With the hemp & marijuana "Green Rush" of the last 5 years, cannabis products seem to be everywhere you look and it can be hard to differentiate between the products available to you.
We're here to help set the record straight on the two main compounds found in cannabis that produce effects in our bodies — CBD and THC. This article will break down the main differences between CBD and THC and how they affect our bodies.
What Exactly Are CBD and THC?
CBD and THC are two of the many cannabis-produced chemicals called cannabinoids.
You can actually see where these cannabinoids accumulate in mature hemp and marijuana plants under a microscope on the surface of the leaves, buds, and flowers. The amount of CBD and THC contained within the plant is determined by genetics and growing conditions.
A Brief Intro To The Endocannabinoid System
Plant-based cannabinoids are believed to help protect the plant from environmental conditions, such as UV damage, harsh winds, and even pests. Interestingly, these compounds behave similarly to a set of the body's chemicals, aptly named after the cannabis plant, as part of a biological pathway called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
You'll often hear the terms phytocannabinoid and endocannabinoid when referring to the messenger compounds that interact with the ECS. The ECS is made up of a network of receptors that interact with cannabinoids to relay messages throughout the body.
Phytocannabinoids include THC, CBD, CBG, and all other cannabinoids present in hemp and marijuana. The term "phyto" means plant. Cannabis is the only known plant to produce cannabinoids in large quantities . Endocannabinoids refer to the cannabinoids made naturally in the body. The body's main endocannabinoids include anandamide and 2-archidonyl glycerol (2-AG).
The ECS is responsible for maintaining homeostasis (balance) for integral systems in our body, including ones that regulate our:
- Sleep-wake cycle
- Hormone functions
- Stress response
- Mood and sense of wellbeing
- Memory 
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the major cannabinoids found in cannabis. Unlike THC, CBD does not induce a high and is best known for its relaxation benefits and for helping to support a healthy inflammatory response .
Understanding how these compounds interact with the body requires taking a closer look at their chemical composition. Both CBD and THC share the same molecular formula, C21H30O2.
CBD differs in one subtle way — The CBD molecular structure contains a hydroxyl group. This key difference is what gives the two compounds, two different pharmacological pathways. Most notably, this structure leads to the difference in the whether or not the chemical induces an intoxicated state.
What is THC?
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most notorious cannabinoid because it's the culprit behind feeling high.
As we've mentioned earlier, it looks very similar to its counterpart, CBD. Both compounds are even synthesized from the same parent molecule, CBGa. Where CBD contains a hydroxyl group, THC has a cyclic ring that facilitates this compound's ability to bind to one of the major endocannabinoid receptors in the body, CB1.
The CB1 receptor has a pathway that triggers serotonin release in the central nervous system . This short-term rush of serotonin induces feelings of euphoria and can alter one's perception.
The Main Difference Between THC and CBD
The most notable distinction between cannabis's two predominant chemical compounds is whether or not they induce a mind-altered state.
THC is most abundant in marijuana strains and because of its potential for abuse for intoxication, marijuana strains of cannabis are illegal in most parts of the world.
While there are different ratios of CBD found throughout different marijuana strains, hemp crops are bred specifically to yield higher concentrations of CBD with a deficient THC concentration. The legal threshold for THC in hemp crops in the United States is 0.3%.
Most legal CBD oil products on the market are derived from hemp crops. Before purchasing any cannabis product, you should always research where the extract comes from and look for third-party lab tests to indicate the cannabinoid profile to avoid any legal troubles with your local laws.
CBD vs THC Effects
Many people turn towards cannabis-based products because of the gentle and natural effects they have on improving one's overall sense of wellbeing.
THC and CBD have many overlapping benefits because they are so similar structurally. But due to THC's psychoactive high, many people find the compound undesirable for regular use.
While CBD doesn't have an affinity to bind to the CB1 or CB2 receptors, it does help keep the levels of internal cannabinoids high by delaying enzymes from breaking down cannabinoids and improving the cannabinoids' ability to bind to specific receptors.
How They're Similar
CBD and THC Support Healthy Inflammatory Function
A regular inflammatory response is an important factor in a healthy individual. While inflammation is a natural immune response, there are times that this system goes haywire, which is often an indicator of illness or infection.
CBD is more widely studied for its benefits to help support a healthy immune response. However, some studies indicate that THC may also help to effectively reduce the production of inflammatory markers that quell inflammation .
