Cannabis’s entourage effect: Why whole-plant medicine mattersBailey RahnOctober 28, 2015
What are THC- and CBD-only medicines?
THC-only medicines primarily refer to synthetic renderings of THC, the two most popular being Marinol (dronabinol) and Cesamet (nabilone). These are legal pharmaceuticals primarily prescribed to treat cancer-related nausea, but their efficacy is questionable. A 2011 survey on forms of consumption found only 1.8% of 953 patients prefer synthetic THC pharmaceuticals over inhaled or infused methods. Furthermore, it can take hours for a THC-only pill to deliver relief whereas inhaled methods take effect immediately.
CBD-only medicines have been gaining momentum in recent years following the media frenzy around Charlotte’s Web, a non-intoxicating cannabis strain that was processed into a CBD-rich oil for an epileptic child. The miraculous remedy prompted several states to adopt CBD-only laws under which THC-rich medicines remain illegal. While CBD-only cannabis medicines have proven to be life-changing for many individuals, these laws mainly exist to help those suffering from seizures.
That is not to say that synthetic, hemp-based, and CBD-only medicines aren’t effective options for many patients, especially as laws limit access to alternatives. These types of products have served a monumental role both as medicine and as a legislative stepping stone. But what more can patients get from whole plant medicine?
What makes ‘whole-plant medicine’ different?
“Whole-plant medicine” is a term used to describe medicines utilizing the full spectrum of compounds cannabis has to offer, including cannabinoids and terpenes. These other compounds, which are absent in THC- and CBD-only medicines, can offer patients additional potentials benefits.
You’re already familiar with the most popular “whole-plant medicine,” which is inhaling cannabis smoke or vapor. Although most cannabis today is bred to contain a disproportionately large amount of THC compared to other compounds, the importance of chemical diversity is being realized as new strains emerge. Hopefully, we’ll soon start to see strains that not only narrow the gap between THC and CBD profiles, but emphasize other important cannabinoids and terpenes as well.
Cannabinoids and terpenes potentially work together
The diverse chemical availability in whole plant medicines is remarkable in its own right, but research looking into how cannabinoids and terpenoids work together adds another level of intrigue.
Instrumental in this area of science is Ethan Russo, M.D., a neurologist who has long studied cannabis compounds and their role in the body. In his study “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects,” he details how cannabis compounds influence each other’s mechanisms. We aren’t just talking about the well-known THC-CBD tag team here—even small amounts of terpenes (fragrant oils that give cannabis its smell) can potentially make a difference.
Pinene, for example, may help counteract compromised cognition and memory caused by THC. A combination of terpenes pinene, myrcene, and caryophyllene may help unravel anxiety. Mixing terpenes linalool and limonene with the cannabinoid CBG shows promise in the treatment of MRSA. THC plus CBN potentially yields enhanced sedating effects. Linalool and limonene combined with CBD is being examined as an anti-acne treatment.
These examples only scratch the surface of all possible synergies made available to us by way of whole plant therapies. Think of all the medical possibilities waiting for us as the combinational potential of these compounds are unlocked. The thought of how many lives could be changed for the better by such discoveries is almost overwhelming.