be an effective anti-inflammatory, similar in action to NSAIDs—medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen. It also has potential anti-nausea and anti-anxiety qualities.
CBG is the first cannabinoid formed in the hemp plant. As the hemp plant grows, CBG turns into CBDA and THCA. To consume more CBG, it is best to eat raw budding hemp flowers. CBG has shown promising results in terms of inflammation and relieving eye pressure (which is surprising, given that CBD possibly exacerbates intraocular pressure). It is also a muscle relaxant and pain reliever.
CBN has always been considered a strong sedative, but may also be a helpful pain reliever with anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties.
What are terpenes?
Terpenes are aromatic compounds that give flowers and plants their distinctive aromas and scents.
Whenever you smell a flower, you are experiencing the effect of terpenes. Hemp plants contain more than 200 terpenes. However, only a handful has been studied to assess their potential.
Amongst the most examined terpenes in hemp are a-pinene, beta-caryophyllene, limonene, linalool, and myrcene. Sometimes, it is easy to understand where they are to be found just by looking at their name: limonene gives lemons and other plants their lemon aromatic oil, while a-pinene gives the distinct aroma of pine and other conifers.
Conifers, pines, sage, and rosemary contain a-pinene. Just take a walk in a pine forest to experience its aroma. A-pinene could be helpful in alleviating inflammation, as a 2015 study suggests. It also appears to possess anti-oxidant and anti-microbial qualities.
If you suspect that basil, rosemary, cinnamon, and clove have the same underlying aromas, you are right: they all have the terpene beta-caryophyllene, which gives all these plants their distinctive peppery aroma.
Unique among all other terpenes, beta-caryophyllene interacts with the CB2 receptor, as discovered by a 2008 study that examined how beta-caryophyllene reduces inflammation in mice.
This means that beta-caryophyllene may interact with the human endocannabinoid system in several other, yet unstudied, ways. These probably explain beta-caryophyllene’s apparent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-depressive, and pain-relieving qualities, as discovered by a 2014 study on mice.
As its name suggests, this terpene has a distinctive lemony scent. Limonene is found in hemp and has antimicrobial, antifungal, and relaxing qualities. A 2006 study examined its antimicrobial qualities, while its anti-inflammatory qualities were investigated in related research in 2010. A 2012 paper discovered it also has anti-anxiety potential.
If you have ever smelled a lavender flower, then you have smelt linalool. Linalool has been shown to have significant relaxation and anti-anxiety benefits, as confirmed by a further 2009 study. This probably explains why lavender has been used since antiquity to promote relaxation and good sleep.
Myrcene is found in significant amounts in hemp. Initial research suggests that it could be an effective analgesic, helping in pain management.
How to get the CBD entourage effect
Combining CBD with other cannabinoids and terpenes may lead us to helpful supplements for inflammation or relaxation, depending on the exact compounds used. Increasing the sum of these compounds by combining them together may result in helpful, beneficial, and effective treatments for various conditions.
However, more definitive scientific studies and large-scale trials are required, to give us concrete results and to answer crucial questions: how much of each compound leads to optimum results? Do some of these cancel each other out? Are there any adverse interactions with other medications? What is the right CBD dosage for each condition or ailment? Are there any counter-indications? Are the effects of CBD cumulative? Does the entourage effect influence CBD bioavailability?
Research is still ongoing on the potential of CBD, phytocannabinoids, and terpenes, to answer these questions. Initial findings are promising, leading the research community to explore novel combinations of CBD, other cannabinoids, and terpenes. These may enhance each other’s potential and increase their overall effectiveness.