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Cannabis is a complex plant containing a wealth of compounds, including cannabinoids and terpenoids, which all interact with the mind and body. While the cannabinoids CBD and THC are often highlighted and championed, they are star players of a much larger team.
There are over 100 accompanying minor cannabinoids. There are also and a wide range of terpenes, the aromatic oils found in spices, trees, and fruit, that provide the unique smells and flavors to cannabis.
All of these compounds have their own unique and specific biochemical effect on the body. Combining these compounds provides a different physical or psychological impact than a single compound on it's own - this is what is known as the 'entourage effect'.
Famed cannabis researcher Dr. Raphael Mechoulam was the first to use the term in reference to cannabis an article published in 1998. It wasn't until 2011 however that the phrase was popularized thanks to a paper by Dr. Ethan Russo entitled Taming THC: Potential Cannabis Synergy and Phytocannabinoid-Terpenoid Entourage Effects.
These papers showed that cannabis compounds consumed in tandem display synergistic interactions with one another. For example, a 2008 study by Dr. Russo concluded that secondary compounds including CBD may enhance the beneficial effects of THC and prevent unwelcome side effects.
The combined consumption of varied cannabinoids and terpenes holds huge potential. The goal of researchers is to find chemical combinations that work in chorus with each other to synergistically increase the overall outcome when compared to consuming single, isolated compounds.
While this research is certainly something to be excited about, the mainstream CBD industry largely oversimplified things concluding that 'more is better'. As a result, many have championed diverse, full-spectrum extracts as the best possible solution in all cases. In reality, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Different combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes result in different reactions from the body. One compound may magnify the effect of another while another compound mitigates the effect of another. These interactions are diverse and complex, especially as the number of compounds in the mix increases.
A diverse full-spectrum mix that acts on different receptors in the body simultaneously can create a chaotic situation. Some interactions between compounds may be desirable, while others may bring undesired or unnecessary states of being.
In the early days of the hemp-CBD industry, the isolated CBD molecule quickly grew to popularity because it is inexpensive to produce, versatile, and free of THC. This white crystalline powder sits across the aisle from full-spectrum CBD oil which contains a diverse collection of cannabinoids and terpenes reflecting that of the hemp plant it was extracted from.
CBD isolate is consistent in that the cannabidiol has no other compounds to interact with. The isolation of this compound has been helpful in producing pharmaceutical-minded formulations. The lack of interaction helps create predictably in the effects and dosing requirements.
On the other hand, full-spectrum products deliver a dose of the full range of hemp-sourced compounds. The effects may be less predictable, but in general, the performance of full-spectrum products has been observed to offer a broader therapeutic window and to work well at much lower doses, but there are still advances left to be made.
The future of the entourage effect is one of the most exciting horizons for cannabis. Additional research will enable specific formulations containing specific compounds to be created to address specific ailments.
For example, research shows that a common terpene called limonene helps increase the absorption of other terpenes and cannabinoids through the skin, mucous membranes, and digestive tract. Additionally, the interaction between cannabinoids THC and CBN resulted in enhanced sedating effects when compared to either compound consumed in isolation.
Specific chemical formulations have long been at play in the smoked cannabis industry. Strains containing tailored combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes are sold to provide unique therapeutic outcomes. While a cornerstone of smoked cannabis, strains are "limited" by their natural composition, and suffer from inconsistencies in their chemical makeup.
The extraction facility and laboratory are emerging as the new frontier of cannabis. Extracted cannabis offers the opportunity for crafting accurate, repeatable cannabinoid, and terpene profiles. As research continues, specific formulations for specific needs are sure to emerge and rise to popularity.
While it may take some time before research develops and more chemically specific products are created, you can still enjoy the entourage effect today by choosing full or broad-spectrum products over CBD isolate!