CBD and THC are two wildly popular natural extracts derived from different types of cannabis plants. They both are shown to cause relief for a wide range of debilitating ailments, including anxiety, depression, cancers, and other chronic diseases.
So what are the main differences? And how do you choose?
Unfortunately, a lack of regulation has made it easy to find plenty of misinformation about their benefits and side effects. To combat this, we read over 100 different scientific studies about cannabis, CBD, and THC to sort out the facts from the myths.
Here is what we know! We hope it helps.
How are CBD and THC Different?
Cannabinoids are a diverse class of chemical compounds that act on the endocannabinoid system in the brain. Of the more than 113 known cannabinoids (the active ingredients in cannabis plants), CBD and THC are the two most prevalent and therefore have been most widely studied.
On a molecular level, these two compounds are very similar, but the small difference between them produces wildly different effects.
The main difference you will notice between the two will be either the presence or noticeable lack of a psychoactive effect. CBD is gaining rapid popularity for its ability to provide similar symptom relief to THC while also remaining free of THC’s mind-altering effects.
In other words, CBD doesn’t make you feel high.
What Is CBD?
CBD (short for cannabidiol) is the most prevalent non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis plants. It is has been gaining rapid popularity over the past few years because of its wide scope of medical applications and very few side effects.
Most commercial CBD products derive their CBD from industrial hemp. By definition, hemp is a cannabis plant that contains less than 0.3% THC. This is far lower than your typical marijuana plant, which can have up to 30% THC.
It’s worth noting that hemp and cannabis are actually the same species of plant — the only distinction between the two is the amount of THC found in the plant.
Unfortunately, CBD is still widely misunderstood due to misconceptions, stigma and legal challenges surrounding cannabis plants in the United States.
What Is THC?
THC (short for tetrahydrocannabinol) is the most recognizable cannabinoid, as well as the primary chemical responsible for most of the psychoactive effects associated with cannabis.
THC provides a variety of physical health benefits, and it is often used to treat certain conditions, cancers, and diseases. ADD/ADHD, dementia, anorexia, asthma, cancer, and IBS are just some of the ailments THC may help relieve.
Unlike CBD, the psychoactive properties of THC can cause side effects (such as paranoia and mental haziness) that may be a turnoff for some consumers. While many people are not adversely affected by the side effects associated with THC, some people find them to be quite uncomfortable.
The Chemical Differences Between THC and CBD
Chemically, THC and CBD look very similar. In fact, they only have one small difference (shown below).
However, that small molecular difference makes a big impact on how the compounds affect the brain. That little difference changes the way each one of the chemicals interacts with neurological cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2).
On a basic level, CB1 receptors deal primarily with mental and physical processes like memory, emotion, and motor skills. CB2 receptors affect the central and immune system. CBD and THC both work in tandem with these receptors and the result is a profound impact on symptoms such as pain, anxiety, depression, and dementia.
The different chemical structures in THC vs CBD cause cannabinoid receptors to respond very differently when confronted with THC vs CBD. On a basic level, this is why THC elicits a psychoactive brain response and CBD does not.
Treatable Conditions and Side Effects
Of all the cannabinoids, CBD provides the widest array of medical benefits. We cover the major ones in the chart below.
CBD: Uses and Benefits
CBD is commonly consumed in the form of oil, taken sublingually (below the tongue).
Several studies suggest that CBD actually counters the high caused by THC. CBD can help moderate some of the negative effects of THC (paranoia, accelerated heartbeat, and short-term memory loss) while bolstering its medical benefits.
Similar to THC, it is impossible to overdose on CBD. This isn’t a myth! No one has ever done it—ever. Studies have shown it to be safe to consume in much, much higher doses than are necessary to receive its medical benefits.
Studied conditions treatable with CBD include:
- Alzheimer’s & dementia
- Concussions & traumatic brain injuries
- Crohn’s, colitis & inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Migraines & headaches
- Pain management
- Seizures & epilepsy
- Sleep disorders
CBD is a powerful and amazing compound with many benefits — and it is so much safer than the vast majority of pharmaceutical drugs prescribed to treat the same conditions. Side effects are limited, but they do exist. While taking CBD, you may experience:
- Dry mouth
- Low blood pressure
THC: Uses and Benefits
THC has been clinically studied to provide relief for a wide range of symptoms, including:
- Alzheimer’s & Dementia.
- Concussions & Traumatic Brain Injuries
- Crohn’s, Colitis & Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
- Dependency and Withdrawal
- Energy levels
- Hepatitis C
THC is much safer than the vast majority of pharmaceutical drugs prescribed to treat the same conditions. However, due to the psychoactive properties of THC, it tends to have more obvious side effects than CBD, although they are still minimal in comparison to many pharmaceutical alternatives. While using THC you may experience:
- Paranoia and anxiety
- Dry mouth
- Low blood pressure
- Dry, red eyes
- Increased appetite
- Grogginess and lethargy
- Increased heart rate
- Impaired memory
Like CBD, it is impossible to overdose on cannabis. Alternatively, over 100,000 people die each year as a result of taking pharmaceutical medications prescribed to them by their doctor. While it’s possible to feel uncomfortably high after consuming THC in large amounts, it’s important to acknowledge that there is no real risk of overdoing it to the point of jeopardizing your health.
