CBD vs. THC: What s the Difference

People typically use CBD to help treat the following:

A comparison of CBD and THC

Cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are two of many cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant. In the body, they interact with cannabinoid receptors to help treat or limit the effects of various conditions. In some circumstances, THC can also have a psychoactive effect.

Cannabinoids refer to substances in the cannabis, or Cannabis sativa, plant. Besides CBD and THC, researchers have identified more than 100 other cannabinoids that can influence the human body. Potential uses of these cannabinoids can include treating the following:

  • pain
  • nausea
  • cancer
  • appetite loss and eating disorders
  • epilepsy
  • spinal cord injury
  • glaucoma
  • multiple sclerosis
  • Tourette syndrome
  • anxiety
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • sleep problems

Though CBD and THC interact with the endocannabinoid system, there have some important differences. Notably, unlike THC, CBD lacks the psychoactive effects that many people may associate with the characteristic high of cannabis.

This article explains more about the differences between CBD and THC.

An image of a cannabis plant.

Despite both being cannabinoids, CBD and THC interact with slightly different cannabinoid receptors in a person’s brain.

Evidence notes that THC can bind to the main cannabinoid receptors as it has a similar chemical structure to anandamide . This chemical belongs to a group of cannabinoids that the body naturally produces, known as endogenous cannabinoids or endocannabinoids. Due to this structural similarity, THC is able to interact with these receptors and cause the high people associate with using cannabis recreationally.

Unlike THC, CBD does not create the high sensation that people associate with cannabis use. Experts are not exactly sure how CBD interacts with receptors but believe it binds differently to THC. Instead, CBD may increase the effects of other cannabinoids or binds to other receptors that researchers have not yet discovered.

Both CBD and THC are naturally present in cannabis plants. However, different species of these plants may contain varying levels of cannabinoids. For example, when a person takes a CBD dominant version of medical cannabis, they are using CBD from hemp, which is a specific variety of the Cannabis sativa plant.

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The main difference between hemp and other cannabis plants is their amount of THC. The 2018 Farm Bill considers C. sativa plants with less than 0.3% THC as hemp. Other strains will typically contain more THC and less CBD. A 2016 analysis notes that the average potency of cannabis plants rose from roughly 4% in 1995 to 12% in 2014. From 2001–2014, the average CBD levels decreased from 0.28% to less than 0.15%.

Despite having different pharmacological effects, both CBD and THC share a similar chemical structure. They both contain 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. However, a slight difference in how the atoms are arranged accounts for the difference between CBD and THC.

For more information and resources on CBD and CBD products, please visit our dedicated hub.

CBD and THC have similar effects on treating medical conditions. However, there is some variation in the uses of each substance.

People typically use CBD to help treat the following:

  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • seizures
  • depression
  • inflammation
  • psychosis or mental disorders
  • migraine

THC has potential uses in treating some of the following:

  • glaucoma
  • muscle spasticity
  • low appetite
  • insomnia

People may use either to help treat:

Many states in North America have approved of people having at least limited use of medical cannabis. Each state varies slightly on how they define and regulate the legal use, prescription, or sale of cannabis. There is no federal law allowing the legal use of medical cannabis. As a result, it is illegal to use or prescribe medical cannabis in any state that does not have a law allowing people to do so.

Several states have approved the use of cannabis for recreational purposes. As with medical cannabis, recreational usage is not legal federally.

A person should research the laws in their state before acquiring medical cannabis. If the state does not explicitly allow its use, a person could face legal issues for obtaining or using cannabis for medical or any other purpose.

Laws surrounding the use of medical and recreational cannabis are changing rapidly. A person who is considering using CBD or THC should check their local laws regularly as they may change or be changing.

There are very few side effects with either CBD or THC.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) , CBD is generally safe and does not appear to have abuse potential or the ability to cause harm. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) adds that potential side effects are likely the result of interactions with other medications a person may be taking. It may also have some impact on the liver and male fertility.

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A person consuming THC may experience some temporary side effects. These can include:

  • dry mouth
  • red eyes
  • slower than average response times
  • a general feeling of being high
  • memory loss
  • issues with coordination
  • increased heart rate

Teenagers, in particular, may experience adverse psychiatric effects from getting high. This may be because a teenager’s brain is still developing. According to some research, regular or large doses of THC can increase the risk of developing schizophrenia in some people with a predisposition to the condition.

Neither CBD nor THC has any apparent side effects that are serious. Neither can be fatal when taken correctly. Also, people who use THC recreationally appear to have little risk of developing an addiction.

Both CBD and THC are naturally present in cannabis plants. Many people choose to smoke or vape cannabis, but this may not be possible for people with certain conditions. Instead, people can also purchase many different products that contain these cannabinoids.

CBD is available in a variety of forms. These include:

THC can also come in different forms, including:

  • smokable products
  • oils
  • tinctures
  • edibles, such as brownies

CBD vs. THC: What’s the Difference?

You’re probably hearing a lot about cannabis and marijuana products as they become legal in more and more states. Two natural compounds are getting the most attention: CBD and THC.

Cannabis is a plant that makes a thick substance full of compounds called cannabinoids. There are more than 100 of these chemicals in cannabis. They cause drug-like reactions in your body.

CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are the most common cannabinoids found in cannabis products.

THC and CBD are in both marijuana and hemp. Marijuana contains much more THC than hemp, while hemp has a lot of CBD.

Chemical Structure

CBD and THC have the same chemical formula — 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms. The difference lies in the way the atoms are arranged. That gives CBD and THC different chemical properties, and they affect your body differently.

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Both CBD and THC work with receptors that release neurotransmitters in your brain. They can affect things like pain, mood, sleep, and memory.

How CBD and THC Affect the Body

THC is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana. It’s what makes people feel “high.”

We have two types of cannabinoid receptors in our bodies. THC binds with receptors — mostly in the brain — that control pain, mood, and other feelings. That’s why THC can make you feel euphoric and give you that so-called high.

CBD doesn’t cause that high. Instead, it’s thought to work with other elements in the body linked to feelings of well-being.

Medical Benefits

People take CBD products to help with everything from arthritis and Crohn’s disease to diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Some say it helps with anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. So far, there’s little evidence that CBD helps with any of these.

The FDA has approved one CBD-based drug. Epidiolex is a treatment for several severe forms of rare childhood epilepsy.

CBD is a hot topic for researchers. The National Institutes of Health clinical trials database shows more than 160 trials involving CBD that are either active or recruiting.

Some states authorize the use of THC as part of medical marijuana, THC may help ease things like:

  • Multiple sclerosis pain
  • Nerve pain
  • Parkinson’s disease tremors
  • Nausea
  • Glaucoma

Side Effects

  • Problems with concentration
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Balance
  • Memory loss

Side effects from CBD can include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Upset stomach
  • Tiredness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Crankiness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Drowsiness

CBD can also change the way some medicines work. Talk with your doctor about it.

What’s Legal?

Laws are changing all the time on cannabis. Many states allow medical marijuana, containing THC, for several uses, but it is still illegal under federal law. Some states have made recreational marijuana with THC legal for personal use. But it’s also illegal under U.S. law.

As part of the Farm Bill in December 2018, Congress legalized hemp. But there are still rules about where and how you can sell products that contain CBD. You can’t sell some across state lines, for example. All CBD products are illegal if they’re sold with the promise of medical benefits.

Check your state’s laws before buying products with CBD or THC.