In cannabis, we often talk about the “entourage effect” to explain the whole picture of a plant’s makeup. It’s a simple idea to explain a very complex chemical process. Basically, when we talk about the “entourage effect,” it refers to the idea that the whole plant has more to offer than the sum of its isolated parts (such as THC) offer on their own.
To understand this effect and the potential of whole plant medicine, we can look at the history of how aspirin was adapted for our modern pharmaceuticals. Aspirin actually comes from the willow tree. Its bark has been used for thousands of years, and is well documented in ancient Greek and Egyptian societies as a pain reliever and fever reducer. It was not until the late 1800s that scientists began to isolate the chemical properties of willow bark and discovered salicylic acid was the key component to relieve pain. Unfortunately, when salicylic acid was isolated and given to patients, it caused horrible intestinal side effects and even put people into comas. It wasn’t until 1853 that chemist Charles Frédéric Gerhardt discovered a symbiotic compound in the raw willow bark that protected patients from the side effects of salicylic acid. By combining multiple compounds that individually were not effective and administering them together, he was able to create the foundation for a safer pain reliever while mitigating the negative side effects.
This same idea is the foundation of what we call the “entourage effect,” the idea that multiple individual compounds create a greater and more impactful end result. Cannabis is made up of not only THC cannabinoids, but also a collection of other cannabinoids such as CBD, CBN, CBC, THCV and so on. It also contains terpenes, which give the plant its unique scent and help drive the effect of the THC.
In a 1974 study at the University of Chicago, researchers found in a double-blind study that cannabis with equal or higher levels of cannabinoids CBD and CBN to THC created effects two to four times greater than expected with THC alone. This study supports the idea that whole plant extractions can create a different outcome than THC isolates alone and is a great example of why the entourage effect can be a critical consideration to get the most out of your cannabis!