Whole-plant vs Isolates and the entourage effect. What’s the difference?

small cannabis plant

When using medical cannabis, patients can choose between utilising “whole plant” or single isolate products. Whole plant products contain all of the cannabinoids and terpenes from the cannabis plant, which are believed to work synergistically together for greater therapeutic effect. Single isolate products contain one particular cannabinoid or terpene, allowing users to target specific effects more precisely. It is important to note that while isolates may be effective for certain conditions, whole plant products are generally considered preferable due to their purported higher efficacy and wider range of benefits. 

Full Spectrum (or “whole-plant”)

Full spectrum medical cannabis refers to a form of cannabis that contains all of the naturally-occurring compounds found in the plant, such as cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other plant materials. This type of medical cannabis is known for providing users with a variety of possible health benefits due to its wide range of compounds that interact with each other synergistically. This also means that full spectrum medical cannabis may be more effective than isolated compounds like cannabidiol (CBD) or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) alone. 


On the other hand, an oil isolate is a concentrated form of individual compounds extracted from cannabis plants using solvents like ethanol or CO2. Oils can be high in one specific compound such as CBD or THC, allowing users to benefit from their desired effects without feeling any other side effects associated with these compounds. However, oil isolates do not have the same synergy as full spectrum medical cannabis does since they contain only one single compound instead of a combination of various compounds found in whole plant form. 

The advantages and disadvantages associated with both full spectrum medical cannabis and isolates depend on what type of effect an individual is looking for when using it. Some people prefer full spectrum medical cannabis due to the possibility that their desired effect can be achieved while avoiding any unwanted side effects from isolated compounds found in oil extracts. Others may find that isolating a single cannabinoid through an isolate provides them with enough relief while avoiding having too many psychoactive effects (from THC). Ultimately, it’s up to individuals to decide which form works best for them depending on their needs and preferences.

Entourage Effect

The entourage effect is a term often used to refer to the synergistic impact of various compounds found in cannabis, including terpenes and cannabinoids such as CBD.

The Entourage Effect horizontal infographic illustration

These compounds interact with one another to produce a unique effect that cannot be achieved from any single compound alone. For many medical conditions, the entourage effect has been found to be particularly beneficial. Studies suggest that it can help reduce chronic inflammation, anxiety, depression, insomnia and pain relief. 

The entourage effect works by combining multiple compounds in order to increase the potency of the effects of each individual compound. By adding more terpenes or cannabinoids to the mix, researchers are able to further enhance the medicinal benefits of medical cannabis. For example, combining CBD with terpenes can create an effect known as “the entourage effect” which is believed to be more effective at treating certain conditions than either cannabinoid or terpene alone. 

One possible explanation for the entourage effect is that different compounds interact with each other in different ways due to their unique chemical structures. For example, some cannabinoids bind with receptor sites on cells while others are capable of blocking enzymes or stimulating other cellular responses. Similarly, terpenes have been found to affect receptors differently depending on their particular structure as well as how they interact with other components in cannabis. 

Given all this evidence pointing towards possible positive benefits from taking medical cannabis extract, it’s no surprise that this form of treatment is becoming more widely accepted by mainstream healthcare practitioners today. With further research into both therapeutic effects and possible side-effects still ongoing however, it’s important to always consult your doctor before introducing any new treatments into your healthcare regimen – including medical cannabis if you’re considering it as an option.


  1. Russo EB. Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. Br J Pharmacol. 2011 Aug;163(7):1344-64. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.x. PMID: 21749363; PMCID: PMC3165946. 
  1. Anand U, Pacchetti B, Anand P, Sodergren MH. Cannabis-based medicines and pain: a review of potential synergistic and entourage effects. Pain Manag. 2021 Apr;11(4):395-403. doi: 10.2217/pmt-2020-0110. Epub 2021 Mar 11. PMID: 33703917.

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