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Single-Compound Drugs VS. Whole Plant Extracts

The more the merrier?

Western medicine has done such wonderful things as curing conditions that were once fatal, and doubling the average life expectancy of developed nations in the span of three generations.  Much of this success is due to a reliably consistent method of trial and error until doubt is erased that a compound does  exactly what researchers believe it should do.  Most of the time, whenever you take a medication, there is only one active ingredient.  This is to exert one specific action on the system.  However, the therapeutic use of cannabis and subsequent research has thrown a wrench into the theory that single-compound drugs are always the most effective.  In fact, in almost all studies, whole plant extracts produced much greater effects than single-compound medicines for the same conditions.

For example, many drugs have one advertised purpose, but they also have a list with innumerable side-effects that might also occur. The body is unimaginably complex.  Over 3 billion chemical reactions occur every single second inside each one of us. Undoubtedly, if a compound affects one part of the body, it’s bound to affect another part as well. This is what separates cannabis from any other category of medicine.  All 113 phytocannabinoids are synthesized in one or two steps from the same originating compound – cannabigerol.  They are all different molecules, but they are all incredible similar to one another.  In this way, researchers suggest that the various phytocannabinoids working together have a more thorough effect in modulating their respective pathways than any single cannabinoid would have by itself.

Synergy and the entourage effect

A team of researchers in Israel conducted reputable research to determine if the phenomenon that cannabinoids might actually work together to increases their potencies was realistic or even possible.  Their findings show that CBD by itself exhibits a bell-shaped dose response, meaning that there was only a meaningful effect when CBD was present in a very specific dosage window. On the contrary, when CBD was administered as part of a package of phytocannabinoid-rich oil, not only did the maximum effect increase, but after peaking it reached a plateau rather than dropping off as the single-compound CBD did.  This has been repeated and necessitates further research into the potential for widespread use of phytocannabinoids in the treatment of many different conditions, and in the prevention of many, many more.

Just as the purpose of the endocannabinoid system is to mediate homeostasis, the various phytocannabinoids all exhibiting slightly different effects serves to bring equilibrium to the overall system by mediating many processes at once and not overloading any one part of the whole system at a given time.  With more research and a growing body of anecdotal support, the use of whole-plant cannabis extract is sure to gain more traction and continue to disrupt the status quo of big pharma.