Medicinal cannabis: The Entourage Effect

The synergy of different compounds in marijuana is known as the entourage effect.

To this day scientists have discovered 480 chemical compounds in marijuana, 85 of which are unique to cannabis and are known as cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are either, psychoactive or non – psychoactive, but all medically important. Most important cannabinoids so far, are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and Cannabidiol (CBD).

“Entourage effect” is a phase introduced in cannabinoid science in 1999, coined by Raphael Mechoulam. Each cannabinoid has its medical benefits if used individually, but when they work together with other compounds – such as terpenes(fragrant oils that give cannabis its smell), these medical benefits multiply.

While THC and CBD take most of the attention for medicinal use, there are a lot more compounds in marijuana – nitrogenous compounds, ketones, amino acids and cannabigerols among others. Although their individual effects are not yet known, one thing is proven: The whole plant medicine is worth more than the sum of its parts.

Unlike other drugs that may work well as single compounds, synthesized in a lab, cannabis may offer its most profound benefit as a whole plant, if we let the entourage effect flower 

-Dr. Sanjay Gupta,  an American neurosurgeon and an assistant professor of neurosurgery at Emory University School of Medicine.

cannabis bottle

Are THC and CBD used as an isolated cannabinoids not enough?

THC and CBD are medically important and many patients have benefited from these cannabinoids. It is as simple as that. But also, it is a fact that the finest way to use medical marijuana is as a whole. The combination of numerous, or all, cannabinoids has proved itself most beneficial. It is the delicate mixture of cannabinoids and terpenes – known as “entourage effect” or “whole plant medicine” – that does all the “magic”. It is the synergy that can treat “pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, [and] fungal and bacterial infections.” – National Institutes of Health.

So much possibilities and potential to benefit from the whole plant, and yet there is still great haste for production of single cannabinoid oils that can help only some percentage of patients.

There is an example of how the synthetic THC pill, known as Marinol is not a suitable replacement for the whole plant explained by Dr. Sanjay Gupta:

When the drug became available in the mid-1980s, scientists thought it would have the same effect as the whole cannabis plant. But it soon became clear that most patients preferred using the whole plant to taking Marinol. 

This tells us that the whole plant is way more beneficial as opposed to synthesized single cannabinoid drugs, and that the “entourage effect” works!

The only question to be answered now is: Why are we not encouraging the “entourage effect” and multiply the benefits of the cannabinoids?

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