The Cannabis "Entourage Effect" Is Real, Say Scientists
It's all in the terpenes.
Many people might dismiss the "entourage effect" as a marketing campaign. But a new study has found the effect is key to how cannabis can provide pain relief and may play a big role in how efficiently cannabis delivers such relief.
Researchers from the University of Arizona Health Sciences conducted the study. They wrote in a news release that the presence of an entourage effect had been "an unresolved mystery."
The researchers write that they "found evidence that favors the entourage effect theory and positions cannabis terpenes, the part of the plant that provides flavor and aroma, as a promising new target for pain therapies that would require lower doses and produce fewer side effects."
What is the entourage effect?
Terpenes are aromatic compounds that exist in many different plants, including fruits and flowers. They are what provide the scent for different plants, such as pine, mint, and citrus. They are the basic component of essential oils.
The cannabis plant produces terpenes, as well as many different types of cannabinoids. They include CBD (cannabidiol) and (THC) tetrahydrocannabinol. THC is the psychoactive component in cannabis.
THC is believed to cause the high on its own. However, the combination with terpenes—the entourage effect —increases the effectiveness of cannabis for reducing pain and does not increase any negative side effects, the new study found.
In the study, published in Scientific Reports, the researchers wrote: "Our findings suggest that these cannabis terpenes are multifunctional cannabimimetic ligands that provide conceptual support for the entourage effect hypothesis and could be used to enhance the therapeutic properties of cannabinoids."
The researchers tested terpenes alone and in combination with cannabinoids
The researcher used mice to test the effectiveness of terpenes alone and in combination with cannabinoids in reducing pain. They found that on their own, terpenes mimic the action of cannabinoids.
For example, when THC enters the body, it binds with a cannabinoid receptor (typically the most abundant receptor, CB1R). On their own, all four types of terpenes tested by researchers did the same thing. They also – again, on their own - led to lowered pain sensitivity in test subjects, a remarkable finding in its own right.
However, when researchers treated the mice with a combination of terpenes and cannabinoids, they found the test subjects experienced an even greater reduction in pain.
Dr. John Streicher, the lead researcher on the study, said in the news release that the results were "unexpected, in a way. It was our initial hypothesis, but we didn't necessarily expect terpenes, these simple compounds that are found in multiple plants, to produce cannabinoid-like effects."
Streicher said his long-term goal is to use terpenes in combination with cannabinoids or opioids to achieve the same levels of pain relief with lower doses of drugs and fewer side effects.