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Terpenes and the Entourage Effect

So you’ve probably heard that THC is the compound in cannabis that gets you high. Well, that’s only half the story. First, the term “gets you high” is a little outdated. Yes, THC delivers a psychoactive effect, and many users may find that effect to be euphoric, giggly, happy and easygoing. So to that end, sure, THC gets you high. But there’s a lot more at play. Some people enjoy consuming THC via smoking, edibles or vaporization for therapeutic purposes. For these people, “getting high” isn’t the end goal. THC has been demonstrated to provide relief for many conditions, including those that the State of Colorado has approved for the use of medical marijuana. Even so, there are only 8 approved conditions in Colorado but THC has been shown to help over 100 debilitating conditions, including physical and mental health related issues. To say that THC only “gets you high” really sells the miraculous compound short.


THC has been scrutinized and many people are deterred from the therapeutic qualities THC possesses. The media portrays THC as the bad guy and some states are going so far as to outlaw any cannabis product that contains THC. These “CBD Only” laws are intended to curtail the marijuana legalization movement while admitting that some cannabis products really do provide therapeutic relief for some people, particularly children with epileptic seizures. Despite the federal government’s refusal to declare marijuana as medicinal in any capacity, pressure remains high on state and local legislatures around the country to decriminalize cannabis and establish a system for which patients suffering from debilitating conditions can access medical marijuana. CBD-only legislation is a compromise that state governments use to keep psychoactive THC out of the reach of people that may benefit from it just because THC is the compound in cannabis that “gets you high”.


It wouldn’t be so bad to have CBD-only legislation, except that it’s been shown that CBD (the cannabinoid that has demonstrated significant reductions in epileptic seizures in some users, particularly children) doesn’t do so well in the human system without other compounds native to cannabis. This symbiotic relationship, between CBD and other cannabinoids like THC, CBC, CBG and others is called the “entourage effect”. The term was popularized by Dr. Sanjay Gupta on a 2014 CNN featured news story titled “Marijuana and the Brain”, but was actually theorized by Israeli researcher Raphael Mechoulam in 1999. He describes the entourage effect as the relationship between different compounds in cannabis working together to channel the CB1 and CB2 neuroreceptors natural to the human body to provide maximum relief for debilitating symptoms. To tie it in with CBD-only legislation, Mechoulam, now 85 years old, would argue that such laws do not provide sufficient medicine to those that may benefit from the entire cannabis plant. Sanjay Gupta sums it up,


“More than a decade of experiments revealed that a whole plant extract, bred to contain roughly the same amounts of THC and CBD in addition to the other components in the plant, was more effective in reducing the pain and spasms of MS than a medication made of a single compound.”


To take it a step further, the entourage effect doesn’t just apply to cannabinoids. Terpenes, the aromatic compounds natural to most plants, are especially concentrated in cannabis. These aromatic compounds have been found to provide significant relief for many debilitating conditions just by themselves. Pinene, for one, is true to its namesake, smelling heavily of coniferous, evergreen forests. Limonene, also true to its namesake, smells like lime, lemon, or orange citrus. In fact, the essential oil of orange peel contains 95% limonene by weight. The terpene is so abundant that a person may ingest up to 27 mg per day through foods we eat, especially fruits and vegetables, and inhale up to 2 lbs of the hydrocarbon every day. The important function of terpenes, though, is their therapeutic potential. Pinene, the hydrocarbon monoterpene responsible for the aroma or pine needles has shown analgesic properties, meaning it has demonstrated effective against chronic pain. Cannabis strains like sour diesel, chemdog (chemdawg) and kush varieties are very potent in pinene. Not by accident, many reviews of these strains conclude that they are effective against pain. Limonene, as mentioned above, is prevalent in citrus oil as well as many cannabis strains. Limonene has been shown to elevate mood, relieve depression, and provide stimulating energy. Many strains that provide this energy, largely placed in the “sativa” category, also contain high concentrations of limonene. These strains include Lemon G13, Tangerine Haze, OJ Ghost, and Jilly Bean. Conversely, indica strains like Grape Ape, Grand Daddy Purple and Bubba Kush contain significant amounts of the terpene linalool. Linalool has been demonstrated to be soothing and relaxing, and even has been shown to have a similar effect to xanax to relieve anxiety.


Though many cannabis strains may have similar THC levels or ratios of cannabinoids, the fragrance of each strain is capable of delivering a very different effect. As described, indica varieties tend to contain higher concentrations of myrcene and linalool, responsible for lavender, and floral fragrances. Sativas on the other hand tend to contain more limonene. However, the precise combination of terpenes give cannabis strains their uniqueness and one size certainly doesn’t fit all. That is what the entourage effect is, in short. These compounds all act together in a way that stimulates our brains to release endorphins and neurotransmitters in ways that each individual compound cannot do by itself. Find the strain that works for you! Each one is a little bit different.