What is the Difference Between CBD and THC?
As the legality of cannabis continues to grow, CBD and THC products are becoming trendier and more sought after. This popularity has sparked curiosity in consumers as to how this medicinal plant may be able to benefit them, and which products they should use.
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) are the two primary therapeutic compounds found in the cannabis plant. Even though they are both cannabinoids, they have vastly different effects on our cognition and physiology.
THC is responsible for the “high” associated with marijuana, and it’s popular for recreational use as well as for its abilities to relieve stress and pain.
CBD hemp oil, on the other hand, doesn’t lend any mind-altering effects. It’s becoming one of the most popular supplements in the United States for relief from a wide spectrum of ailments, including pain, seizures, and anxiety.
THC and CBD have some similar benefits, and some unique ones. The differences between CBD and THC have to do not only with who they might benefit the most, but also their legality and availability. In this article, we will help you understand what these compounds are, how they differ from one another, and which of the two may serve you best.
What Exactly are THC and CBD?
Cannabis sativa has played an important role for many thousands of years in traditional medicinal practices around the world. Now, largely thanks to its expanding legal status, we are beginning to understand more about the compounds within, how they work, and how they may benefit human health.
CBD and THC are the two primary compounds in the cannabis plant responsible for its therapeutic benefits. They are the two most abundant cannabinoids found in cannabis, although there are over 100 other phytocannabinoids that may impact our health found in this plant.
Cannabis sativa plants can be broken into two categories: marijuana plants and hemp plants. Marijuana plants are those that have been bred to have high concentrations of THC, while hemp plants are lower in THC. Certain hemp plants are now being bred to have higher levels of CBD and other cannabinoids, and these hemp plants are those ideal for the creation of CBD hemp oil.
CBD products are now available throughout the United States, with some of the more common including:
- CBD hemp oil
- CBD capsules
- CBD gummies
- CBD vape pens
- Topical CBD (salves, lotions, creams, etc.)
- CBD edibles
Similar THC products (alongside the more traditional smokable flower) are also being sold legally in the United States, but only in certain states that have passed bills legalizing medical or recreational marijuana use.
Both CBD and THC products are commonly used to help with ailments like anxiety, depression, stress, pain, insomnia, epilepsy, and more. Yet, it’s the differences between the two that dictate which of these compounds is right for each individual.
CBD vs THC: What’s the Difference?
CBD and THC are shockingly similar molecularly, with each made up of 30 hydrogen atoms, 21 carbon atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. With an identical molecular formula, it’s a difference in the atomic structure that makes these two compounds distinct from one another.
Thanks to CBD’s hydroxyl group and THC’s cyclic ring, they produce different effects within the human body. Many of these effects are thanks to how these compounds interact with something called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
In every vertebrate there is an ECS that’s made up of endogenous cannabinoids (those that are created within the body), their receptors, and the enzymes responsible for cannabinoid degradation.
In humans, the ECS has two primary receptors: CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are mainly concentrated in the central nervous system, with many CB1 receptors found in the brain. It is through interacting with CB1 receptors that marijuana creates its psychoactive effect.
THC exerts many of its effects through binding to CB1 receptors. CBD, on the other hand, does not have a high binding affinity to either CB1 or CB2 receptors, but works through a variety of other mechanisms both within the ECS and outside of the ECS.
It is through these differences in how THC and CBD interact with our bodies that they lead to different benefits for those who take them. Here we will review the primary differences that you need to know to determine which cannabis products are best for you.
The most noticeable difference between THC and CBD is psychoactivity, with THC being psychoactive and CBD not.
When we take THC, we experience nearly immediate changes in our cognitive state. The lethargy, relaxation, calm, and other rapid cognitive and mood changes that occur when people use cannabis is thanks to its THC content.
This happens due to how THC interacts with the CB1 receptors in our brains. When we smoke marijuana or consume THC, this tiny molecule travels to our brains and binds to the CB1 receptors. This creates a cascade of reactions that leads to our feeling “high.”
Unlike THC, CBD has a very low affinity for CB1 receptors, and thus it does not lead to the euphoria or cognitive distortions that THC does. In fact, CBD interacts with these receptors in such a way as to reduce the binding capacity of THC. This means that CBD can counteract some of the psychoactivity associated with THC.
Therapeutically, CBD and THC have both similar benefits and unique benefits. As research into these compounds is largely preliminary thanks to many decades of legal research restrictions, we are likely to elucidate additional or different benefits as research continues.
Based on research, CBD and THC are often used for the following conditions.
CBD is often used for:
- Inflammatory conditions
- Anxiety disorders
- Psychiatric disorders
- Acne or other skin conditions
THC is often used for:
- Anxiety and mood difficulties
- Poor appetite
- Muscle spasticity from multiple sclerosis
Whether THC, CBD, or a combination of the two is best for your condition depends both on what benefits you are looking for as well as your individual physiology. For example, CBD appears to be particularly beneficial for those with epileptic seizures, and THC for those with poor appetite.
Yet, there are other conditions where the ideal cannabinoid choice is not so clear-cut. Take pain as an example. It’s possible that some conditions may be better addressed with CBD, some with THC, and some with a combination of the two. More research is needed before conclusions can be drawn on many conditions, but it’s clear that these two compounds can have both similar benefits and dramatically different ones in the human body.
