What is the Difference Between CBD and THC?

CBD and THC are both well known cannabinoids produced from the cannabis plant. And although they share some similarities, they each have different effects on the human body. Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive and is more frequently used for therapeutic purposes, while THC may be more frequently used for recreation.

How Cannabinoids Work With Your Body

Your body has an endocannabinoid system, which is a network of receptors that manage both mental and physical processes. These include motor coordination, emotions, memory, and cognition. Though your body produces endocannabinoids that communicate with these receptors, the system can work better when you introduce additional cannabinoids (including CBD and THC) to help with system communication.

There are CB1 receptors, which manage functions in your muscles, reproductive organs, brain, lungs, vascular system, and more. CB2 receptors manage your immune system, bones, and other functions. THC and CBD interact with these two receptor types in different ways.

CBD and THC both work with CB2 receptors, but only THC binds directly with CB1 receptors. This binding results in the euphoric effect users of THC experience.

Production of CBD and THC

CBD and THC differ in their origin, though they both come from the cannabis plant. THC comes from marijuana plants, which produce resinous flowers with THC, and also produce CBD. Hemp, another type of cannabis plant, produces CBD, but may have trace THC.

CBD can be extracted from either marijuana or hemp. Marijuana extracts of CBD are typically more potent since they come from resinous buds. However, CBD has to be separated from other cannabinoids in the marijuana plant. CBD produced for therapeutic use is typically extracted from hemp, which has a very low concentration of THC and does not have the same psychoactive effects.

Does CBD Have THC?

Although CBD and THC are two different cannabinoids, they do coexist. In marijuana extracts, the concentration of THC is higher. But in hemp extracts, THC is only present in trace amounts.

CBD oil can have a small concentration of THC naturally present in the hemp plant. But to be considered purely CBD, a CBD extract can have no more than 0.3% THC. CBD oils and other CBD products with a higher concentration of THC may be referred to as full spectrum CBD.

Legality of CBD and THC

There’s a stark legal difference between CBD and THC. Under the Farm Bill, hemp and hemp derived products were federally legalized. That includes hemp derived CBD. However, it does not include marijuana derived CBD.

Many states have passed laws that allow for use of both THC and CBD. However, some states only allow for CBD use. However, CBD can still be a gray area, so it’s important to understand the laws governing CBD use and possession where you live and anywhere you plan to visit and use CBD.

How CBD or THC Can Offer Treatment

CBD is the cannabinoid most often used for therapeutic treatment. But both CBD and THC can offer relief for conditions including:

  • Chronic pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle tremors
  • Inflammation

Research of THC treatments has been limited due to its psychoactive effects. There has been more research into CBD, though the field is still growing. Some research studies indicate CBD can offer relief for:

  • Epilepsy
  • Depression
  • Arthritis
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD
  • Substance abuse
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

Generally, CBD is preferred for therapeutic use, while THC is used for recreation. Both THC and CBD are stored in your body’s fat and can show up on drug tests. Although CBD sensitive drug tests exist, most only test for THC. However, keep in mind that CBD products can have a small concentration of THC.

Side Effects of CBD vs. THC

CBD and THC differ significantly in their side effects. Overall, CBD is considered very safe to use. The World Health Organization reports that it has little to no risk of dependency or addiction, and is generally well tolerated by users. Side effects are rare and tend to be mild, such as nausea. Typically, when side effects from CBD occur, they are due to interactions with other drugs.

THC, on the other hand, can have considerable side effects. Aside from the psychoactive effect experienced with CBD, users may experience side effects including:

  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased heart rate
  • Slower reaction times
  • Slowed coordination
  • Lethargy or sleepiness
  • Memory impairment
  • Red and dry eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness

Should You Use CBD or THC?

CBD and THC share several therapeutic properties. For some users, choosing between the two may depend on legality and whether or not you want to experience psychoactive effects.

If marijuana use is legal in your state (recreational or medicinal), and you’re comfortable with or prefer to experience a high, THC may be right for you.

Or, if you prefer not to experience psychoactive effects, or THC use is not legal in your state in any form, CBD is likely a better choice.

Of course, THC and CBD don’t have to be exclusive. You could choose THC for recreational use when you want to experience a high, and CBD for therapeutic use, when you’re more concerned with treatment than a psychoactive experience.

Amelia Noble is a researcher with the CBD Awareness Project. When she’s not studying CBD, you can find her playing board games.


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