CBD vs. THC : Similarities, Differences & Effects

Nikhil Goswami

Many people interested in cannabis products wonder about the differences between CBD and THC. The question of what exactly these two compounds are is common among hemp newbies and enthusiasts. Why do we hear these words thrown around so much? Even though CBD and THC are from the same source, a cannabis plant, they can alter your experience when using a cannabis product. It’s important to know the differences and similarities between the two before you try out either one. 

Whether you are new or experienced in the world of cannabis, you’ll definitely have come across these two terms often. This is no surprise because CBD and THC are the two main compounds in hemp or marijuana, belonging to the genus cannabis sativa. Hemp plants have been bred to have very low levels of THC and high levels of CBD, mainly for the production of fibers, seeds, and oils. Marijuana plants however, contain much higher THC. However, there are several different strains of marijuana out there with differing levels of CBD and THC. By understanding this you can figure out which are the best weed strains

The cannabis plant produces several natural compounds known as cannabinoids. THC and CBD are two of over 100 compounds found in cannabis! THC and CBD have grown extremely popular for their varied effects and medicinal benefits. 

Technically, the hemp plant contains a negligible amount of THC (less than 0.3%). It, however, includes an abundance of CBD and other cannabinoids. On the other hand, the marijuana plant has an abundance of THC and less CBD. The variation in CBD and THC content makes them significantly different in their effects and legality.

These two compounds work by interacting with your body’s endocannabinoid system. Each of these compounds produces distinct therapeutic and physiological effects in the body.

THC and CBD have several medicinal and physiological benefits. They also have a few similarities and several differences. You can also find CBD vs. Delta 8 on the web if you are curious. This article explores the facts about both cannabinoids, their effects, different strains, and other vital comparisons. 

CBD and THC: What’s The Main Difference?

As we stated earlier, THC and CBD are both from the same source-the cannabis plant. One of the main differences between these two is in their effects.

THC is best known for its intoxicating effects on users. This effect is what causes users to feel “high” when using products containing significant amounts of THC.

There are several receptors in the endocannabinoid system. THC attaches itself to the CB1 receptor in the central nervous system. This bond causes the user to experience a “high” feeling of euphoria.

CBD, on the other hand, does not have this effect on users. Although CBD often binds weakly to this same receptor, it produces no euphoric feeling. In fact, CBD, if present with THC in the bond, can lessen the psychoactive effect of THC.

THC also has significantly more severe potential side effects than CBD. However, neither THC nor CBD is fatal. Several studies prove that CBD is better-tolerated than THC.

Regarding legality, CBD is also legal in more regions than THC. Thus, THC use will cause you to fail most standard drug tests. Both THC and CBD are stored in body fats; therefore, they are likely to show up in a blood test even weeks after use. Several CBD products also contain trace amounts of THC and can thus trigger a positive result on a drug test. More information on their legality will be provided later in the article.

Generally, THC has more effects on the mind than CBD does. CBD does have some impact on mood, sleep, and pain. However, it doesn’t come with the intoxicating effects that accompany THC.

What is CBD?

CBD (Cannabidiol) is a compound present in abundant amounts in cannabis sativa plants. It’s often nicknamed the “milder cousin” to THC.

CBD makes up nearly half of the cannabis plant’s composition. CBD is extracted from the leaves of the cannabis plant and has several benefits to health and well-being.

This cannabis compound was first discovered in 1940. Since its discovery, this active substance has been linked to several health benefits, such as anxiety and pain relief.

CBD is abundant in the hemp plant, alongside a small amount of THC. CBD is a significant ingredient in a prescription drug used to treat some forms of epilepsy. This drug, Epidiolex, is the first FDA-approved drug containing CBD. 

CBD is undergoing several studies and research to ascertain its effects and medical benefits. However, besides other purported benefits, CBD is widely used for pain relief.

Besides its proven benefit in helping to relieve epilepsy symptoms, CBD may have other neuroprotective attributes. For this reason, it’s being studied extensively for its effects on people with several neurological disorders.

In some small studies, CBD has also been shown to be beneficial to the body’s blood circulation and heart health.

There’s a lot of ongoing research on how CBD works in the body. The endocannabinoid system in the body consists of three main parts, each playing a significant role in maintaining the body’s homeostasis. This system is a signaling system that helps transmit messages throughout the body.

There are two major receptors that CBD is thought to interact with the CB1 receptor and the CB2 receptor. However, it does not bind to these receptors as many believe. Instead, it’s thought to interact with the receptors in a way that reduces the rate of endocannabinoid breakdown.

