Dancing by yourself in your room with the stereo on, busting moves only you can see, is analogous to being a single-plant molecule like, say, the cannabinoid known as cannabidiol, or CBD.
While your dance prowess and the sonic reach of the stereo system might be respectable, they are inherently limited. Now cut to the dance hall. Hundreds of dancers pulsate and move autonomously yet in unison to the music, creating an experience that is greater than the sum of its parts.
This is equivalent to the entourage effect, and it explains the efficacy of whole-plant cannabis therapy. The entourage effect was illuminated through discoveries of the endocannabinoid system, the master regulator for many of our physiological processes including the immune system, digestion and stress adaptation. When the system is deficient or poorly regulated, plants such as cannabis, which are rich in phytocannabinoids, can restore balance.
The understanding of this principle was furthered in two papers by neuroscientist Ethan Russo. Russo is medical director of Phytecs, a biotech company that focuses on the endocannabinoid system. One paper illustrated the possible synergistic effects of cannabinoids (CBD, THC) and terpenoids (the compounds that give cannabis its aroma) for a variety of conditions such as cancer, anxiety, depression and insomnia.
The second paper demonstrated that "CBD and perhaps other cannabis components achieve synergy with THC consisting of potentiation of benefits," thus suggesting a "broad applicability in their future therapeutic application." Translation: THC and CBD can work together to make you feel better.
If individual plant components create complementary therapeutic effects when combined, what does this mean in a practical sense when considering the goals of cannabis therapy?
In a crucial study titled "Overcoming the Bell-Shaped Dose-Response of Cannabidiol by Using Cannabis Extract Enriched in Cannabidiol," a team of Israeli scientists demonstrated that whole-plant, CBD-rich cannabis extract possessed far greater therapeutic potential than single-molecule CBD in regards to anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving abilities.
The Israeli authors noted that "it is likely that other components in the extract synergize with CBD to achieve the desired anti-inflammatory action."
This synergy is the entourage in full effect, a culmination of individual molecules moving harmoniously in a therapeutic dance party.
Patrick Anderson is a lead educator at Project CBD.