Over the past decade or so, the complexity of cannabis has increased exponentially. Prior to this period of rapid development, cannabis was primarily produced and consumed in the form of dried flower buds and hashish. Nowadays, however, consumers can choose from an array of cannabis products, including those containing nothing but isolated cannabinoids like THC and CBD.
While consuming these isolated cannabinoids on their own certainly has its advantages, research indicates that they are actually more effective when they are consumed together. This is primarily due to something called ‘the entourage effect.’
What Is The Entourage Effect?
In 1964, cannabis researcher Raphael Mechoulam became the first person to ever isolate the cannabinoid THC. His research led to the development of the drug Marinol, which is primarily used to treat the side effects of chemotherapy treatment. However, during his research, he also discovered that in order for THC to perform to its full potential, it needed to be consumed in conjunction with other cannabinoids.
But it wasn’t just cannabinoids that affected the final product, Raphael also found that other compounds in cannabis such as flavonoids and terpenes also played a part in the entourage effect. Cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids were found to be working in synergy with each other to produce the therapeutic effects of marijuana.
To see an example of the entourage effect in action, we can look at Sativex, a whole-plant cannabis-based oral medicine. The spray is used by multiple sclerosis (MS) patients to treat painful and debilitating muscle spasms. Researchers believe, and patients agree, that the combination of cannabinoids in the spray (some at near even ratios) do a better job of treating MS symptoms than isolated cannabinoids.
Is Whole Plant Cannabis Superior To Isolated Cannabinoids?
It depends on who you ask. A 2011 survey found that only 1.8% of the 953 patients surveyed preferred synthetically isolated cannabinoids to inhaled or infused cannabis products. However, this could be for any number of reasons. For instance, some medical marijuana patients did not like that THC capsules took longer to kick in than inhaled cannabis. Although, this could be avoided by simply consuming THC in another form.
However, depending on your personal needs, isolated cannabinoids may actually be a better choice. For example, CBD-only products are an excellent way to enjoy many of marijuana’s therapeutic effects without any mind-altering effects. CBD’s seeming ability to treat rare forms of epilepsy, and other conditions, has led to numerous US states relaxing laws around non-THC cannabis products. As such, both isolated cannabinoids and whole plant extracts have their role to play in the world of modern marijuana.