There’s No Research on the Entourage Effect. Here’s Why it Doesn’t Matter.
July 23, 2019 at 16:52 by Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS
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My nutrition mentor, the great Robert Crayon, once said, “The entire NYC Fire Department doesn’t have a single randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study that proves that water puts out fires. But they’ve noticed that it’s effective."
I often think about that statement when I encounter people who argue that there’s no scientific proof that the entourage effect exists. Let’s examine why that statement—while perhaps technically true—is silly and meaningless.
What is the Entourage Effect?
First, some definitions: The “entourage effect” is the name given to the well-known phenomena of compounds—like nutrients or cannabinoids—acting synergistically. The synergistic effect of the phytochemicals in hemp—including, but not limited to CBD—is the entourage effect in action. And hemp is hardly the only place it occurs.
Take fructose and apples, for example. The impact of consuming fructose in an apple—where it is surrounded by its own “entourage” of water, pectin (fiber), vitamin C, quercetin (and dozens of other phytochemicals)—is quite different from the impact of drinking liquid fructose.
Similarly, the phytochemicals in hemp behave differently than those same phytochemicals when they are isolated from their “friends and supporters." It’s like doing “isolation” exercises in the gym—you sit at the leg extension machine and isolate certain fibers in the thigh, for example. But compare that to a big, structural exercise like the squat which engages all kinds of supporting, assisting, synergistic muscles, which aid in the performance of the movement.
That’s the entourage effect. It’s just another way of saying, “The whole is bigger than the sum of its parts."
What About the Research?
So why do knowledgeable people sometimes say, “There’s no research to prove the entourage effect?” After all, everybody knows it exists, and scientists routinely refer to it in journal articles (Russo, 2011, British Journal of Pharmacology).
Yet it’s technically true that there’s no actual research demonstrating that the entourage effect actually exists, and the details of how it works have not been elucidated.
But think about the NYC Fire Department I mentioned at the beginning of this blog. After all, there are approximately 100 cannabinoids, and who-knows-how-many metabolites and undiscovered compounds in hemp (and full-spectrum hemp oil). To “prove” the entourage effect exists, you’d have to test each cannabinoid alone (as a control) and then test them again in every possible combination. Then you’d have to compare the effects of every combination with the effect of each individual cannabinoid. And then you’d have to decide how to define “effect." Would the researchers be looking for an effect on anxiety? On sleep? On pain? On general well-being?
It’s pretty obvious such a research project would be as daunting as decoding the human genome. And it’s never—ever—going to be done. (It’s prohibitively complex and expensive and there’s no motivation for any company to invest the millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, needed to do such a study.)
The Absence of Proof is Not Proof of Absence
But remember, the absence of “proof” is not proof of absence. The entourage effect passes the smell test. We see it in every area of life—basketball teams are more effective than any individual player; oranges are more effective than a vitamin C capsule; and some supplements are way more effective when combined with other supplements (for example, calcium alone vs. a calcium/ magnesium/vitamin D/ vitamin K combination).
Full-Spectrum is Where It's At
Remember the show, Entourage? It was about a movie star who brought his group of homeboys with him to L.A. and wouldn’t go anywhere without them at his side. The guys in his “entourage” performed a major function: they supported the movie star in every aspect of his life and career. They made him better than he would’ve been on his own.