The Difference Between CBD vs. THC

The Difference Between CBD vs. THC

Published by Katie Thomas on Apr 19, 2021

Several unique products have emerged containing Cannabidiol (CBD), Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), or both. They are designed to alleviate ailments such as stress, anxiety, and insomnia, which make CBD and THC quite popular. The health benefits of these products have sparked an interest in many people around the world.

Both are natural chemical compounds derived from the same plant– cannabis sativa. Cannabis, more commonly known as marijuana, is a highly complex and controversial little plant. It contains over 113 different chemical compounds known as cannabinoids.

CBD and THC are two of many types of chemical compounds derived from cannabis. In recent years, the appeal for these products has rapidly grown due to the potential health effects and benefits of cannabis. Much of this appeal has centered on these two cannabinoids.

With marijuana legalization becoming mainstream, this interest is likely to continue to grow. It is crucial to first understand the differences between CBD vs THC to comprehend the side effects and potential advantages of these products.

What is CBD?

CBD is the second most prominent chemical compound found in cannabis and accounts for up to 40% of the plant's extract. First discovered during the 1940s, CBD has lately gotten quite a lot of traction as a natural treatment for a range of conditions. While CBD is an essential component of medical marijuana, it is usually derived directly from the hemp plant, which is a cousin of the marijuana plant.

CBD by itself does not cause a "high." According to a report from the World Health Organization, "In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential…. To date, there is no evidence of public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD."

What is THC?

THC is the major psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. It behaves much like the Cannabinoid 1 (CB1) chemicals made naturally by the body. CB1 receptors are found concentrated in certain areas of the brain associated with thinking, memory, pleasure, coordination, and time perception.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), THC attaches to these receptors and activates the brain's reward system by signaling the issue of the brain chemical dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in regulating mood and pleasure.

By triggering a release of dopamine that is higher than normal, THC causes people to experience feelings of euphoria. THC is one of many compounds found in the resin secreted by glands of the marijuana plant. More of these glands are found around the reproductive organs of the plant than on any other area of the plant.

CBD vs. THC: Key Differences

THC and CBD interact with your body's endocannabinoid system (ECS). Endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters that play a prime role in maintaining homeostasis. Researchers are still working to fully understand this complex system, but they do know that they play an important role in a wide range of functions, including memory, appetite, sleep, mood, and fertility. While THC and CBD share similarities, there are some key differences between the two compounds.

  • Chemical Structure

CBD and THC have the same molecular structure, 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms, but there are differences in how these molecules are arranged that are responsible for the differing effects they have. By mimicking the ECS, they bind with receptors and cause different effects in the body.

THC binds with CB1 receptors in the brain, which produces a high or sense of elation. 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 undesired psychoactive effects of THC, such as euphoria or sedation.

  • Psychoactive Properties

Despite their similar chemical structures, CBD and THC don't have the same psychoactive effects. THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces a high sensation.

CBD and THC affect different receptors in the brain. Because of this, CBD is psychoactive, just not in the same manner as THC. It doesn't produce the high associated with THC.

There are two possible exceptions to this, though. The first is that some people, for reasons that are unknown, just react differently to CBD. According to Dr. Junella Chin, D.O., an osteopathic physician and a medical cannabis expert for cannabisMD, about 5% of people, after taking CBD, say they feel altered or light-headed. "Usually, the same people who have side effects from Advil or Tylenol may experience side effects from CBD," she says. You never know how your body will react to any new supplement, so when taking CBD for the first time, do so safely under supervision.

  • 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. Legal hemp must contain 0.3% THC or less.

Medical Benefits

Both compounds communicate with your body's 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, seizures, multiple sclerosis, and cancer treatment. Others use it to treat more mild everyday issues like skin health, sleep, anxiety, depression, general pain, and brain health.

THC Benefits

More than half of the U.S. has 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 conditions such as glaucoma, insomnia, nausea; it may be helpful to alleviate nausea caused by cancer treatment, pain associated with conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and migraine headaches, poor appetite; including appetite problems caused by cancer treatment and tremors.

