For many people who are just getting acquainted with the vast array of products containing CBD, understanding the finer points of how cannabidiol affects the human body can be challenging to say the least. After all, there is a wealth of terminology surrounding CBD and other cannabis-derived molecules, some of which is not only challenging to grasp, but even contradictory to information widely available in literature and on the Internet.
One major point of confusion can be found in what’s often called the “entourage effect,” which researchers, patients and casual users alike point to as playing a key role in the utility of cannabis as therapeutic medicine.
First coined as a term in 1999 by Israeli researcher Raphael Mechoulam, the term “entourage effect” refers to a form of synergy that occurs when multiple cannabinoids work in tandem with each other. Many people are familiar with THC, for example, which provides the psychoactive effects that lead to a “high” when consuming marijuana. THC is just one of hundreds of trace compound contained within cannabis, including CBG, CBN and many more that are currently undergoing study for their potential therapeutic effects.
When all of these compounds combine, the interact with and balance each other out to create what many now refer to as the entourage effect.
One of the most important distinctions to make when it comes to CBD products comes down to how they’ve been formulated. Synthetic, single-molecule CBD, for example, is produced in laboratories and currently dominates research being done in the field. For consumers, products such as cannabidiol isolate fit this description, which is often used as a base for oils and edibles said to contain CBD. While evidence may be somewhat anecdotal, many people find isolate-based CBD products to be ineffective unless consumed in large doses.
Contrasting with single-molecule CBD are what are commonly referred to as “whole plant extractions.” With this method, CBD is extracted from hemp plants via a solvent (such as CO2), along with trace amounts of THC (less than 0.3%), CBC, CBG, and various other compounds found naturally in the plant itself. According to the principles behind the entourage effect, these cannabinoids synergize to become more than just the sum of their parts. In particular, THC and CBD balance one another, the latter reducing some of the unpleasant effects sometimes associated with the former (anxiety, jitteriness etc.).
Terpenes act as yet another crucial piece of the puzzle when discussing cannabis and the entourage effect. These volatile aromatic compounds are found not only in hemp and marijuana, but also in a wide range of fruits, vegetables, plants, and trees. Alpha-pinene, as an example, is one of the most commonly found naturally occurring compounds in the world—terpenes such as linalool can be found naturally in the lavender plant. There are currently over 2,000 identified terpenes in existence, at least 100 of which are produced by cannabis.
Despite contributing primarily to the taste and smell of a given cannabis product, terpenes are also thought to affect mood and state of mind. Using the examples above, pinene often lends feelings of alertness and clarity, while linalool promotes calm and tranquility—just like the calming qualities one might associate with lavender. Since terpenes are thought to “direct” the ways in which cannabinoids impact the body, they contribute to the entourage effect and once again make the case for taking whole plant extracts as opposed to isolated compounds.
There are countless factors that can affect the efficacy of CBD. Discounting physiological differences across users, dosage, administration method, and sourcing of raw ingredients can all play key roles in whether or not one finds a specific product to be effective. Perhaps most important given what we currently know about the entourage effect, however, is whether or not a product is made with CBD isolate or with a whole plant extraction.
Though research is still in its infancy, as cannabinoids seem to work best as a team rather than on their own, it should stand to reason why whole plant extracts are generally recommended over the alternatives.
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