With the rise in legality of marijuana around the world, including in a growing number of states, there is an expected increase in the available cannabis-related products on the market as well as questions regarding them.
Some of the most common questions regard tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Explore both of these cannabinoids in more detail, with a focus on the differences between the two.
A Quick Introduction
Both tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol are cannabinoids that naturally occur in the cannabis plant. The latter, CBD, also occurs usually in hemp plants. Hemp refers to a cannabis plant with less than 0.3 percent THC, and plants with higher concentrations than this are classified as marijuana.
As cannabinoids, both THC and CBD produce effects in the human body via their interactions with the endocannabinoid system.
Psychoactive Components: CBD Vs. THC
THC is the primary psychoactive component found in cannabis. As such, THC is the cannabinoid that is responsible for the “high” that most people associate with smoking or otherwise consuming marijuana.
By contrast, CBD does not have any psychoactive effects. In other words, if you consume a pure CBD product that does not have any THC at all, you should not experience any feelings of being high.
The difference in psychoactive effects associated with CBD and THC comes down to how each binds with the brain’s CB1 (cannabinoid 1) receptors. THC binds with these receptors to produce the high and euphoria connected to cannabis. By contrast, CBD either does not bind to these receptors or binds very little.
Despite this general rule, you must be careful if your goal is to choose a CBD product without any psychoactive effects. That is because it is common for products that make CBD the priority to include low levels of THC. Remember that as long as the THC content is less than 0.3 percent, then it will be considered hemp-based and legal.
One interesting note is that CBD can counter some of the psychoactive effects of THC. This is because CBD can interfere with THC’s ability to bind with the CB1 receptors, which directly reduces the psychoactive effects.
Chemical Structure: CBD Vs. THC
At a glance, CBD and THC share their molecular structure. Both feature two oxygen atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 21 carbon atoms.
The difference is that these atoms are arranged in a slightly different way in the two compounds. This is enough to change how each affects your body.
The chemical structure of each CBD and THC is similar to that of the body’s natural endocannabinoids, which is what makes it possible for them to interact with the cannabinoid receptors in the body.
For those interested, when these cannabinoids interact with your endocannabinoid system, it affects how the brain releases neurotransmitters. Since neurotransmitters are crucial chemicals that relay messages across cells, these interactions can change anything that neurotransmitters play a role in. This includes sleep, stress, immune function, pain, and more.
More on Cannabinoids, Receptors, and CBD Vs. THC
Cannabinoids are compounds that interact with our endocannabinoid system. This system is a network with receptors that are responsible for the body’s various vital functions. The first cannabinoid receptor was discovered in 1988, with another found in 1993. By 1995, these were known as CB1 and CB2.
CB1 receptors are in the parts of the brain that are important for physiological and mental processes, including emotion, motor coordination, memory, and high cognition. By contrast, the CB2 receptors are in the immune system and the central nervous system. Both CBD and THC interact with the CB2 receptors, and as mentioned earlier, only THC interacts with the CB1 receptors.
Legal Differences Between CBD and THC
The laws regarding marijuana are continually evolving, but there are some aspects of the law that have not changed much, at least not recently. In the United States, cannabis is a controlled substance and is illegal at the federal level. Many states have legalized marijuana, either medically or recreationally. But what does this mean for THC and CBD?
The laws regarding the legality of THC follow those of marijuana. In other words, THC is legal where marijuana is legal, and it is illegal in areas where marijuana is illegal.
CBD is different, provided that it is hemp-derived. According to the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is legal at the federal level in the United States. This law technically makes CBD legal across the country, as long as it comes from hemp instead of cannabis and has less than 0.3 percent THC.
If you live somewhere where cannabis is illegal, you should still use caution before buying and using CBD products. Make sure that your chosen products remain below the legal limit of THC. You may also need to be prepared to prove that your items are permitted, especially if they look similar to illegal marijuana-based products.
For example, high-CBD flowers without THC are theoretically legal across the country. Still, your local law enforcement is unlikely to be able to tell the difference, putting you at risk of jail time or fines unless you can prove your buds are legal.
Because the laws are constantly changing, it is wise to confirm your local laws before you buy or consume either CBD or THC.
Potential Medical Benefits of THC and CBD
There is a significant overlap when discussing the potential medical benefits of THC and CBD. The main difference is that CBD will not cause the high or euphoria associated with THC. This makes CBD more appealing for those who want potential symptom relief but do not want to consume something that will interfere with their functionality.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence indicating that CBD may help with treating seizures, pain, inflammation, mental disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, migraines, nausea, anxiety, and depression. There is also evidence that shows THC can be potentially used in helping treat pain, nausea, anxiety, glaucoma, nerve pain, tremors from Parkinson’s disease, pain from multiple sclerosis, muscle spasticity, insomnia, and low appetite.
