CBD vs THC – What’s the Difference?

Table of Contents

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD, is one of over 140 medicinal compounds found in the cannabis and hemp plant. It is referred to as a cannabinoid, and it is the most abundant cannabinoid in the hemp plant. Unlike its cousin, THC, CBD is non-psychoactive, which makes it a very attractive option for people seeking relief without getting “high.”

While recreational users of marijuana love the aspect of high levels of THC, those who are perhaps trying marijuana for the first time to address a medical symptom or condition may be overwhelmed by the amount of THC in marijuana and therefore, have a negative experience.

We go more in-depth on CBD in our “What is CBD” article, so if you haven’t had the chance to read it yet, feel free to check it out to get the bigger picture! 

What is THC?

THC is the most abundant cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant; however, it can be derived from both the cannabis and the hemp plant. The reason that THC is the most abundant cannabinoid in marijuana is because it is used primarily for recreational use, so growers manipulate the plant to maximize the THC output. THC in cannabis is known as Delta 9 THC, the cannabinoid that causes a person to feel “high” when they ingest it, regardless of the form factor (e.g. smoking/vaping, edibles, tinctures, or capsules etc…) THC, even in small amounts (5% or more,) can elicit a euphoric feeling in people who use it. THC was first discovered and isolated in cannabis/marijuana in 1964, by Raphael Mechoulam, an Israeli chemist whom many consider to be the father of cannabis.  

What Are the Key Differences?

The main differences between Delta 9 THC and CBD are that THC is a controlled substance according to the 1970 Controlled Substance Act (CSA) making it illegal to possess and use unless you live in a state that has either recreational or medical marijuana laws (or both), and you have the proper license or state approval to possess and use it. Also, unlike CBD, which is non-psychoactive, THC will cause a person to feel euphoric or “high” when they use it. Some other differences are: 

  • THC is derived from cannabis (Marijuana), not hemp, although it exists in trace amounts in the hemp plant. 
  • THC has an attraction or affinity for the CB1 receptors that are found mostly in our brain and brain stem, whereas CBD has more of an affinity for both CB1 and CB2 receptors. 
  • Cannabis (marijuana) is grown to exploit the level of THC in the plant. In other words, it is manipulated to produce a high percentage of THC and low percentage of CBD. When hemp is grown, it has an exceedingly small amount of THC, and an abundance of non-psychoactive CBD, and is therefore considered a crop, according to the 2018 Farm Bill.

CBD derived from hemp is a crop, like soybean, corn, wheat etc… We will discuss more about this in the “Is it Legal” section below in this article.

Psychoactive Properties

THC found in cannabis (marijuana) is typically at levels of 15% or above, and in some cases, it may exceed 30% by dry weight, which translates into a huge amount of THC, which is why cannabis (marijuana) is typically used for recreational purposes and is still a “controlled substance” at the Federal level. 

Even at levels of 15% THC, it will cause the user to experience perceivable effects that can sometimes be uncomfortable for those who have a low tolerance. Many people who use marijuana for medical purposes are not looking to “get high,” but there is a perceivable reduction in pain that THC can elicit. 

Taking all this into consideration, now would be a suitable time to mention that CBD counteracts the psychoactive effects of THC. So, in the event you use a cannabis/marijuana derived product and the “high” it too intense, you may use CBD sublingually (under the tongue) to help alleviate any unwanted effects. 

Chemical Structure

While CBD was first isolated in a lab in 1940, it was not until 1964 that THC was discovered by Israeli scientist Raphael Mechoulam, who most consider to be the “Father of Cannabis.” 

The most fundamental difference between CBD and THC is the physiological effects it has in the body. CBD is non-psychotropic and does not cause a person to feel “high “whereas THC is psychotropic, and it does cause a person to feel “high.” 

Chemically speaking, CBD and THC have the same chemical formula — 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms. The difference lies in the way the atoms are arranged, and that little discrepancy makes a significant difference in the effects in the body, as stated previously, euphoria producing vs. non-euphoria producing effects. 

Both THC and CBD start out as the same cannabinoid,  Cannabigerolic Acid or CBGA, and through synthesis and decarboxylation, they convert into their respective cannabinoids known as Delta 9 THC and CBD. 

You will learn more about CBGA and Decarboxylation in another article. The same way that grapes used to make wine take on distinct characteristics depending on light, temperature, humidity, moisture etc… so too does the cannabis plant, which is why there are hundreds of varietals or “strains” to choose from.  

Medical Benefits of THC

The medical benefits of Delta 9 THC are numerous, and a short list of potential uses include as an aid against nausea, as an anti-anxiety or anxiolytic. 

THC is also a great pain reliever and can help to reduce inflammation in the body. The euphoria associated with using THC can help people with mood disorders and depression, and while many more studies need to be conducted, there are thousands of medical abstracts to support the myriad of symptoms and conditions that THC can be used to help mitigate.

Not to mention cannabis has been used as medicine for thousands of years to treat common ailments, so we are having new discussions on a very old subject.  

You can learn more by reviewing the Research Library on the Realm of Caring website – https://realmofcaring.org/roc-research/research-library/

Medical Benefits of CBD

Like THC, CBD has a myriad of health benefits for people who use it as an adjunct or alternative to Over the Counter (OTC) and prescription medications. It has been indicated to benefit people with anxiety and depression disorders, including PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), certain types of epilepsy, and can be used to treat opioid addiction. 

In addition, CBD is a well-known and powerful anti-inflammatory which can help reduce symptoms of chronic or acute pain caused by arthritis or osteo-type conditions, while adding neuroprotection in neurodegenerative diseases like ALS, Parkinson’s Disease etc… 

You can learn more about the health benefits of THC on the Realm of Caring website – https://realmofcaring.org/roc-research/research-library/

Side Effects

Delta 9 THC does have some side effects, and the predominant side effect is that it will cause a person to feel “high.” If a person is not acquainted with this feeling it can be uncomfortable for some; however, it is good to reiterate that CBD counteracts the psychoactive effects of THC, so if someone finds themselves in the position of discomfort after using THC, CBD may be an effective way to “come down” from that “high” feeling. Sometimes, you hear the word paranoia associated with marijuana use. While it is impossible to OD on marijuana because there are not enough cannabinoid receptors in the brain stem, the feeling of paranoia exists when someone’s thoughts get the better of them and they believe they need to go to the hospital to avoid serious consequences. Other side effects of Delta 9 THC may include: 

  • Anxiety 
  • Increase heart rate 
  • Red eyes 
  • Dry mouth
  • Memory loss 
  • Slower reaction time 

Is It Legal?

At the end of 2018, President Trump signed the 2018 Farm Act, which included articles to remove hemp from the Controlled Substance Act (CSA.) This turned hemp into a crop, like corn, soybean, or wheat. This was great news for farmers because they were now eligible to qualify for loans and grants to grown industrial hemp, a profitable crop compared to their “break even” crops they have been growing for years. It was also great news for manufacturers, retailers, and consumers alike, and opened the door towards legalization across the country. Unless you live in a state where recreational or medical marijuana (or both) is legal, Delta 9 THC is illegal at a federal level due to the 1970 Controlled Substance Act (CSA.) It is best to consult your state and local laws when it comes to determining whether you live in a state that supports and advocates for either recreational or medical marijuana.

To make it easier for our readers, here is a State-by-State map and list – https://disa.com/map-of-marijuana-legality-by-state

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