The Entourage Effect, first coined by Ben-Shabbat in 1999, is the synergistic effect produced by hemp compounds working together to induce a more powerful medicinal reaction in your body's Endocannabinoid System. Sadly, this buzzword is widely misused in the CBD market, without fully understanding, or else completely misdiagnosing, the science. One of the first clues that should be noted is that the term "Entourage Effect" was coined when the focus of the research was primarily on THC.
Many CBD products on the market contain less than .03% THC, the intoxicating compound responsible for Marijuana's Federal illegality. Under the 2014 Farm Bill (and later in 2018), industrial hemp became a loophole that made it okay for hemp products to be released for public use so long as they met this .03% or less compliance rule. Industrial Hemp refers to the stalks of the hemp plant, not the flowers.
It is true that, as a phytocannabinoid, THC has a wide array of health benefits. But so does CBG (1), CBDA (2), CBN (3), and a variety of other phytocannabinoids and acids found in the hemp plant. The reason CBD has made such a huge mainstream splash has to do with the vast benefit profile set next to its low side-effect profile. The World Health Organization did a full report on CBD in 2017 and determined it has little to no risk of addiction and no known harmful side-effects (full report available below under OTHER SOURCES). In fact, CBD might hold promise in the interruption of Substance Abuse and the reward signaling in both serotonin and opioid receptors (4).
What CBD does have an effect on is THC. In several studies CBD is noted to weaken the connection of THC to your endocannabinoid receptors. It mellows the paranoia and anxiety that are well-studied and widely experienced side effects of marijuana use. The benefit of CBD when taken with THC is helpful when the goal is for the result of THC-specific benefits, not the CBD-specific benefits.
What this means in plain English is that the Entourage Effect seems not to be for the benefit of CBD to work, it is for the benefit of THC to work without such strong side effects.These side effects seem to decrease in the presence of CBD. Some studies suggest THC might be dangerous to those with risks of psychosis, family histories of schizophrenia, or anxious dispositions (5).
Here's what one of many studies has to say about how the "Entourage Effect" of CBD works with THC:
You'll hear it argued that the THC is required to maximize the benefits of CBD in the human body, even at this minuscule 3/1000 ratio. This isn't true. During the refinement process, heat, cold, grain alcohol and, in some scary cases, solvents are used to separate the hemp plant into its basic parts. The terpenes (fragrant compounds currently researched for their possible medicinal value) break off first. The lipids, oils, and various parts either settle or rise based on their density and the temperature.
With skill, the isolated parts are then added back into the oil. The ongoing process of evaporation, temperature, and separation either leaves the phytocannabinoid and terpene-rich signature of the plant intact (Full-Spectrum, including THC), mostly intact (Broad-Spectrum, without THC), or refined to an isolated state (CBD Isolate). To fully remove the THC while maintaining the plant signature requires talented chemistry. Furthermore, it requires expensive equipment. Isolate is now the cheapest form of CBD available from established manufacturers, but that is only due to the demand. Epidiolex, the first FDA-approved medication sourced from CBD isolate, increased that demand drastically. From the position of a start-up manufacturer who wants to get into the field of refining, CBD isolate is often the last phase of product development due to two things:
Keeping the THC in can also be a helpful marketing angle.
Let's play devil's advocate for a moment and occupy the industry point of view regarding the Entourage Effect, shall we?
"The hemp plant might be able to support relief in a wide variety of areas. Do you really want to shatter the natural profile of the plant? If it grows from the earth with THC, then evolution had a hand in crafting that perfect balance of phytochemicals. PLUS, this minuscule amount of THC isn't enough to make a noticeable or psychoactive change to humans. Sure, the THC might flag on a drug test, depending on how much you use and how sophisticated the test is. But haven't you heard of the Entourage Effect? You need a little THC in there for the CBD to work. It makes it easier for your body to absorb."
But is it true?
The terpenes, phytochemicals, and molecular size, not solely THC, are what helps increase the efficacy of CBD. Support for this is derived from experiments in which hemp extracts demonstrated effects two to four times greater than that of THC (7). But then there was another test in which Broad Spectrum Oil was slightly more effective than CBD isolate for a specific locomotive disorder, and yet not drastically enough to prove these particular applications showed results that reached the Standard Clinical Threshold of 50% symptom reduction (8).
The tests go on and on like this. The important thing to remember is that science tests for specific targets with locked variables. One test says this cannabinoid delivery method works for one particular ailment, while another test suggests it doesn't work for that particular ailment. It comes down to intent. Why are you using the plant? Are you into the idea of absorbing THC? If so, by all means, choose an oil at a higher THC ratio. But if, like most Americans, the idea of THC alarms you, what you're wondering is this:
Do I need THC in my CBD in order for it to help me?
The answer is NO.
You do NOT need THC in order for the benefits of CBD to impact you.
A broad-spectrum oil, which is to say an oil with a broad range of phytocannabinoids that will help synergize the absorption and effect within your body, is what is needed. AN EVEN BETTER option is something with a smaller molecule size, like micro or nano-emulsions. Pharmaceutical and Nutraceutical companies have been using micro technology to shrink bulky molecules like Curcumin, CoQ10, and Fish Oil for a long time. Some of the most widely used products rely on this technology for one reason:
Smaller molecules increases the absorption (or bioavailability) in your body.
The whole reason this debate on the Entourage Effect exists is because Cannabinoids are lipids. And you, my friend, are water. Drop some big fat oil droplets into a glass of water and you will see why it's so hard for your body to absorb oil. By micronizing the molecules and making them water soluble, you could increase the amount your body can utilize.
The good news is that, with dedication to quality and scientific efficiency, absorbent broad-spectrum CBD oil can be achieved without any THC.
Myth: THC is required for CBD to create the entourage effect.
Science: The phytocannabinoid and terpene-rich plant signature is what synergizes the entourage effect for the benefit and increased absorption of CBD, whether or not THC is present. In some cases, THC can even counteract the positive effects produced by broad-spectrum CBD.
Myth: THC is the most potent phytocannabinoid found in hemp.
Science: THC is the most potent phytocannabinoid found in flower (buds). CBD is the most potent phytocannabinoid found in fiber, also known as hemp stalks or agricultural hemp, the source from which CBD can be legally refined in the USA.
Myth: CBD alone doesn't work.
Science: Most of the peer-reviewed test results cited by CBD companies were reached by scientists using CBD isolate on their test subjects. That is not to say Broad-Spectrum oil is not superior to isolate. The broader the spectrum, the more beneficial, as each phytocannabinoid has its own synergizing qualities.
Myth: Full-Spectrum Oil, with legal THC amounts, is the most absorbent form of CBD oil.
Science: Micronized water-soluble Broad-Spectrum CBD appears to be far more bioavailable than Full-Spectrum CBD Oil, despite having 0% THC. This data is extrapolated through 15 years of pharmaceutical nanotechnology testing done on other lipids with similar bioavailability to CBD oil (9).
When choosing a CBD product, educate yourself about its refinement process and origin. Is it domestic or European? Is it manufactured in an ISO-compliant facility? Is it third-party tested with chemical analysis records made available to you on the bottle or the website? Like all young industries, there are countless unethical products, irresponsible claims, and minimal regulations.
The more information a company gives you, the better off you are. Be wary of any product that doesn't attempt to educate you. Transparency is everything. CBD has the potential to support health for millions. There is no reason to hide anything about a product's origin.
*These statements and images have not been approved by the FDA, and are for educational purposes only.