"The Entourage Effect": Why THC Numbers Aren't the Only Thing That Contribute to Your High

Lucy Burchell

In 2019, if you live on the planet earth, you’re probably more than aware that cannabis can make you feel high and that the psychoactive compound that causes this reaction is THC. Cannabis related news articles are in the national news on a daily basis. With hemp and CBD federally legalized in the US, THC is given even more throttle, standing out as the “under-researched” and stigmatized reason that cannabis as a whole is still federally illegal. As a budtender, I’m also more than aware that people know about THC. Every day, we have patients come in asking “what’s the highest THC strain you have?”, ”which concentrate has the highest THC?” etc. , etc. These statements and others like it have become a little bit of a way to fluff one’s feathers. “High THC tolerance” has become synonymous with being a cannabis expert. Of course, THC is effective, and of course a product with 92% THC is going to be a lot more noticeable in effects than a product that is 23%, but here’s the secret; it’s not the ONLY thing that contributes to your medicating experience.

In addition to THC, there are other compounds and cannabinoids in cannabis that alter the way that you feel and perceive the world around you when you medicate. Do you ever wonder how your budtender knows which strains are likely to make you sleepy or which are more likely to increase your focus during the day? If THC were the only active compound in your cannabis products, this distinction would not exist. If you look at the back of any of your cannabis products, you’ll see a number of weird looking names with percentages next to them, similar to a nutritional label on a cereal box. These weird names are all different types of compounds called terpenes, that are found and tested for in your cannabis. Terpenes are essential oils that are found in cannabis as well as many other plants in nature. When you go to purchase cannabis, you’ll notice that all of the flower smells slightly differently from strain to strain. Sometimes strains can even smell like certain fruits or spices and this is because of terpenes. For example, you might smell a strain of cannabis that smells sort of like cloves or other spices. You’re most likely smelling B-Caryophyllene, a terpene that is also found in hops, black pepper as well as cloves. If you were to smoke this strain, you might notice that the flower tastes a little bit spicy too.

Terpenes don’t just smell nice and taste good, there’s also major research that’s showing that terpenes are actually what cause distinctions in effects between strains. If you look at the label of your last choice of Indica flower, you will probably see a percentage of a terpene called “myrcene”. Myrcene has been researched as a compound of cannabis that causes feelings of sedation or relaxation. In sativa flower, you’re more likely to see higher percentages of “limonene” or “pinene”, two terpenes studied for their ability to amplify feelings of energy, focus or euphoria. Scientists believe that in conjunction with THC, these terpenes are activated and offer distinct feelings and effects that THC alone could not offer. There are hundreds of identified terpenes that are currently being extracted and researched for their properties, and scientists believe there are even more that haven’t yet been discovered or named.

There are other compounds in cannabis that may also contribute to your medicating experience. One of these is another cannabinoid called CBD, which has become nothing short of a buzz word in the past few years. CBD gets kind of a bad rep with heavy cannabis users because “it makes you feel good, but doesn’t really get you high”. People interpret this to mean that it isn’t effective or that it’s just a beginner/introductory stage for people who are sensitive to THC. The reality is that CBD may be a necessary compound, even in small amounts, for medicating with cannabis in general, even for heavy or long term patients. Studies show that CBD can counter the jittery/paranoid effect of THC and may even counter THC’s potential negative effects on the hippocampus, such as memory loss or issues processing emotional stress and anxiety. At Storehouse, we often even recommend that people have some sort of CBD product with them when they try a higher THC strain or product. This is because some people have found that CBD is kind of like a tether that can help if you have a negative or overwhelming experience with THC.

The overall experience of THC, CBD, terpenes and possibly other compounds interacting with each other are what cannabis researchers call “The Entourage Effect” because it’s an entourage of different chemicals and compounds working together to give you a wholistic, multi-benefit experience. Cannabis is such a useful healing tool because it offers relief for a variety of different conditions, and this is largely due to this entourage. It is truly the combination of all these things working together that create the experience and it cannot be replicated with chemicals or another plant. As I mentioned, other fruits and herbs have some of the same terpenes as cannabis, but you don’t feel “high” because other plants don’t have THC, even in trace amounts, to activate those compounds.

Finally, paying more attention to terpenes and less attention to THC will help preserve the future of the cannabis industry. In the produce and livestock industries, plants and animals are bred to produce the most consistent and genetically similar products possible to meet consumer demand. It’s also no secret that ethics sometimes fall to the wayside in trying to achieve these results. With consumer demand for cannabis shifting to the highest yielding THC percentages, this means that cannabis growers are trying to breed plants for this specific THC yielding trait. This threatens the biodiversity of the plant, and could have a negative effect on future cannabis growing. If we grow THC strains to exhaustion, we could see the same issues in the cannabis industry that are present in the livestock and produce industries and have problems growing and preserving healthy cannabis in the future.

At the end of the day, even the most experienced cannabis patient cannot distinguish the difference between flower thats 21% THC and one that’s 18%. I myself have had 30% THC flower that was nothing to write home about and 16% THC flower that’s absolutely knocked my socks off and helped me tremendously in coping with pain and anxiety. So the next time you walk into a dispensary, ask your budtender to see the label. Ask them questions! Ask them to tell you about terpenes and all of the wonderful ways they can help you get the most out of your medicine.