Most people are familiar with THC and CBD: the two main active components of cannabis. They belong to a class of natural compounds called cannabinoids, which interact with your body’s endocannabinoid system.
THC is best known for its psychoactive effects and is largely responsible for the marijuana high.
Meanwhile, CBD is the most abundant cannabinoid in hemp: a variety of cannabis with extremely low THC levels. Unlike its psychoactive cousin, CBD is completely non-intoxicating.
However, the two also differ in many other ways. Here’s everything you need to know about CBD and THC and what sets them apart.
Difference Between CBD and THC
Aside from intoxication, CBD and THC are also different in their effects, uses, benefits, side effects, plant sources, legality, and product forms.
CBD vs THC Effects
CBD and THC have the same chemical formula (C21H30O2), but their atoms are arranged differently, so they affect the body in different ways.
Since they’re similar in structure to your body’s own endocannabinoids, this allows CBD and THC to interact with endocannabinoid system receptors.
THC binds directly to these receptors, producing the characteristic cannabis high and activating various biological pathways linked to your endocannabinoid system.
CBD affects your endocannabinoid system differently. It doesn’t bind to cannabinoid receptors but influences their function instead. ¹ More importantly, it increases the levels of the endocannabinoids produced by your own body. ²
CBD vs THC Uses
THC can be used both medically and recreationally in the form of whole-plant cannabis or prescription drugs. The medication can contain THC alone or include other cannabis compounds.
Although CBD is also present in whole-plant cannabis preparations, it’s mostly used in the form of CBD oil and other dietary supplements.
CBD vs. THC Health Benefits
CBD and THC have many potential health benefits. Some of these are similar, while others are unique to each cannabinoid.
Both CBD and THC are used to relieve pain, inflammation, nausea, anxiety, and sleep issues, with a growing volume of research evidence backing these effects. ³ ⁴ ⁵
However, whereas CBD’s anxiety-relieving properties are well-documented, THC seems to either lower or increase anxiety depending on the dosage, person, and other factors. ⁶ ⁷
Studies suggest that CBD may also help with other issues such as seizures. In particular, there is strong evidence that CBD relieves epileptic seizures, and the FDA recently approved the drug Epidiolex — the only prescription medication containing pure CBD — for treating rare types of epilepsy.
Meanwhile, ongoing research suggests that THC may be an option to temporarily reduce eye pressure in glaucoma patients and stimulate appetite in people suffering from weight loss caused by chronic health disorders such as cancer. ⁵ ⁸
CBD vs. THC Side Effects
THC and CBD can cause adverse effects, but they’re not quite the same.
THC is best known for its psychoactive side effects, which include anxiety, paranoia, euphoria, and impaired memory, and reaction time. It can also cause red eyes, increased heart rate, dry mouth, sleepiness, and dizziness.
CBD doesn’t have any mind-altering effects but may cause low blood pressure (hypotension), diarrhea, dry mouth, lightheadedness, and sleepiness.
However, medical studies looking at the benefits of CBD for individuals suffering from epilepsy and psychotic disorders suggest that these side effects are not consistent across populations and may be considered mild, especially when compared to other drugs that are used to treat similar conditions. ⁹
CBD vs. THC: The High
As noted earlier, the biggest difference between CBD and THC is that the latter causes intoxication. CBD, on the other hand, cannot make you high.
In fact, research suggests that CBD counteracts THC’s psychoactivity by indirectly preventing it from binding to your body’s cannabinoid receptors. ¹⁰ This may explain why cannabis strains with higher CBD levels are not as intoxicating.
CBD vs. THC Sources
Another major difference between CBD and THC is in how they’re sourced. Cannabis plants come in two main varieties: marijuana and hemp. Most THC products are made from marijuana, which is high in THC.
Conversely, most CBD products are extracted from hemp, a variety of cannabis with high CBD but extremely low (<0.3%) THC levels.
CBD vs. THC Legality
The 2018 Farm Bill made hemp and hemp-derived products such as CBD oil legal at the federal level in the United States. Hemp is also legal in many other countries because it doesn’t contain enough THC to cause intoxication.
Marijuana and THC, on the other hand, are illegal in the U.S. at the federal level and in most places around the world because of their potential psychoactive effects. This means that any CBD products made from marijuana plants are also illegal.
However, many American states allow access to marijuana for medical reasons and some have even completely legalized it for recreational use.
CBD vs. THC Product Forms
CBD and THC can also differ in the kind of products they appear in. THC is most commonly used in the form of dried, whole-plant cannabis which also contains smaller amounts of CBD.
Meanwhile, most people use CBD in the form of CBD oil, which can either have pure CBD or whole-plant extract providing the full range of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other active compounds found in hemp.
Both THC and CBD can also appear in other whole-plant cannabis preparations such as tinctures, capsules, edibles, and topical products.
Furthermore, the two cannabinoids can be used in purified preparations called isolates, which contain only that single cannabinoid.
Examples of these isolates include pharmaceutical drugs containing man-made forms of THC to help with nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. The CBD isolate drug Epidiolex is used for treatment-resistant epilepsy.
This wide variety of forms means that CBD and THC can be smoked, vaped, eaten, applied to the skin, or used sublingually (under the tongue).
CBD vs. THC Chart
|CBD vs. THC: Main Differences
||Usually extracted from hemp
||Usually extracted from marijuana
|Can make you high
||Used as a dietary supplement and medical products
||Used in recreational and medical products
||Some similar and some unique benefits
||Some similar and some unique benefits
||Legal in the U.S. and many other countries
||Illegal in most U.S. states and most countries
||Minor side effects
||Psychoactive side effects
|Most common product form
||Dried, whole-plant cannabis, and THC-only drugs
CBD and THC are different in many ways. Most importantly, hemp-derived CBD products are legal and don’t make you high, whereas THC is a controlled substance because of its intoxicating effects.
Consequently, CBD oil and similar products are growing increasingly popular as a way to enjoy the benefits of cannabis without the mind-altering effects.
Still, the beneficial effects of THC should not be overlooked. And as shown by research, THC, CBD, and other cannabis-derived compounds work best in combination.
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