Entourage Effect: Maximizing Cannabis Benefits With the Right Blend of Terpenes and Cannabinoids

Entourage Effect: Maximizing Cannabis Benefits With the Right Blend of Terpenes and Cannabinoids

In this post:

  • What are terpenes?
  • What are cannabinoids?
  • How do Terpenes and Cannabinoids Work in the Endocannabinoid System?
  • How Cannabis Terpenes Contribute to the Entourage Effect
  • Cannabis Strains and the Entourage Effect


Chemist Raphael Mechoulam first defined the Entourage Effect in 1998. He described the theory as a phenomenon of cannabinoids and terpenes synergizing in the body to maximize the plant's therapeutic and cognitive profile.

While some scientists question the validity of Mechoulam's claims, research suggests that cannabinoids and terpenes do, in fact, interact with the body's Endocannabinoid System (ECS) to produce each strain's distinct characteristics.

Here we'll review cannabis terpenes and cannabinoids and how they interact in the body to amplify the benefits and differentiate each strain.


What are Terpenes?

Terpenes are a variety of approximately 200 organic compounds found in hemp and cannabis. Considered the "messenger" chemical, terpenes are responsible for the plant's aroma, color, and therapeutic properties. Terpenes also play a role in plant growth, protection, and survival by attracting pollinators and repelling predators.

Also called "essential oils," terpenes fall into three categories based on the number of carbon atoms per molecule.

  • Monoterpenes
  • Sesquiterpenes
  • Diterpenes


Terpenes are why strains smell, taste, or act differently than their counterparts. For example, when the terpene linalool is present in cannabis, it delivers a lavender aroma and relaxing effect. Other abundant terpenes, including myrcene, limonene, pinene, and caryophyllene, provide a range of distinct scents and uses.

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What are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are a group of active plant cannabis compounds that include CBD and THC. Cannabinoids don't carry an aroma, but they offer significant health benefits and psychoactive potential. More than 100 primary and minor cannabinoids bind to receptors in the brain, nervous system, immune system, and throughout the body to produce their effects.

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most prominent psychoactive cannabinoid in the plant. THC also manages issues like sleep deprivation, pain, and nausea.

CBD is the most potent non-psychoactive cannabinoid. This legal hemp compound is known for its anti-inflammatory, anti-seizure, and anti-anxiety properties. Hemp and cannabis also contain dozens of minor yet noteworthy cannabinoids like CBG, CBN, and THCOa.


How Do Terpenes and Cannabinoids Work in the Endocannabinoid System?

The Endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a group of cell receptors and signaling molecules throughout the body that regulate a range of functions, including:

  • Memory
  • Sleep
  • Mood
  • Appetite
  • Immune responses
  • Pain control.


The ECS is also the body's most extensive neurotransmitter system. To function properly, it relies on signaling molecules known as "endocannabinoids" that bind with receptors in the nervous system, immune system, and endocrine system.

The body naturally produces endocannabinoids. Unfortunately, however, some people are deficient in these essential chemicals. Fortunately, cannabis-based cannabinoids and terpenes work the same way. By binding to ECS receptors, cannabinoids and terpenes help mitigate illness and promote balance.

Cannabinoids bind primarily with two ECS receptors: CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors exist primarily in the brain and nervous system. THC binds with these receptors to invoke the euphoric and psychoactive experience. CB2 receptors occur mainly in the intestines and immune system. CBD interacts more with these receptors to modulate immune cell functions and stave off inflammatory diseases.

Until recently, scientists assumed only cannabinoids had the power to bind with ECS receptors. Most didn't think terpenes played a meaningful role. But thanks to Mechoulam's theory and subsequent research, experts are realizing how essential terpenes are to the plant's overall effects.


How Cannabis Terpenes Contribute to the Entourage Effect

The Entourage Effect theorizes that the plant as a whole, including terpenes cannabinoids, delivers more robust therapeutic effects than any cannabinoid could alone. To prove the theory, researchers at the University of Arizona Health Sciences tested the concept related to the plant's pain-relieving properties.

John Streicher, Ph.D., a member of the UArizona Health Sciences Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center, said, "We're interested in the concept of the entourage effect, with the idea being that maybe we can boost the modest pain-relieving efficacy of THC [with terpenes] without boosting the psychoactive side effects, so you could have a better therapeutic."

Streicher and his team found that cannabis terpenes, including alpha-humulene, geraniol, linalool, and beta-pinene, mimicked the pain-relieving properties of THC. Additionally, when combined with cannabinoids in a full spectrum solution, the terpenes amplified the effects without intensifying the psychoactive experience.


Cannabis Strains and the Entourage Effect

Every cannabis strain (or named cultivar) contains a unique blend of terpenes and cannabinoids that synergize via the Entourage Effect to produce distinctive characteristics.

Girl Scout Cookies (GSC) is known as a powerful, uplifting, and cerebral hybrid with approximately 20% THC. GSC’s dominant terpenes are caryophyllene, humulene, limonene, and myrcene, giving it an earthy-herbal aroma with underlying notes of spice and citrus.

According to user feedback, Girl Scout Cookies promote contentment, relaxation, euphoria, and upliftment. People also report utilizing the strain for pain, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, and Parkinson's.

Super Lemon Haze is a cross of Lemon Skunk and Super Silver Haze bred by Greenhouse Seeds to create a cheerful and energetic high. SLH contains 19% THC and has dominant terpenes of terpinolene, caryophyllene, myrcene, and ocimene with a herbal and floral scent. Some also say Super Lemon Haze helps with pain, inflammation, insomnia, and depression.

Blue Dream is a high potency strain crossbreed between Blueberry and the Haze lineages. Blue Dream presents a woodsy fragrance with spice and citrus notes with dominant terpenes of myrcene, pinene, caryophyllene, and limonene.

It is an example of a biphasic strain of cannabis, which means that high doses cause sedative effects. Blue Dream is known for its effectiveness in treating gastrointestinal issues, pain, nausea, and insomnia.


The Bottom Line

At ACS Laboratory, we love geeking out on the Entourage Effect and the science behind this miraculous plant. That's why we're constantly developing methods to test for more cannabinoids and terpenes every year.

Today, we reliably quantify 22 cannabinoids and 38 terpenes, more than any laboratory in the eastern US. Our Certificates of Analysis document every strain's full terpene and cannabinoid profile so brands and consumers can choose the right product based on the effects they desire.

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The Cannabinoids Guide

This complete cannabinoid guide covers major and minor cannabinoids, how they work in the body, and highlights the top compounds brands and operators must test for today.
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