CBD vs. THC – Important Differences
Cannabinoids are a group of naturally occurring chemical compounds in hemp plants. Of the 80+ known cannabinoids, two are important to highlight: Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD).
THC and CBD are of special interest because each chemical has the potential to provide individuals with significant bodily effects. THC and CBD act on receptors found throughout the human body and brain. However, the effects of CBD and THC differ dramatically from each other. This guide will breakdown the major similarities and differences between the two chemicals.
CBD doesn’t get you high – THC does
- THC is known for its psychoactive effects, getting the user high.
- CBD does not get the user high or produce any psychoactive effects.
Instead of getting you high, research shows CBD has the following effects:
- Reduces frequency or counteracts seizures
- Decreases social anxiety and relieves stress from a long day
- Helps support movement and healthy joint functions
- Reduce painful aches from over-exertion
Different Molecular Structure
The way individual molecules¹ are arranged in CBD and THC are not the same. Not surprisingly, these slight structural differences cause a dramatic change for how the two cannabinoid molecules interact with receptors in the human body.
THC binds to cell receptors, whereas CBD indirectly regulates the receptors and manages how they respond to other chemicals (see image below). This slight variance causes the psychoactive effect of THC while allowing CBD to help regulate pain, inflammation, mood, and stress without the psychoactive effects.
A different way to think about the way a chemical interacts with a receptor is a bit like a lock and key. The chemical needs to have a structure that lets it bind, or connect, in order to activate a receptor. If the chemical structure is slightly different it won’t have an impact on the receptor. So, the tiny differences in a chemical structure are like the tiny differences in a key. If it doesn’t match up perfectly, the key won’t work. THC activates the receptor in the body, whereas CBD regulates how the receptors interact with other chemicals.
CBD is dominant in Hemp – THC is dominant other plant strains
While CBD and THC can both be found in multiple strains of plants, their chemical ratios vary highly from one plant to the other. The main differentiator is the ratio of THC in the plants.
High THC plants that are specifically grown for recreational use tend to have significantly higher levels of THC because of the desire for its psychoactive effects.
- For hemp plants, CBD is present in large amounts, up to 40%, and has less than 0.3% THC.
- For high THC strains of plants, THC is present in large amounts, a minimum of 0.3% and up to 35% – with has far less CBD.
While some states have taken the full legalization path, most states still have strict laws surrounding high-THC plant use and possession. In fact, high THC plants remain a Schedule 1 controlled substance² according to federal law and is considered to have a high potential for abuse, due to THC.
Hemp and its byproducts (including CBD) enjoy a much more relaxed legal status. According to the 2018 Farm Bill³, as long as the plant has less than 0.3% THC it is considered a legal agricultural product. This means that it is legal to own and use CBD products made from hemp anywhere in the United States.
It is essential to reinforce that only products containing hemp-derived CBD are legal in the US on the federal level. If the CBD is derived from a plant with greater than 0.3% THC, it is considered an illegal controlled substance.
There are 85+ cannabinoids
THC and CBD are the highest concentrated cannabinoids with the most testing and research. But there are 80+ additional cannabinoids (depending on how the scientific source classifies the chemicals). When buying a CBD product you can either get CBD isolate or a full spectrum CBD which includes some of the other natural cannabinoids from the whole plant. Some other cannabinoids worth noting as topics of future research include:
- Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDA)
- Cannabinol (CBN)
- Cannabigerol (CBG)
- Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)