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CBD vs. THC: What's the Difference?

CBD vs. THC: What’s the difference?

Are you a lover of cannabis and the various benefits that come with it? We are too! But it is so easy to become confused with this topic.

THC, CBD, CBN, ABC... What do all of these acronyms mean and why are they so confusing?

We feel your pain. While we won't go specifically into every acronym related to medical marijuana in this article, we will focus on CBD and THC and how they interact with our bodies. So what's the difference?

The main difference between CBD and THC is that Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is responsible for the euphoric “high” feeling associated with marijuana, while Cannabidiol (CBD) does not have psychoactive effects.

Before conducting this research myself, I also struggled to differentiate the two, but there is a straightforward difference that stands out, and we will discuss the other differences after.

Whether you are a cannabis veteran or new to the discussion, a common topic that comes up is discerning the differences between CBD and THC. They are both available on the market, and both seem to have health benefits, but how can we tell THC and CBD apart?


Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System

It is not possible to talk about CBD or THC without discussing the endocannabinoid system. We'll cover it briefly here.

This system is one that is not popularly taught on for the majority population. The endocannabinoid system (ECS), attached to your nervous system, simply regulates bodily functions.

It consists of lipid-based endogenous neurotransmitters (having an internal cause or origin), which bind to specific receptors in your brain.

When cannabinoids from medical marijuana enter your brain, cannabidiol binds to one type of receptor, while the THC molecule will interact with another.

To put it simply, these receptors may block or allow chemicals to travel between neurons. THC likes to inhibit certain receptors from firing, while CBD promotes the lifespan of a happy chemical called "anandamide." 

This naturally occurring, but quickly dissolved chemical is responsible for keeping you feeling calm.

Apply cannabidiol to the mix, and this "joy" chemical (anandamide) lasts longer than normal.

Endocannabinoid receptors are located all over the body and respond to directions from the ECS.

Apply THC, CBD or another cannabinoid, and you'll experience different results. 


CBD vs. THC: How each Affects the Body

CBD or THC each affect the body in different ways, specifically tied to the endocannabinoid system where each chemical binds to different receptors in your body.

Cannabidiol is the most prevalent cannabinoid within hemp. Hemp is considered a relative of marijuana; only it does not contain large amounts of THC like medical marijuana does. 

The human body is known to produce two cannabinoid receptors, the cb1 receptor, and the cb2 receptor. Both CBD and THC interact with these receptors but do so in different ways.

Like a lock and key, cannabinoids fit within our ECS receptors. THC fits perfectly within CB1 receptors, while CBD fits nearly perfectly. Other cannabinoids contained in hemp and marijuana, such as cannabinol (CBN) fit perfectly with CB2 receptors.

The Endocannabinoid System Diagram

There is still much research to be conducted about our endocannabinoid system and how cannabinoids interact with it.

CBD oil produces acidic metabolites after being metabolized through the hydroxylation process. To put it lightly, cannabidiol does not change the biochemical environment within your body as it is absorbed, but works as an allosteric modulator which actually counteracts THC’s psychoactive properties.

THC-heavy medical marijuana, on the other hand, alters the normal functioning of the body, resulting in its evident psychoactive properties. 

Both compounds share therapeutic effects including pain relief, and both deserve a place in western medicine.


Chemical Structure

CBD and THC both have a similar molecular structure, which includes 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms (C21H30O2). 

CBD vs. THC molecular structure

The difference, however, is in how their molecular arrangement affects the body. This structural difference is the presence of a cyclic ring in THC, versus the presence of a hydroxyl group in the CBD compound.


Psychoactive Components

As much as CBD and THC are alike, they differ when it comes to their effects. CBD is non-psychoactive and does not create any euphoric feelings while THC does. CBD has anti-psychoactive properties that actively hinders these properties in users. 

THC, on the other hand, is responsible for that high feeling after consumption. THC binds with specific cannabinoid receptors, which result in this feeling. 


Federal Law

Over time, medical marijuana laws are becoming more favorable toward legalization. As a result, more scientists can perform research without breaking the law.

In the past, the U.S. government lumped marijuana and hemp into the same box, preventing researchers from studying the non-psychoactive effects of CBD.

But now, with more relaxed legislation, science can openly test the effects of these cannabinoids to discover their therapeutic potential.

As of right now, hemp-derived CBD is legal for sale in all 50 states thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, and most states have a hemp pilot program. To see the specific laws within your state, check out our legal map here.

