We have reached a turning point in the cannabis industry, where, as consumers, we now have more choices than we know what to do with. When I was younger, shopping for weed consisted of calling one of the 3 or 4 dealers in my area and picking up whatever flower strain was available from whoever had the best product or lowest price, or a combination of the two. Now, whether you live in a legal state or not, you have options – from classic flowers, to vape products, edibles, topicals, and so much more.
Obviously, legal markets are rife with product variety, but even in prohibition states you can check out smoke shops, gas stations, or online retailers and find a myriad of alternative cannabinoids, some intoxicating and some not, some safe and some sketchy. The more popular are products containing blends of three or more different cannabinoid compounds; for example, vape carts with delta 8 THC, delta 10 THC, and CBN.
According to recent surveys, nearly half of all cannabis consumers prefer to use products that contain more than one cannabinoid, and that number is expected to grow. Knowing what we know about the entourage effect and how different plant compounds work together synergistically to provide the highest level of benefits, it’s no surprise that people are excited to try new combinations. But how exactly do these blends work? What are the best combinations? And what different effects can you expect to experience?
Cannabis science has come a really long way since the initial discovery of individual cannabinoids back in the 1940s. To this day we continue to uncover new and exciting things about this incredible plant. Remember to subscribe to The THC Weekly Newsletter all the latest news and industry stories, as well as exclusive deals on flowers, vapes, edibles, and other products. Also save big on Delta 8, Delta 9 THC, Delta-10 THC, THCO, THCV, THCP & HHC products by checking out our “Best-of” lists!
What is the entourage effect?
First noted in 1998 by Professors Raphael Mechoulam and Shimon Ben-Shabat, the entourage effect is a mechanism by which plant compounds work together, often resulting in more noticeable effects compared to when compounds are used individually. With cannabis, the entourage effect refers to the way different cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids offer the best health benefits and psychoactive effects when combined, and only when consuming the entire plant in its natural state.
It has been attributed to the way the combination of compounds increases the activity of CB receptors one and two. Because these receptors are found throughout the entire body, the human endocannabinoid system plays a critical role in modulating many different physiological functions such as immune response, sleep/wake cycles, appetite, communication between cells, mental health, and more.
In 2001, two highly notable researchers Ethan Russo (MD, is a board-certified neurologist, psychopharmacology researcher, and author) and John McPartland (DO, MS, University of Vermont, Department of Family Medicine), published a paper titled “Cannabis and Cannabis Extracts: Greater Than the Sum of Their Parts.” This research paper revisits the claims of Mechoulam and Ben-Shabat regarding how cannabinoids act with other cannabinoids, as well as their interactions with secondary compounds such as terpenes and flavonoids.
Their research found supporting evidence that “extracts rich in both cannabinoids and terpenes increased pharmacological activities that strengthened and broadened clinical applications and improved the therapeutic index.” Simply put, the effects all-around are better when these compounds are allowed to do what they do naturally and work together.
How many cannabinoids and terpenes are there?
There are 113 cannabinoids and over 150 terpenes in cannabis. Russo explains in this detailed study how every single part of the plant matters, from more dominant cannabinoids to even the trace terpenes. Each compound in the plant has a specific role and they all influence each others’ modes of operation when consumed together. For reference, let’s quickly cover what each of these compounds are.
- Cannabinoids: Naturally occurring compounds, such as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD (cannabidiol), CBN (cannabinol), etc., that interact with the endocannabinoid system in mammals.
- Terpenes: A diverse group of organic compounds found in most plants that give them their specific fragrances.
- Flavonoids: These are important antioxidants that give plants their pigments and attract pollinator animals. In cannabis they’re referred to as cannaflavins.
For example, the terpene myrcene can help diminish resistance in the blood-brain barrier which allows other cannabinoids to access the central nervous system with more ease. Linalool and limonene, two terpenes commonly found in citrus fruits, show promise in managing symptoms of MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) when combined with CBG (cannabigerol). The study covers many more instances of how all these chemicals work together to the patient’s advantage.
More about terpenes
Terpenes are compounds found in most plants that produce their aromas and flavors. For example, they give lemon its powerful citrus scent, and they are the reason cinnamon smells so crisp and spicy. Terpenes are also abundant in cannabis, which is it has such a distinct smell with varying undertones. Lesser known is that terpenes are not just a factor in flavor, they also contribute to the effects we feel when we use cannabis. There’s a heavy focus on cannabinoids in consumer products, but if it wasn’t for terpenes, cannabis would not get us as high the way it does, nor would we experience all the numerous health benefits the plant is known for.
Terpenes are a very large and diverse class of organic compounds that are produced by a wide variety of plants including herbs, trees, flowers, and fruit. In cannabis, they are secreted by the same glands that produce some of the most prominent cannabinoids including THC and CBD; but their role and effects are vastly different. Terpenes are aromatic plant oils that, when combined with other plant compounds, create a limitless palate of scents and flavors. In nature, terps serve as a defense mechanism by deterring herbivores who are turned away by the smells, and by attracting predators and parasites that attack herbivores.
Chemically, terpenes are hydrocarbons and they are the major component of rosin, a waxy type of sap that is produced and developed throughout the life cycle of the cannabis plant. There are curing processes that can improve the final quality and content of the terpenes, but other factors that impact their development are climate, weather, age and maturation, fertilizers, soil type, and light cycles.
As far as cannabis goes, terpenes – not classification (sativa/indica) – are the key to differentiating between effects and flavors of a strain. Some terpenes are relaxing, like those found in lavender, while others are energizing, like the terps abundant in citrus fruit. Some smell fruity, some are piney, and others are musky. The possible variations are endless. So far, over 100 different terpenes have been discovered in cannabis plants alone, and each strain typically has its own unique blend and composition.
Terpenes have long been known to hold great therapeutic value, and some of the more common ones – like limonene, pinene, and caryophyllene – have been studied more extensively since they’re found in many different types of legal plants. More research is needed to determine the extent of their medicinal effects when combined with other cannabis plant compounds.
There are a few different ways that you can utilize cannabinoid blends. First, you could buy products that are premixed with different ratios of various compounds. These products are not hard to find, but regulation of alternative cannabinoids is sketchy at best and non-existent at worst, so some people are choosing to mix compounds at home and formulate their own oil, vape liquids, edible products, and more.
Honestly the latter is not a process I’m personally familiar with. However, there are a handful of retailers, like Rare Cannabinoid Company, that offer single minor cannabinoid extracts as well as how-to guides to help consumers mix their own oils. Below are some popular combinations, all using some type of broad-spectrum oil as a base.
- Energy / Appetite suppression: THCV + 3000mg CBD
- Relaxation / Sleep: CBN + Delta-8 THC + Terpenes
- Post-exercise / Relief blend: CBG + CBDV + Terpenes
- For low mood: CBC + THCV + Delta-8-THC
- For nausea: CBDA + Delta-8 THC + CBDV
- For focus: THCV + Delta-8 THC
Final thoughts on cannabinoid blends
It’s a well-established fact that, in most cases, cannabinoid and terpene blends work better individual compounds. That’s not to say that isolated cannabinoids serve no purpose, because they do, especially in a clinical setting where precise dosing can be extremely important. But for overall wellness, and recreational aims, mixing cannabinoids or simply using raw flowers and live resin extracts with a combination of compounds is enough to boost your high and provide many therapeutic benefits.
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Disclaimer: Hi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advice, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.
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