The Cannabis Orchestra

Outside of the cannabis industry, the idea of an entourage effect is not nearly as accepted. The argument that there is, in fact, no such thing as an entourage effect is not all that uncommon in modern Western healthcare.  This is the basic premise behind the production of most medicines and is referred to as a monomolecular model of formulating drugs.  Meaning that, most medicines are composed of only one active ingredient.  We will discuss the idea of a monomolecular model of drug production and it’s implications in more depth in future articles.  For now, focus is going to be aimed at describing what the entourage effect is, and how it applies to the consumption of cannabis…using the analogy of an orchestra.  

The musicians in each section of an orchestra are familiar with one another and the music they are performing.  Groups of five to ten violins, cellos, basses, trumpets, clarinets, etc. all working together to play in tune and on beat with one another.  When every member of an orchestra understands their part and plays it in a manner that fits well with the rest of the group, the music feels full and sounds crisp and can carry with it a sense of movement and power.  This analogy can be applied to the synergistic nature of the entourage effect when consuming cannabis.  Every cannabinoid, terpene, terpenoid, flavonoid, etc. all working in conjunction with one another to perform their individual functions in order to more effectively reduce inflammation throughout the body.

Now, imagine that the symphony orchestra described previously goes through a separation process where some of the key players are removed.  The basic structure of the orchestra is still intact and the players that remain are still familiar with one another, but a few players from each section of strings, brass, percussion, and woodwinds are missing.  If this group of musicians were to play the same tunes as before, the music would still be easily identifiable.  However, it would feel much less rich and not have the same crisp and clear qualities as before.  This description could also be applied to a broad spectrum oil of some sort like certain tinctures and hash oils, wherein, some active compounds that help form the entourage effect are completely stripped from the end product during processing.  Products like this include many types of hydrocarbon extracted hash oils as well as CO2 extracted oils. 

Furthering the orchestra analogy, it has now been stripped of all but one player from each section.  Just one trumpet, violin, bass, clarinet, etc. must perform the same music that the entire orchestra performed previously.  The result would be dry and lifeless.  Completely lacking the fullness and clarity that previously was felt and heard by the full orchestra’s performance of the music.  Applying this example to cannabis based products leads us to a class of extracts that are produced through a process called fractional distillation.  This process separates each class of active compounds from one another, leaving the processor with a very clean and repeatable basic ingredient called distillate that can be infused into products like tinctures, topicals, and edibles with ease.

Now, picture that the orchestra we began with has been stripped down to the point that only one single musician remains, and that this single player performs the same music as before.  The songs would still be somewhat identifiable, but it would be difficult to listen to and completely lacking in any emotion or power that was present initially, when every player was present.  The idea of reducing an orchestra of over one hundred musicians down to just one is very similar to the process of producing an isolate from cannabis crude oil.  An isolated extract is the result of completely filtering full spectrum crude oil until what is left is nearly 100% pure in composition of just one compound.  For example, THC isolate is nearly 100% THC, and CBD Isolate is nearly 100% CBD, and nothing else.  Isolate is used commonly in almost every type of infused product from lip balms to tinctures to lotions.  Working with isolate is easier for the processor, but not necessarily better for the consumer.

The final step in applying the analogy of a symphony orchestra to cannabis is to reunite the band.  Except, some of the musicians have gone missing and the empty spots must be filled by musicians from other orchestras.  These new musicians know the songs being played as well as the others, but they may or may not blend well with the rest of the group in terms of intonation and timing.  Additionally, some of the new members might be from rock or jazz bands and have little familiarity with how to play in a symphony orchestra.  This is the premise behind the production of many commonly available cannabis infused items that are currently on the market.  

The cannabis plant has all of its resins extracted and filtered through multiple processes that strip it of all “contaminates” which result in a completely pure and stable set of base ingredients.  These basic ingredients are then blended back together in manner that attempts to mimic the initial composition of the plant they were extracted from.  And, since some of the ingredients that were present in the plant have been completely lost during processing, like terpenes, they must be acquired from other sources and blended in a way that tries to match the terpene profile that the plant had to begin with.  Some processors choose to infuse terpenes that are derived from plant sources other than cannabis.  These are referred to as “botanically derived” terpenes, and are often times sourced from oranges, plums, pine needles, hops, and other plants and fruits.  While this practice is not necessarily harmful to the consumer, and can often times result in a pleasant and effective product, it is not ideal.  And, can sometimes have a negative end result in either the quality of the product and/or its effect on the consumer.

Unfortunately, the ability to accurately replicate a product like a topical or vape pen hundreds of thousands of times, on a large scale, is simply easier for the processor when using basic ingredients like distillate or isolate and not a full spectrum crude oil of some sort.  So, if you’re looking for full spectrum products, shop around and see what your best options are.  Or, if you live in a state where making your own cannabis infused products is legal, learn some basic extraction and infusion techniques that are safe and result in a clean and effective product.

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