Legality, Availability, and Drug Testing
Until the passing of the Farm Bill in 2018, the legality of both CBD and THC in the US was fairly convoluted. While this is still the case for THC, CBD hemp oil is now legal to buy and sell in all 50 states.
THC, on the other hand, is illegal for recreational use in most states. Even though medical marijuana and recreational marijuana have become legal in many states across the US, THC is still considered illegal at the federal level. This complicates matters in numerous ways.
One example is drug testing. Many companies around the country test for THC, requiring that their employees test negative. If you fail, companies can refuse to hire you, and can even fire existing employees. This testing still occurs in states where marijuana is legal at the state level.
Additionally, you cannot transfer THC legally across state lines from one state where it is legal to another where it isn’t. This is true even for those with medical marijuana prescriptions. This can be troublesome for those who are using medical marijuana to treat certain conditions, such as cancer pain.
For those of us living in a state where marijuana and THC are still illegal, or who have a job that uses drug testing, CBD hemp oil is often our only option. Be sure to do your research into what is legal in your state before choosing which cannabis products are right for you.
The most commonly noted side effects of THC are lethargy and cognitive dysfunction. The “high” that THC creates may be fun for some who use it recreationally, but it can be a difficult side effect for those who are using THC or medical marijuana for therapeutic purposes.
Take those who use THC to relieve cancer pain or muscle spasticity in multiple sclerosis. These symptoms can be a continuous problem night and day, and thusly treatments are ideal that can work throughout that whole time. Yet, THC intake can interfere with our abilities to drive or work.
Other side effects associated with THC include:
- Dry mouth
- Dry, red eyes
- Reduced reaction time
- Coordination difficulties
- Memory troubles
- Increased heart rate
Other, more serious, side effects of THC may exist, although there is still a large amount of debate over this. It is generally agreed that youth and those with certain mental illnesses may want to avoid consumption of THC.
CBD side effects are less common and generally require taking a very high dosage before they kick in. Some of the side effects of CBD include:
Overall, CBD is considered to have fewer side effects when compared with THC.
CBD & THC: The Entourage Effect
Many studies have found evidence that CBD and THC may often work better together than apart. Not only can CBD counteract many of the negative side effects of THC (such as anxiety, excess appetite, and uncomfortable “high” feelings), but they may also be more effective when used together for certain conditions.
In one human study, CBD and THC together were found to be more effective at reducing cancer-related pain than CBD alone. In a preliminary study, high-THC treatment with CBD was more effective than high-THC treatment alone at reducing glioblastoma (brain cancer) cell proliferation and survival.
This better-together-than-apart pattern has been found not just for CBD and THC, but for all the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other healthful plant compounds found within the cannabis plant. The enhanced health benefits of the whole plant cannabis extract when compared to CBD or THC isolates is known as the entourage effect.
One thing to keep in mind: marijuana today has much higher THC concentrations than it did just fifty years ago. In the 1980s, cannabis plants were selectively bred to grow indoors and produce higher quantities of THC. This led to a change of THC concentrations from around 2-3% to some having over 20% today, with a correlated decrease in CBD concentration.
Because of this, some people who use marijuana for symptomatic relief or recreational purposes will add in a CBD hemp oil supplement to rebalance what they are putting into their bodies to be more like what was available before extensive cannabis breeding.
So, what is the ideal ratio of THC to CBD? Many human clinical trials have found benefits of a 1:1 ratio.
For those of us who are unable to access THC, or who would rather avoid its side effects altogether, full spectrum hemp oil can offer many benefits without any psychoactive effects.
Buying CBD Oil, Marijuana, and Other Cannabis Products
Now that you understand the difference between THC and CBD, you can choose the type of product that you would like to use. The next step is finding the best products available.
For THC, if you live in a state where it is legal recreationally, you can simply walk into a dispensary and ask the people working there for help picking the best cannabis product for you. What’s great about purchasing marijuana or THC products from a dispensary is that the products are clearly labeled and closely regulated, giving the consumer confidence in what they’re purchasing.
You can learn the percentage THC and CBD in these products, and even the mg of these cannabinoids in edibles, vape pens, and other products.
As for CBD hemp oil, it can be a bit trickier. Because CBD is not regulated by the FDA, some companies will make false claims or sell subpar products. According to a 2017 study, only 31% of CBD products tested contained the quantity of CBD that was purported on the label. While many of these contained more CBD than claimed, some contained less, and it demonstrates the unfortunate lack of consistency in many hemp products.
The best thing to do is to purchase from a trusted company that provides lab results on their website that confirms what, exactly, is in the product that you’re purchasing. You can find quality hemp oil products in person or through online retailers. Try our Xwerks CBD products if you are looking for a tested and trustworthy source of CBD oil.
CBD and THC are powerful plant compounds that may offer a variety of benefits to the user. While they do share some properties, such as the ability to relieve pain, they also differ in who they can help, their side effects, and their legality. Understanding what each of these cannabinoids does can help you choose the best supplement for your needs.