The Licensing of Marijuana for medicinal use, firstly in the USA and since this year in Germany too, has led to a research boom. Large amounts of research has been carried out upon the various parts of the plant and their specific medical use. This research has led to a plethora of new technical terms being carried over into the user and patient scene. This has led to some confusion. Once one was considered as a Cannabis professor when one could name more than three cannabinoids. Now of course one must wrestle with terms like Terpenes, Flavonoids and the Entourage Effect. Here is our attempt at demystification.
The good news first: For all those that just want to drone along as before nothing much changes. Hard times however are coming for those, who presented with a differentiated specific illness are looking for an individual Cannabis medicine that fits or worse, looking to produce such a medicine.
What are Terpenes?
Simply put, they are found in every plant. Terpenes in the Cannabis plant could be compared to the holy ghost. Nobody knows exactly what it is or what it does but every preacher feels qualified to say something about it.
Chemically considered Terpenes are a sub group of unsaturated hydrocarbons called Isoprene. (which doesn’t quite help much). We would advise against an online research as that might awaken successfully suppressed memories of School.
We will however simplify this for you. Terpenes are responsible for the taste of Cannabis. In botany over 8000 terpene compounds so far have been identified. More than a hundred in the Cannabis plant alone. The most common are: Linalool, BetaCaryophyllen, Myrcene, A-Pinene, Limone. Some sources attribute particular effects to particular Terpenes. This enables a simplified approach to these compounds. This will be more fully explained in the chapter Entourage Effect.
Also grouped with the 8,000 Terpenes are a further group of 30,000 Terpenoids, a subgroup of Terpenes. These, in our case the cannabinoids, significantly influence the chemical behaviour of their corresponding Terpenes. This is interesting as the Terpenoids act upon the receptors in the brain and not only which chemical they react with but how strongly they react with it. It transpires that the number of Terpenoids is more significant than the amount of Cannabinoids that a plant contains. It is now becoming clear that we are dealing with complicated mixed reactions and that it is of limited benefit extracting single compounds looking for a unique effect.
At this point Science will admit that research is still in its infancy with regard to these combined reactions and not enough is yet known about this area.
What we do know is that Terpenes are responsible for the taste of the substance and have an as yet not completely defined effect upon the medical use of cannabis.
Terpenoids influence both uptake and use of particular substances within the body. This means that Cannabinoids control how and how strong `cannabis reacts.
What we do not know is how Terpenes and Terpenoids work together. It is now challenged that through the Isolation and administration of single Terpenes that the psychoactive effect is influenced. Almost nothing is known about the effects of single terpenes. Science has developed testing of groups of terpenes rather than individual ones. (See Entourage Effect)
What are Flavonoids and what do they do?
Flavonoids are Pigments and as such found in every plant. They ensure that the plant or part of the plant have the correct colour (such as the fruit) and the scent. Flavonoids have no psychoactive effects and are for us interesting as Medicine. They are active as anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, anti-fungal and as an antioxidant.
What is the Entourage Effect or why it does not make sense to extract Terpenes or Flavonoids and add them to cannabis.
An entourage is the group of followers that for example might have followed with a Prince in earlier times. At the same time every member of these followers group had a fixed function to carry out. In Cannabis research the Entourage Effect stands out for a marked difference to the approach of the Pharmaceutical industry. Pharmaceutical companies isolate and administer individual active ingredients whether from plants or just in the laboratory. The developers of Medical Marijuana do not want to isolate individual compounds rather to modify the plant and use as a whole. Instead they wish to breed whole cultivars for different purposes. The Entourage Effect is based upon the maxim that the interconnection between many active ingredients lead to better results than the isolation of individual compounds. To this end the producers of Medical Marijuana propagate many cultivars for specific purposes rather than the isolation of individual compounds. In the end nature has taken some millions of years to develop not only the active ingredients in the plant but also the reaction to this by consumers of the plant. Both aspects belong together and should not be considered individually.
We warn against hobby chemists that attempt to isolate flavonoids and mix them in order to obtain particular tastes or effects. The research is in its infancy and the subject is too complex to produce new effects or bring new products to the market with rather simple methods. The solution is being developed in American or Israeli Laboratories and Plant institutes where at a high level and with a large technical effort both research and propagation are being carried out.