What is the Entourage Effect? Full-Spectrum CBD's Greatest Weapon
A full-spectrum CBD product contains all the cannabinoids found within the hemp plant- we're talking terpenes, phytocannabinoids, cannabinoid acids, flavonoids and, yes, trace amounts of THC. As long as the THC levels are within the legal limit (in the UK and most of the EU, this means no more than 0.2% THC should be in the product- this quantity can go up to 0.3% in some countries), then the product can be legally sold. Despite seeming like a small amount, studies tell us that even the slightest trace amount of THC can turn a CBD product from good to genuinely potent. Really, what's happening in a full-spectrum CBD product is simple: the product is mimicking, in slightly different ratios, the cannabinoids found in the original hemp plant. This allows the 'entourage effect' to occur to its fullest.
Full-spectrum CBD relies on the 'entourage effect' to make a CBD product the most potent it can be, second only to the healing potential of the original hemp plant. But, you might be wondering: how does the 'entourage effect' work? What does it mean for a CBD product to be labelled 'full-spectrum'? What is the science behind the 'entourage effect'?
Well, rest assured, we're here to clear it all up for you. By the end of this article, we hope you'll be able to see why we're on the full-spectrum bandwagon. And, perhaps in the process, you'll find yourself discovering the joys of CBD for yourself!
The Different Types of CBD Spectrums
First, let's have a look at the options out there- what makes full-spectrum different from the other types of CBD out there?
As we've stated, a full-spectrum CBD product will contain all the cannabinoids found in the hemp plant- at specific ratios. These will include THC, flavonoids, terpenes, and phytocannabinoids (common ones include CBG, CBN and THCV).
This makes a full-spectrum CBD product the strongest out there- because it contains that elusive THC, it is considered a lot more therapeutic, without the THC levels being high enough to cause any intoxication or unwanted side effects. As we've already stated, a full-spectrum product works because it draws on the 'entourage effect'. This means that, the more variety of cannabinoids within the CBD product, the more synergistically the ingredients work. As a result, full-spectrum products have all the cannabinoids working together synergistically. In a nutshell, the potential therapeutic benefits of each cannabinoid within a full spectrum product are made stronger because of the presence of other cannabinoids. The ingredients work together, like members of a team.
Because THC isn't legal in every country, broad-spectrum CBD is the next best option for those who still want a potent, effective CBD product. Broad-spectrum CBD contains all the other cannabinoids- so it still utilises the synergy of the 'entourage effect'. However, because a broad-spectrum CBD product lacks the second most abundant cannabinoid found within the hemp plant, THC, it's widely considered weaker than full-spectrum.
An isolated CBD product is exactly what it says on the tin: CBD alone and in its purest form. This means there's no 'entourage effect' happening- which can end up rendering a CBD isolate product significantly weaker than the broad or full-spectrum varieties.
Despite this possible drawback, many do consider a CBD isolate to be a good option, especially if they're new to CBD. Since there are no other cannabinoids to interact with, a person might need a higher dosage for effects to manifest. Whatever the reason, while CBD isolate can be quite weak in comparison to the other two options, it can also be a cheaper option for those wanting to reap the potential benefits of CBD by itself, with no entourage effect involved. It can also be great for those allergic or overly sensitive to the cannabinoids typically found within the hemp plant.
The Endocannabinoid System
So, now we've established the different types of CBD products out there- how does CBD potentially work in our system? And what does the 'entourage effect' have to do with CBD's purported ability to heal and help us?
Well, according to a wealth of studies, CBD, terpenes, more minor phytocannabinoids, and even THC (in small amounts) can have a significant effect on one of our inner systems- which modulates a lot of major processes in the body.
This inner system is known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is responsible for regulating our most vital processes, essentially keeping the body in a state of balance- from mood to appetite to libido. This is where CBD comes in handy- because the ECS is a complex system, dotted all over the body, but containing three major molecules: ECS receptors on different regions of the body, endocannabinoids (molecules which bind to ECS receptors- these are naturally made within the body) and cannabinoids (molecules which interact and help regulate ECS processes- made by the cannabis Sativa plant).
Because the ECS is responsible for controlling our central and peripheral nervous systems, it helps to regulate how we perceive and remember things, as well as many of our involuntary processes, from our libido to our immunity from disease.CB1 receptors mainly lie in our CNS and CB2 receptors, in the lining of our gut (just waiting for our parasympathetic, or 'rest and digest' system, to be activated).