This essentially causes these endocannabinoids to be more available for the body’s use. This, besides its binding to other receptors such as serotonin, might explain its calming effects. 

What is THC?

Cannabis is notorious for making people “high”. THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis that causes this effect. Out of the over 100 compounds in the cannabis sativa plant, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most abundant in the plant.

While THC does have some medicinal effects, it can also have some side effects. Nearly two-thirds of the US now have access to medical cannabis. This is because THC has proven beneficial to several health conditions when taken correctly. 

For example, some studies have shown that consuming a small dose of THC might aid short-term memory. Some studies have also linked THC use to the relief of chronic pain. Also, it is used as an effective means to treat nausea and vomiting that accompany cancer treatment.

THC works by binding itself to major receptors in the body. These receptors are responsible for regulating our mood, memory, concentration, etc. Thus, THC can severely impact your thinking and even your motor function.

THC also triggers the brain cells to increase dopamine production, causing users a euphoric feeling. THC could cause hallucinations and severely impair the body’s motor skills when taken in excess. The compound’s psychoactive properties make it a scheduled drug under the Controlled Substances Act.

THC is federally illegal in the United States. However, bills have been introduced to Congress aiming to decriminalize recreational and medicinal use of marijuana. THC is also not illegal when in a quantity of less than 0.3% in hemp-derived CBD products and there are places where weed is legal.

THC users usually smoke or vape THC. However, there are dozens of other ways to consume THC. THC oils, edibles, etc., are on the market for users to choose from. Smoking THC is, however, the fastest way to experience its euphoric effects. When users ingest THC as edibles, it may take hours to feel the results. 

CBD vs. THC: Legality

The topic of cannabis and hemp has been a taboo topic for a long time. However, as a lot of new findings from studies emerge, their legal status has been changing rapidly in the last few years.

First off, CBD is legal in the United States federal law. However, it is only legal if it’s derived from the hemp plant. The hemp plant legally cannot contain more than 0.3% THC by weight. 

Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, products derived from the hemp plant are legal on a federal level. However, some state laws prohibit the sale of CBD products. Therefore, consider your state laws before buying CBD products.

There are different state laws guiding the sale of THC products. The federal government considers THC a Schedule 1 substance. However, the recreational use of marijuana, and thus, THC, is legal in 19 states. 

Additionally, due to recent findings, several states now run medical marijuana programs. Over two-thirds of US states have marijuana-related programs currently active. 

In the US, there’s been growing pressure to legalize the use of marijuana federally. If you are a cannabis enthusiast, keep an eye out for good news!

Even in states where recreational use is legal, the state laws still vary widely. For example, adults over 21 can own or give up to one ounce of marijuana in Colorado. Also, the government taxes each sale of the substance. Individuals can also grow their marijuana plants with a limit of 12 plants per residence. 

In Washington DC, however, it’s illegal for users to grow plants in their private homes. 

All in all, local and federal marijuana laws are constantly changing. Thus, we suggest keeping up with any new rules to act within legal limits. 

CBD and THC: Molecular Structure

Both CBD and THC are derived from the same plant and thus have a few similarities. Scientists first isolated the CBD structure from the cannabis plant in 1940 – decades before the structure of THC was isolated.

The components of these two compounds are very similar. Both CBD and THC contain the same number of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. However, they do not have the same chemical formula, as their chemical structures differ, even though they have the same chemical makeup. 

While THC appears like a cyclic ring, the CBD structure is a hydroxyl group. This variance in chemical structure is responsible for their different effects on the body. These differences also make them interact differently with the body’s receptors.

The chemical structure of THC makes it bind easily to the body’s cannabinoid receptors. However, CBD’s structure makes it less likely to bind with some receptors.

Instead, its structure can help it interact with the receptors in such a way as to inhibit other cannabinoids from binding. This is why CBD appears to lessen the intoxicating effect of THC when taken together.

Chemically speaking, these two compounds are also similar. They both are not soluble in water. However, they are soluble in organic solvents, especially alcohol.

CBD vs. THC: Effects and Psychoactive Element

Contrary to popular belief, CBD does have some psychoactive properties. However, they are not nearly as potent as THC. The structural differences in these two compounds account for their different effects. 

CBD, for example, in appropriate doses, tends to be more relaxing and calming. This is why CBD is widely used to treat symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s also popular in the treatment of many sleep disorders such as insomnia.

