Cannabis flower contains hundreds of molecules that have the ability to directly affect our minds and bodies. Cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids bind to different cells, and receptors throughout our bodies, influencing our experience with cannabis. These phytochemicals share similarities in medicinal value, as well as in how we perceive cannabis through our senses. The many similarities suggest that these phytochemicals may interact or have synergy with each other. Dr. John McPartland, a well- known cannabis researcher has stated that “cannabis is polypharmaceutical” , meaning diversely medicinal and the “synergy arises from interactions between its multiple components.”
A few popular terms associated with this phytochemical synergy are “entourage effect”, and “ensemble effect”. “Entourage effect” was the first term coined to describe the relationship between the phytochemicals and their combined effect on the body. The word entourage suggests one component, generally THC, is the main attraction, while the others are there to support. The term “ensemble effect” has recently become popularized as it suggests the view that all of the phytochemicals share equal importance in our experience with cannabis.
While studies are still very limited, synergy has been observed between cannabinoids and terpenes in different combinations.
+ Pinene counteracts the memory loss and compromised cognition associated with high levels of THC
+ Pinene, Myrcene, and Caryophyllene together calm anxiety
+ CBD reduces the anxiety associated with high levels of THC
+ THC combined with CBD can be a strong sedative
+ Linalool, Limonene, with CBG is showing promise as a treatment for MRSA
+ Linalool, Limonene are known to enhance the effects of CBD and the combination is being studied as a treatment for acne
+ Linalool, Myrcene, and Pinene combined potentiate the effect of sedative
cannabinoids showing promise as a sleep aid
+ Caryophyllene, Myrcene, and Pinene combined have value in addiction treatment
+ Myrcene reduces blood-brain barrier resistance, easing the transport of cannabinoids
+ THC combined with CBD and CBC is a powerful antidepressant
Dr. Russo, a neurologist who has long studied cannabis and its chemical compounds, explains that both cannabinoids and terpenes increase blood flow, enhance cortical activity, and kill respiratory pathogens, as well as influence each other’s mechanisms. He suggests there could be synergy between the two with respect to treating pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, and fungal and bacterial infections. From isolated studies, we know that many cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids have been found to offer relief from pain and inflammation. These phytochemicals all affect different receptors, and cellular pathways, targeting pain and inflammation at multiple sources. It would only make sense to assume that consuming a combination of these three types of phytochemicals would provide the most effective relief from pain. Most of the research on the hundreds of chemical compounds found in cannabis has been studies of individual isolated cannabinoids, terpenes, or flavonoids. Studies of different phytochemical combinations, as they appear naturally in cannabis flower, are extremely limited, due to federal prohibition of cannabis. This kind of research could really broaden our understanding of the special relationship humans have had with cannabis for many thousands of years.
All that we know about cannabis’s powerful phytochemicals is the result of studying them in isolation, however it is rare that we consume a cannabinoid, terpene, or flavonoid alone. It is much more common to consume multiple phytochemicals at one time. The easiest way to access the phytochemical diversity of cannabis is to consume unadulterated cannabis flower. The term “whole plant medicine” is a reference to cannabis flower and cannabis products that contain the full spectrum of therapeutic phytochemicals that cannabis has to offer. Just like eating whole fruits and vegetables is assumedly more nutritionally beneficial than taking over the counter vitamins, consuming the hundreds of diverse phytochemicals found in whole plant cannabis assumedly provides greater benefit than an isolated cannabinoid or terpene. The magic of cannabis lies in the synergy between the phytochemicals.