Cannabis Corner Of THC, CBD, and the terpenes that create the “entourage effect.”

By Marcella McClure

Hello Readers,

I went to happy hour a few nights ago.  Low and behold, someone at the bar was talking about this column! Thank you to those who are hanging with me through the science and those who are enjoying my attempts to provide information on cannabis. And sometimes the column is funny, too! Please give me feedback and suggest additional topics for Cannabis Corner.

In upcoming columns, I will move on to how to use, how much to use and what to be cautious about when using cannabis. But first I need to tell you more about the dance between the body and the various molecules in cannabis, a dance brought to you by the terpenes and the amount of THC and CBD in various cannabis strains. Today there are more than 1,000 strains of cannabis that plant breeders created to make cannabis a more efficient medicine — that’s what cannabis medicine is all about.

The whole dance, the big swing, between cannabis and the human body was first called the entourage effect in 1998 as reported in the European Journal of Pharmacology.  Dutch scientists had already taken the holy weed apart and found that the positive effects were just not the same as using the whole cannabis bud for relief from what ails us. They also made synthetic THC but it did not work as well as the cannabis plant. This was not like getting salicin from the bark of the white willow and then synthesizing a version of it as the single compound called aspirin. This phenomenon of synergy among many molecules of the cannabis plant to be effective medicinally is what is known as the entourage effect.

While THC and CBD are the lead dancers in the endocannabinoid system, other cannabis molecules act as their entourage, exerting different effects in other systems of the body. The terpenes play an important role in the entourage effect. Each terpene can tweak the body into a healthier balance in different ways. Without terpenes the full medical effects of cannabis are not experienced by the user. Think of terpenes as experts in specific dances. Cumbia, anybody?

But what are terpenes exactly, you may be wondering. So glad you asked.

Terpenes are oily, volatile molecules that give cannabis (and other plants) their aroma and taste. They are the basis of aromatherapy. They are the essential oils. Pine trees get their smell from pinene, citrus from limonene and linalool provides lavender its relaxing aroma. The nose knows terpenes, they are everywhere around us. Think cumbia instructors who smell of lavender and lemon.

At last count there were 200 terpenes, as well as other phytocannabinoids, in much lower amounts than THC and CBD in cannabis, which produce the entourage effect of the plant.

The major terpenes found in cannabis are myrcene (also in mangos), pinene, limonene, linalool, caryophyllene (also found in pepper) and humulene (present in basil). These terpenes provide protection to the cannabis plant by repelling insect and animal predators over evolutionary time. Humans are not repelled by the aroma and taste of cannabis. In fact, we have selected medicinal cannabis strains for thousands of years that smell and taste good to us.

One could say that humans and cannabis have co-evolved with one another.

Most terpenes do not interact with the receptors of the endocannabinoid system. But they do interact with other systems of the body. For example, limonene acts on the receptors of the neuroendocrine system by making them more active and efficient in utilizing hormones, thereby making the body more balanced.

Many terpenes have anti-pain and anti-inflammatory activity.  Pinene is an anti-inflammatory and a decongestant that works in the respiratory system. Pinene can comprise 50 percent of the terpenes in specific cannabis strains. Prior to 1937, when cannabis was made illegal, it was a major component of cough remedies. It was pinene that opened the chest and allowed one to cough out the bad stuff. Cannabis high in pinene is a great expectorant for dealing with upper respiratory congestion due to viral and bacterial infections.

Only one terpene from cannabis, caryophyllene, dances with the endocannabinoid system. Remember that our digestive system would be very bright if the endocannabinoid receptors were lights? Caryophyllene is an anti-inflammatory with analgesic effects that provides gastric protection by binding to a specific endocannabinoid receptor in our digestive system.

So terpenes are important and they are under intensive scientific study. They are the specialized dancers of cannabis. Pinene does the foxtrot, while limonene dances salsa and linalool is a cool jazz number.

Terpenes are the new buzz on the internet. Terpenes are good for us and they are only found in vegetables and fruits. Mom was right: We have to eat our fruits and vegetables every day, and lots of them, to get the variety of terpenes that help keep our bodies in balance. But cannabis produces so many different terpenes in sufficient quality that it is a great source of these molecules.

To recap: the amount of THC, CBD and terpenes in various cannabis strains is what the new medicine of cannabis is all about. Not only is the amount of THC and CBD important, but the terpene profile (which ones and in what amounts) of a cannabis product  can help the consumer in deciding which strains would be useful medicinally.

It is the entourage effect, the great dance between THC, CBD, terpenes, and the body that allows cannabis to be a plant for all seasons for many reasons. And remember: save the holy weed from the damn greed.

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Marcella McClure

About Marcella McClure

After a successful career as scientist, Dr. Marcella McClure moved to Salinas to enjoy the weather and the people. She enjoys gardening, hiking on beach dunes and rock crawling.