Importantly, the FDA has still only approved a single pharmaceutical drug that is based on CBD and none that are THC-based. This drug is Epidiolex, which is approved to treat some rare forms of severe childhood epilepsy.
In the case of both THC and CBD, it is clear that we need more research to be conducted on their potential medical benefits. At the moment, there simply is not enough research to offer conclusive evidence.
The Entourage Effect
When discussing the medical effects of THC and CBD, it is also important to point out the entourage effect. This is the way that the two compounds, as well as other cannabinoids and the terpenes in cannabis, interact to enhance each other’s effects.
Essentially, when you combine THC and CBD, the resulting potential effects will be more than the benefits you would have if you just added those of CBD to those of THC.
Side Effects of THC and CBD
Those who are worried about side effects will have almost nothing to worry about regarding CBD. Multiple studies have indicated that the average person tends to tolerate CBD very well, even if it is in a much larger dose.
The most significant risk for CBD is that it may interact with another medication that you are taking. If you are on any medication that interacts negatively with grapefruit, then that medicine will also interact poorly with CBD due to common enzymes and reactions. Although rare, CBD can cause tiredness, upset stomach, lightheadedness, diarrhea, low blood pressure, and crankiness.
THC has more potential side effects, but they are mostly temporary. They can include slow reaction times, difficulty concentrating, poor balance, red eyes, memory loss, coordination problems, increased heart rate, and dry mouth. The side effects of THC are related to its psychoactive effects.
Neither consuming too much CBD nor too much THC is likely to be fatal. However, it is possible that consuming too much THC in the long term could cause future psychiatric effects, although it is not yet confirmed. This risk is higher for adolescents with high consumption habits. There is no such risk associated with CBD.
Additionally, teens should not consume THC in most situations as it has a more substantial effect on the brain. Using THC in a person’s teenage years can increase their risk of schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders.
Drug Testing for CBD and THC
If you are subject to drug tests, either regularly or randomly, CBD should not be a problem, but THC will show up. That is because most drug tests specifically look for THC and not CBD. Assuming you are taking one of these drug tests, then you will fail the test if you consume THC and should not if you take pure CBD.
This is where the previous point about CBD products that contain THC becomes essential. Remember that many CBD products will contain THC in small quantities, and this is perfectly legal. Those small quantities may be enough to show up on a drug test. As such, if you know you will need to pass a drug test and want to consume CBD products, make sure they are THC-free.
You should also keep in mind that while most drug tests will look at THC and not CBD, there are exceptions. CBD-sensitive tests exist, and if you consume CBD and take one of these, the cannabidiol will show up.
Both THC and CBD get stored in your body’s fat. Because this is where the body stores them, it is possible for either compound to show up on a test for weeks after use.
Bonus: Methods of Consuming Each
Whether you are interested in consuming THC or CBD, you will have a range of options. The traditional method is to smoke marijuana, and you can choose a strain that has high levels of either of these cannabinoids or both.
Both THC and CBD are also commonly found in edibles. You can find capsules, pills, oils, tinctures, gummies, and even topical treatments that contain CBD. You can also vape either substance in the form of concentrates or oils. Many of those will be available with THC as well or instead of the CBD. The range of options offers something for everyone, including options that are discreet, tasty, convenient, and portable.
The benefit of choosing a packaged product instead of getting your THC or CBD via smoking the plant is that you can be sure about dosing. Gummies, for example, will always have packaging that clearly states how much CBD or THC is in each gummy as well as the package as a whole. This lets you easily adjust the dose and make sure that you do not consume more or less of your chosen cannabinoid than you had intended.
CBD and THC are the two most prevalent cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, with CBD also occurring in the hemp plant. They are both associated with a range of potential medical benefits. Due to interacting with the body in slightly different ways, THC produces psychoactive effects while CBD does not.
The legality of THC follows that of marijuana, including being illegal at the federal level in the United States but legal in individual states. CBD is permitted, provided it is hemp-derived and has less than 0.3 percent THC. CBD is also associated with fewer side effects than THC. THC shows up in most drug tests, and it causes psychoactive effects, neither of which CBD does.
Both CBD and THC have the potential to provide benefits for consumers, and those effects can be enhanced when the two cannabinoids are both present via the entourage effect. We still need more research into both CBD and THC. In the meantime, people will continue to consume both substances to take advantage of their impact, and THC-free CBD products are entirely legal. If you choose to consume CBD and want to avoid THC, always pay close attention to your product labels to avoid the legally allowed low concentrations.