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The Entourage Effect is Changing the Cannabis Industry. Seven Experts Explain Why.

Posted by Eric Van Buskirk on

The entourage effect isn’t a new concept. While the phrase was coined in 1998, research into the synergy between the cannabis plant’s various compounds dates back to the 1970s. Since then, numerous studies have illustrated that cannabis is far more than the sum of its parts. Experts agree: its beneficial effects result from a complex interaction between key ingredients, namely cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids.

To that end, we’re zeroing in on the entourage effect and how our growing understanding of it informs the cannabis market’s trajectory.

How does developing scientific  knowledge of the entourage effect shape:

1) the growing and extraction of hemp and cannabis?

and

2) the way in which products are marketed to consumers?

We put these questions to seven industry experts. Here’s what they had to say.

Solvent-free products and an emphasis on terpene testing

Michael Waters Potguide.com

Michael Walters is Director of Content & Marketing at PotGuide

 

As Walters sees it, the wheels of change are already in motion. An increasing share of consumers are looking beyond THC content in search of the more balanced experience provided by full-spectrum products.

“As many people are beginning to realize, specific terpenes can influence effects much more than THC alone,” Walters says. “Additionally, having an understanding of the entourage effect and what terpenes you prefer can make it much easier to find products that work for you and offer an enjoyable experience.”

As an example, he points to the fact that some folks avoid sativa strains out of fear that the effects will be too heady. What they fail to realize is that milder sativa options exist, and can be identified by their high pinene or myrcene content. A better understanding of the entourage effect—specifically the role of terpenes—can clear up this misconception.

Walters mentions that the influence of the entourage effect on production can be observed in the growing popularity of concentrates made without using solvents.

“Oftentimes lower in THC and higher in terpene content, solventless products like rosin are becoming some of the most sought after products on the market because they provide a rich experience that is full-bodied and immersive into the plant's true properties,” he says, adding:

"More and more extractors are experimenting with terpene isolation and creating some very interesting products. Similarly, we now have a good handful of growers who refer to themselves as "resin farmers" or cultivators who specifically grow plants to make into concentrates. This ideology is obviously rooted in resin production but also terpenes. Circling back to solventless, most resin farming is done for solventless operations and rosin pressing. These products are in high demand not for their THC content but for the full-spectrum experience they provide. I think this is a clear indicator that people are looking for a more refined experience and taking increased notice of the entourage effect."

On the marketing side of things, Walters says we can expect to see more companies making an effort to satisfy their customers’ curiosity regarding terpenes. So while many companies currently neglect to test their products for terpene content, that will soon change.

“I think nine out of 10 consumers are very intrigued by any packaging that contains terpene testing information and the companies that invest in the time and effort to do so are seeing positive results,” Walters notes. “If federal legalization occurs and brands continue to push messaging that encourages consumers to take time finding products that work for them, we will continue to see increased awareness about the benefits of terpenes.”

 

Check out our sample packs of any five terpene strains:  
Sample Pack of Any 5 Weed Flavor Terpenes for Vape

Products tailored to specific health conditions

Matan Weil - Cannigma.com

Matan Weil is Head of Content Strategy for The Cannigma

Viewing the matter through a scientific lens, Weil suggests that an advanced understanding of the entourage effect will enable the industry to develop more sophisticated products that deliver targeted therapies.

“Once we understand how the different molecules in cannabis, particularly cannabinoids and terpenes, interact with each other, and how chemovars (aka strains) can affect us in different ways, growers will be able to cultivate specific products for specific conditions and symptoms such as pain, seizures and nausea,” Weil says. “And at the same time, consumers would be able to predict effects, such as calming and sedating vs energizing and uplifting.”

Research into the effects of individual terpenes continues apace. As does research into how terpenes contribute to the health benefits of CBD and THC. A 2019 review published in Frontiers in Plant Science, for example, states that the importance of terpenes in the entourage effect is “amply demonstrated” by the existing body of research.

Meanwhile, a 2020 paper in Current Neuropharmacology examines the therapeutic potential of different terpenes. Among other things, the authors found that:

  • terpenes may help treat addiction
  • linalool and β-pinene have antidepressant effects
  • myrcene can help relieve anxiety and promote relaxation

They concluded that “further research is warranted to investigate the potential therapeutic value of adding terpenes to treatment with CBD, with or without additional THC, for the benefit of patients suffering from depression, anxiety or BD [bipolar disorder].”

