Terpenes and the Entourage Effect

In studies where cannabidiol is administered, researchers analyze single-molecule CBD produced by biochemical laboratories exclusively for that purpose. These scientific inquiries do not take into account whole plant extractions which typically contain more than 400 trace compounds, including CBD and THC.

Trace compounds in cannabis interact synergistically to create an "entourage effect" – a term coined by scientists to describe the amplified therapeutic benefits of each individual component in a plant. This entourage effect makes the medicinal impact of a whole plant greater than the sum of its parts.

Scientists must take into consideration the entourage effect when extrapolating data from animal studies. If you have 100mg of synthetic single-molecule CBD, it is not the same as 100mg of whole plant CBD-rich extract.

"Cannabis is inherently polypharmaceutical and synergy arises from interactions between its multiple components," said Dr. John McPartland, leading expert in cannabinoid research and alternative medicine from the University of Vermont.

What are terpenes?

Terpenes are volatile aromatic molecules that evaporate easily. They create the aromatic and flavor profile of cannabis. The predominant terpenes in a particular marijuana strain determines its compelling fragrance and psychoactive flavor. The pharmacological value of terpenes forms the basis of aromatherapy as a holistic healing modality.

There are around 200 terpenes found in the cannabis plant, but only a few of these odiferous oily substances appear in amounts that the human nose can actually smell. Monoterpenes, diterpenes, and sesquiterpenes belong to this group.

Terpenoids can be classified according to the number of repeating isoprene (5-carbon molecule) units that comprise the parent terpene. Monoterpenoids have two isoprene units.

Diterpenoids have four. Sesquiterpenoids have three. Marijuana terpenes protect the plant by warding off insects and animal grazers or preventing fungus.

Terpenes are healthy for people too. Neurologist Dr. Ethan Russo, another expert in cannabis research, published a report in the British Journal of Pharmacology last September 2011 on the enormous therapeutic benefits of terpenoids.

Terpenes Health Benefits

Beta-caryophyllene is a sesquiterpene found in many green, leafy vegetables. It is also present in the essential oil of black pepper, oregano, edible herbs, and various cannabis strains.

Beta-caryophyllene is a gastro-protective agent that works well in treating certain ulcers. It has the capability to bind directly to the peripheral cannabinoid receptor "CB2" which has the potential to be a great therapeutic compound for inflammatory conditions and auto-immune diseases.

Beta-caryophyllene is the only terpenoid known to directly activate a cannabinoid receptor. Swiss scientist Jürg Gertsch even called it a dietary cannabinoid because of its binding affinity to CB2.

Together cannabinoids and terpenoids increases blood flow, enhances brain activity, and destroys respiratory pathogens. One particular bacteria strain that cannabinoids and terpenoids can kill is the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA. This antibiotic-resistant bacteria strain is responsible for several difficult-to-treat infections in humans and has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Americans.

Dr. Russo also added that interactions between cannabinoids and terpenoids could produce synergy that helps with the treatment of the following:

  • Pain
  • Inflammation
  • Epilepsy
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Addiction
  • Fungal and bacterial infections

Terpenes also play an important role in checking the psychoactivity of THC. Cannabinoid-terpenoid interactions mitigate THC-induced anxiety while amplifying the health benefits of cannabis.

Because CBD isolates are pure CBD, they do not contain terpenoids. Terpenes compounds can only be found in whole plant CBD-rich extracts. Terpenoid profiles in a plant vary from strain to strain. Patients who switch to a preparation that contains more THC and/or CBD may not achieve the same relief if the terpenoid profile has been significantly altered.

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