When THC enters into the bloodstream, it can cause a change in your neural chemistry. The molecules of THC bind themselves to receptors that usually receive the body’s natural endocannabinoids. After that, THC causes a flood of signals to be sent to the body’s endocannabinoid system, therefore resulting in a “high”.

THC can also increase dopamine secretion in the brain, therefore creating a feeling of bliss and euphoria. However, unlike synthetic THC, it does not cause an extreme response. 

CBD does not bind to the receptors like THC. However, the CBD that enters your system does appear to interact with some receptors to inhibit the effect of some cannabinoids. For example, as mentioned above, the presence of CBD can significantly reduce the euphoric effects of THC. 

Depending on how you take your CBD or THC, you may feel immediate or delayed effects. The impact of CBD also depends on the quality of the CBD product you’re taking. The effects of both CBD and THC may vary based on your body weight or biology. 

Depending on what you’re using CBD for and your dosage, you can start seeing effects in hours or days. If you’re using CBD for pain, it might take consistent doses for a few days before you can begin to feel the results. 

The effect of THC is often felt just a few minutes after inhaling it or a few hours after digestion.

CBD and THC: Health Benefits

As we’ve seen, both CBD and THC have several medicinal benefits. Even though there are not enough studies to prove many claims regarding the efficacy of either, many still believe in their natural healing abilities. 

In Canada, a CBD/THC drug, Sativex, has been approved for treating chronic pain. Using a complementary and integrative health plan, patients suffering chronic pain related to multiple sclerosis or chemotherapy can use CBD to manage pain. 

CBD and THC work well to produce an effect you may not get from them individually. This so-called “entourage effect” can benefit ALS patients by relieving muscle stiffness. Even the small amounts of THC in medical cannabis also seems to help the appetites of people with AIDS. It also helps facilitate weight gain. 

There are also some studies that show that THC might help slow tumor growth and fight cancer cells. 

CBD Health Benefits

While there are certain perks to using CBD and THC together, using pure CBD also has its benefits. 

The Food and Drug Administration approved a CBD-based drug to treat a severe form of epilepsy. This nod from the FDA showed that CBD was indeed effective for treating some health issues. 

Generally, CBD is best used to treat the following conditions:

  •     Chronic pain and inflammation
  •     Anxiety disorders such as PTSD and panic disorder
  •     ALS
  •     Multiple sclerosis
  •     Sleep disorders like insomnia
  •     Opioid addiction/withdrawal

From studies so far, CBD seems to hold great promise for the treatment of several other illnesses as well. By far, it is the most popular for its calming effects. This is why CBD is helpful in dealing with anxiety and depression symptoms and improving sleep.

A small study showed that CBD might help to reduce symptoms associated with some anxiety disorders. Besides panic disorder, CBD might also be effective for managing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

CBD might also aid in the treatment of opioid addiction. It also seems to have tremendous benefits in pain management.

CBD might also help improve your sleep habits. As we stated earlier, CBD also seems to have some protective effects on the brain.

There are several CBD products on the market. Besides their differences in dosage, they might also differ in the type of CBD present in them.

There are three main kinds of CBD. The CBD extracted with all other cannabinoids (including THC) is full-spectrum CBD. This kind of CBD extract is supposedly very effective due to the “entourage effect”. This claims that CBD with THC present is more potent than CBD alone.

The CBD extract containing all compounds and terpenes in hemp except THC is called broad-spectrum CBD. Finally, CBD isolate is pure CBD containing nothing else except perhaps a carrier oil. 

THC Health Benefits

Besides it’s psychoactive effect, THC also has a slew of health benefits. This accounts for why marijuana has many medical and health benefits. Just like CBD, THC has some pain-relieving properties. Here are a few other things THC can be beneficial for: 

  •     Nausea and vomiting
  •     Appetite
  •     Anxiety and depression
  •     Glaucoma
  •     Asthma

The high associated with THC can help temporarily relieve feelings of anxiety and chronic pain. For example, unlike CBD, which might treat the local source of pain, THC might just alter how your mind perceives pain. 

THC also has some positive effects on brain health. All in all, to ensure you get the benefits out of THC, make sure to seek professional medical advice first.

Finding The Best CBD Products

There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to finding the best CBD products. Your best fit would depend on several factors.

Thus, there are things you should consider before buying any CBD product. Most importantly, make sure to consult your doctor before using any CBD or other cannabis product.

Since CBD is unregulated by the FDA, there are also no established effective doses. Thus it’s essential to talk with your doctor to know the best way to use CBD for your specific ailments.