Cannabis in all of its forms is gaining legality in many states, but each state still has its own laws regarding how, where, and why residents can access THC and CBD products. They can get quite specific (and quite complicated) depending on the state you’re looking at.
One thing that is easy to say is that hemp-derived CBD is currently legal in all 50 states, but some states (like Idaho, for example) have very specific laws about who can access it in-state. In Idaho, only people with very specific conditions can get a prescription for it.
*Note: Anyone can legally purchase CBD online and have it shipped to any state. Still, it helps to look into your specific state CBD and hemp laws to understand what this could mean for you.
CBD products also can be derived from marijuana plants, but those products are much more heavily regulated due to the legal status around marijuana itself.
Hemp (which contains no more than 0.3% THC content as opposed to the up to 30% found in marijuana) is federally legal. Some states have their own laws regarding CBD products derived from marijuana. If you want to know exactly which products are in the clear for you, look into your state laws.
Warning: they may be confusing.
If the products you want or need aren’t legal yet in your state, don’t lose hope. Hemp and marijuana laws are changing all the time. It is possible that federal legalization could happen even within the next decade. But in the meantime, do your best to understand where the laws stand in your state before you settle on a product.
A Quick Note About CBD & Drug Testing
If drug testing is a part of the conditions of your employment, you might be concerned about the potential of CBD to cause you to test positive for THC. This isn’t an unfounded concern — however, there isn’t exactly a cut-and-dry way to answer it.
Much of the data we have about CBD is anecdotal, and its potential impact on drug testing is no exception. There are very few peer-reviewed studies on the subject, but there appears to be a small risk of a false positive for some users. Avoiding full-spectrum products containing traces of THC can reduce your risk of a false positive, but that may not eliminate the risk entirely.
If you are concerned about passing a drug test, you should consider this potential risk when deciding whether CBD is right for you. To learn more about the science of CBD and drug testing, check out our article for a more thorough discussion of how to minimize your risk of a false positive.
Which is Right For You?
CBD vs THC: How to choose which path to take.
The answer to this question is simple: it depends! You may even find you like both. If you are trying to decide between the two, here are some questions to ask yourself to help weight the pros and cons:
- Do you want a calming effect with fewer side effects and sensations?
- Do you need to remain mentally clear?
- Can you commit to taking a regular dose daily?
- Do you want something that does little to alter your daily routine?
- Have you ever used CBD before? How did it make you feel?
- Do you understand the legal status of hemp and CBD-products in your state?
- Do you want a stronger sensation with a wider-range of benefits and effects?
- Will you be OK with feeling mentally hazy?
- Are you worried about the possibility of THC-related paranoia?
- Have you ever used THC before? How did you respond to it?
- Do you understand the legal status of THC in your state?
- Would you be willing to go to dispensaries to get it?
- Would you be willing to get a medical prescription, if necessary?
- Will you need to drive or operate machinery?
- Are you worried about hunger or weight gain?
A Note About Quality
THC and CBD, along with over 112+ other cannabinoids, are found primarily in something called the trichomes of the cannabis plant.
Trichomes are the tiny crystal-like stalks that cover the flowers and make them sticky. They hold all of the power to produce cannabinoids and terpenes. All of the recreational and medicinal value that’s derived from the cannabis plant is almost entirely dependent on the production and preservation of high-quality trichomes.
This is why the THC or CBD product you choose is so important. Not all products are created equal, and the quality of the product can significantly affect the healing properties you experience (as well as the negative side effects) while using it.
Finding the Right CBD Product
CBD’s legal status is similar to that of a dietary supplement, meaning that it isn’t regulated by the FDA like other food and drugs. This can make the world of CBD products feel like the Wild West.
From a consumer standpoint, this means it’s essential you know everything about the products you buy before you trust a company with your health.
CBD Reviews Backed By Tests
Learn more about Key To Cannabis’ strict review process for CBD products. We are constantly working to provide consumers with the most thorough and accurate information about brands that advertise CBD products.
We only review and support products that provide public test results for their products related to safety, purity and CBD content.
CBD Brands We’ve Reviewed
Click these links to read more about our unbiased reviews of each of the products listed above. We hope they help you find the best product for your journey to natural health!
Key to Cannabis Mission
Key to Cannabis is dedicated to transparency and accountability in everything we do. We hope to provide you accurate, unbiased and trusted information on cannabis.
We hope our work helps inspire companies in the cannabis industry to make a similar commitment to accountability. Thank you for being a part of the movement!