Some of the Parts: Is Marijuana’s “Entourage Effect” Scientifically Valid?

By Angus Chen

If you believe budtender wisdom, consuming a strain called Bubba Kush should leave you ravenous and relaxed whereas dank Hippie Chicken should uplift you like a dreamy cup of coffee. But if you take pure, isolated delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC—the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana—you’ll experience “a high that has no specific character, so that seems boring,” says Mowgli Holmes, a geneticist and founder of a cannabis genetics company Phylos Bioscience.

What gives cannabis “character,” in Holmes’s view, are the hundreds of other chemicals it contains. These include THC’s cousin cannabinoids such as cannabidiol, along with other compounds called terpenes and flavonoids. Whereas terpenes are generally credited with giving pot its varied fragrances—limonene, for example, imparts a snappy, citrusy perfume—the cannabis industry and some researchers have espoused the controversial idea that such compounds can enhance or alter THC’s psychoactive and medicinal properties.

This so-called “entourage effect” refers to this scrum of compounds supposedly working in concert to create what Chris Emerson describes as “the sum of all the parts that leads to the magic or power of cannabis.” Emerson is a trained chemist and the co-founder of a designer marijuana vaporizer products company called Level Blends. Product designers like him believe they can create THC vaping mixtures tuned with different concentrations of each terpene and cannabinoid for specialized effects.

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