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New research suggests cannabis’ ‘entourage effect’ is real – here’s what’s next

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The “entourage effect” is one of the most hotly contested hypotheses in cannabis. Some say it’s a mere myth, others are convinced that cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids interact synergistically for medical benefits. New research in Molecules can hopefully put the debate to rest.

The new study all but confirms that the different elements of cannabis work in concert to increase the plant’s therapeutic potential, achieving a holistic effect that none could achieve on their own. The report is yet another scientific step towards understanding the plant and evolving how it’s administered for different outcomes. Let’s explore.

What’s the entourage effect, again?

To recap, the entourage effect has been a topic of cannabis interest since 1999. The theory posits that the totality of the plant’s compounds – namely terpenes, flavonoids, and cannabinoids – collaborate to shape its therapeutic profile. Far beyond the three-letter cannabinoids of THC and CBD that have captured the popular imagination, the entourage effect suggests that cannabis as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

It’s clear why researchers believe this to be the case. Cannabinoids are documented to hold analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective qualities. Terpenes – aromatic compounds that I’ve explored previously in NY Cannabis Insider – contribute not only to the plant’s flavor but also modulate cannabinoid effects through various molecular mechanisms. Finally, flavonoids demonstrate anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective characteristics, which are especially pertinent in managing neuroinflammation.

Surely, each of the compounds working in tandem would be more beneficial than operating alone, right?

Researchers say that proving this theory correct is crucial to “unraveling cannabis’ complete therapeutic potential” and “tailoring treatments based on the holistic composition of cannabis strains.” So, what did they find?

What the science says about the entourage effect

In a nutshell: the entourage effect exists. The researchers affirm the pharmacological impact of each of the compounds and put forth that all – but particularly cannabinoids and terpenes – “play a substantial role in interacting and collaborating” in the body.

According to the researchers, the interplay between these compounds leads to varied effects, benefits, and potential drawbacks across various cannabis strains. Additionally, the way these compounds interact with the endocannabinoid system exerts various effects on the body, including analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective actions.

The researchers conclude: “It is becoming increasingly clear that their effects are not solely attributed to their actions but are modulated by other compounds in the plant.”

As is the case with most groundbreaking studies, the researchers are quick to note that this is but a first step in the scientific story. Subsequent studies are needed to find to what degree each compound has an impact. Nonetheless, this is an important start in unlocking the plant’s potential “within the realm of natural plant-based medicine.”

What this means for cannabis application and treatment

Confirming the entourage effect opens exciting possibilities for the application of the plant going forward. For example, armed with this information, consumers and brands can leverage whole-plant and compound-specific treatments depending on the situation.

On the one hand, whole-plant products such as full-spectrum CBD offer a holistic treatment option harnessing the entourage effect, potentially providing broader therapeutic benefits.

Conversely, compound-specific medicine provides a targeted approach crucial for conditions requiring precise cannabinoid dosages, appealing to both patients and providers. Therefore, understanding the entourage effect can better guide healthcare and wellness professionals in suggesting product types for specific ailments.

For example, researchers last year identified over 450 distinct chemical combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes, known as “chemovars.” Notably, five commonly consumed chemovars showed varying effectiveness in treating chronic pain, depression, and anxiety.

Forget “Sour Diesel” and “Granddaddy Purple,” this kind of research elevates cannabis categorization beyond conventional strain naming and emphasizes the importance of chemical compositions for personalized care. This discovery, the researchers predict, could even lead to the development of an innovative indexing system categorizing cannabis variants based on unique chemical profiles.

This is just the tip of the research iceberg. While there’s still so much to discover, proving substance to the entourage effect is vital to moving our industry in the right direction. Let’s look forward to more attention in this space to forever shift how we use cannabis as a wellness and medical tool.

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