Cannabidiol - more commonly known as CBD - truly is the rising star in the cannabis community, with scientists discovering ever-more information about the chemical compound and how it can potentially help with a wide range of symptoms and ailments.
And just like many rising stars, the compound enjoys traveling in good - and familiar - company, showing up, in most cases, surrounded by a number of other similar chemical compounds naturally found in the cannabis plant.
But in this case, it’s not just CBD putting in the work.
How Does The Entourage Effect Work?
Indeed, there are no hangers-on in this scenario. Each part of the cannabis plant that makes its way into our bodies brings its own specific talents to the table - and the way they all work together is called the entourage effect.
While research on the topic is ongoing, scientists to date have uncovered as many as 120 different similar chemicals, referred to as phytocannabinoids, working within the plant. Two other smaller groups of organic compounds – terpenes and flavonoids – are also often in the mix.
Each type of molecule targets specific bodily systems, or works to promote certain general effects within the body, like the prevention of inflammation.
Together, the group of molecules is thought to be greater than the sum of its parts – at least, in theory.
That these disparate plant parts can all work together to create a beneficial net impact on us has yet to be conclusively proven, though scientists have already uncovered a huge amount of interesting information in searching for potential signs of the entourage effect.
Which Compounds Are Involved In The Entourage Effect?
Within that huge (and growing!) list of phytocannabinoids, scientists have uncovered three main groups of compounds, including:
The largest group of all, these compounds are responsible for most of the chemical reactions that make things happen.
When we’re feeling the effects of cannabis or cannabis-derived products, we’re mostly feeling the effects of its cannabinoids – mostly because these molecules are capable of plugging directly into our bodies, through a miraculous structure called the Endocannabinoid System.
And despite its recent surge in popularity, cannabidiol isn’t even the most famous phytocannabinoid. That title would have to go to tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as THC - the chemical responsible for making us feel high after smoking marijuana.
Have you ever smelled something so good it made your mouth water? When it comes to cannabis-related products, that type of pleasant aroma arises from terpenes.
The plant parts are like naturally-occurring essential oils that leave traces of scents (and sometimes even tastes) that can range anywhere from citrus, berry, mint and pine to more exotic-leaning flavors like pineapple.
Despite what their name may suggest, these molecules have nothing to do with flavor. Instead, flavonoids deliver the goods in terms of antioxidants, nutrients and other natural boosters they can bring to our bodies.
Flavonoids are not actually exclusive to cannabis plants. The helpful little molecules also appear in a number of fruits and vegetables, and even the delicious concoctions of wine, tea and chocolate!
How Do These Compounds Work Together?
With each part of the plant having a different role to play, it might seem only natural that these compounds would interact differently with each other, producing a different overall effect on our bodies depending on which ones – and how many – are present.
That’s the basic idea behind the entourage effect, which generally comes to the conclusion that the more of these natural actors are allowed to get together, the better the overall impact.
Still, in the absence of conclusive evidence, researchers remain largely split over the effect’s validity.
What We Know (And What We Don’t) About the CBD Entourage Effect
Legal research into the cannabis plant and its effects on the human body and brain is still relatively recent—and continuously emerging.
Skeptics of the entourage effect often point to the general lack of test results proving it, and especially the lack of controlled, double-blind, lab-tested analysis – the exacting type of studies most scientists prefer seeing before making an official call on something. (Also complicating the matter is every human body’s very individual response to these chemicals, making even the most well-conducted research difficult to discern.)
Still, researchers have managed to conduct a few examinations into the entourage effect, and what they’ve found has largely seemed to show that the plant parts are better together.
A majority of the research has focused on the interplay between the plant’s two most famous compounds, THC and CBD. And it seems that CBD may have a calming effect on its more notorious friend, with typical THC side effects like sleepiness, anxiety and an increased appetite all tampered down when mixed with CBD.
A small number of studies have also supported the idea that adding flavonoids and terpenes to the mix could help boost CBD’s therapeutic potential by helping the compound deliver greater neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects. (No such effect was found when terpenes were paired with THC in one recent study, though the researchers only examined the interplay using six different terpenes.)
Still, as the market for CBD continues to expand, so, too, will the breadth of scientific findings on the substance, which will hopefully lead to clearer answers on how the plant’s parts all operate – both independently and alongside each other.