You may have noticed when consuming cannabis, that the effects of the plant vary, widely. In direct contrast to the mainstream representation of the happy Rogen-esque, cheese puff-munching stoner, or even the blissed out hippy, the reality of consuming today’s cannabis is not just one blanket ‘stoned’ effect, but rather myriad nuances, flavors and increasingly proven health benefits.
Why is this? The thinking in the industry is that this variety of effect and flavor is thanks to around 400 different chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. And their interaction with each other: the so called ‘entourage effect’.
The discovery of the major cannabinoids
Honored Israeli scientist, Raphael Mechoulam first discovered the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) in the 1960´s. That is, he discovered that within the human body there was a whole receptor system for cannabinoids. He also found that humans produce a natural cannabinoid compound, naming it anandamide, after the Sanskrit word for bliss. Then he went on to effectively isolate and replicate the major cannabinoids THC, CBD and CBG.
Now in his 80’s, Mechoulam believes that, with refined breeding overtime, the isolation and use of specific cannabinoids, and using them in chorus, could lead to a very personalized form of medicine.
The interaction between cannabinoids and terpenes
So, you have probably heard of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the cannabinoid principally given credit for the ´high´. In addition, CBD (cannabidiol) is gaining lots of mainstream attention, for its deeply relaxing and potentially health strengthening benefits.
Multiple other cannabinoids (THCV, CBG, CBN, the list goes on… ) are also being researched though; both individually and in combination. Areas of interest include helping treat conditions as varied as inflammation, spasms, mood and neurological disorders, pain and tumor reduction.
You also have flavonoids and terpenes, which are linked to the appearance, flavor and aroma of a strain. The terpene Pinene for instance, is also found in pine resin, sage and juniper berries; The Limonene terpene is credited with the citrus scent of many sativa strains and is also found in citrus fruits and plants like rosemary. These compounds too, are thought by some researchers to have health benefits of their own.
The combined use of cannabinoids and terpenes is now popularly known as ‘whole plant medicine’.
More research is needed
However, this line of thinking remains controversial in research and medical cannabis circles. Thanks in large part to the prohibition of cannabis research in much of the world since 1937, there has not yet been sufficient scientific data assembled to either totally uphold the entourage effect idea or to disprove it; double-blind studies have to date not been conducted.
You have scientific researchers both for and against. Margaret Haney, a cannabis researcher at Columbia University (U.S.), told Scientific American recently that evidence is largely anecdotal at the moment. In contrast the large company GW Chemical (UK), producers of Sativex (a Multiple Sclerosis medication allowed in the UK since 2010) use a 1:1 THC/CBD formula, based on their research indicating that the CBD lowers the paranoia inducing potential of the THC.
One former researcher at GW Chemical, Ethan Russo, has written extensively on the entourage effect for scientific publications and looked into the combination of various cannabinoids and terpenes for variance in effect. He is convinced that individual strains smell and taste different, and produce varying effects, and that this is not a coincidence; each has its unique cannabinoid and terpene profile.
In the budding cannabis industry; among master growers who have been crossing different genetics over that same 30-40 year period; among the burgeoning labs offering strain analysis of different compounds; and among regular cannabis consumers´ correlating anecdotal evidence, the entourage effect remains both convincing and popular.
Experience the entourage effect for yourself
The one thing that appears undeniable from a cannabis lover’s point of view is that no two strains of cannabis taste or act on you in exactly the same way. Perhaps it’s budtender wisdom, but just try OG Kush and Lemon OG Haze, and then attempt to tell yourself that they taste the same or are having the same effect.
As when choosing a nice wine or opting for a Spanish dish over a french one then, you can look for the flavors, potency and effects that you prefer. For pointers, use our search function; tweak it to your liking, and gauge for yourself whether there is truth to the entourage effect or not.