It’s essential that you use a CBD product that’s third-party tested and verified pure. There are a lot of CBD companies in the market, and it can be hard to tell which ones are the best.

Therefore you should ensure that the company you wish to purchase products from has a Certificate of Analysis. This certificate proves that the products have undergone independent tests.

You might only want to buy CBD that’s from organic hemp grown in the USA. Also, research the different types of products to know which you’d prefer. CBD can come in the form of CBD oils, gummies, cookies, etc.

Consider your specific needs before buying CBD oils or other products. Do you want to try CBD as an isolate, broad-spectrum, or full-spectrum? 

If you’re considering buying CBD oil, note that they often contain carrier oils. This could be coconut oil, hemp oil, or some other kind of oil. Find out which carrier oil you’d prefer and buy one that fits your preference.

Also, some CBD companies make CBD with different flavors. Shop around and find a brand that provides a flavor you want.

CBD-infused products can also vary widely in price. Thus, you can consider searching for a product that falls within your budget range. All in all, if you’re new to CBD, you can explore various CBD options until you find a perfect fit.

Some High-CBD Strains To Try

Up until recently, it was hard to tell much information about the strain or type of marijuana people were consuming. They would just smoke what was available and hope for the best. However, since its legality has continued to evolve over time, the cannabis industry now has some level of order.

Now users can choose a product by how they want to feel. There are several cannabis strains on the market. THC, for example, has two major strains – indica and sativa strains. There are also several hybrid strains created from both strains.

High-CBD strains of marijuana are also highly varied. There are several strains that affect your body and mind differently despite all being high in CBD and low in THC. Before now, when cannabis grew widely without much human intervention, cannabis plants had lower CBD levels. Now, most cannabis strains are developed with a CBD/THC ratio in mind. 

For this reason, different strains deliver CBD and THC in different values.

A THC product can be of a high THC value and low CBD value. Such a product would contain up to 30% THC and less than 1% CBD. A balanced strain will have roughly the same amount of THC and CBD. These strains usually contain about 5 to 15% each of both.

High CBD strains can contain up to 20% CBD and less than 5% THC. These high CBD strains offer a relaxing clear-minded calm that many users love, due to its low THC content. Due to their non-intoxicating effects, these strains are the strains of choice for many who want to relieve pain or stress without sacrificing a clear mind.

A popular CBD dominant strain is ACDC. This strain is a great relaxant effective in treating anxiety symptoms and elevating mood. 

Another popular high CBD strain is Ringo’s gift, with a CBD to THC ratio of 24:1. Sour Tsunami is another high CBD strain hybrid of two popular strains. Information on different strains and their effects is commonly available online.

Average THC and CBD Levels in Marijuana

Since most users prefer highly potent strains, marijuana growers and dispensaries these days tend to favor high THC strains. The THC content has continued to increase in marijuana products in the market.

In 2014, the average marijuana plant had a negligible amount of CBD (less than 0.15%) and about 12% THC. However, many consumers now seek a more relaxing strain without the sedating effect of THC. 

Such strains are great for those who are sensitive to THC. These strains offer a less euphoric buzz while offering other therapeutic benefits. 

Balanced strains offer a slightly more euphoric feeling but without the adverse side effects of THC. Since CBD often inhibits the effects of THC, balanced strains can offer a nice buzz without the anxiety and paranoia that may come with THC. 


Conclusion : CBD vs. THC

In the CBD/THC debate, there are many arguments in favor of and against both. However, these two compounds each have several potential benefits. Also, even though they contain the same atoms, they are of different structures. Thus, their effects on the body vary widely. 

While CBD is federally legal in the US, THC is illegal according to federal law. However, laws differ from state to state. Thus, CBD is illegal in some states, while THC is legal in some. Check state specific laws if you’re interested in using either.

In terms of their effects, CBD is more calming than the more psychoactive THC. CBD products containing legal amounts of THC are supposedly super effective due to the entourage effect. Apparently, the synergy between THC and CBD has a tremendous impact on the body and mind.

These two compounds are effective for treating several ailments. These include anxiety, pain, sleep disorders, eating disorders, drug withdrawal, glaucoma, nausea, etc.

The major difference between the two compounds is their effect. Even though they appear similar in composition, they don’t have similar results. CBD causes a mild relaxing experience. THC, on the other hand, can give you a more intoxicating feeling of euphoria. 

There’s still a long way to go in terms of studies on THC and CBD. However, they both show great promise in several areas. 


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