Side Effects

Some research suggests that CBD and THC are generally safe and result in few 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, changes in mood and appetite, dry mouth, red eyes, slower reaction time, and impaired short-term memory. These side effects are associated with the compound's psychoactive properties.

NIDA also notes that THC alters how the hippocampus and orbitofrontal cortex function. These areas of the brain are important in the formation of new memories and the ability to shift attention from one thing to the next. This not only affects a person's ability to learn and form new memories, but it also makes it difficult for people to perform difficult tasks.


When choosing products containing either CBD or THC, it is also important to consider the state of their legality. In the United States, cannabis-related laws are regularly evolving.

Technically, CBD is still considered a Schedule I drug under federal law. Both marijuana and THC are included in the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, which means that they are not legal 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.

As of July 2020, 33 states and Washington, D.C., have passed cannabis-related laws. It enacts policies allowing medical marijuana and products containing high levels of THC to be prescribed by a doctor. Although CBD in certain forms is legal in most states, the specifics of the legality of any THC or CBD product can vary from one state to the next. Some states have made recreational use of marijuana and THC-containing products legal. In these states, you should be able to buy CBD.

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.

How to Take THC and CBD?

Both THC and CBD can be consumed in a variety of forms. THC may be consumed as marijuana by smoking, but a number of other cannabis products are also available, including:

  • Oils
  • Tinctures
  • Sprays
  • Vape products
  • Edibles including gummies and chocolates
  • Beverages containing marijuana oil

Like THC, CBD can also be consumed in a number of different ways like:

  • Gels
  • Gummies
  • Oils
  • Supplements
  • Extracts
  • Tincture
  • Capsules
  • Candies
  • Beverages

CBD oils can also be produced for vaping, although there have been recent concerns about the health dangers posed by vaping.

It can also be added to lotions and salves to apply to the skin. It is important to note that the effects of these topical products will be localized since they are not being ingested.

When choosing CBD products, it is important to consider their formulation. Isolate products contain only CBD. If you want to know the difference between full spectrum vs broad spectrum CBD oil - Broad-spectrum products contain other cannabinoids with the exception of THC, while full-spectrum CBD products contain CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids.

Which One Should You Take?

The product you choose depends on what you are trying to achieve. If you are trying to reduce stress or sleep better, for example, CBD may provide benefits without the negative side effects associated with THC. THC might be a better choice for symptoms or conditions for which the substance has demonstrated benefits, such as tremors or poor appetite.

Some research suggests that the potential therapeutic effects of THC and CBD tend to be greater when the two cannabinoids are taken together at the same time. This phenomenon is known as the entourage effect.

Taking CBD along with THC has also been shown to help reduce some of the unwanted effects that THC may have. For example, one study suggests that CBD may potentially reduce some of the negative cognitive effects of regular cannabis use. For example, people who use cannabis, particularly when it has high THC levels, may have a greater risk of experiencing psychiatric symptoms such as paranoia, anxiety, and psychosis. Studies have found, however, that CBD may help mitigate these effects.

One study found that CBD helped block some of the potential psychiatric effects of THC. The authors of the study suggest that such findings have important implications for the use of cannabis products. People who are prone to unwanted side effects, for example, may be able to still gain the potential health benefits by sticking to products that are low in THC and higher in CBD content. It is also important to remember that CBD and THC work in a number of different areas of the brain, and researchers do not yet fully understand the effects that these cannabinoids have, either alone or in conjunction with one another.

Some evidence suggests that the combined effects of CBD and THC may be dependent on dose. A 2019 study, for example, found that low doses of CBD actually played a role in amplifying the psychoactive effects of THC, while high doses of CBD reduced THC's effects.


CBD and THC are derived from the same cannabis plant. But these two compounds have distinct properties that separate them from one another. Both THC and CBD have a number of benefits. They're also both considered safe.

Before using either, be sure to always consult your doctor or qualified cannabis or CBD clinician first to consider how these could possibly cause side effects and disturbances due to interactions with other medications you take.

Both CBD and THC look promising for alleviating symptoms and even treating some medical and mental health conditions, but research in this area is still relatively new, and further investigation is required.