Some of the cannabis plant’s most appealing qualities are the aromas and flavors we experience when we consume it. Many of the most popular strains are named after their intended taste. Blueberry is named for its sweet, citrusy blueberry flavor, Sour Diesel for its pungent and intoxicating fuel-like aroma, and Cheese for its, well, cheesy taste and smell.
You can thank terpenes for all the cannabis flavors and aromas you love. Whether you smoke cannabis flower, dab concentrates, or vaporize either, terpenes are hard at work delivering tasty citrus, diesel, woody, pine, skunky, coffee, spicy, herbal, or tropical flavors to your palate.
But terpenes do more than provide flavor and aroma. They also support other cannabis molecules in producing wanted effects. We call this the entourage effect, and it’s the reason terpenes have become such a critical piece of the cannabis puzzle.
Medical marijuana advocates believe the entourage effect is a key to gaining the most from the plant’s medical benefits. The idea behind this effect is that when we combine compounds in their natural state we don’t end up with the sum of the parts but rather a multiplying effect. With cannabis, thousands of natural compounds within the plant interact together and with the human body to produce a more meaningful effect compared to any one of the compounds used alone.
The Entourage Effect also helps explain why different medical cannabis strains may have different effects depending on the individual. Since strains can differ vastly in their chemical profiles, they can cause an equally vast number of experiences.
The thing about the word “entourage” is that it gives the connotation that all the work is being done by a prevalent cannabinoid (like THC or CBD), while the other minor cannabinoids and terpenes are there as a sea of relatively insignificant minions. In some cases this may be true, like when an individual uses an extremely THC dominant flower (20+ %) that doesn’t have much else going for it.
However, there are a staggering variety of chemical phenotypes (chemotypes of cannabis) out there in the world. Plants that have a rich diversity of cannabinoids and terpenes may fall more into an “Ensemble” effect, rather than an “Entourage.” Just like an orchestra, each individual instrument contributes to the overall experience of the musical piece. THC may be the conductor, and CBD might be first-chair violin, but every instrument, every different cannabinoid molecule, contributes to the overall experience.