Cannabis enthusiasts rave about the entourage effect. But does it really exist? Science is unsure.
A lack of credible research has crippled the cannabis industry. Science has only made a few fitful starts into researching most of the chemical compounds nestled with the plants. Everyone salivates over THC. It’s the psychoactive compound responsible for the “high” feeling.
The average college student can explain roughly what happens to your body when you smoke or ingest THC. But what effect does Linalool have? Or Beta-caryophyllene? Or Terpinolene? There are over 200 terpenes found in cannabis plants and the vast majority of them have never been studied. Researchers have been hampered by federal government restrictions. Learn more about terpineol, sabinene, pulegone, pinene, phellandrene, carene, and camphene.
A lot of the studies that have been done on cannabis look at single-molecules isolates like CBD. The plant itself, however, is crammed with hundreds of cannabinoids and terpenes.
Anecdotal evidence and a smattering of research studies support the idea that the interplay between these compounds creates the “entourage effect,” a phenomenon that amplifies the medicinal effects of the plant. A whole plant extract that’s full of THC, CBD, and a host of terpenes, will provide greater benefits than an isolate.
Some scientists, however, are hesitant to believe the hype.
“The lay public has really taken on the notion of the entourage effect, but there’s not a lot of data,” Margaret Haney, a neurobiologist at Columbia University, said.
“I’m not against marijuana. I want to study it carefully. We know it can affect pain and appetite but the large majority of what’s being said is driven by anecdotal marketing.”
To be clear, there’s no evidence that the entourage effect doesn’t exist. It’s just that the theory hasn’t been subjected to a rigorous round of scientific studies yet.
The question has real consequences. A multiple sclerosis medication on the market in the U.K. combines equal parts THC and CBD. American MS sufferers, who don’t have access to the same drug, might be prescribed Marinol instead. Marinol is a THC-only drug created in a laboratory. If the entourage effect exists, Marinol is less effective than it could be.
Recreational and medical cannabis laws are sweeping across the country. The federal government is under a lot of pressure to buckle on its anti-cannabis position. Once the federal restrictions are eased, it’ll be easier for researchers and industry professionals to delve into the study of less popular cannabinoids and terpenes.