The Whole Plant Cannabis Advantage

7 reasons why whole plant extracts are better than CBD or THC alone

The dominant stance of the medical research community and pharmaceutical industry has been that whole plant extracts are “crude” and less effective than isolated and purified cannabinoids. However, a growing body of research is proving just the opposite.

1. The Proven Effectiveness of Whole Plant CBD over Synthetic CBD
A 2015 study by Israeli researchers showed that whole plant CBD-rich cannabis “is superior over [synthetic] CBD for the treatment of inflammatory conditions.”A review of past research into the anti-inflammatory effects of CBD (one of the two most active cannabinoids or special compounds in cannabis) revealed that administration of pure CBD in these pre-clinical studies resulted in a bell-shaped dose-response curve, meaning that CBD stopped having any therapeutic effect beyond a certain amount. The researchers wondered whether a whole plant CBD-rich extract would respond any differently. They discovered that unlike the bell-shaped dose-response curve of pure CBD, the anti-inflammatory, anti-pain response of whole plant CBD increased with dose, making whole plant CBD ideal for clinical use.

2. The Entourage Effect
To explain why whole plant CBD was more effective than pure CBD, the Israeli scientists surmise, “It is likely that other components in the extract synergize with CBD to achieve the desired anti-inflammatory action that may contribute to overcoming the bell-shaped dose-response of purified CBD. ”By “other components,” they refer to the approximately 420 additional compounds, including other cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, amino acids, proteins, enzymes, fatty acids, sugars, and so forth.As we discuss in our introductory article about terpenes, these compounds not only give the cannabis plant its scent and flavor, but research has shown that terpenes significantly enhance the therapeutic potential of THC (the most active cannabinoid) while minimizing its psychoactivity.Scientists call this phenomenon in which all the constituents of the cannabis plant work together, “the entourage effect.”

Unlike the bell-shaped dose-response curve of pure CBD, the anti-inflammatory, anti-pain response of whole plant CBD increased with dose, making whole plant CBD ideal for clinical use.

3. Synergy of THC and CBD
Similarly, other research has shown CBD to also greatly enhance the medical benefits of THC while reducing its unwanted effects. CBD and THC act on different pathways in the body, complementing and synergizing their mutual analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and other medically beneficial effects.As we covered in Part 2 of our Cannabis and Cancer series, a 2014 study from the UK uncovered “dramatic reductions” in a deadly form of brain cancer when THC and CBD were used in conjunction with radiation treatment on mice. Similar to the Israeli study that found a small dose of whole plant CBD was as effective as a large dose of pure CBD, the UK researchers found that a small dose of THC with CBD was as effective as a large dose of either individual cannabinoid in killing cancer cells.

4-7.  The Four Mechanisms of Whole Plant Extract Synergy
In a 2009 review of synergy research in plant medicine, investigators found a rationale for the apparent “pharmacological and therapeutic superiority of many [herbal drug combinations in traditional medicine] in comparison to isolated single constituents.” They define four basic mechanisms of whole plant extract synergy that can be applied to cannabis.  As reports, these are:

  • Ability to affect multiple targets within the body
  • Ability to improve the absorption of active ingredients
  • Ability to overcome bacterial defense mechanisms
  • Ability to minimize adverse side effects

THC & CBD affect different targets within the body while CBD minimizes THC’s psychoactive effects. Terpenes such as caryophyllene help the body with absorbing cannabinoids and several studies demonstrate the anti-bacterial properties of cannabinoids and non-cannabinoid constituents.