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What is the Entourage Effect?

What is the Entourage Effect?
April 26, 2024
7 min read

Cannabis contains around 100 cannabinoids and over 300 terpenes which are thought to interact with one another. The entourage effect is a term used to describe the interaction and synergy between these active ingredients. It is commonly used to refer to the impact that minor cannabinoids and terpenes can have on THC and CBD. This article aims to shed light on the entourage effect and its relevance for medical cannabis patients.

What is the Entourage Effect?

Cannabinoids and the entourage effect

When a new patient begins to learn about medical cannabis, they often focus on THC, the active ingredient present in the highest concentration. However, the medicinal benefits of cannabis are due to the combined effects of all its compounds, including cannabinoids and terpenes.

Beyond THC and CBD, there are many other cannabinoids that are commonly overlooked. These may behave like THC, CBD, or a combination of the two. Like THC, some are psychoactive, whereas others, such as CBD, may not have a mind-altering effect. Some minor cannabinoids such as THCP are poorly understood but appear to be far more potent than THC by weight. The presence of, and interaction between these cannabinoids, means that THC alone is not a useful indicator of the potency of a product.

Terpenes and the entourage effect

Terpenes are flavour compounds found in cannabis thought to contribute to its medical and psychoactive effects. Although terpenes are commonly thought to interact with cannabinoids, it is still unclear exactly how this occurs, and science has yet to fully explain the aroma-driven variations in effect experienced by cannabis patients.

In order to work as drugs, compounds like cannabinoids and terpenes have to bind to receptors – microscopic protein structures that receive and transmit chemical signals inside the human body.

The only terpene known to directly affect cannabinoid receptors is b-Caryophyllene, which is known to be a CB2 receptor agonist – meaning that it may have similar effects on the mind and body to CBD.

Other terpenes have not been found to act on cannabinoid receptors, but they may alter the effects of cannabinoids in other ways.

Currently, research indicates that some monoterpenes (a type of terpene) cross the Blood-Brain Barrier in mice, implying some psychoactive effect. The psychoactivity of terpenes without cannabinoids is obviously mild at best, but their apparent enhancement and modulation of cannabinoids’ effects is the main area of interest for researchers.

Anecdotally, patients commonly report that pungent, complex, and fresh flower tends to be more medically beneficial and have richer, longer-lasting effects that may be more suited to specific medical conditions. While the terpene profile (ratios between terpenes) and character of effect is most important for patient outcomes, a strong and vibrant aroma will generally lead to strong and vibrant effects. 

Other flavour compounds in cannabis

Besides terpenes, cannabis contains many other compounds that contribute to its aroma and flavour. These include VSCs (Volatile Sulfur Compounds), flavonoids, esters, and more. These compounds are not thought to be psychoactive, however, their presence may indicate that a flower is fresher, higher quality, and contains more active ingredients in general.

Getting the most out of the entourage effect

Understanding the cannabinoid and terpene profile of your prescribed strains, and how they are affected by heat is crucial to extracting the most benefit from the entourage effect. 

When you are prescribed a new flower, it is recommended to look for a Certificate of Analysis (CoA) on Catalyst or Cannareviews.

CoAs provide crucial information on the THC, CBD, pesticide, heavy metal, and contaminant content of your prescription. Sometimes, information relevant to the entourage effect may be found, such as a minor cannabinoid and terpene analysis. Catalyst and Cannareviews provide verified patients access to product-related information such as CoAs.

If your flower has a terpene CoA, it can be compared against a vaping temperature chart such as this:

Now, you can find the boiling points of the dominant cannabinoids and terpenes in your flower and a suitable temperature to vaporise at. Too low a temperature, and you will leave behind the terpenes that vaporise at higher temperatures. Too high a temperature, and you risk destroying the more volatile terpenes that boil off at low temperatures. Striking this balance is the main idea behind the concept of ‘temperature stepping’. Temperature stepping aims to extract the maximum amount of active ingredients without destroying any due to excessive heat.

Each flower, with its distinct ratios of cannabinoids and terpenes, reacts differently to heat. However, here is a generic temperature stepping protocol often used by patients:

  • Start at 170°C
  • Increase to 180°C when flavour changes
  • Increase to 190°C when flavour changes 
  • Finish at 200°C until medium-dark brown or until flavour/vapour is spent

It is also important to keep in mind that vaporising is crucial to unlocking the benefits of the entourage effect. Because excessive heat destroys much of the active ingredients in cannabis, smoked cannabis does not fully express its character or individuality and is less medically beneficial. Patients often report that the effects of smoked cannabis feel more generic and tend not to reflect the clarity and energy that may be provided by a more complete extraction of active ingredients. Furthermore, smoking is a much less efficient method of consumption than vaporising due to the destruction of active ingredients by the high heat of a flame. Patients commonly report using 3x less flower in a dry herb vape vs smoking.

 

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Oils and the entourage effect

When it comes to oral cannabis oil, full-spectrum extracts offer the most benefit from the entourage effect. A full-spectrum oil contains the ‘full spectrum’ of cannabis’s active ingredients, including minor cannabinoids and terpenes. Isolate products such as CBD isolate contain nothing but pure CBD and carrier oil, meaning they have no entourage effect. This is why a full-spectrum oil of the same dose and main active ingredients will always be more effective than an isolate.

Due to the poor oral absorption of terpenes, patients commonly report that oils exhibit less variance of effect compared to flower. This means that the terpene profile and indica/sativa classification of oil is less important than with flower, which can provide more of the full breadth of cannabis effects.

Carts and the entourage effect

The entourage effect is also a consideration when it comes to carts. Carts, or hash-filled disposable vape cartridges, are pre-filled vaporisers containing hash (cannabis extract). 

The hash that goes into carts can be made in various ways, some benefiting more from the entourage effect than others.

Of these, distillate has the least amount of entourage effect, as it does not contain the full spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes. Because terpenes are lost during distillation, often, cheap botanically-derived terpenes are added. These botanical terpenes may not provide a true cannabis-like effect, as the ratios and complexity of the terpene profile is not as it appears in the plant. Sometimes, the cannabis terpenes lost during distillation are reintroduced to the final product, although this is expensive and is unlikely to capture all the ingredients originally present in the plant.

Higher quality extracts such as live rosin or live resin will provide more of an entourage effect as their methods of extraction are truer to the original plant. However, patients still often report that flower has a richer, more multidimensional effect as compared to rosin or resin, possibly due to the effect of heat and processing on terpenes.

We hope this explanation of the entourage effect has been useful and informative. If you have any more questions about the entourage effect, or the active ingredients present in your prescription, be sure to ask your prescriber.

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Disclaimer

Please note that this blog was not written by a licensed medical practitioner and therefore is not providing medical advice. We do not endorse the use of cannabis or any other illicit drugs. Like any medication, cannabis has potential negative side effects and should only be used under the guidance of a qualified medical professional. For the latest information on cannabis prescription and use, please visit the TGA website. If you are considering cannabis as a treatment option, we encourage you to consult with a licensed healthcare professional.

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