THC vs CBD: What’s the Difference?

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When thinking about the practical use of marijuana, we seem to live in a black and white world. It’s all about CBD vs THC, and which one reigns supreme as providing the most promising health benefits.

For most, THC gets you high, and CBD is something you’re more likely to find in a topical cream, extract, or beverage than what you’d smoke from a pipe or joint with friends. Thus, making CBD vs weed more a question of social circumstance than a health concern.

In recent years CBD has exploded in use among the wellness community after federal legalization opened the doors for hemp extracted CBD as a viable alternative for the treatment of seizures and other pains associated with debilitating diseases, particularly among children whose parents herald the extracts as more effective and less disruptive than big pharma options.

But aside from the headspace, what is the real difference between CBD and THC? To understand the two compounds, let’s look at each individually.

Table of Contents

What is THC?

Tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, is one of an estimated 400 cannabinoids, found in the cannabis plant, and is primarily responsible for the euphoric or “high” effect felt by users. Negative psychoactive effects include anxiety, lethargy, and short-term memory loss.

A result of selective breeding, marijuana strains today contain about 10 to 15 percent THC. Some exotic strains, however, push potency upwards of 35 percent.

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the other major cannabinoid out of 113 known cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. In some strains, it can account for up to 40 percent of the plant’s extract, particularly when grown in hemp. However, CBD has none of the psychoactive effects of its big brother, THC, and some studies suggest that it might moderate the effects of THC.

For the most part, CBD is grown from specific hemp strains with a high CBD content, as opposed to THC dominant strains. Check out our blog if you’d like to learn more about cannabis CBD vs hemp CBD.

CBD vs THC: Twins?

As two of the main cannabinoids found in cannabis, you’d be right in assuming that CBD and THC are similar. They are. CBD and THC are made up of the same atoms in the same arrangement, with just one atom out of place.

Differences Between CBD and THC

But for all the ways in which they are the same, CBD vs THC effects are different due to the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) which interacts with cannabis’ many cannabinoids. The main difference is, of course, the high associated with THC and the lack of any kind of psychoactive effect associated with CBD.

But that’s kind of CBD’s trick. It’s not there to get you high, but it may show possible anti-inflammatory qualities, and consumers report it may help with managing pain, migraines, and other ailments. CBD might also help decrease seizures associated with all kinds of ailments without the psychoactive effects of THC.

But don’t discount the possibility for THC to positively alter your mood, induce euphoria and stimulate the senses, all in a headspace that’s quick and easy to enter and lasts no more than a few hours. For some, however, the euphoria can quickly descend into paranoia and anxiety, a so called “bad trip.” But fret not, some suggest CBD might help bring a bad trip back to reality by reining in a strong THC response. Some even believe that CBD and THC work together, preferring to consume both CBD and THC in specific amounts. For more on the ideal THC to CBD ratio, check out our blog.

CBD vs THC: Benefits

While the CBD vs THC debate continues to evolve as our understanding of cannabis grows, cannabis has long been a therapeutic plant with user-reported health benefits. While the high THC induces is easy to see and experience, anecdotal evidence claiming just about anything you can imagine from relieving superficial pain all the way to curing cancer is easy to come by but hard to prove.

Good thing science has something to say about CBD and THC, and it goes back to the cannabinoid receptors in our endocannabinoid system and how they interact with both compounds. Basically, there’s two important receptors in the human body relevant to cannabinoids, CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are found primarily in the brain and CB2 receptors are found primarily throughout the immune and central nervous systems. Without getting too bogged down in the complicated bits, the important piece to know is that THC interacts with the CB1 and CB2 receptors while CBD interacts only with the CB2 receptors. Therefore, it has been suggested that CBD and THC might have anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and relaxing body effects while THC adds the heady effects of being high.

So, if you've ever been intrigued by the health benefits of cannabis without the high, CBD might be worth some research.

CBD vs THC: Legality

Due to federal drug laws, the possession, use, transportation, and cultivation of cannabis remains illegal in the United States.

However, if you live in one of 11 legal states — Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, Nevada, Colorado, Michigan, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, and Illinois — including the nation’s capital, you have full, legal access to both THC and CBD products and extracts.

Even if you don’t live in a fully legal state, there’s 34 U.S. states that have medical marijuana programs, which means that if you get a doctor’s approval and register with the state you can have reliable access to cannabis products. But even if you don’t live in one of the 34 recreational or medical marijuana states, a few other states allow low-THC CBD products such as extracts and creams.

That leaves only a few states, including Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska, that prohibit the sale and use of low-THC CBD with no more than 0.3 percent THC.

Lots of people are trying CBD for a multitude of reasons. And in legal states, sometimes people use both CBD and THC. It doesn’t have to be CBD vs THC.