Think about a time when you came home from a long day of work, feeling relieved that you are alone and in your own space, with your favorite strain of cannabis. If you’ve ever inhaled cannabis smoke or vapor, you’ve experienced the full-plant effect. Simple infusions like cannabis-infused butter, olive oil, and raw, dietary cannabis are additional ways to take advantage of whole plant medicine.
Opting for full-extract cannabis oil is arguably more beneficial than an isolate. Of course, this is not to say that isolates are not useful. Isolating and purifying CBD or THC can make them easier to dose and measure. For standardized pharmaceutical medicines, isolates are easier to control and regulate. While it is more difficult to understand just how various chemicals interact with the body with whole plant medicine, emerging evidence may be showing countless more benefits.
Whole plant medicine refers to using full cannabis flowers and leaves in medical cannabis products, not just isolated parts. This means using all of the phytochemicals in tandem with each other, not isolating them out or using only limited chemical cocktails as medicine. For example, THC or CBD only medicines.
In a 2011 survey, less than 2 percent of participants preferred synthetic THC pharmaceuticals over the natural plant. The survey included 953 people from 31 different countries. This preference is perhaps because the natural plant contains far more than just THC.
Right now, there are at least 113 cannabinoids found in cannabis. The plant can produce over 100 different terpenes (aroma molecules), as well as fatty acids, flavonoids, steroids, and more. Not all of these products will be expressed by a plant at the same time. However, the herb is capable of producing at least this many compounds. Individual plant and product samples will contain different ratios of phytochemicals.
While many of these chemicals have therapeutic value on their own, the theory of whole plant medicine suggests that these compounds are most medicinal when used in combination with each other. This heightened efficacy is due to a phenomenon known as the “entourage effect.”
The entourage effect is what happens when various compounds work in harmony to create synergistic effects on the body. A great example of the entourage effect in action can be found in combining THC and CBD.
When taken along with THC, CBD can lessen the psychoactive experience of a cannabis product. CBD is known to reduce anxiety while THC can contribute to anxiety in high doses. Combining both THC and CBD causes effects that are different than just using either compound alone.
However, the entourage effect is not limited to just THC and CBD. The effects of a given cannabis strain or product are thought to be influenced by the synergy between all of the phytochemicals present in that particular sample. Just how all of these compounds interact with one another to produce specific effects in the body is currently under investigation.
A 2011 review that was published in the British Journal of Pharmacology looked at the potential interactions between various terpenes and cannabinoids. Results suggested that combining terpenes like linalool, which provides a floral, lavender-like aroma to some strains, with THC may amplify the sedative effects of the herb. When used with CBD, preclinical evidence suggests that it might be an anticonvulsant and anti-anxiety.
There is still much to learn about the cannabis plant and what it does to our bodies, while stronger evidence continues to emerge, picking up whole cannabis buds, raw cannabis flowers, and full-plant extracts may be some of the most beneficial ways to use the plant.