Cannabis, Terpenes & The Entourage Effect Explained

Even though terpenes and marijuana can each be used separately, their beneficial powers create a cannabis entourage effect when they’re combined. Here’s what that means for you.

How do terpenes contribute to what’s known as the cannabis Entourage Effect?

To understand how this works, you need to know:

  • What terpenes are

  • How marijuana affects your body

  • Why you’d want to combine terpenes and cannabis

And that’s exactly what this resource will help you learn.

So What are Terpenes Anyway?

Terpenes are potent compounds found in the essential oils of every plant[*].

There are over 20,000 known terpenes and each is responsible for the specific scent or taste in different plants and fruit[*].

And guess what?

You’ll find over 200 terpenes in cannabis.

It’s these terpenes that create distinct marijuana strains which each give off a unique taste and smell.

But terpenes aren’t just prized for their taste or aroma.

cannabis entourage effect

Certain terpenes carry therapeutic health benefits, such as[*]:

  • Myrcene, which has antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory perks and has also been used as a sleep aid in Germany because it’s also relaxing[*].

  • Beta caryophyllene, which helps with muscle spasms, pain, and insomnia.

  • Linalool may relieve stress, depression, anxiety, and convulsions.

  • Pinene has been studied for its effects on asthma, memory retention, and alertness.

  • Humulene may be able to suppress your appetite and reduce inflammation.

  • Limonene is used as an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety helper and it’s even been shown to kill off breast cancer cells[*].

For more detailed information about what terpenes are and how to use them, check out this guide later.

As you can see, many terpenes deliver benefits which overlap those studied in marijuana -- and others which may be able to counteract the negative effects of using it too.

Since medical marijuana is becoming legal in more states, many patients are learning how to combine terpenes with their preferred strains to double down on this plant medicine.

And those in states with legal recreational marijuana are also discovering the possibilities of combining specific terpenes with their cannabis use too.

There’s a name for using terpenes to enhance or modify the effects of marijuana so the experience is not only more enjoyable, but also more beneficial to your body.

And it’s called The Entourage Effect.

What Does The Entourage Effect Really Mean?

Have you ever made a smoothie with lots of different healthy ingredients?

You may have tossed in a handful of greens for their micronutrients, a few berries for the antioxidants, and a splash of milk for the protein and calcium.

This combination of separate ingredients makes the smoothie healthier as a whole than each ingredient would be on its own.

Cannabis, Terpenes & The Entourage Effect Explained

That’s sort of the basic premise when it comes to The Entourage Effect.

Many people use medical and recreational marijuana for benefits including:

  • Pain management and arthritis relief

  • Controlling seizures, tremors, and convulsions

  • Lowering nausea and increasing appetite

  • Anti-anxiety, PTSD, and depression relief

So when you use marijuana and add terpenes to the mix, it’s like the spinach and strawberries in our smoothie example: the smoothie as a whole (i.e., your marijuana experience) becomes even better than its separate parts (using either cannabis or terpenes alone).

How exactly does this work?

How Terpenes Play Into The Cannabis Entourage Effect

Cannabis plants contain hundreds of compounds called cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids.

Everyone is pretty familiar with the two main cannabinoids in cannabis, THC and CBD. These work differently to bind to cannabinoid receptors throughout your body.

What you might not know is certain terpenes have been shown to bind to specific cannabinoid receptors just like THC and CBD.

These terpenes are what make each strain different and effective at providing specific benefits over others.

For example, you may be choosing between two marijuana strains with the same amount of THC, but one may calm you down while the other may give you an energetic boost.

Particular terpenes are why cannabis breeders have spent so long and continue to spend time on crossing plants and developing strains with these types of health effects and benefits.

Cannabis, Terpenes & The Entourage Effect Explained

Since terpenes can be extracted from plants, you can consume, inhale, or apply them directly to your skin for natural relief.

Terpenes easily pass through your cell membranes to get to work on muscles, neurotransmitters, proteins, receptors, and enzymes[*].

Ethan Russo, M.D., a neurologist who pioneered the study of terpenes and cannabis in his paper called “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects”, says terpenes like[*]:

  • Pinene counteract memory loss and impaired thinking caused by THC.

  • Pinene, myrcene, and caryophyllene all work to level off anxiety.

  • Linalool may change glutamate and GABA neurotransmitter systems to help relax and calm you down.

  • Linalool and limonene combine well with the cannabinoid CBG in the treatment of MRSA and acne.

These are only a few examples we know so far, but since there are tens of thousands of terpenes found in plants, and the database of marijuana research is still expanding, the potential for more therapeutic discoveries like these is huge.

The best part is that you don’t have to live in a medical or recreational marijuana state to take advantage of these benefits.

Cannabis Vs. Non-Cannabis Derived Terpenes

When people refer to “whole plant medicine”, they mean therapy that uses every aspect of a certain plant -- from essential oils to its actual leaves and stems -- to deliver all the benefits that plant has to offer.

While you can use cannabis derived terpenes to achieve this effect, they’re still illegal wherever marijuana is still illegal.

Here’s the good news: You can find the same terpenes found in marijuana in other plants which are legal.

Cannabis, Terpenes & The Entourage Effect Explained

In the same way essential oils like lavender and peppermint are extracted from their respective plants, so too can terpenes be extracted from the plants which make and house them.

Companies now have the technology to identify and isolate terpenes in plants and fruits like pine needles and citrus and then extract only the natural, strain specific terpenes they’re looking for.