Like most plant species, the entire Cannabis plant (flowering tops, seeds, and stalk fibers) is rich in various compounds with health-promoting benefits. While it is true that medicine and research have focused primarily on the two most prevalent and bioactive cannabinoids present in Cannabis – THC and CBD – we shouldn’t forget the less-recognized, but equally advantageous compounds that support these two leaders. In fact, of the three most commonly available types of cannabidiol products (isolates, full-spectrum, and broad spectrum), full-spectrum cannabinoid products are considered to have the greatest therapeutic potential due to the “entourage effect.”
Simply stated, full-spectrum cannabinoid products contain the full spectrum of biologically active constituents present in the entire plant. These constituents include a wide array of phytocannabinoids (such as THC, CBC, CBN, CBG, THCA, THCV, CBGA, CBDV) and natural terpenes (such as limonene, myrcene, α-pinene, linalool, β-caryophyllene, caryophyllene oxide, nerolidol, and phytol). These biologically active compounds function synergistically to enhance the effects of the phytocannabinoids, but the content varies widely between each cannabis strain and the method of extraction employed.
The “entourage effect” which is present in full-spectrum cannabinoid products is the phenomenon in which the variety phytocannabinoids and terpenes synergistically interact to enhance the activity of the cannabinoids. Therefore, it is often viewed as an indicator of a products therapeutic potential in the management of pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections. The “entourage effect” is also vital for CBD to effectively counteract the psychotropic effects of any trace amounts of THC in the product.
A Deeper Look at Additional Phytocannabinoids
Let’s look a little closer at some of the therapeutic activities of the most common phytocannabinoids present in full-spectrum formulations. These compounds are defined as natural plant-derived compounds that either interact with cannabinoid receptors or share a chemical similarity to cannabinoids. Phytocannabinoids, apart from THC and CBD, have not been widely studied, but past research has shown therapeutic applications similar to THC and CBD.
In animal studies, cannabichromene (CBC) exhibited anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antimicrobial, and antidepressant activities. It was also shown to be cytotoxic to cancer cells. Cannabigerol (CBG) may have muscle relaxant properties by its ability to inhibit GABA uptake. Additionally, CBG has demonstrated analgesic and antierythemic activities by blocking lipooxygenase, antifungal effects, as well as antidepressant and mild antihypertensive actions. The activities of tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) support weight loss, decreased body fat, and serum leptin concentrations. Additionally, its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and immunomodulatory actions were evident in studies that showed THCV from hemp down-regulated the over-expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase, cyclooxygenase-2, and interleukin 1β proteins through its interaction with the CB2 receptor in LPS-stimulated murine peritoneal macrophages. Finally, cannabidivarin (CBDV), an analog of CBD, has shown anticonvulsant activity in rodent hippocampal brain slices, comparable to phenobarbitone and felbamate.
A Deeper Look at Terpenes
Over 200 aromatic monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes have been identified as components of cannabis resin, giving it its unique smell and flavor, but also distinguishing full-spectrum cannabinoid formulations from others. Terpenes play an important role in achieving the “entourage effect” as they exert their distinctive biological activities.
β-caryophyllene has been shown to produce strong anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects in wild-type mice and has been identified as a potential CB2 ligand since these effects were not reproduced in CB2 receptor knockout mice. β-caryophyllene’s ability to reduce neuropathic pain was also CB2 receptor-dependent. d-limonene is an abundant terpenoid and a precursor to other monoterpenes. It is a powerful anxiolytic by increasing serotonin in the prefrontal cortex, initiates apoptosis of breast cancer cells, and supports the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux. β-Myrcene is present in cannabis and acts upon prostaglandins to help decrease inflammation, is an analgesic in mice studies, and can promote sedation and sleep. D-Linalool is well-studied for its anxiolytic and sedating activity. It also has shown anesthetic effects which allow it to be an effective analgesic as well. Finally, β-Myrcene has demonstrated anticonvulsant and anti-glutamatergic activity.
We have only taken a peek into just a few of the hundreds of potential phytocannabinoids and terpenes present in hemp (Cannabis sativa), specifically. The quantity of these compounds varies by plant, based on genome, light exposure, and soil fertility. However, we can see that these supporting compounds can enhance the effects of the chief cannabinoids – THC and CBD – enabling us to develop a better appreciation of the “entourage effect” as well as a clearer understanding of the clinical significance of using a full-spectrum cannabinoid formulation.