At the time of writing, there are well over 100 identified compounds in the cannabis plant. Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the two most abundant, and also the two best-known compounds. Each of these cannabinoids has different properties and can affect the body in very different ways.
The most obvious difference is the fact that THC provides you with a ‘high,’ whereas CBD does not. Also, although you can get CBD products made from the cannabis plant, legal issues mean that sellers tend to extract their CBD from the industrial hemp plant.
Hemp & Cannabis – What’s the Difference & What Can They Do for The Body?
Hemp and cannabis are simply two versions of the cannabis plant, with only a legal distinction separating them. While hemp has under .3% THC content, cannabis has a THC content that’s greater than that.
Both hemp and cannabis affect their powers on the human body through the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a series of receptors and a host of compounds called endocannabinoids that act on those receptors. Together, these influence an enormous amount of vital functions including pain, appetite, sleep and much more.
The cannabis plant is also filled with useful cannabinoids, terpenoids, and flavonoids that benefit the human body. THC and CBD are definitely the most abundant of these compounds and have been the subject of the greatest amount of research. But what are they, how do they work, and why are they different from each other?
CBD & THC – The Superstar Cannabinoids
Up until fairly recently, most people associated cannabis with getting high, which meant that the focus was solely on THC. In recent times, however, scientists have discovered CBD and other cannabinoids, meaning that suddenly a new door is open in terms of researching the medicinal benefits of cannabis. Both THC and CBD are cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, and both exist within the crystalline resinous trichomes that cover a mature cannabis flower. However, each strain produces very different amounts of each compound.
What is THC & How Does It Work?
THC is the first true star of the cannabis plant and is the reason why people experience a high. While there is no doubt that a high THC strain will alter your mind, the compound also has medicinal benefits that are often overlooked.
When THC penetrates your brain, it stimulates the cells and results in dopamine release. THC also activates your cannabinoid receptors, which have an impact on your brain in many ways. While some THC strains give you a burst of energy and creativity, some give you a mellow feeling as the high takes over the body. In particularly strong strains, the effects can hit you within 10 minutes. Here are some of the typical effects of THC:
- Increase in appetite
What is CBD & How Does It Work?
CBD does not cause intoxicating effects, and it is typically used for medicinal purposes since there is no ‘high’ attached. While scientists are still elucidating exactly how CBD works in the body, research shows that there is a definite interaction with the ECS. In the ECS, CB1 and CB2 are the two main cannabinoid receptors. CB1 receptors are found mainly in the brain and play a significant role in memory, sleep, mood, appetite, pain sensation, and more.
CB2 receptors, on the other hand, are typically found in the immune system and are responsible for the anti-inflammatory effects of CBD. While THC directly affects both receptors, CBD acts indirectly on them and boosts the level of endocannabinoids in your body. In addition, CBD also prevents the natural breakdown of endocannabinoids. Here are some of CBD’s most common effects:
THC – Why the High?
When it comes to the euphoric effects of cannabis, we must focus on the CB1 receptors concentrated in the nervous system and brain. THC binds well with CB1, while CBD does not. In simple terms, the THC molecule is ideally shaped to make the connection – kind of like a plug in a socket. Once this connection occurs, THC stimulates the CB1 receptors.
Additionally, the compound also partially mimics the ‘bliss molecule’ called anandamide, which is a naturally occurring endocannabinoid. THC’s resemblance to anandamide means that whenever it activates CB1 receptors, it helps to produce the blissful feelings often associated with cannabis.
CBD, on the other hand, is an antagonist of CB1 receptors which means it is not a good fit. In fact, it suppresses the CB1-activating qualities of THC. In basic terms, it means that CBD reduces the psychoactive effects of THC. For example, if you have a cannabis strain with 22% THC, it may lead to a feeling of intoxication. However, if it also has 8% CBD, the psychoactive effects are reduced, and feelings of paranoia should also be minimized.
CBD vs. THC: Chemical structure
Both CBD and THC have the exact same molecular structure: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. A slight difference in how the atoms are arranged accounts for the differing effects on your body.
Both CBD and THC are chemically similar to your body’s endocannabinoids. This allows them to interact with your cannabinoid receptors.
The interaction affects the release of neurotransmitters in your brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals responsible for relaying messages between cells and have roles in pain, immune function, stress, and sleep, to name a few.
CBD vs. THC: Psychoactive components
Despite their similar chemical structures, CBD and THC don’t have the same psychoactive effects. CBD is psychoactive, just not in the same manner as THC. It doesn’t produce the high associated with THC. CBD is shown to help with anxiety, depression, and seizures.
THC binds with the cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors in the brain. It produces a high or sense of euphoria.
CBD binds very weakly, if at all, to CB1 receptors. CBD needs THC to bind to the CB1 receptor and, in turn, can help reduce some of the unwanted psychoactive effects of THC, such as euphoria or sedation.
CBD vs. THC: Legality
In the United States, cannabis-related laws are evolving regularly. Technically, CBD is still considered a Schedule I drug under federal law.
Hemp has been removed from the Controlled Substances Act, but the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still classify CBD as a Schedule I drug.
