When can 2 + 2 = 5 become?
If you are going to compare a pure synthetic form of a drug with the same substance in its natural form, especially plants.
Much of alternative medicine is based on using the whole plant for medicinal purposes rather than isolating the active ingredient and producing it in a lab. Called “whole-plant medicine,” herbalists excel at matching holistic, plant-based treatments for a variety of conditions. In a world awash with Western medicine, pills, and quick fixes, this approach may seem old-fashioned, but mounting evidence shows that the medicinal compounds can be more effective in plant form than in pill form.
The entourage effect
When hundreds of natural substances in a plant interact with each other and with the human body to produce a stronger influence than when one of these substances is used separately, this phenomenon is called the “entourage effect”. It is a synergistic effect. When we combine multiple compounds in their natural state, we not only get the sum of the parts, but we get a multiplier effect. The different compositions can enhance each other’s effect, making the whole plant more effective for treating unwanted medical symptoms.
So in herbal medicine, 2 + 2 does not equal 4, but 5 or more.
The entourage effect becomes particularly apparent when comparing the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound of the cannabis plant (cannabis), with the effects of using the whole plant. When pure synthetic THC became available as the drug Marinol in the mid-1980s, scientists expected it to work just as well as using the entire cannabis plant. However, they quickly learned that patients prefer to use the whole plant instead of the chemical Marinol.
Cannabis is more than just THC
It turns out that cannabis contains many more active substances than just THC. A number of cannabinoids have been found to work in tandem with THC to produce the overall symptom relief effect. In particular, Cannabidiol (CBD) modulates the effect of THC on the human body. Experiments have shown that users get “stoned” from a cannabis plant that contains more THC than CBD.
Hemp, on the other hand, contains more CBD than THC and somewhat relieves symptoms without the psychoactive effect of cannabis. In addition, specially bred cannabis containing approximately equal amounts of THC and CBD provides the most effective treatment for symptoms and pain. This indicates that the THC/CBD ratio plays an important role in determining the efficacy of the cannabis plant for therapeutic applications.
Why don’t we use the whole plant more often when using the whole plant, or plant extract, is much more effective than using lab-produced synthetic drugs?
There are still many hurdles to overcome in order for “whole plant medicine” to be widely used.
- Quality control is poor, resulting in potentially contaminated, counterfeit, less effective, or even unsafe herbal products. The Medicines Evaluation Board (MEB) does not monitor herbal medicines as closely as they do with medical products.
- Because the environment and weather directly affect the annual yield of plants, the potency of botanical extracts is inconsistent.
- Due to insufficient insight and knowledge of all substances that contribute to the therapeutic effect, botanical products are not standardized.
In the coming years, research should provide more clarity about “whole plant medicine” so that we can safely harness the full medicinal power of the plants in the future.