Cannabis contains over 113 different chemical compounds known as cannabinoids. Cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are two types of chemical compounds derived from cannabis. In recent years, interest has grown in the potential health effects and benefits of cannabis. Much of this interest has centered on these two cannabinoids. 

This interest is likely to continue to grow as cannabis and marijuana products become legal in more states. A number of different products have emerged that contain CBD, THC, or both that are designed to alleviate ailments such as stress, anxiety, and insomnia. In order to understand the side effects and potential benefits of these products, it is important to first understand the differences between CBD and THC.

What Is CBD?

Cannabidiol, usually referred to as CBD, is the second most prevalent chemical compound found in cannabis. First discovered during the 1940s, CBD has recently become more popular as a natural treatment for a range of conditions. It can be derived from hemp or from marijuana. Hemp-derived CBD still contains trace amounts of THC, while marijuana-derived CBD may contain more.

What Is THC?

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), THC activates the brain’s reward system by signaling the release of the brain chemical dopamine.1 Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in mood and pleasure. By triggering a higher-than-normal release of dopamine, THC causes people to experience feelings of euphoria. THC is often administered by smoking marijuana, but it can also be found as an ingredient in capsules, edibles, and oils.

CBD vs. THC: Key Differences

thc vs cbd

THC and CBD have an effect on the endocannabinoid system, a system that plays an important role in maintaining homeostasis. Researchers are still working to understand the ins and outs of this complex system, but they do know that it is associated with processes including memory, appetite, sleep, mood, and fertility.

While THC and CBD share similarities, there are some key differences between the two compounds.THC

  • Psychoactive (produces a high)
  • Sourced from marijuana

CBD

  • Non-psychoactive (does not produce a high)
  • Typically sourced from hemp

Psychoactive Properties

CBD and THC affect different receptors in the brain. Because of this, CBD typically does not have psychoactive effects—in other words, it won’t cause you to get high.

Chemical Structure

Both CBD and THC have a chemical structure that is similar to the body’s natural endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters that act in the brain. 

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that relay signals between nerve cells in the body. They play an important role in a wide range of functions including sleep, pain, appetite, mood, and the immune system.

CBD and THC have the same molecular structure, but there are differences in how these molecules are arranged that are responsible for the differing effects they have. By mimicking endocannabinoids, they bind with receptors and cause different effects in the body.

Sources

While CBD can come from either hemp or marijuana, it is often derived from hemp in order to avoid the addition of larger amounts of THC. THC, on the other hand, is derived from marijuana.

CBD that comes from marijuana may contain more THC, which may not be ideal for people who are trying to avoid THC. Some CBD products that are produced from cannabis, for example, may contain more THC than the label suggests.

PSYCHOACTIVE COMPONENT

The THC compound is the one known most famously for the high sensation you get from it, a psychoactive response. And in many states, it is still illegal. 

CBD, alternatively, is considered a “non-psychoactive” compound, meaning that you do not get that high that we associate with THC. Although CBD legally may have trace amounts of THC up to .3%, it is not enough to result in a psychoactive response.

CBD is known to have many of the promising health benefits, minus the psychoactive side effects. 

MEDICAL BENEFITS

thc vs cbd

Both compounds communicate with your body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). According to Norml, the endocannabinoid system is, “perhaps the most important physiological system involved in establishing and maintaining human health.” It plays a role in regulating many functions and processes, including, sleep, mood, appetite, memory, reproduction, and fertility.

Although they both interact with the ECS system, they have separate properties with different medicinal benefits.

CBD BENEFITS

There are many health benefits associated with taking CBD oil. CBD connects to your body’s cannabinoid receptors, and people report that CBD helps with complex problems like arthritis, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and cancer treatment. Others use it to treat more mild everyday issues like skin health, sleep, anxiety, general pain, and brain health. 

There are many ways to take CBD. CBD is available in capsule or oil tinctures , edibles, or you can even lather it on in cream form. 

THC BENEFITS

More than half of US states have made “medical marijuana” legal, which means in order to use it you must have a doctor’s prescription. The effects of THC have been known to offset many otherwise painful symptoms associated with chronic pain and nausea.

SIDE EFFECTS 

CBD rarely exhibits any noticeable side effects, even when taken in very large doses. The World Health Organization (WHO) has said in its research that, “CBD was tolerated in all patients, with no signs of toxicity or serious side effects.”

If side effects were detected, it was usually a result of CBD interacting with another drug the person took at the same time. Always consult a doctor, especially if you are considering taking CBD while taking other drugs. 

THC, on the other hand, does have a few well-known side effects such as increased heart rate, coordination problems, dry mouth, red eyes, slower reaction time, and memory loss. These side effects are associated with the compound’s psychoactive properties.  

DRUG TESTING

Standard drug tests typically look for chemicals related to THC, so you can expect that THC would show up on a screen. 

Does CBD contain THC?

The short answer is yes. CBD products may contain trace amounts of THC, up to 0.3 percent. Although almost negligible and such a small amount would never be enough to cause any of the psychoactive side effects, it is still likely to show up on a drug test. 

A FINAL WORD

CBD and THC are derived from the same cannabis plant. But these two compounds have distinct properties that separate them from one another. THC is associated with the high feeling or psychoactive effects, and CBD is more well known for its health benefits. Before using either, be sure to check with your doctor and consider how these will affect other medications you are already taking. 

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