However, 33 states plus Washington, D.C., have passed cannabis-related laws, making medical cannabis with high levels of THC legal. The cannabis may need to be prescribed by a licensed physician.
In addition, several states have made recreational use of cannabis and THC legal.
In states where cannabis is legal for recreational or medical purposes, you should be able to buy CBD.
Before you try to buy products with CBD or THC, it’s important to research your state’s laws.
If you possess cannabis-related products in a state where they’re illegal or don’t have a medical prescription in states where the products are legal for medical treatment, you could face legal penalties.
CBD vs. THC: Medical benefits
CBD and THC have many of the same medical benefits. They can provide relief from several of the same conditions. However, CBD doesn’t cause the euphoric effects that occur with THC. Some people may prefer to use CBD because of the lack of this side effect.
In June 2018, the FDA approvedTrusted Source Epidiolex, the first prescription medication to contain CBD. It’s used to treat rare, difficult-to-control forms of epilepsy. (Epidiolex is not currently approved for any of the other conditions listed below.)
CBD is used to help with other various conditions, such as:
- psychosis or mental disorders
- inflammatory bowel disease
THC is used to help with the following:
- muscle spasticity
- low appetite
CBD vs. THC: Side effects
CBD is well tolerated, even in large doses. ResearchTrusted Source suggests any side effects that occur with CBD use are likely the result of drug-to-drug interactions between CBD and other medications you may be taking.
THC causes temporary side effects, such as:
- increased heart rate
- coordination problems
- dry mouth
- red eyes
- slower reaction times
- memory loss
CBD’s side effects may include:
- appetite changes
- weight loss
These side effects are part of the compound’s psychoactive properties.
Neither compound is fatal.
However, high THC use may be connected to long-term negative psychiatric effects. This is especially true for adolescents who consume large amounts of THC, though there’s no conclusive evidence that using cannabis causes psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia.
CBD vs. THC: Drug testing
Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are stored in the body’s fat. They can show up on drug tests for several days or weeks after you use them.
Not every drug test will be able to detect CBD, but CBD-sensitive tests are available. Most standard drug tests will look for chemicals related to THC, so THC or marijuana use might show up on a screening.
Likewise, hemp can produce some THC in addition to CBD, so a test could be positive for THC even if you haven’t used it.
It’s important to note that products that claim to be THC-free may not be free of THC, so if you’re drug tested, you shouldn’t use any CBD or THC products.
Why do people talk about THC content in CBD oil if THC and CBD are two different compounds?
CBD and THC are two of the most prominent cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Both cannabis and hemp produce CBD and THC.
However, cannabis has a higher concentration of THC. Hemp has a higher concentration of CBD.
The average cannabis strain today contains about 12 percentTrusted Source THC. CBD oil may contain small amounts of THC because it’s present at low levels in the hemp plant. CBD can have no more than 0.3 percent THC to be legal at the federal level.
CBD & THC – Better Together?
Recent research has found that when a cannabis plant’s cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenoids are combined, they work far better for medicinal purposes than any individual compound. The phenomenon is known as the entourage effect, and together, cannabis’ compounds can create positive effects that are impossible for any compound to do alone.
A perfect example is the use of cannabis to treat chronic pain. While THC alone does a fantastic job alleviating the pain, CBD can reduce symptoms of anxiety that may come with having chronic conditions. CBD for sleep is also becoming quite popular. A combination of THC, CBD, and terpenes have proven particularly effective against depression, arthritis, anxiety disorders, and migraines.
In 2014, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize weed for recreational use. In Canada, Bill C-45 was passed. This law allows for the possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis. It also legalizes the sale of cannabis for adult recreational use from sanctioned retailers. In the United States, cannabis is federally illegal. However, it is legal for recreational use in some states.
Any CBD product that comes from the cannabis plant is subject to the same Schedule I drug classification. However, it is legal throughout the US if extracted from the hemp plant, which must have a THC level of below 0.3%.
Final Thoughts on CBD Vs. THC
Due to the passage of the Farm Bill, CBD has become quite prolific. Individuals can now purchase a variety of CBD infused products, including oils and capsules. Initial studies indicate that CBD may aid in mitigating many conditions. In fact, CBD may be helpful in finding relief from some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Future studies may reveal more regarding CBD and its possible applications.
Although CBD may be effective in decreasing any number of symptoms, THC may also be beneficial. For example, one study suggests that THC is responsible for greater symptom relief and mitigation.
The study also indicated that higher levels of THC offered greater effects, while there appeared to be no association between the amount of CBD and symptom relief. However, despite THC’s probable advantages, it causes a discernible change in perception. Its psychoactive profile may be a disadvantage for many users.
However, CBD and THC together may prove effective in supporting relief for a variety of conditions, including multiple sclerosis. Researchers believe that the efficacy of whole-plant cannabis may be explained by CBD’s ability to counter the psychoactive effects of THC.
CBD and THC both have medical benefits. They’re also both considered safe, but consider the possibility of side effects and interactions with other drugs you’re taking. Talk with your doctor or a qualified cannabis or CBD clinician before use and if you have any questions.
As the number of studies about CBD and THC increase, a greater understanding of how each compound can benefit individuals can be more thoroughly discussed and analyzed.