A new study shows that the effects of whole-plant cannabis products produce stronger psychoactive effects that last longer than products that are nearly pure THC. The research gives additional evidence for the so-called entourage effect, a hypothesis that cannabis compounds other than THC work synergistically to modulate the overall effects of the plant.
Long an element of cannabis lore, the entourage effect holds that cannabis provides the most benefits when used as a whole-plant extract, incorporating all its cannabinoids, terpenes and other active phytochemicals found in the plant. The research calls into question the popular practice of many consumers who rely on the percentage of THC as the primary factor in choosing which cannabis products to buy. The study was conducted by the independent cannabis research company Zentrela with support from the leading cannabis brand PAX.
“Consumers looking for psychoactive effects typically shop for cannabis products based on THC, which is a bit of a fallacy,” Brian Witlin, vice president of product development at PAX, said in a statement from the companies. “In the spirit of continuing to advance cannabis research and understanding of the plant—which has been far too limited for much too long—we wanted to demonstrate through scientific study how full-spectrum products with the full range of terpenes and cannabinoids have a more profound impact on the onset and ultimate cannabis experience. We hope this type of insight helps consumers understand that shopping for products based on THC percentage alone isn’t the leading indicator of expected experience.”
Full-Spectrum vs. Distillate
The study compared the effects of two different inhalable cannabis products with similar THC potencies. The first was a PAX Live Rosin with Natural Diamonds produced from the cannabis cultivar Blue Dream with 85% THC plus additional natural cannabinoids and terpenes, while the second was a cannabis oil distillate with 82-85% THC, PAX High Purity THC in Berry Gelato. Both products were delivered through PAX Era pods. The study also utilized Zentrela’s novel artificial intelligence-supported electroencephalogram (EEG) technology headset, which quantifies a user’s psychoactive experience from using cannabis.
To conduct the study, the researchers first took a baseline reading of the 28 study participants before they used cannabis. The participants then each took two hits (eight milligrams) of either the full spectrum concentrate or the cannabis distillate product from a PAX vaporizer and the EEG device was used to monitor brainwave activity in eight regions of the brain (right and left sides of the frontal, temporal, parietal and occipital lobes) over a period of 90 minutes. An AI-supported analysis of data was then used “to convert EEG Tests into psychoactive effect levels (PEL) in a standardized scale from 0% to 100%,” according to a report on the research from Zentrela. Further analysis provided aggregate data for each group of participants (those who used the full spectrum product and those who had used the cannabis distillate).
The research showed that the effects of the full-spectrum live rosin used by the first study group started within about three minutes, with higher potency readings at the onset (20.8%), at the peak after 15 minutes (40%) and after 90 minutes (30.2%). By comparison, the cannabis distillate used by the second study group had an onset of about four minutes with a potency of 13.5%, a peak potency of 19.1% and a potency of 18.1% after 90 minutes.
“The first group exhibited a considerably faster and more potent psychoactive response compared to the latter group,” the researchers wrote.
Key findings from the study suggest that whole-plant, full-spectrum cannabis products produce a statistically significantly faster onset of effects and more than double the psychoactive experience than cannabis distillate products with comparable Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels. Researchers attribute the difference to the entourage effect caused by the presence of additional compounds found in whole-plant extractions, including phytocannabinoids and terpenes.
“It is possible that the intricate interplay of these compounds contributes to the heightened psychoactive effect witnessed with Live Rosin PAX Era pods and suggests that THC alone is not the sole contributor to potency,” the researchers wrote in their conclusion.
The study, which has not yet been published or peer-reviewed, supports the entourage effect hypothesis and gives the researchers a deeper understanding of consumer experiences while using cannabis. The research is consistent with a 2018 study that found that epilepsy patients experienced fewer seizures and side effects when they used whole-plant CBD extracts compared to purified CBD products. The authors of the new study called for further research, including future brainwave studies to validate and consolidate the findings. Future studies envisioned by the researchers also “will strive to quantify the onset time and potency characteristics of Diamond Pods, enhancing comprehension of the nuanced distinctions among PAX’s primary cartridge offerings,” according to the study’s authors.