CBD vs. THC: What’s the Difference?
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As the legal use of hemp 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 can be extracted from hemp or cannabis.
Hemp and cannabis come from the Cannabis sativa plant. Legal hemp must contain 0.3 percent THC or less. CBD is sold in the form of gels, gummies, oils, supplements, extracts, and more.
THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces the high sensation. It can be consumed by smoking cannabis. 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.
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 effects on your body.
Both CBD and THC are chemically similar to your body’s endocannabinoids. This allows them to interact with your cannabinoid receptors.
The interaction affects the release of neurotransmitters in your brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals responsible for relaying messages between cells and have roles in pain, immune function, stress, and sleep, to name a few.
Despite their similar chemical structures, CBD and THC don’t have the same psychoactive effects. CBD is psychoactive, just not in the same manner as THC. It doesn’t produce the high associated with THC. CBD is shown to help with anxiety, depression, and seizures.
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. CBD needs THC to bind to the CB1 receptor and, in turn, can help reduce some of the unwanted psychoactive effects of THC, such as euphoria or sedation.
In the United States, cannabis-related laws are evolving regularly. Technically, CBD is still considered a Schedule I drug under federal law.
Hemp has been removed from the Controlled Substances Act, but the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still classify CBD as a Schedule I drug.
However, 33 states plus Washington, D.C., have passed cannabis-related laws, making medical cannabis with high levels of THC legal. The cannabis may need to be prescribed by a licensed physician.
In addition, several states have made recreational use of cannabis and THC legal.
In states where cannabis is legal for recreational or medical purposes, you should be able to buy CBD.
Before you try to buy products with CBD or THC, it’s important to research 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 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 FDA approved Epidiolex, the first prescription medication to contain CBD. It’s used to treat rare, difficult-to-control forms of epilepsy. (Epidiolex is not currently approved for any of the other conditions listed below.)
CBD is used to help with other various conditions, such as:
- psychosis or mental disorders
- inflammatory bowel disease
THC is used to help with the following:
- muscle spasticity
- low appetite
CBD is well tolerated, even in large doses. Research suggests any side effects that 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
CBD’s side effects may include:
- appetite changes
- weight 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, though there’s no conclusive evidence that using cannabis causes psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia.
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 haven’t used it.
It’s important to note that products that claim to be THC-free may not be free of THC, so if you’re drug tested, you shouldn’t use any CBD or THC products.
CBD and THC are two of the most prominent cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Both cannabis and hemp produce CBD and THC.
However, cannabis has a higher concentration of THC. Hemp has a higher concentration of CBD.
The average cannabis strain today contains about 12 percent THC. CBD oil may contain small amounts of THC because it’s present at low levels in the hemp plant. CBD can have no more than 0.3 percent THC to be legal at the federal level.
CBD and THC both have medical benefits. They’re also both considered safe, but consider the possibility of side effects and interactions with other drugs you’re taking. Talk with your doctor or a qualified cannabis or CBD clinician before use and if you have any questions.
Want to learn more about CBD? Click here for more product reviews, recipes, and research-based articles about CBD from Healthline.
|Is illegal||No (See below)||Yes (See below)|
|Produces a high||No||Yes|
|Interacts with endocannabinoid system||Yes||Yes|
|Has side effects||Some||Psychoactive side effects|
|Shows on drug test||Possibly||Yes|
|Helps with insomnia||Yes||Yes|
|Helps with psychosis||Yes||No|
|Is used for various other conditions||Yes||Yes|
Is CBD Legal? Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level, but are legal under some state laws. Check your state’s laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved, and may be inaccurately labeled.
There’s a lot of confusion about the difference between the different components of the cannabis plant, especially with current laws. We’ll take a look at two compounds, CBD vs. THC, and compare them on a number of different levels. Both may have benefits, but they differ despite having many similarities.