CBD vs. THC: What’s the Difference?

We have no doubt about the benefits that medical cannabis has on various illnesses and diseases. There is good evidence in robust human clinical trials that cannabis is of benefit for a variety of ailments whether they be physical, mental, or social.

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Overview

As the legal use of marijuana and other cannabis products grows, consumers are becoming more curious about their options. This includes cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), two natural compounds found in plants of the Cannabis genus.

CBD is found primarily in extractions from the hemp plant. It’s sold in gels, gummies, oils, supplements, extracts, and more.

THC is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana that gives the highsensation. It can be consumed by smoking marijuana. It’s also available in oils, edibles, tinctures, capsules, and more.

Both compounds interact with your body’s endocannabinoid system but they have very different effects.

Read on to learn more about these compounds. While they may have a lot in common, they have some key differences that determine how they’re used.

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 impacts on your body.

Both CBD and THC are chemically similar to your body’s own endocannabinoids. This allows them to interact with your cannabinoid receptors. The interaction impacts the release of neurotransmitters in your brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals responsible for relaying messages between cells and have roles in pain, immune function, stress, 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. In fact, CBD is a nonpsychoactive compound. That means it doesn’t produce the “high” associated with THC.

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. In fact, it can interfere with the binding of THC and dampen the psychoactive effects.

CBD vs. THC: Legality

The issues of legality for both CBD and THC in the United States are evolving regularly. All forms of cannabis are illegal in states that haven’t legalized it. Marijuana and THC are on the list of controlled substances, so they’re prohibited under federal law.

However, many states including Washington, D.C., have passed cannabis-related laws making medical marijuana with high levels of THC legal. The marijuana may need to be prescribed by a licensed physician.

In addition, several states have made recreational use of marijuana and THC legal. It still remains illegal federally. The laws are changing; be familiar with the laws in your state.

In states where marijuana is legal for recreational or medical purposes, you should be able to buy CBD legally. In some states, legislatures have passed laws that make CBD for medical purposes legal. CBD does not need to be made from marijuana and is legal when made from hemp.

Before you try to buy either product, be aware of 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 Food and Drug Administration approved Epidiolex, the first prescription medication to contain CBD. It’s used to treat rare, difficult-to-control forms of epilepsy.

CBD is used to help with other various conditions, such as:

  • seizures
  • inflammation
  • pain
  • psychosis or mental disorders
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • nausea
  • migraines
  • depression
  • anxiety

THC is used to help with conditions such as:

  • pain
  • muscle spasticity
  • glaucoma
  • insomnia
  • low appetite
  • nausea
  • anxiety
CBD vs. THC: Side effects

CBD is well tolerated, even in large doses. Research suggests any side effects that do 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

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; the effect on the brain is more profound for teens. Use of the compound increases the risk for some psychiatric disorders, such as 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’ve not used it.

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 marijuana and hemp produce CBD and THC. However, marijuana has a higher concentration of THC. Hemp has a higher concentration of CBD. Because hemp contains more CBD than the relatively low levels of THC, it’s the ideal source for CBD oil.

The average marijuana strain today contains about 12 percent THC. CBD can have no more than 0.3 percent THC. CBD oil may contain small amounts of THC because it’s present in the hemp plant.

Takeaway

CBD and THC both have medical benefits. They’re also both considered safe. Despite that, they remain illegal federally and in many states in the United States. Before you purchase or use any of them, know the laws in your state.

Also, consider the possibility for side effects and interactions with other drugs you’re taking. Talk with your healthcare provider if you have any questions.

CBDTHC
Produce a “high”NOYES
IllegalYES*YES*
Side effectsAlmost nonePsychoactive side effects
Shows on drug testYES**YES
Pain relieverYESYES
Reduces nauseaYESYES
Eases migrainesYESYES
Reduces anxietyYESYES
Increases appetiteNOYES
Decreases seizuresYESNO
Anti-inflammatoryYESYES

*Both CBD and THC are illegal federally. However, some states have laws that make them legal for medical or recreational purposes, or both.

**CBD isn’t detected in hemp products but they may contain trace amounts of THC. They may show up in high enough concentrations to produce a positive drug test.

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