Further Explaining The Synergy Of The 'Entourage Effect'
So, in the presence of other cannabinoids, CBD's qualities are not only intensified- they're rendered more therapeutic. The 'entourage effect' doesn't just work to heighten the effects of the cannabinoids on our systems; it can also work to prevent negative side-effects, which can come about in the presence of certain cannabinoids.
In his scientific report, named 'Taming THC’, Ethan B. Russo writes that there’s a reason why ‘plants are better drugs than the natural products isolated from them’, most likely because studies show that, when cannabinoids work on a synergistic level, they are thought to be 2-4 times more potent than when used in their isolated forms.
However, in order to look at how synergy works, we must first see how each cannabinoid works in tandem with the ECS. What exactly makes these cannabinoids tick when we absorb them into our system?
CBD and The ECS
When multiple cannabinoids are taken up by the system, they work to engage with the ECS in different ways. For example, CBD promotes higher levels of two endocannabinoids: anandamide and 2-AG.
Higher levels of anandamide have been shown to increase happiness, lower anxiety and fear levels, and relieve pain. Studies conducted on 2-AG also show that higher levels of this endocannabinoid in our system can mean increased concentration, lower levels of anxiety, and better sleep hygiene. Alongside these qualities, higher levels of 2-AG and anandamide have also been shown to improve cognition levels (as both endocannabinoids have been proven to protect and strengthen neurons), promote higher levels of feel-good neurotransmitters to be released by the brain, and more- all because of how these endocannabinoids engage with the ECS (as well as our TRPV1 receptors, responsible for limiting pain perception).
THC works on a more direct level- by having a high affinity for CB1 and CB2 receptors, it may ‘flood’ the system and cause intoxication, especially when taken in a high enough dose. This is because THC can bind to CB1 receptors, running down the CNS (and within the brain), which can lead to skewed perception and memory, and even psychosis (in severe cases).
However, in low enough doses, THC might actually be just as therapeutic as CBD- which is why full-spectrum CBD products are so valuable. Even lower doses of THC may make a difference to the system, potentially helping to ease muscle spasticity, tremors, pain, and lift the mood, as well as relax the body and mind, and even improve immunity, libido, and promote sleep and rest. When paired with CBD, this combination can be extremely beneficial- this is because low doses of THC ‘can act as anandamide’, potentially binding to CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain, gut, and cells to make us happier and healthier in a myriad of ways.
The ‘entourage effect’ has been shown to work in THC’s favour- CBD’s presence has been known to actively offset the anxiety, paranoia, and psychosis caused by too much THC. This antagonistic relationship is still classed as the cannabinoids working on synergistic levels, since CBD is essentially ‘balancing out’ the adverse effects of THC and heightening its positive effects.
Studies have also shown that, in the presence of THC, CBD can work in magical ways- from helping to reduce the amount of seizures epilepsy patients suffer, to relieving cancer pain.
Here are the main things THC and CBD may potentially do for the body when used together:
- Provide more pain-relieving effects
- Prevent paranoia- especially that which would otherwise be caused by a THC overdose. Too much THC can ‘light up’ the hippocampus- the area of the brain in charge of memory and perception. (CBD can help to prevent this from happening by inhibiting how much THC engages with CB1 receptors in the hippocampus, as well as promoting higher levels of serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and, of course, the feel-good endocannabinoid anandamide).
Terpenes and Flavonoids
There’s only one terpene that actually interacts with the ECS- and that’s caryophyllene, which is often found in fruits, herbs, and vegetables such as cloves, hops, and rosemary. Suppose caryophyllene is present in your CBD product. In that case, you’ll be happy to know that this terpene may interact with CB2 receptors in the ECS to potentially promote relaxation, uplift mood, and even improve cognitive function in high enough doses. Pairing this terpene with CBD and THC can be even better- all three can work together to interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors, allowing for a more potent product.
However, the ‘entourage effect’ is more than simply cannabinoids working to bind to CB1 and CB2 receptors. Most terpenes have a range of potential benefits which go beyond interacting with the ECS. This can be even more beneficial for the system- while CBD and THC are commonly known to potentially target the ECS, terpenes, and flavonoids may target a range of different systems (most of which lie in the brain, our cells, and our immune system) which may result in a ‘double pronged’ (or triple) therapeutic approach.
