Entourage effect is star of the high, not THC percentage

Published on October 6, 2023 by David Wylie

A colourful vape cloud represents the entourage effect Photo: Contributed
The entourage effect comes from full-spectrum cannabis products, such as vapes or oils, that maintain an array of compounds that are naturally occurring in the cannabis plant.

The “entourage effect”—not THC potency—is responsible for the psychoactive experience of cannabis, says a new study.

Well-known vape company PAX partnered with Canadian neurotechnology company Zentrela to leverage brainwave research. They found full spectrum beats distillate in onset and effect.

“Consumers looking for psychoactive effects typically shop for cannabis products based on THC, which is a bit of a fallacy,” says PAX VP of Product Development Brian Witlin.

“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.”

Full-spectrum refers to cannabis products, such as vapes or oils, that maintain an array of compounds that are naturally occurring in the cannabis plant, such as cannabinoids, terpenes, and other elements, that keep it closer to the dried flower experience.

Distillate, on the other hand, goes through much more refinement to hone in on the cannabinoid and flavour concoction.

“We hope this type of insight helps consumers understand that shopping for products based on THC percentage alone is not the leading indicator of expected experience,” he says.

People wearing equipment used in Zentrela EEG test for the entourage effect Photo: Contributed
Zentrela used its EEG equipment to measure brainwaves in 28 people who took a couple hits off different PAX vapes.

Brainwave analysis used to gauge entourage effect

Zentrela used an EEG-based analysis was used for quantifying the psychoactive effects. Key findings suggested that whole-plant, full-spectrum products can produce a statistically significant faster onset and more than double the psychoactive experience than distillate products with comparable THC potencies.

“The cannabis industry suffers from a lack of objective, scientific product effect information,” says an introduction to the study.

That’s because of a combination of factors, including a difficult regulatory environment, the lack of objective scientific research tools for characterizing cannabis effects and a cost-time effective framework for conducting human trials, it says.

The study compared two distinct, inhalable cannabis products made by PAX that have similar THC potencies:

  • Live Rosin with Natural Diamonds in Blue Dream—a full spectrum live rosin-based product which preserves natural cannabinoids and terpenes
  • High Purity THC in Berry Gelato—a distillate-based product

About 30 people consumed cannabis vapour from a PAX Era Pro device while Zentrela’s non-invasive portable EEG device recorded data from eight brain regions, both before and after product consumption. Half hit the Blue Dream and the other half the Berry Gelato.

They used Cognalyzer, an AI-based EEG analysis that uses machine learning on large EEG datasets to detect specific brainwave changes. The tech converted EEG data into psychoactive effect levels on a standardized scale.

A graph showing Zentrela's test results Photo: Contributed
Results from the Cognalyzer AI-based EEG analysis.

Entourage effect credited with potent, fast-acting high

“In conclusion, the objective brainwave analysis conducted in this study reveals noteworthy distinctions in the psychoactive experience between the study groups that inhaled the Live Rosin PAX Era pod and the High Purity THC PAX Era pod,” says the study’s conclusion.

“The first group exhibited a considerably faster and more potent psychoactive response compared to the latter group. A key contributor to these disparate outcomes may be attributed to the different compounds present in the Live Rosin versus the High Purity THC PAX Era pods. Notably, the Live Rosin extraction method preserves not only THC but an array of other terpene compounds inherent to cannabis flowers. 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. Evidenced by the more mellow THC psychoactive experience associated with Berry Gelato High Purity THC PAX Era pod, in contrast to the Blue Dream Live Rosin PAX Era pod, more than 2 consecutive hits may significantly amplify the potency and accelerate the onset time of the THC psychoactive response.”

Future brainwave studies are envisioned to validate and consolidate these findings.