In terms of marketing, Weil anticipates that companies will begin to articulate the precise effects of their products, interpreting lab results instead of merely displaying them. The upshot would be a better-informed consumer base and a more efficient market in general:

"As a consequence of a deeper understanding of the entourage effect, markets could promote the likely effects of specific cannabis products, rather than just listing the concentrations of cannabinoids and terpenes. This means customers would have less trial and error to go through, and instead be able to rely on the effects listed on the labels. Instead of focusing on strain names or sativa/indica origins (which mean very little), we'd see more weight going to symptoms, conditions and effects."

Cutting THC down to size

Lana Braslavskaia - askgrowers.com

Lana Braslavskaia is a cannabis connoisseur & Public Relations Specialist with AskGrowers.com

While experience has told her that misplaced notions about the primacy of THC are alive and well, Braslavskaia expects them to go by the board as the public learns more about the entourage effect.

“At AskGrowers we speak with cannabis labs, brands, growers and consumers on a daily basis,” she says. “We’ve found a common misconception with consumers is that a high THC content equals a superior product. Cannabis isn’t just about the high, but like wine or craft beer, is about the flavors and taste. For people trying cannabis for the first time, products with lower doses of THC may be an easier option for them.”

When it comes to dispelling myths, Braslavskaia stresses that it’s all about education. In her view, marketing campaigns should aim to educate consumers about what to expect from various products. Businesses that fail to take this seriously will end up paying for it in the long run:

"It’s important that marketing educates the public about how different compounds in cannabis products affect their experience. Products containing THC that have other components of cannabinoids and terpenes in them often have greater therapeutic benefits. Once customers are educated through more research and technology, this will directly affect growers, extraction brands and retailers. Those in the industry that don't respond will play catch-up."

Check out our Indica strain terpenes: 
Strain - Indica - True Blue Terpens

Broad changes from top to bottom

Kirsten Thornhill - NanoCraft CBD

Kirsten Thornhill is a Ph.D. student at Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions specializing in human performance, vascular health, and holistic alternatives for athlete recovery

Advanced understanding of the entourage effect is likely to have a sweeping impact, producing changes in every facet of the industry, Thornhill says. She notes that “as additional research, clinical trials, systematic reviews and meta-analyses emerge, the understanding and application of the entourage effect will bring new meaning, insight, and influence to the cultivation, education, and marketing sectors of the cannabis/hemp industry.”

A 2018 paper published in IntechOpen provides a fine example of the sort of systematic reviews Thornhill talks about. In it, the authors highlight the many beneficial properties of CBD, including its ability to mitigate the harmful effects of THC. They also evaluate the therapeutic potential of terpenes.

Turning their attention to the entourage effect, the authors reference a study showing that CBD-rich extracts are more effective than isolated CBD at inducing positive responses from neurons in the hippocampus—the region in the brain associated with learning and memory. In view of that, they suggest “it may be possible to boost the pro-cognitive therapeutic efficacy of CBD through a synergistic approach.”

Manufacturers of cannabis products will use this kind of information to fine-tune their processes, Thornhill declares, pointing out that “cultivators may preserve certain parts of the whole plant in order to better elicit desired effects for consumers.”

Like Walters and Weil, she foresees a shift in marketing strategies whereby “companies make claims for their products in regards to the involvement of the entourage effect and what their products may ‘elicit’ in consumers.” Doing so will help businesses adapt to a new climate in which “customers better understand what the entourage effect is and what it does to their bodies,” Thornhill says.

Better regulatory framework

Kirsten Thornhill - NanoCraft CBD

Louis O'Neill is the manager of The Green Fund and host of The CannaCast podcast

As a few of our experts have observed, it’s likely just a matter of time before cannabis products are marketed based on their specific effects. But doing so is tricky in the current regulatory landscape. The FDA, for instance, forbids companies from “marketing CBD products to treat diseases or for other therapeutic uses.” Other Western countries enforce similar restrictions.

Science, Louis O’Neill says, can solve this problem. He expects that regulations—which can vary widely by country, and even by state—will become more coherent and consistent as our knowledge of the science of cannabis deepens:

"CBD and other cannabinoids have always occupied this legal gray area because they aren't quite psychoactive but they are still part of the cannabis family. A greater understanding of the plant and its components will help to clarify things from a regulatory perspective as well as a marketing perspective as we are only in the very early stages of truly understanding what cannabinoids can do."