For example, one way that terpenes work to enhance the relaxing and uplifting qualities of your full-spectrum CBD product is through scent. Many terpenes have individual and unique smells, which engage with our olfactory system. Linalool, commonly found within lavender, tends to relax us, potentially stimulating the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine through scent alone- which causes our parasympathetic nervous system (also known as our ‘rest and digest’ system) to engage.
In a more energising, morning-oriented CBD product, you might find notes of pinene or limonene. Both these terpenes work to energise, uplift, and engage the senses. In some studies, limonene has been shown, through possibly engaging our olfactory nerves, to elevate the mood, stimulate and awaken the system, and reduce anxiety. Pinene, a related cannabinoid, has also been shown to potentially open up the bronchioles, allowing more oxygen to enter the lungs. This may engage our parasympathetic system, energise us, and potentially improve all kinds of things- from cognition to memory and mood.
Terpenes like myrcene and humulene are also packed with purportedly antimicrobial, pain-relieving, and antioxidant properties. These pair well with CBD, whether it’s by giving the immune system a well-needed potential helping hand or by ensuring that 2-AG and anandamide have some help with easing any chronic or acute pain symptoms we might be feeling when they bind to CB1 and TRPV1 receptors in the brain.
As for flavonoids, the number of possible benefits of these colourful little molecules is that they’re fantastic micronutrients- and a great source of antioxidants. Since CBD is also a potent antioxidant in its own right (CBD may actually be classed as a ‘super oxidant). A CBD product with flavonoids (and terpenes) added to it may pack a ‘free-radical fighting’ punch.
Considering that both CBD and THC may work together to affect the immune system, by impacting (directly, or indirectly), CB2 receptors found in the white blood cells, a CBD product packed with flavonoids may help to enhance this effect. A category of flavonoid, known as flavan-3-ols, tends to contain a wealth of nutrients- and they can seriously help to improve longevity, keep the heart healthy, keep blood pressure low, and possibly even prevent neurodegeneration.
There’s a wide variety of minor cannabinoids out there- and they interact with our ECS in different ways to promote the ‘entourage effect’. Three promising and commonly found cannabinoids include CBG (cannabigerol), CBC (cannabichromene), and THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin).
While CBG is non-psychotropic, it definitely has a high affinity for ECS receptors- making this cannabinoid the perfect addition to a therapeutic CBD product. It also promotes the reuptake of the neurotransmitter GABA, making it great to potentially affect anxiety symptoms.
Many believe that, unlike THC, CBG doesn’t entirely flood the system in the same way that THC does, making it non-intoxicating. However, that being said, CBG can be rare to find in high amounts, and many believe that it to be non-psychotropic simply because not enough CBG has been cultivated to determine its potential effects in one go.
What we do know, however, is this: CBG has the potential to engage with CB1 receptors in the brain to promote euphoria, relaxation, and lift the mood significantly. As such, it is a common addition to CBD products. CBG works a lot like a direct form of anandamide. So, when we pair CBG with CBD alongside trace levels of THC, within a full-spectrum product, the possible effect is simply a more robust, more therapeutic, ‘bliss-inducing’ product.
Much like CBD, CBG can also counteract the adverse effects of THC, which may be significant in offsetting symptoms of anxiety, paranoia and stress.
According to some studies, this cannabinoid can also work to offset symptoms of stress, paranoia, and anxiety, commonly caused by too much THC. It does so by blocking CB1 receptors in the brain, preventing too much THC from binding to CB1 receptors and otherwise causing intoxication.
This allows THCV to have some pretty tremendous potential benefits- and a CBD product with THCV may do wonders for relieving symptoms of anxiety and stress for this very reason. Not only has THCV made promising strides in relieving the symptoms associated with certain neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s (making it a perfect counterpart to anandamide, which, as we mentioned, has been hailed as a neuroprotectant).
Above anything else, THCV has been reported to ease symptoms of anxiety- from PTSD to generalised anxiety disorders. This makes it perfect in synergy with CBD (and ideally with many terpenes and other plant compounds) as both cannabinoids have been shown to relax and ease the system into a more calm and concentrated state- as well as potentially impact the effects of THC.
