What is the entourage effect and why is it important?

The entourage effect has become a buzzword in CBD marketing, and the term is so thoroughly circulated in cannabis culture that for many, it has become detached from its original meaning.

In this article, we restore the term “entourage effect” to its roots and explore the groundbreaking research behind the phrase.

Discovering the Entourage Effect

The entourage effect is derived from the hypothesis of a groundbreaking study that led to the coinage of the phrase.

To begin, it is helpful to establish that the “entourage effect” refers to the powerful impact of a whole-plant formula. It is the sum of the parts that make up the whole and represents CBD’s powerful synergy with the other terpenes and cannabinoids found in the hemp plant.

The phrase “entourage effect” was introduced by researchers S. Ben Shabat and Raphael Mechoulam in 1998.

Shabat and Mechoulam developed the coinage as part of a hypothesis derived from a clinical trial designed to observe the contrasting efficacy of a single molecule versus whole-plant cannabis.

They developed the term to describe the remarkable synergy and resulting effects of a whole-plant formula rich in “entourage compounds,” commonly known today as “minor” cannabinoids and terpenes.

Better Together: Cannabinoid Synergy

These researchers attempted the same experiments with single-molecule CBD and THC treatments—as well as a combination of both—and found that they were severely lacking in contrast to their whole-plant counterpart.

This was a clear indication that the therapeutic potential of CBD is greatly increased in the presence of its “entourage.”

The 1998 study that produced the phrase “entourage effect” yielded a groundbreaking result that subverted the then-prevailing single-molecule model with the whole-plant model.

Though the term is often used in misinformed contexts today, the “entourage effect” is a real phenomenon supported by two decades of research.

After the entourage effect was discovered, researchers nationwide launched trials and studies to further explore the botanical synergy of the various compounds in hemp. These experiments compared whole-plant and isolated formulas to contrast the “entourage effect” against the effects of isolated CBD.

Most notably, findings in an authoritative 2011 study reported that the “entourage effect” translates to a 64.5-fold improvement in the scope, diversity, and potency of CBD.

This increase in power and potency also correlates to a wider and more diverse scope of attributes, and thus the unique properties of whole plant CBD extracts are multiplied exponentially as well.


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Terpenes are Essential to the Entourage

The entourage effect is the collaborative result of the remarkable synergy between “entourage compounds.”

These include minor cannabinoids and terpenes, naturally occurring compounds that accompany CBD and trace levels of THC in the hemp plant.

The minor cannabinoids associated with whole-plant CBD and the entourage effect include CBG, CBN, CBC, CBDA, CBDV, THCV, and several others. These cannabinoids are classified as “minor” because they are largely inactive when administered in isolation and only manifest their benefits in the presence of cannabidiol (CBD) and/or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).  

However, cannabinoids are not the only members of the entourage required to produce this effect.

Terpenoids, commonly known as terpenes, are aromatic compounds found in all plants that have been harnessed for centuries in essential oils for their ability to ease the body and mind.

Cannabis research and the discovery of the entourage effect led scientists to discover that terpenes are also essential members of the entourage.

The Role of Terpenes

Some terpenes enhance the bond between cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors, potentiating the effects of major and minor cannabinoids as crucial contributors to the teamwork behind the entourage effect.

Myrcene, for instance, is thought to facilitate cannabinoids’ journey from the bloodstream to the ECS.

Furthermore, as cannabinoids cross this bridge to reach cannabinoid receptors, terpenes facilitate and strengthen the bond between cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors.

Entourage compounds not only empower CBD and THC but also contribute to the entourage effect.

This explains why whole-plant formulas can produce effects beyond what CBD and THC can produce alone.

Each significant “minor” cannabinoid and terpene contributes to the overall efforts of these entourage compounds by empowering their fellow team members and bringing their own characteristics into the vast mixture of benefits that whole-plant formulas can offer.

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Dr. Ethan Russo on the Entourage Effect

Dr. Ethan Russo is a neurologist who currently serves as the Director of Research and Development at the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute in Prague.

In a 2019 interview, Russo redefined the phrase “entourage effect” from a scientific perspective, attempting to convey the significance and complexity of botanical synergy:

“A botanical doesn’t rely on one compound to produce the beneficial effects. Rather there may be many — and that’s certainly the case in cannabis where we know that there are actually over one-hundred related molecules, which we call cannabinoids, but in addition, there are aromatic compounds [called] terpenoids that alter the effects of the cannabinoids in a way that often is synergistic. Synergy is a boosting of effect. So, it would be the idea that 2 + 2, instead of equaling 4, gives you an 8 in terms of the benefit. . . .It is sort of like an ensemble of musical instruments where you might think of THC as the soloist with an important part provided by cannabidiol, but you also have these other components producing a harmony that really increases the overall effect…” (“Dr Ethan Russo: CBD, The Entourage Effect, and the MicroBiome”, 2019)

A diverse range of cannabinoids, paired with high terpene content, correlates directly to the potential of hemp: this is the recipe for the entourage effect.

The range of benefits a CBD product can offer is only as diverse and expansive as its cannabinoid and terpene profile.

The Power of Whole-Plant Hemp Extracts

The term “entourage effect” is sometimes misused and overused, but its true definition is key to making the right choice when selecting a CBD product.

We recommend that those who seek the “entourage effect” put companies’ marketing claims to the test by checking third-party lab results to confirm additional cannabinoid and terpene content.

Alarmingly, some products on the market labeled “full spectrum” do not contain the entourage compounds necessary to produce this holistic effect.

Hemplucid develops products by harnessing the remarkable, natural synergy in the chemical composition of the whole hemp plant.

The entourage effect is a crucial concept to understand as a CBD consumer, provider, or newcomer.

Learn more about entourage compounds and how they benefit your body’s endocannabinoid system.

Then, check out Hemplucid’s Whole-Plant CBD to experience the entourage effect firsthand!

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Beverley Catlett

Beverley Catlett is a content writer who enjoys researching and writing about the benefits of CBD. She is originally from Bluemont, Virginia, and recently earned her Master’s in English from Georgetown University. She has benefited from CBD as a student, researcher, and writer, and she is enthusiastic about creating content to share information about CBD’s potential to improve lives.

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