O’Neill adds that greater public appreciation of the entourage effect may ultimately sound the death knell for pure isolate products.

“If the entourage effect proves to be even stronger than we initially supposed, isolate cannabinoids will almost immediately lose their marketability,” he says. “If the sum of the cannabis plant is more beneficial than its parts, why isolate just one?”

 

Check out our Sativa strain terpenes: 
Strain - Sativa - True Blue Terpenes

More sophisticated extraction methods (and thus higher quality products)

Kristen Williams - Hempsley

Kristen Williams is the CEO and Creative Director of Hempsley

The more we learn about the entourage effect, Williams says, the more nuanced cannabis products will become. Like the others, she envisions a milieu in which THC no longer reigns supreme:

"I believe that THC has been coveted by consumers because it's the only part of the plant we've really understood until recently. With all the restrictions on research due to Schedule I status, science has been forced to focus on understanding the mechanism behind the “high” that cannabis can provide—but with expansion in research, the entourage effect is showing that cannabis has more to offer than just a “high” or THC."

Researchers appear determined to drive this point home. In 2011, the British Journal of Pharmacology published a study titled “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects.” The idea was to examine whether the clinical applications of THC can be bolstered by the inclusion of additional cannabinoids as well as terpenes.

Concluding his study, the author writes that “selective cross-breeding of high-terpenoid- and high-phytocannabinoid-specific chemotypes” may represent a new line of treatment for:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • drug addiction
  • dementia
  • numerous dermatological conditions

Studies like this one are helping guide the cannabis industry in a new direction, creating “demand for whole-plant products rich in diverse cannabinoid profiles,” Williams says. “This will inevitably push the market to refine extraction methods to preserve the entirety of carefully bred plant genetics which were grown to intentionally target specific conditions.”

Marketing will likewise undergo a transformation, she notes, becoming more educational in nature:

"As cannabis becomes more medically and socially accepted, I expect the demand for these products will only increase along with a need for educational marketing that focuses on translating the type of experience or effects a product will provide. An understanding of how the parts of this plant interact with our physiology both separately and together will enable consumers to choose products that truly benefit their specific needs—and when consumers can find a product that actually works for them, they will become loyal, lifelong customers."

The demise of inferior production techniques

Brian Cusack - DrHempMe

Brian Cusack is the founder of Dr. Hemp Me

Speaking of extraction, Cusack notes that it currently occupies a central position on the regulatory battlefield. As the owner of one of Ireland’s leading CBD companies, he has seen first-hand how misguided regulations can affect product quality.

“In Ireland, the FSAI (Food Safety Authority of Ireland) are starting to crack down on CBD products that are extracted using CO2 and ethanol, which in truth is very damaging to the whole industry,” Cusack says. “The only extraction method which is allowed is cold-pressed, which is expensive and not very efficient.”

In recent years, CO2 extraction—or supercritical fluid extraction, to be precise—has emerged as the preeminent method of cannabis extraction. In addition to being clean and efficient, CO2 extraction doesn’t require super-high temperatures. It’s therefore better at preserving terpenes and other fragile compounds.

Some researchers are taking a keen interest in the topic. A recent study in Scientific Reports found that “CBD and THC can be extracted with high efficiency from cured cannabis biomass using supercritical CO2 without a co-solvent.”

The type of regulations Cusack speaks of are detrimental to the market in that they force manufacturers to employ inferior and outdated methods of extraction. This makes it difficult to create products—full spectrum or otherwise—that consumers actually want:

"Although the EU does allow CO2 and ethanol which the FSAI should be abiding buy they are for the moment pushing forward with cold-pressed only. This means high strengths will not be available as using cold-pressed on EU-approved hemp seeds will only allow a 5% strength maximum which is currently our lowest strength CBD oil and by far the least popular compared to the 10%, 20% and 30%. The Irish CBD industry is not lying though and all CBD companies in Ireland are beginning to fight this."

When the science behind the entourage effect becomes clear and definitive, regulators will be hard-pressed to justify these unnecessary restrictions. At that point, we can expect the rules surrounding extraction to be updated and improved, benefiting producers and consumers alike.

You heard it here first…

The entourage effect, and our collective knowledge of how it works and what it can do, is a game changer for the cannabis industry. In the coming years, its influence will be felt across the board, from extraction methods to marketing strategies and beyond. Businesses that fail to prepare for the coming sea change may live to regret it.

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