CBD and THC May Support Natural Recovery
THC and CBD may help to improve relaxation by easing cramping and tension.
Releasing tension in exercised muscle groups after a strenuous training session can help you fully relax and recover faster, so you can get back to your next workout feeling rejuvenated [ 6].
CBD and THC May Help With Mood And Regulate Healthy Stress Levels
Cannabinoids may improve our mood through their interaction with GABA, a neurotransmitter that acts as a brake pedal to the body's stress response . It slows down the hyperactivity in the brain.
Higher concentrations of GABA in the brain may help to support one's sense of wellbeing and a healthy stress response.
How They're Different
THC Is Psychoactive
THC's interaction with the CB1 receptor triggers a release of serotonin and other feel-good hormones that induce a high and can alter our perception of time, sensitivity to stimulation, and even memory .
While it's not for everyone — THC's psychoactive effects may be therapeutic for some as it can help to support relaxation and mood.
THC Can Make You Hungry
Researchers suggest that THC interacts with certain hormone releases that stimulate hunger .
THC's effects on hunger may be beneficial for people who suffer from a reduced appetite. THC may improve nutrient intake by increasing their appetite.
CBD Can Decrease Appetite
On the other hand, CBD is considered an appetite suppressant.
CBD may help control hunger by improving the hypothalamus's sensitivity — the master switchboard for controlling hormones .
What Are The Side Effects Of THC?
Both THC and CBD are considered well-tolerated, even in large amounts in most individuals. The side-effects are mild and last only for the duration of the active compounds in your system.
Unfortunately, cannabis abuse for its mind-altering properties doesn't come without its misfortunes. Experimentation with altered states of consciousness via external compounds can result in adverse effects.THC has demonstrated undesirable outcomes for some users, including psychosis and aggression [ 8].
The short-term side effects of THC may include:
- Poor coordination
- Lack of concentration and poor short-term memory loss
- Feelings of paranoia
- Slow reaction times
- Dry mouth
- Increased heart rate
What Are The Side Effects Of CBD?
Because CBD doesn't offer a drastic change in your perception, its effects aren't as noticeable, which can cause some people to take too large of a dose, resulting in an increased chance of experiencing undesirable side-effects.
Some of the temporary side-effects of CBD may include:
Is There THC in CBD Oil?
Most CBD oil on the market is harvested from hemp crops, which has a THC content of up to 0.3%. This isn't enough to produce a high feeling, unless taken in a very large dose. Still, it's important to note that the compound is present in trace amounts in fulls spectrum CBD products.
As the name suggests, full spectrum cannabis products contain a wide range of the plant's natural compounds, including cannabinoids, terpenes, and other phytonutrients. If you're looking for a CBD oil with the most balanced and natural phytonutrient profile, full spectrum is the way to go.
THC-Free CBD Oil Options
For some, even trace amounts of THC can trigger sensitivities, and they would rather avoid it altogether. If this is the case for you, there are two extract options.
- CBD isolate extracts undergo an extensive refining process to remove all other phytochemicals to isolate the CBD molecules. There are no traces of THC, any other cannabinoid, or terpenes in CBD isolate products.
- Broad spectrum extracts are a hybrid of CBD isolates and full spectrum and it's your next best bet for a well-balanced cannabis product after full spectrum extracts. Broad spectrum extracts contain other cannabinoids and terpenes but are guaranteed to be THC-free.
Before purchasing any cannabis product, look for third-party lab testing that shows the cannabinoid profile. Also, be sure to check the results for exposure to potential contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticides, or solvents.
Final Thoughts: CBD Vs. THC
The two main chemical components in cannabis, THC and CBD, behave similarly to messenger compounds in our endocannabinoid system, fittingly named after the plant.
While THC and CBD are nearly identical in chemical composition, they differ in one element, how they interact with with our endocannabinoid receptors.
However, the two compounds being so similar, they produce very similar effects. The key differentiating factor between the two compounds lies in their interaction with the CB1 receptor. THC's shape fits CB1 receptors to result in a high, while CBD's effects are much more subtle.
Always speak with your healthcare professional before considering adding CBD or THC into your health regimen. If you'd like to learn more about CBD, you can find more articles like this on our blog.
The statements made regarding these products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. All information presented here is not meant as a substitute for or alternative to information from health care practitioners. Please consult your health care professional about potential interactions or other possible complications before using any product.