Federal Law allows cannabis containing less than 0.3% THC — allowing for it to be cultivated and transported across state borders legally regardless of state programs.


Medical Benefits

CBD and THC both have plenty of medical benefits if you take them within specific parameters. The best benefit for both is pain relief. Some of the other positive effects that result from using cannabis include:

Medical Uses for THC

  • Analgesic
  • Anti-nauseant
  • Appetite stimulant
  • Reduces glaucoma symptoms
  • Regulates mood
  • Sleep aid
  • Muscular spasticity
  • Anti-anxiety

Medical Uses for CBD 

Medical Uses for THC

Analgesic

Analgesic

Anti-cancer

Anti-nauseant

Anti-psychotic

Appetite stimulant

Inflammatory bowel disease

Reduces glaucoma symptoms

Anti-anxiety

Regulates mood

Anti-depression

Sleep aid

Anti-inflammatory 

Muscular spasticity

Anti-seizure

Anti-anxiety

Medical Uses for THC

Analgesic

Anti-nauseant

Appetite stimulant

Reduces glaucoma symptoms

Regulates mood

Sleep aid

Muscular spasticity

Anti-anxiety

Medical Uses for CBD

  • Analgesic
  • Anti-cancer
  • Anti-psychotic
  • Inflammatory bowel Disease
  • Anti-anxiety
  • Anti-depression
  • Anti-seizure

Medical Uses for CBD 

Analgesic

Anti-cancer

Anti-psychotic

Inflammatory bowel disease

Anti-anxiety

Anti-depression

Anti-inflammatory 

Anti-seizure


CBD Vs. THC: Side Effects

CBD and THC, as with most substances, produce effects. There are noticeable effects and side effects with cannabis use. Let's break them down by compound.

Side Effects of CBD 

Side Effects of THC

Dry mouth

Dryness of the eyes and mouth

Grogginess

An unusual feeling of euphoria

Headache

Dizziness

Diarrhea

Momentary loss of memory

Changes in Mood

Uncoordinated movements

Changes in Appetite

Drowsiness

Side Effects of THC

  • Dryness of the eyes and mouth
  • An unusual feeling of euphoria
  • Dizziness
  • Momentary loss of memory
  • Uncoordinated movements
  • Drowsiness

Side Effects of THC

Dryness of the eyes and mouth

An unusual feeling of euphoria

Dizziness

Momentary loss of memory

Uncoordinated movements

Drowsiness

Side Effects of CBD

  • Dry mouth
  • Grogginess
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Changes in Mood
  • Changes in Appetite

Side Effects of CBD 

Dry mouth

Grogginess

Headache

Diarrhea

Changes in Mood

Changes in Appetite



Drug Testing

Today's drug tests specifically look for traces of chemicals found on the schedule 1 list of narcotics. Since CBD is not scheduled, it will not trigger a failure on a typical drug test since the test does not explicitly look for it.

THC, however, is still considered federally illegal, and drug tests will be able to pick up trace amounts in your system.

Both compounds are stored in body fat and can last in your body for a long time while those fats are present. Since some CBD products may also contain trace amounts of THC, it is possible to test positive for THC if you use full-spectrum CBD products.

Why do people talk about THC and CBD products as if they are the same, if CBD and THC are different?

There has been a general increase in the awareness of cannabis benefits in recent years, and like all of us who are not aware to new information, it is easy to subscribe to a generalized social belief. The news media likes to lump these together, even though they are different.

The reason people talk about THC content in CBD products is that there are trace amounts of THC in full-spectrum CBD products and whole hemp flowers. Since THC is so heavily regulated, CBD users want to make sure they are not breaking any laws by using a CBD product.

It should not come as a surprise that more and more consumers are turning to hemp extracts for their holistic properties.

The standard for legal hemp-derived THC in CBD products made in the U.S. is no more than 0.3% percent. 


FINAL THOUGHTS

While CBD and THC have some similarities, I hope we have separated them enough that you feel more well informed about how they are different. Both have therapeutic relevance, they are both safe, and both deserve to be studied and enjoyed by humanity.

If you'd like to learn more about CBD and its benefits, be sure to check out the resources on our website and subscribe to our social medias! We hope to equip you with the knowledge you need to make better-informed decisions for your health and well-being.

About the Author Jessica Jones

Jesse has spent most of her adult life struggling with anxiety. After studying neuroscience at University, she has since dedicated her life into researching the effects of CBD on the human body. The content on this website reflects her research.

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