The Ensemble Effect

by Scott Winters

The Ensemble Effect is a theory made popular by Dr. Ethan Russo, a Board-Certified neurologist, psychopharmacology researcher, and former Senior Medical Advisor to GW Pharmaceuticals. He coined the phrase “Entourage Effect”. However, the scientific community now prefers to refer to the concept as the “Ensemble Effect”. The term Entourage Effect creates the perception that one compound is the superstar and the other compounds are there to support the primary compound. This is not the case. The flavonoids, cannabinoids and terpenes work symbiotically to create the desired effect or experience.Synergism is the interaction of two substances with the combined action being greater than the sum of the individual parts. Most testing of cannabis compounds and a wide range of studies of isolates (individual compounds) provide little information regarding the interaction of varying amounts of isolates when combined.Through anecdotal evidence, we have seen that when combined, cannabis compounds produce a more beneficial medical effect than when taken alone. This is seen in the case of isolated cannabinoids vs terpenes with cannabinoids consumed together. Isolated cannabinoids do not have the degree of medical efficacy or symptom relief as combined cannabinoids and terpenes.To understand the ensemble effect, compare it to an orchestra. A single instrument – drum, violin, horn – may sound fantastic alone, but when played together in a group of musical instruments, the result is a far richer experience than the isolated player.There are documented synergisms between cannabinoids and terpenes. One example is the way THC and CBD interact in the body. When we consume cannabis varieties that have substantial THC and CBD compounds, the endo-cannabinoid system is better engaged than when one of those cannabinoids is consumed in its isolated form. This happens when the THC binds with the CB1 receptors in the brain to produce a psychotropic effect and the CB1’s morphology changes. It rotates and opens a secondary binding site on the same receptor, allowing CBD to also bind. When both compounds are consumed in relatively low concentrations, CBD maximizes THC’s therapeutic potential, increasing the likelihood of anti-inflammatory and analgesic action. CBD can also help to blunt the negative side effects of THC and therefore decrease the likelihood of an anxious or paranoid experience.A second example of a synergistic effect is in the use of THCV, CBD and limonene. When a substantial concentration of the three compounds is consumed, there is a considerable increase in the likelihood of anorexia (decreased appetite), as opposed to the effect of any of the three as an isolate.A third example is when Linalool, THCA and CBD are consumed, the anti-epileptic effect is dramatically increased. There is research documentation that reveals that CBD is effective in treating some forms of epilepsy. However, when we combine THCA, CBD and Linalool, there is a dramatic increase in the potential of an anti-epileptic when compared to any of those isolates alone. The FDA has approved epidiolex to treat certain forms of childhood epilepsy using CBD as an isolate. (Link to epilepsy post)

The most easily consumed product in the cannabis family that would engage the ensemble effect is the cannabis flower which has the full range of terpenes, cannabinoids and flavinoids already suspended in the plant matrix. Consuming cannabis flower through a raw vaporizing device will ensure that you are getting as much terpenes, cannabinoids and flavinoids as possible. However, when smoking the flower via combustion, some of the more volatile compounds may escape and be lost. Choosing a vaporizing device that fits your individual needs may be the best way to fully pursue whole plant medicine when consuming flower.

Using an extractor to gain a full spectrum product/extract usually employs a low temperature over an extended period of time with a nonselective solvent to pull out as many compounds as possible without denaturing or destroying the compound during the extraction process. As a quality extraction company, CNA will be using full spectrum processing. We will be looking for the unique fingerprint of the compounds in the plant’s matrix material and retain them in the final product.

Some companies may claim to have a full spectrum product. However, they are not using extraction methods that ensure that compounds are retained. Instead, select compounds are pulled out throughout the process and then either synthetic or food grade terpenes are reintroduced into the formula at the end of the process. This is someone trying to Frankenstein the ensemble effect. Be sure to ask your favorite shop how they are maintaining a full spectrum extract.

The ensemble effect is currently just a theory with inadequate scientific evidence to back it up. This is due primarily to the current state of research, funding practices and the focus on isolates. Marketing and selling those isolates recoup the cost of R&D but leave inadequate funding to study and market full spectrum plant medicine.