A rare cannabinoid with plenty of benefits, you might find CBC in a CBD product catered towards relaxing your system or helping to affect immunity and reduce inflammation.
CBC has been shown to have significant antidepressant properties, and can work alongside THC to relieve pain and increase sedation- making it an ideal addition to a full-spectrum product.
CBC works similarly to THC and anandamide by activating CB2 receptors. Because it can’t bind to CB1 receptors, many have suggested that a combination of CBC, CBD, and THC might well be the holy grail- because all three cannabinoids may activate different ECS receptors (THC for CB1; CBD indirectly for TRPV1, CB1, and CB2; CBC for CB2) to potentially promote well-rounded healing. What more could we ask for from the ‘entourage effect’!
Much like THC and CBD, CBC has been purported to increase brain cells and counteract neurodegeneration. CBC has also been shown to potentially impact inflammation and digestive diseases which tend to stem from the gut. Since many CB2 receptors lie in the gut, CBC has been reported to help symptoms of Crohn's disease and IBS.
Russo’s Four Main Methods: Explained
To further understand how a full-spectrum CBD product may work for the better, let’s have a look at the four main methods of synergy. Ethan B. Russo coins these as ‘the four basic mechanisms of synergy’:
(When cannabinoids work in synchronicity to impact one issue).
This is quite commonly seen between cannabinoids within a full-spectrum CBD product, because there’s so much variety to be found within the whole-plant experience.
Also known as ‘tempering’ or ‘enhancing’, cannabinoids can very easily work together to express the same qualities- only stronger. For example, CBD, CBC and THCV may work in tandem to promote relaxation. Pair this with the terpenes myrcene and linalool, and all these cannabinoids may have a sedative effect on the system. Here, we see how the ‘entourage effect’ works in multi-targeting one issue- working together to promote rest, relaxation, and sleep. In the medical world, this is also known as ‘fine tuning’ a product to suit your own individual needs.
(When cannabinoids improve each other’s solubility, absorption rates, or bioavailability)
You might be aware that CBD is pretty hydrophobic- meaning it needs to be ingested with fat for it to enter the system. However, studies also show that a full-spectrum product is better absorbed by the system. CBD oil or e-liquid is very rarely isolated (CBD isolate tends to be in powder format), making it a lot more efficient to absorb into the system.
(When cannabinoids work together to combat bacterial infection)
In some instances, Russo examined how specific cannabinoids might work together to prevent bacterial infections from occurring. In one case, Russo looks at how CBD, pinene, and CBG may work in tandem, to prevent MRSA infection from occurring- these three cannabinoids have been known to work together to impact the body’s immunity against bacterial infection. This makes sense when we see how CBD and CBG may work with CB2 receptors in our white blood cells to affect immunity.
Research also tells us that CBG, in particular, may prevent MRSA from forming biofilms (the film over the bacteria which allows it to spread and build communities).
Pair this with pinene, which is purportedly a natural modulator against antibiotic resistance, which is ideal for those who are taking antibiotics resistant to MRSA (which happens quite a bit since MRSA tends to develop different strains quite rapidly), and there’s the quick potential for full-spectrum CBD to become a medical product in the future, pending more scientific research.
(When one cannabinoid suppresses the negative side-effects of another).
Last but not least, we have the type of synergy which isn’t synergy at all: when one cannabinoid may prevent the negative side-effects of another from manifesting within your system. This is commonly seen with CBD and THCV, both of which may block THC from binding to CB1 receptors at the alarming rate it tends to do. THC has such a high affinity for CB1 receptors in the brain that may cause intoxication- which is basically altered mood, appetite, perception, cognition, and even memory- all in unwanted ways.
In preventing too many THC molecules from binding to all the CB1 receptors in the brain, CBD and THCV may work to actively prevent symptoms of paranoia and anxiety- two common factors which a THC overdose tends to bring about.
Essentially, the synergistic relationship between all the cannabinoids in the hemp plant means that all the cannabinoids do what they can to promote wellness. So, in preventing the adverse effects of THC from taking over, a product rife with CBD and THCV (as well as other phytocannabinoids, in lower degrees) ensure that there’s not any imbalance within the system.
If you want to feel the full potential effects of a CBD product, you might want to try full-spectrum. We at PP Health swear by the ‘entourage effect’- and we’re backed up by good old facts, an abundance of science and, above all, the fascinating, potentially healing powers that only nature can provide.