Iiiiin the green corner, weighing in at 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms, with a bio availability of 13%-19% and melting point of 151 °F, it’s the molecule that’s chillin’ with vanillin, it’s CBD – Cannabidiol!!
Aaaaand in the… other… green corner, with a protein binding of 97%-99%, elimination half life of up to 36 hours, still ranked as Schedule I on the US DEA’s Controlled Substances Act list, it’s the compound that’ll make you say “High There!”, it’s THC – Tetrahydrocannabinol!!
Ok, so we aren’t actually going to go through an imaginary boxing match between the world’s two favorite cannabinoids in today’s article (I asked, my editor said no). But given the confusion that exists in the public as to what each of these chemicals do and are responsible for, a (friendly) throw down feels appropriate. CBD and THC are two very different cannabinoids, each with their own mechanics and effects, and it’s worth discussing the two in a side-by-side comparison.
In this write up we’ll be talking about the differences between CBD and THC – How each one effects the body, what their intended purposes are, the legal status of CBD/THC, potential side effects of cannabis use, and even how to make sure you’re purchasing the right product for you. That’s a lot to go through so let’s ring the bell – It’s time to get it on!
CBD vs THC: The Basics
Our bodies produce natural cannabinoids daily – These molecules, referred to as “endocannabinoids” (or “cannabinoids created inside the body”) are built by specific enzymes before traveling off to “bind” to (or “antagonize”) specific cannabinoid receptors attached to our cells; most prominently our CB1 receptors (in our brains) and our CB2 receptors (in our immune system).
CBD and THC are both classified as “phytocannabinoids“, or “cannabinoids derived from plants”. Largely and most famously found in the cannabis plant, THC/CBD are both molecules that can be taken in and used effectively by the human body’s own “endocannabinoid” (or “cannabinoids created by humans”) system.
How CBD and THC Effect the Body Differently
For THC the process of binding to our cannabinoid receptors is fairly easy. Once taken into the body, either by ingestion (IE: edibles) or inhalation (IE: smoking/vaping), the THC eventually makes it’s way to the CB1 receptors in the brain and binds to them for a period of time; the reactions this produces lead to the effects of THC we typically refer to as “getting high”.
Interestingly, CBD does not directly attach to our CB1/CB2 receptors, instead modifying their ability to receive other cannabinoids (such as THC), and activating other receptors in the bodies, such as for serotonin. As CBD doesn’t directly bind to our cannabinoid receptors it is commonly known for more physical medicinal benefits, such as muscle tension, inflammation, and nausea.
Ultimately this means that the big difference in CBD vs THC is that THC will get you high, CBD will not. CBD seemingly has a host of medicinal benefits, much like THC does, but while THC is a psychoactive substance CBD simply isn’t (and if you’d like to read more in-depth on this topic, make sure to check out our companion article “Will CBD Get Me High?”).
What to Use CBD vs THC For
As noted above, if you’re looking to get high, then THC is what you’re looking for. THC’s most famous property is it’s psychoactive nature, and the reason that most seek it out. But that’s not THC’s only human benefit.
As THC interacts with the CB1 receptors in the brain and sets about the process of getting us “high” our altered mental state means we also become more relaxed and talkative; we find it easier to laugh and enjoy the company of others, and every day tasks such as eating or exercising become more pleasurable.
THC’s overall sensations of euphoria can turn inward, though, and side effects can include anxiety and potential panic attacks after intake. Though outright audio/visual hallucinations are rare, sensations of paranoia after cannabis use can lead to increased awareness and mis-assignment of noises and other events nearby, increasing anxiety until the effects of the high decrease.
CBD, acting more on other receptors in the body, tends to focus on physical responses than mental. Typical user reports include usage of CBD helping to alleviate chronic pain and inflammation, deriving from both arthritis and other muscular ailments. CBD is also known for aiding with appetite in patients with nausea-related issues, and can help with insomnia as well. Though CBD won’t get you high it’s medical benefits can be myriad and shouldn’t be overlooked.
The Legality of CBD vs THC
Both THC and CBD are taken from the cannabis plant. But while all strains of cannabis contain some level of CBD, not all cannabis strains contain THC.
Industrial hemp, useful in a wide variety of non-intoxicating applications, has always contained very little THC compared to it’s more commonly-smoked cannabis cousins, and specially-bred strains of cannabis containing a decreased THC-to-CBD ratio are often used in industrial CBD farming operations.
The legality of THC is a sticky topic, and one where the details are constantly changing. As of the publication date of this article, 15 states have fully legalized cannabis possession and consumption, with many others allowing for medical marijuana use if recommended by a physician.
This means that, depending on where you live, THC may be fully legal, it may be legal only for licensed medical patients, it may be decriminalized, or cannabis may just be flat-out illegal in any context. Interactive maps such as the above can help you figure out what laws are applicable where you live.
Though not endorsed by the United States Food & Drug Administration, hemp-derived, CBD-based products containing zero percentage of THC are legal nation-wide; without the THC molecule, CBD is fully legal to sell, possess, and use. CBD cannabis farmers are still required to follow specific and strict regulations in growing and processing their crop (many of which we talk about in our article “Why is CBD Oil So Expensive?“), but for the end consumer there are no questions about CBD’s legality.
How Do I Know If I’m Buying CBD or THC?
First and foremost, if you don’t live in a state with legal medical or recreational marijuana, you shouldn’t be able to purchase THC products on a store shelf. While CBD is fully legal as a supplement nation-wide, THC is, well, still THC, and only allowed in states that have at least some measure of cannabis legalization on their books.
If you live in a state with legal marijuana sales knowing the difference should still be fairly easy, as THC and CBD products are typically very well labelled as to their contents. Though it may sound a bit simplistic, if a product contains THC at all, the odds are it will proudly say so right on the package.
Likewise, if a product is purely hemp-derived CBD, it should also proudly state this fact up front. If the packaging leaves any ambiguity, make sure to ask a sales representative or look up information on the brand online – Better to be informed than purchase the wrong cannabis product.
If looking for THC-free CBD products make sure keep an eye out for the words “Full spectrum”, “broad spectrum”, and “CBD isolate”. A “full spectrum” product will contain a small amount of THC and CBD both, along other terpenes stripped from the cannabis plant. “Broad spectrum” and “CBD isolate” products will not (or at least should not) contain THC.
If staying clear of the effects of THC is important to you, make sure the CBD products you’re purchasing are from a trusted source and brand. Again, do your research online and look for lab test results linked on the manufacturer’s website – There have been plenty of “CBD only” products found on store shelves that in fact contain quite a bit of THC inside, so making sure it’s a company you can trust is an important step in purchasing the right CBD product for you.
The Wrap Up
Knowing the distinction between CBD and THC can be important – With vast differences in legalization across the country, getting caught by local authorities while carrying THC products instead of CBD products could mean the difference between walking away free or serious jail time.
Though the effects of THC and CBD are different, each has their own important role to play in using cannabis for both recreational and medicinal purposes. THC has long been seen purely for it’s side effects of getting you high but CBD has benefits of it’s own, and in proper dosages the combination of the two can help relieve a wide variety of ailments.
We hope our article on the differences, legalities, and effects of THC and CBD has been helpful – Remember, cannabis usage doesn’t just have to be about getting high, and thankfully the medicinal effects of CBD are open for all to explore.